Smoked Turkey

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This smoked turkey recipe is the ultimate in Thanksgiving food or just for a summer party on the deck. Tender, juicy, and delicious, it is done in about seven hours with little or no hands-on time.

Smoked turkey on a white platter with herbs and cranberries.Pin
Photo Credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

The smoker is a great place to cook poultry. The low and slow cooking leaves the skin nice and crispy while preserving juicy, tender breast meat. Anyone who has cooked a turkey in the oven has had at least an occasion, or two, where the breast meat was really dry. That doesn’t happen in the smoker.

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Why Smoke Turkey?

  • If you smoke the turkey for the holidays, you will have space in the oven for the side dishes and the rolls.
  • They are great to smoke for summer parties. A whole turkey makes enough to feed a crowd, and turning the oven on when it’s hot outside is unnecessary.
  • The flavor is so much better than a roasted bird; it’s unique and rich. This is especially true of the breast, which tends to be bland.
  • The low and slow method used in smoking produces an unparalleled tenderness that roasting can’t achieve.
  • The beautiful golden-brown skin is a great conversation starter for your guests.

To Brine or Not to Brine

Brining really comes down to personal preference. The main attraction of brining is that it will infuse the turkey meat with flavor, especially salt. When we cook a turkey breast, we generally brine it. We also generally brine if we are cooking a wild turkey or a fresh turkey.

If you are cooking a frozen turkey, look at the packaging closely. 90% of them will say water added. The butchers inject the meat with water before freezing, adding weight. So, brining a previously frozen bird just adds more water and makes the meat more bland.

If you would like a recipe for a turkey brine, you can find one in our wild turkey article.

What you Need

  • Whole turkey: Either fresh or thawed-frozen bird. You can get one as large as you need for your crowd. If using a frozen bird, thaw it in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4-5 days.
  • Celery: 1-2 whole stalks of celery, rough cut.
  • Carrot: 1 large carrot, cut into chunks.
  • Onion: 1 small onion, quartered.
  • Apple: Apple adds a nice sweetness to the meat. You can substitute orange, lemon, or lime, each giving the bird a slightly different flavor.
  • Oil: Mild oil for frying.

For the Rub

  • Brown Sugar: Poultry goes well with a sweet rub, and brown sugar adds a caramelized sugar flavor.
  • Garlic: Garlic powder adds a pungent, slightly spicy flavor.
  • Onion: Onion powder is made from dehydrated onions and provides a subtle, sweetly pungent flavor.
  • Paprika: Paprika is a ground spice made from dried red peppers, offering a sweet, mildly spicy flavor with a vibrant red color.
  • Chili Powder: Adds a bit of spicy heat to the skin and a nice red color
  • Cumin: Cumin has a warm, earthy flavor that adds a slightly nutty flavor.
  • Parsley: Dried parsley adds a fresh, leafy flavor.
  • Thyme: Thyme is an herb with a subtle, earthy flavor. It adds a slightly floral note.
  • Sage: Sage has a robust flavor that pairs well with poultry.
  • Rosemary: Rosemary has a pine-like aroma and adds a woodsy flavor that pairs well with turkey.
  • Salt: Use kosher salt or sea salt. Salt is the universal flavor enhancer.
  • Pepper: Coarse, freshly ground black pepper has the best flavor.
Ingredients for the poultry rub in a bowl.Pin
Ingredients for the rub.

How to Make it

Step One:

Add the dry rub ingredients to a bowl.

All dry rub ingredients added to a bowl.Pin
Add dry rub ingredients to a bowl. Photo Credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Step Two:

Mix well. Break up any large chunks.

Rub mixed up.Pin
Mix well. Photo Credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Step Three:

Dry off the bird, inside and outside, with paper towels.

Drizzle the skin with olive oil to help hold the dry rub on.

Drying the turkey with paper towel.Pin
Dry the bird with paper towels. Photo Credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Step Four:

Evenly sprinkle to skin with the rub. Work it in with your fingers.

Dry rub added to the skin.
Pin
Evenly spread rub on all of the surfaces. Photo Credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Step Five:

Don’t forget to season the inside of the cavity with the dry rub, too.

Dry rub added to the cavity too.Pin
Don’t forget to season the cavity. Photo Credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Step Six:

Stuff the onion and celery in the cavity.

