Divine Dinner Party

How to Smoke a Turkey:
Get Started Smoking a Turkey

If you know how to smoke a turkey, you know how to create one of the most mouth-wateringly perfect foods on Earth. Really. The flavor and texture of a smoked turkey is... well, utterly luscious.

But unfortunately, buying one of these wonderful tender turkeys at the supermarket or via mail order can be costly. Like... an-arm-and-a-leg costly. The solution for smoked turkey lovers?

Learning how to smoke a turkey right at home.

First, don't worry – it isn't difficult to smoke a bird. There's a small learning curve and most of what you need to know is... right here on the page. That was the point of writing it, after all!

You'll also find more resources for smoked turkey, fried turkey, smoked turkey legs, and any other kind of turkey in my Ultimate Guide to Cooking a Turkey.

Choosing a Smoker
to Make Smoked Turkey

Before smoking a turkey at home, you'll of course need to invest in a smoker. It is true that you can do indirect smoking on the grill if it comes to that, but the intensity of the smoke flavor isn't as rich, and the melt-in-your-mouth texture isn't quite the same.

Fortunately, smokers don't have to be expensive. Small smokers (perhaps not big enough for a whole smoked turkey, but just fine for smoking a turkey breast) can run under 40 bucks. And if you're on a really tight budget you can often find cheap-priced smokers at flea markets and garage sales.

Different Kinds of Smokers

Smokers come in a variety of forms including electric, gas (propane), or charcoal. The electric option allows a cook to use charcoal along with wood chips to switch up flavor profiles. Electric also ensures even burning, so if you're in an environment where the weather shifts to cold on a moment's notice electric or gas are your best bets for year-round smoking.

A charcoal smoker, on the other hand, gets that authentic charcoal flavor deep into the meat-- and it's cheaper. So the best way to smoke a turkey for you depends on what you're looking for... and how much you can spend.

Below, you'll find a nice variety of the different kinds of large smokers for smoking turkey that are available. These are just a small slice of a huge variety available out there. So be sure to shop around!

28-in. Gourmet Charcoal Smoker

28-in. Gourmet Charcoal Smoker

Large Charcoal Smoker for making smoked turkey, smoked ham, smoked... anything.

Bradley Smoker Cherry Wood Bisquettes

Bradley Smoker Cherry Wood Bisquettes

Bisquettes are easier to use to smoke a turkey with hardwood flavoring, because the quantities are controlled, allowing for even smoking.

Cherry is a nice flavor for making a smoked turkey.

Huge 36 Inch Outdoor Propane Smoker

Huge 36 Inch Outdoor Propane Smoker

This propane-powered smoker, is HUGE, ultra easy to use, and very fancy. It's also very pricey-- best for a very dedicated BBQ chef.

Large Electric Smoker (Red)

Large Electric Smoker (Red)

Not as traditional as a charcoal smoker, but easier to use and regulate the temperature. Good for a long-smoke turkey.

Bradley Smoker Apple Wood Bisquettes

Bradley Smoker Apple Wood Bisquettes

These apple hardwood bisquettes (apple wood is a good wood for smoking turkey) heat evenly and make enough smoke for about 16 hours of smoking-- a good, long smoke for a turkey.

Gourmet Electric Smoker and Grill

Gourmet Electric Smoker and Grill

This huge electric smoker fits up to 50 pounds of meat inside-- in other words, enough turkey to last a LONG time.

Wood Choices for Smoking a Turkey

In learning how to smoke a turkey, one of the key considerations is the kind of wood you'll use. The whole point of smoking a turkey is to infuse that wood's flavor into the bird-- the smoke from the wood will be providing most of the flavor for your turkey.

Popular Woods for Smoking a Turkey

Hickory. Hickory wood is that classic smoky flavor --the one you taste in bacon and ham-- and is always good with pretty much any meat. This is the one you use when you want to know how to smoke a turkey that tastes like a big, white bird made of bacon. Mmm.

Mesquite. Is another popular, classic flavor for smoking meats, and works well with turkey.

