The Best Smoked Turkey Recipe

The Best Smoked Turkey Recipe – tender, juicy and flavorful, this is seriously the best smoked turkey you will ever have. Learn how to prepare, brine, season and smoke a turkey in an electric smoker. Just days away from Thanksgiving, let’s make this amazing delicacy happen and enjoy it.

Smoked turkey in a platter

 

Smoking a turkey is probably easier than you can imagine and after roasting, this is my favorite way to enjoy it.

This smoked turkey recipe produces a super flavorful and perfectly cooked this 13 pound turkey took around 5 hours in the smoker and tasted super delicious.

As always when cooking turkey I was a little worried about overcooking the breast meat and undercooking the thighs, but everything turned out well at the end.

I’m ready to answer all of your questions and give you some tips on how to prepare, smoke and serve the best smoked turkey and enjoy it with your family and friends this year.

What kind of turkey is best for smoking? Fresh or frozen? Small or large?

What turkey did I use in this smoked turkey recipe?

The answer here is that you can smoke any turkey.

Therefore it is up to you to choose if you’d like to spend the extra money on a fresh (organic) turkey.

Fresh is always best, but with turkeys, that require some planning to prep and cook, and also being a food blogger (I cook a lot) I do prefer frozen turkeys.

I bought mine on a weekday, let it defrost in the refrigerator and smojed in on the weekend.

The size of the turkey is important, considering the time you are going to smoke it and how many people you are going to serve.

As the basic rule goes – you need 1 pound of turkey per person and if you’d like to have leftovers, plan for 1 1/2 pounds per person.

I’d say that generally smaller turkeys are easier to work with and cook (smoke).

The turkey that I smoked was around 13 pounds.

Any turkey between 12-15 pounds will work fine.

As long as time for smoking goes, it requires around 30 minutes per pound of turkey if you smoke it at 230 F.

Please check out the section about time, since I smoked my turkey at a higher temperature, but since the weather was extremely cold in the Chicago area today, the did not happen.

My pellet grill was unable to reach the desired temperature and constantly kept going 20-30 degrees lower.

 

How do you prepare turkey for smoking? Do you have to brine it?

Festive smoked turkey on a white plate

  1. Wash the turkey. I know that this step is quite arguable, since the USDA does not advice washing poultry, because the splashing will spread a lot of germs in your sink and kitchen. I always wash my turkeys, no matter is I brine or don’t brine them. Then I take the time to clean the area.
  2. Brine the turkey. To brine or not to brine, this is the question. When I first started making turkeys on my own, I used to think that brining is non-negotiable. Guess what, now I’ve come up to the conclusion that you can still cook a turkey, that is juicy like the one in this smoked turkey recipe even if you don’t brine it. I used a dry brine here. Dry brining has been my go to method, since it is a lot less messier and I don’t have space for a giant bucket of water in the fridge around the holidays.
  3. Season the turkey. Use a seasoning or rub of your choice. I made herb butter that I spread on the outside and inside of the turkey.
  4. Start your electric smoker (pellet grill) and let it reach the desired temperature.
  5. Place the turkey in the smoker.
  6. Smoke until a thermometer inserted in the turkey breast reads 165 F and in the turkey thighs (legs) 175 F. If the turkey breast reaches the desired temperature a lot quicker than the thighs (which is rare), cover with foil and continue smoking until the thigh meat is cooked to at least 175 F and juices run clear.

Smoked turkey recipe on a white platter

Do I have to brine a turkey, before smoking?

I’ve researched multiple recipes and found out that half of the people did not brine the turkeys before smoking. Their turkeys turned out juicy and delicious.

I believe that brining is not a guarantee for a perfectly cooked turkey.

But I still brined the bird for The Best Smoked Turkey Recipe.

Wet versus dry brine for turkey? I’m not a fan of the huge bucked of contaminated water in my refrigerator, while I’m getting ready for the holiday and have a ton of food in it.

This is why I like dry brining.

Dry brining is basically covering the turkey with what you are adding to the wet brine minus the water.

For example, if your wet brine consists of salt and water, you cover the turkey with salt.

Let it sit in the fridge uncovered for 12-24 hours (no more than that) and then rinse well and pat dry.

The best smoked turkey on a white platter

Dry brining keeps the meat moist, while creates a crispy skin.

For the wet brine in the best smoked turkey recipe I used kosher salt, black pepper and orange zest (optional, but adds fruitiness).

If you are not using Kosher salt, but prefer to use table salt, make sure you convert the amount.

For about 1 cup of Kosher salt, you need to use 3/4 cup of regular table salt.

What is a good seasoning for smoked turkey?

Carved smoked turkey on a plate

You may surprised, but you don’t need to add a ton of seasoning to the turkey in order for it to taste good.

In this smoked turkey recipe I mixed some melted butter (oil works too) with lemon juice and added kosher salt, black pepper, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, a little bit of smoked paprika (optional), oregano, parsley, sage, thyme and rosemary.

I know, sounds like a lot, but since holiday season is upon us, I happened to have all these herbs available and ised them in this smoked turkey recipe.

If you don’t have a variety of herbs to use, you can rub the turkey with your favorite smoker or grill rub.