Filling the cavity with celery.Pin
Fill the cavity with celery and onion. Photo Credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Step Seven:

Fill the remainder of the cavity with carrots and apples.

Filling the cavity with apple and carrots.Pin
Fill the cavity with apples and carrots. Photo Credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Let the turkey sit on the counter to get it closer to room temperature while the smoker preheats.

Preheat the smoker to 225°F/115°C. Fill it with wood or pellets. Don’t forget to add a pan with water in the bottom of the smoker to add moisture. Place a pan under the turkey to catch the drippings. You can use it to make turkey gravy.

Slide the turkey into the smoker on a rack. If your smoker has one, install the probe thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh.

Smoke for 6-9 hours until the meat temperature in the thickest part of the thigh measures 160°F/80°C. Cover the bird with aluminum foil and let it rest for about 30 minutes before carving. The temperature will rise to 165°F/85°C. Use an instant-read thermometer.

What if I don’t own a smoker?

You can still enjoy smoked meats if you don’t own a smoker. You can use your grill to smoke. Set up your grill so that the fire is only on one side. You will place the meat or vegetable on the side of the grill without a direct flame (indirect heat). This is called indirect cooking.

Add soaked wood to a metal tray (we use a disposable foil pie plate or bread pan). Add another metal tray with water. Place water and wood chips on the side of the grill with the fire. Remember to fill the water if it runs out.

You can also create a similar setup for your oven in a pinch or in the winter.

What Wood to Use

We prefer apple, peach, and cherry wood. They are mild and don’t overpower the meat.

You could also use pecan, hickory, oak, or maple. We don’t recommend very strong flavors like mesquite.

What to do With Leftovers

  • Cool Down: Allow the smoked turkey to cool to room temperature. To prevent bacterial growth, do not leave it out for more than two hours.
  • Slice or Shred: If you have a large amount, consider slicing or shredding the turkey. This makes it easier to store and use later.
  • Airtight Containers: Place the turkey in an airtight container. If you don’t have containers, you can use heavy-duty aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or resealable plastic bags. If using bags, try to squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing.
  • Refrigeration: Store the turkey in the refrigerator if you plan to use it within three to four days. Ensure your fridge is at or below 40°F (4°C) to keep the turkey safe.
  • Freezing for Longer Storage: Freeze the turkey for longer storage. It can be kept in the freezer for up to four months without significantly losing quality. When freezing, label the containers or bags with the date so you know how long it’s been stored. Vacuum packing is the best option.
  • Thawing and Reheating: When ready to eat, thaw the frozen turkey in the refrigerator, not at room temperature. To reheat, ensure it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) to kill bacteria.
  • Avoid Repeated Reheating: Reheat only the amount of turkey you plan to use. Repeated reheating can dry out the meat and increase the risk of foodborne illness.
  • Leftover Breasts: Wet a clean kitchen towel with water until damp., not dripping. Wrap it around the breast. That will keep it moist.

Frequently Asked Questions

What temperature should I smoke my turkey at?

We suggest going low and slow. 225°F to 275°F.

Should I brine my turkey before smoking?

There is a section above titled “To brine or not to brine”, which goes through the answer in more detail, but it is really personal preference to brine your whole turkey before smoking. If you are smoking a wild turkey, farm fresh turkey, or a turkey breast, definitely brine it.

Can I smoke a turkey from frozen?

No. You must thaw the turkey thoroughly before smoking. This can take 3-5 days in the refrigerator, depending on the size of the turkey.

Can I stuff my turkey before smoking?

It is not recommended. Since the smoker is low and slow, it would take a lot more time for the stuffing to heat through to 165°F, risking the turkey being overdone and the stuffing not safe to eat. It also will inhibit the inside of the turkey getting the smoke flavor. If you want stuffing, put it in a casserole and smoke it separately.

What can I do if the skin is getting too dark?

If the skin is getting too dark, tent the top of the turkey with aluminum foil.

How to Use Leftovers

What Side Dishes are Good?

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe today.

Enjoy. And have fun cooking!

