Smoking a Turkey – The Ultimate Guide w/ Video
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Smoking a turkey for a holiday meal creates a juicy bird with crispy skin and amazing flavor! Make our smoked turkey recipe for your guests.
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 this smoked turkey recipe 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.
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 instead of one giant one to cut down on cooking time.
What you’ll need for making smoked 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 and infuse it with flavor while it cooks.
Kitchen tools/equipment needed for smoking a turkey
- 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 smoked 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.
Smoked turkey recipe notes
- 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.
I don’t recommend adding bread stuffing or dressing to the inside of the bird when smoking it. 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 cooking the 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.
- How long 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 in 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 turkey to rest so the juices can redistribute through the meat.
If you’re making this 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 turkey:
- Sandwiches (try a Monte Cristo sandwich)
- Baked into casseroles
- Added to salads
- Mixed into soup or turkey chili
- In quesadillas or nachos
- Stuffed peppers for squash
- Use the bones to make broth
With love from our simple kitchen to yours.
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Smoking a Turkey – The Ultimate Guide w/ Video
- 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.
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.
Originally published October 2020
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We made this last year for Thanksgiving and it was so good we are just waiting a few more weeks to make it again!