Fruitwoods. Woods like cherry, apple, peach, etc., have gentler smoky flavors that match really well with turkey-- and don't overpower the natural flavor of the meat the way that hickory or mesquite might do. Fruitwoods are probably the most popular choice for smoking a turkey.

You also get a similarly rich, wonderful, and just-a-bit subtle flavor from nutwoods like walnut.

Hint: if you're using fruitwood for smoking a turkey, consider matching your stuffing or side dishes to that flavor profile. For example, if using cherry wood have cranberry and dried cherry relish with your turkey.

Flavored woods. Sometimes, woods for smoking turkey are infused with flavors, and you may find wine or bourbon infused woods available. While these can be nice, you can get the same effect more naturally by using these ingredients while smoking your turkey.

What Woods Not to Use

This isn't just important for knowing how to smoke a turkey, but how to smoke anything. Under no circumstances should you ever smoke food using soft wood (pine is an example). Hardwoods are the only thing you should be using in your smoker.

How to Smoke a Turkey Safely

How to Smoke a TurkeyCooking experts tell us that the longer poultry stays at a temperature of 140 degrees F, the less the chances of contamination. So while the whole point of learning how to smoke a turkey is to get that slow-cooked texture, you also need a bit of extra heat for safely. Follow the three tips below for how to smoke a turkey safely.

1. Get it Hot. For smoking a turkey safely, put your turkey in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes before smoking it. Then transfer the turkey to your smoker. It will take time for the smoker to produce smoke, anyway, so it you can use these 30 minutes to get your smoker fired up.

2. Don't Stuff. Anybody who knows how to smoke a turkey will tell you: the stuffing belongs outside the bird. A turkey should not be stuffed if you plan to smoke it whole. Not only will the stuffing gather bacteria as it sits in the bird --potentially making people sick-- it will also get a too-smoky flavor that's just too much.

3. Go Small. One of the important elements of how to smoke a turkey safely is size. Whole turkeys should be no bigger than 15 pounds if you're using smoking as your primary cooking method.

You can also consider smoking smaller parts of the bird, such as smoking turkey drumsticks or a turkey breast.

Get Smoking!

Now that you've got a smoker and a type of wood picked out --and you know all about how to smoke a turkey safely-- it's time to get smoking!

Soaking the Wood and Lighting the Smoker

Before being used in your smoker, the wood chips need to be soaked for awhile. Don't use plain water for this purpose – get creative! Fruit juice, wine, and other aromatic edible liquids can be used. They add a lot more flavor than you might think! You'll want to soak your wood chips for about 15-30 minutes. Just remember... the longer you soak your chips, the more of the flavor you soak them in will end up in your meat.

Read more about flavoring turkey for a smoker here.

While the wood soaks you can use that time to heat up your smoker (turn on the electricity, start the charcoal or light the gas). Strain the wood and place the bowl in the designated area for your smoker. The turkey goes on the smoking rack (HINT – coat the rack with olive oil or cooking spray to keep it from sticking). You want your smoker to stay at a steady 230-250 degree temperature for cooking.

Cooking the Turkey

How to SMoke a Perfect TurkeyYou will want to turn your turkey every 45 minutes for even smoking. When you do, you can add more wood or spritz a little water over the coals to get more smoke. Do this as quickly as possible to maintain the heat and the smoke.

To cook the bird completely through using this smoking method takes quite awhile. As with any other cooking method your turkey MUST be 165 degrees in the thickest part of the breast for safe consumption. Generally, smoking a turkey should take about 25-40 minutes per pound. Yes, that's a huge difference, but... it really is that variable. Which is why you need to always check your turkey for doneness with a meat thermometer like this one.

Turkey Not Done Yet? Just because you know how to smoke a turkey doesn't mean you have all the time in the world to actually do it. If you run out of wood and/or time, pop the bird in a regular oven to finish it. The skin of the turkey will already be crispy from smoking so you can just put the bird in your roaster at 350 degrees until the interior comes up to fully-cooked doneness.

Check out my turkey smoking page for more detailed instructions on how to smoke a turkey-- including more details on preparing your smoker and brining and prepping your turkey for smoking.

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