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Sliced turkey breast on wood with sliced apples and fresh cranberries.Pin

Smoked Turkey

This smoked turkey recipe is the ultimate in Thanksgiving food or just a summer party by the smoker—step-by-step instructions.
See Step by Step Photos Above!Most of our recipes have step by step photos and videos! Also helpful tips so that you can make it perfectly the first time and every time! Scroll up to see them!
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Course: entree, Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 6 hours
Total Time: 6 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 25 servings
Calories: 65kcal
Author: Beth Neels
Cost: $20

Ingredients

  • 1 turkey
  • olive oil
  • ` large carrot
  • 1 Onion
  • 2 stalk celery
  • 1 small apples

For the dry rub

  • 6 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 Tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 Tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 Tablespoons paprika
  • 2 Tablespoons Cumin
  • 2 Teaspoon rosemary
  • 2 Teaspoon thyme
  • 2 Teaspoon sage
  • 1 Teaspoon salt
  • ½ Teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 Teaspoons dried parsley

Instructions

  • Add the rest of the brine ingredients, and then add the turkey. Cover it with water if needed.
    1 turkey
  • Dry it inside and outside with paper towels.
  • Drizzle it with olive oil or melted butter and rub it all around.
    olive oil
  • Mix the dry rub ingredients in a small bowl. Season it well with the dry rub, rubbing it into the meat.
    6 Tablespoons brown sugar, 2 Tablespoons garlic powder, 2 Tablespoons onion powder, 2 Tablespoons chili powder, 2 Tablespoons paprika, 2 Tablespoons Cumin, 2 Teaspoon rosemary, 2 Teaspoon thyme, 2 Teaspoon sage, 1 Teaspoon salt, ½ Teaspoon black pepper, 2 Teaspoons dried parsley
  • Fill the cavity with the roughly chopped vegetables.
    ` large carrot, 1 Onion, 2 stalk celery, 1 small apples
  • Don’t forget to season the inside of the cavity.
  • Set up your smoker with wood and a container of water. Get the smoker going to a temperature of 225°F/115°C. Place turkey breast directly on the smoker racks. Smoke for 2-3 hours until the internal temperature reaches 165°F/80°C in the thickest part of the breast.
  • Remove the bird from the smoker. Tent it with aluminum foil. Let it rest for at least 5 minutes.
See all of my favorite tools and gift ideas on my New Amazon Store!Check out Binky’s Amazon Store!

Notes

What wood to use
We prefer apple wood with this recipe. It compliments to apple juice in the brine. You could also use cherry wood. Hickory and more intense woods will overpower the turkey, so stay clear of those.
How to store leftovers
  1. Cool Down: Allow the smoked turkey to cool to room temperature. Do not leave it out for more than two hours to prevent bacterial growth.
  2. Slice or Shred: If you have a large amount, consider slicing or shredding the turkey. This makes it easier to store and use later.
  3. Airtight Containers: Place the turkey in an airtight container. If you don’t have containers, you can use heavy-duty aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or resealable plastic bags. If using bags, try to squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing.
  4. Refrigeration: Store the turkey in the refrigerator if you plan to use it within three to four days. Ensure your fridge is at or below 40°F (4°C) to keep the turkey safe.
  5. Freezing for Longer Storage: For longer storage, freeze the turkey. It can be kept in the freezer for up to four months without significant loss of quality. When freezing, label the containers or bags with the date, so you know how long it’s been stored.
  6. Thawing and Reheating: When you’re ready to eat the frozen turkey, thaw it in the refrigerator, not at room temperature. To reheat, ensure it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) to kill any bacteria.
  7. Avoid Repeated Reheating: Reheat only the amount of turkey you plan to use. Repeated reheating can dry out the meat and increase the risk of foodborne illness.
See the article above for more important suggestions, tips, and tricks.

Nutrition

Calories: 65kcal | Carbohydrates: 6g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 2g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 19mg | Sodium: 127mg | Potassium: 141mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 485IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 21mg | Iron: 1mg
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Beth Neels

Author: Beth Neels

Title: Owner

Expertise: canning, game meat cooking, smoking

Bio:

Beth Neels is an entrepreneur, blogger, photographer, author, and recipe developer. She founded Binky’s Culinary Carnival in 2014, focusing on “Crafting delicious recipes with sustainable ingredients.” She has been featured in multiple online publications, including MSN, Reader’s Digest, Associated Press, and Parade.

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