For example, you can use salt, black pepper, brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and ground mustard (optional).

What can you put inside the turkey cavity for flavor?

If is not a big deal, if you don’t put anything inside the cavity, but just season it.

I do like to stuff it with quartered onion, apples, lemon wedges and orange wedges.

The combination brings an amazing flavor and keeps the turkey in a nice shape.

What flavor wood pellets for smoking turkey?

Since I used a pellet grill for this smoked turkey recipe, I got to choose the flavor of pellets to use.

I had some Mesquite pellets and the flavor of the smoked meat was really good.

Other types of wood you may use any wood with sweet flavor like maple, cherry or apple.

Is basting the turkey while smoking necessary? What juice to baste it with?

For the best smoked turkey recipe, I did not baste the bird while smoking.

The reason why is that is extremely cold around here. Every time I open the grill for basting, the temperature drops with 5-10 degrees.

I also had some faulty overly moist pellets that caused issues, so I had to constantly add pellets at some point.

So can you make juicy smoked turkey without basting it?

The answer is yes and I guarantee you.

If you decide to baste the turkey while smoking, good options are chicken stock, apple juice or apple cider vinegar diluted with water.

You can also spray the turkey with cooking spray.

How often should you baste? I’d say every 45-60 minutes.

How long does it take to smoke a whole turkey? At what temperature do you smoke a whole turkey on a pellet grill?

The smoking time varies, depending on the size of the turkey, type of smoker, temperature of the grill and the temperature outdoors.

You may have heard that smoking at a lower temperature produces better flavor.

It is true, but not at all times. I was planning to smoke this turkey at a higher temperature of 300 F.

Sadly this did not happen, as my grill was maintaining temperature of between 160-270F.

It took around five and a half hours to make this turkey.

This is an approximate guide, but please always take into consideration your own equipment.

  • At 235 F/115 C, your turkey will take 30 to 35 minutes per pound.
  • At 250 F/120 C, your turkey will take 25 to 30 minutes per pound.
  • At 275 F/135 C, your turkey will take 20 to 25 minutes per pound.

What sides to serve with smoked turkey?

You can just serve this juicy smoked turkey with a nice salad.

But since we are in a holiday mood, here are some Thanksgiving approved side dishes you may like:

Servings: 12

The Best Smoked Turkey Recipe

Prep Time:
20 mins
Cook Time:
6 hrs
Total Time:
6 hrs 20 mins
The Best Smoked Turkey Recipe - tender, juicy and flavorful, this is seriously the best smoked turkey you will ever have. Learn how to prepare, brine, season and smoke a turkey in an electric smoker. Just days away from Thanksgiving, let's make this amazing delicacy happen and enjoy it.
Smoked turkey in a platter
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Ingredients

  • 1 12 lb whole turkey

for the dry brine:

  • 2/3 cup coarse kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar — optiona
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper — optional
  • 1 tbsp orange zest — optional

For the rub:

  • 1/2 cup melted butter — or vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt — Optional. If you don't brine the turkey the amount of salt should be more.
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary — or 1/4 tsp dried, optional
  • 1 tsp sage — or 1/2 tsp dried, optional
  • 1 tsp thyme — or 1/2 tsp dried, optional
  • 1 tsp parsley — fresh or dried

Instructions

  1. Rinse and pat dry the thawed turkey. In a bowl mix together the kosher salt, brown sugar, black pepper and orange zest. Rub the turkey on the inside and outside. Place on a tray and refrigerate for 12-24 hours.

  2. Rinse the dry rub. Pat dry the turkey.

  3. In a small bowl combine the melted butter, lemon juice, salt and herbs. Whisk to combine.

  4. Rub the turkey on the outside, inside and under the skin on the breast with the butter and seasoning.

  5. Set a pellet grill to a temperature of 250-275 F. Smoke until a thermometer inserted in the breast meat reads 165 F and the thigh meat reads 175 F.

    Let the turkey cool for at least 20 minutes before carving and serving.

Recipe Notes

If you are not brining the turkey before smoking, the amount of salt you need to add is going to be 1-1 1/2 tablespoons vs 1 tsp in the recipe. If the turkey is brined, it will already have a lot of saltiness in it.
Smoked turkey times: 
  • At 235 F/115 C, your turkey will take 30 to 35 minutes per pound.
  • At 250 F/120 C, your turkey will take 25 to 30 minutes per pound.
  • At 275 F/135 C, your turkey will take 20 to 25 minutes per pound.
If you decide to baste the turkey while smoking, make sure you start doing it 1 hour after you have placed the turkey on the smoker. Do it every 45-60 minutes, until the turkey is cooked. Good juices for basting are chicken stock, oil cooking spray, apple juice or apple cider vinegar diluted with water.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Smoked Turkey Recipe

Nutrition Information

Calories: 381, Fat: 19g, Saturated Fat: 8g, Cholesterol: 174mg, Sodium: 6790mg, Potassium: 485mg, Carbohydrates: 2g, Sugar: 2g, Protein: 46g, Vitamin A: 9.4%, Vitamin C: 2.1%, Calcium: 3.1%, Iron: 10.9%