Smoking a Turkey — The Ultimate Guide + Video

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Smoking A Turkey is easier than it sounds! Perfect for any holiday meal, smoking a turkey on a pellet grill creates a juicy bird with crispy skin and amazing flavor! Make a whole smoked turkey and wow your guests with ease.

titled: Smoking A Turkey The Ultimate Guide with Video


Smoking a Turkey

Using a smoker can seem a bit intimidating. Once I realized how versatile it is, I started finding all sorts of things to make in it!

I love that I can make things like a whole smoked turkey without having my oven on all day. Plus, it’s easy to use any time of year in any kind of weather.

If you’re having a smaller holiday gathering or want that festival feel at home, try making Smoked Turkey Legs instead.

The meat comes out tender and juicy, and there’s no more fighting for the drumsticks!

Or, put your smoker to use on other meats like Smoked Tri Tip or Smoked Pork Tenderloin.

No matter what you make, every bite will be melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

Recipe Video

For more tips on smoking a whole turkey from start to finish, watch the video in this post!

whole turkey in roasting pan next to onion, lemon, herbs, and spices, and butter

Ingredients for Smoked Whole Turkey

The ingredient list may look a bit long, but it is really just the turkey rub spices. Making this recipe is actually quite simple!

Start with a whole turkey, either fresh or defrosted from frozen.

Combine a blend of spices with softened butter for the smoked turkey rub, making adjustments as needed.

I really like the heat from New Mexico chile powder, which is simply ground dried chiles.

If you can’t find it locally or online, use whatever is available as long as it’s made only from chile peppers.

Ancho chile powder will be a bit spicier, or use cayenne powder, but reduce the amount by at least half.

Then, use fresh herbs and aromatics to stuff the bird. It’s an easy way to infuse loads of flavor while smoking a turkey on a pellet grill.

whole turkey coated in spiced butter rub

Kitchen tools and equipment needed

  • Smoker – Wood pellet smokers allow extra flavor to be infused into whatever you’re smoking.
  • Your favorite flavor wood chips – Apple, cherry, and hickory are the most popular choices for smoking a turkey.
  • Baking dish – You don’t need anything fancy, just so long as it contains the whole turkey.

    The drippings will collect in the bottom if you want to use them to make gravy.
  • Digital meat thermometer – The easiest way to check the temp on the bird.

    Not only will you know when it’s safe to eat, but you can make sure it’s not overcooked and dried out as well.
raw turkey coated in spice rub and stuffed with onion, lemon, and herbs

Tips for Smoking a Turkey on a Pellet Grill

  • Preparing the bird

Be sure to remove the gizzards and neck from inside the turkey before stuffing it, and trim off any extra skin.

Don’t remove all of it though, because that’s what makes the turkey nice and crispy on the outside.

Also, if the turkey has been brined, rinse the outside well with cold water to remove the extra salt.

Then, pat well with paper towels to dry it off before applying the smoked turkey rub.

  • Stuffing

I don’t recommend adding bread stuffing or dressing when smoking a whole turkey. By the time it reaches a safe temperature for eating, the bird itself will be overcooked.

You can, however, add herbs and aromatics for extra flavor. Just be sure not to pack it too tightly.

There should be enough room for air to circulate inside the turkey, which helps it cook evenly.

After smoking a turkey, discard whatever was placed inside the cavity.

  • Using the smoker

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to get even smoke, and watch to see how it looks when it’s coming out of the vents.

The smoke should have a slight blue tint, and it will be thin and swirly, not coming out in plumes.

smoked whole turkey stuffed with lemon and herbs

Serving Suggestions

If you’re smoking a whole turkey for a holiday meal, you’ll obviously serve it with all the traditional sides.

However, there are plenty of other uses for turkey meat, and because this method is so easy, you can make it all year round!

Here are just a few ways to use smoked whole turkey meat:

  • Sandwiches (try a Monte Cristo sandwich)
  • Baked into casseroles
  • Added to salads
  • Mixed into soup or turkey chili
  • In quesadillas or nachos
  • Stuffed peppers or squash
  • Use the bones to make broth
sliced smoked turkey breast

Whole Smoked Turkey FAQ

How long does it take to smoke a turkey?

This will depend on how large the bird is, but a good rule to follow is about 15 minutes per pound when cooking it at 325°F.

Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey, and start testing about an hour or so before your timer goes off.

It should read between 160-165°F when placed into the thickest part of the thigh.

Before slicing, allow the smoked whole turkey to rest so the juices can redistribute through the meat.

How much turkey per person?

Knowing how many people you’ll be serving will determine how large of a bird you need to make.

Plan for between 1 to 1 ½ pounds of turkey per person.

The lower amount will produce enough meat to serve for the meal, while the higher end will guarantee plenty of leftovers to send home with everyone.

Or, keep them for yourself so you don’t have to cook for a few days!

If you’ll be feeding a large crowd, cook two smaller turkeys rather than smoking a turkey that is much larger to cut down on cooking time.

plate of smoked turkey, mashed potatoes, and green beans surrounded by meat

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overhead: smoked turkey on baking sheet with lemons and herbs

full smoked turkey

Smoking a Turkey — The Ultimate Guide + Video

Donna Elick
Smoking a turkey for a holiday meal creates a juicy bird with crispy skin and amazing flavor! Make a smoked whole turkey for your guests.
5 stars from 1 review
Tried this recipe?Please comment and review!
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 8 hours
Total Time 8 hours 30 minutes
Course Main
Cuisine American
Method Smoker
Servings 1 Turkey


  • 1 Whole Turkey, 10-30 pounds

For the smoked turkey rub:

  • 12 ounces unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons New Mexico Chile Powder
  • 1 & 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

For the cavity

  • 1 lemon, sliced into wedges
  • 1/2 large onion, sliced into wedges
  • 1 head garlic, cut crosswise to expose the cloves
  • 1/2 bunch of parsley
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig of rosemary


  • Preheat the smoker to 325°F. In a medium-sized bowl, use a spoon to combine the butter, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, chile powder, brown sugar, and pepper; set aside.
  • Place the turkey in a large baking dish with deep sides. Make sure to remove the gizzards and neck inside the turkey. Trim off any excess skin. Using your hands, gently separate the skin from the turkey. Start at the neck by the breasts, working your way down all the way to the thighs and legs.
  • Take the seasoned butter reserving about a third of it and place it under the skin. You will need to work this down and around the legs and thighs and all over the breast meat. Smear the rest of the butter on the skin.
  • Stuff the cavity with the lemon, onion, garlic, parsley, bay leaves, and rosemary. Place the turkey into the smoker in the baking dish. Smoke for about 15 minutes per pound until the internal temperature taken at the thickest part of the thigh reaches 160-165°F.
  • Let the turkey rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving.


Donna’s Notes

This will depend on how large the bird is, but a good rule to follow is about 15 minutes per pound when cooking it at 325°F.


Serving: 1 | Calories: 6162cal | Carbohydrates: 21g | Protein: 564g | Fat: 422g | Saturated Fat: 213g | Cholesterol: 2586mg | Sodium: 9976mg | Sugar: 7g | Fiber: 5g | Calcium: 439mg | Iron: 24mg

All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe’s nutritional value will vary depending on the ingredients used, measuring methods, and portion sizes.

Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
titled image (and shown): smoking a turkey

Originally published October 2020, updated and republished October 2023

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One Comment

  1. 5 stars
    We made this last year for Thanksgiving and it was so good we are just waiting a few more weeks to make it again!

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