How to Smoke a Turkey: The perfect way to create juicy, flavorful, mouthwatering turkey for Thanksgiving, or any other time of year! This is hands down the best turkey I have ever had.
How to Smoke a Turkey
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There is a lot of debate about the best way to smoke a turkey, even the top pellet smoker websites that share recipes will have 5-10 different recipes for smoking a turkey, and they will all be different, use different pellets, cook at different time intervals, etc. I have tried them all, and have tested, and played, and created what I believe to be the best smoked turkey recipe out there. It is really really easy to make. You do not need any special cooking skills. And it doesn’t require anything fancy. And, if you don’t count brining it overnight, it is done in just a few hours. This is the ultimate smoked turkey recipe!
Step One: Thaw & Prep Turkey
- Thaw completely: In order to get even cooking, thaw the turkey properly, by starting thaw in the fridge. It takes a couple of days to thaw completely, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time. Start 3 days before you want to serve.
- Remove Giblets, neck etc.: Once the turkey is thawed, take the neck, giblets, etc. out of the turkey cavities. You can save them for later use, or toss them.
- Trim excess fat/skin: Now take some kitchen shears and trim any of the excess skin or fat around the cavity and neck. These shears are my favorite, they have excellent reviews on Amazon and are inexpensive and last forever.
Step two: Brine Turkey
Once your turkey is thawed and trimmed, it is time to brine it. Brining turkey is super important to getting a flavorful and juicy bird, and should not be skipped. You should plan a full 24 hours for brining the bird. If you don’t have enough time for that, brine as long as you can.
- Make the brine ahead so it can cool completely before you put the turkey in it.
- Use a turkey oven bag to hold the brine and the turkey. They are sturdy, and can be tied off or zipped closed.
- Place the bag full of turkey and brine into a cooler. Or place in large bucket or bowl and add to fridge. If in a cooler, add ice to the cooler to keep it cold for the 24 hours. Check it regularly to make sure it stays cold.
- Remove from brine after 24 hours, rinse and pat dry.
Step Three: Rub with Herb Butter
Now that the turkey is brined, you get to smother it in love…I mean butter… to add flavor, and to make it so you don’t have to babysit the bird and baste it. So much easier this way.
- Prep the turkey by separating the skin from the breast creating a pocket to stuff the herb butter into. I usually start at the neck opening, and slip a finger or a wooden spoon handle between the skin and the meat. You can do this on the other end of the bird as well, starting at the tail.
- You will mix your herbs and butter and other seasonings together (see recipe below), and divide it in half.
- Use half to rub a nice thick layer of herb butter all over the breast of the turkey. If the bird is too cold it will be hard to rub it all over, so maybe let it sit for 20-30 minutes.
- Once you rub half of your herb butter mixture on the inside between the meat and skin, you are going to rub the other half on the outside. There will be herbs all over the outside, don’t worry you will scrape the herbs off the exterior at the end so it is still pretty!
- Optional: Truss Turkey. Rumor has it that trussing the turkey helps ensure that everything cooks evenly by tying it into a tight bundle. I have not found this step to be necessary, and some even advise against it. But if you want it to be extra pretty, and stick with tradition, truss away.
Step Four: Get Traeger Ready
- Fill your grill with Hickory pellets. Cherry is nice too. Or Oak if you don’t have either of the other two. But Hickory is my favorite for this recipe.
- Start the grill on Smoke with the lid open until the fire is established (4 to 5 minutes).
- Set the temperature to 325F and preheat, lid closed, for 10 to 15 minutes.
Step Five: Roast Your Turkey
- Put the roasting pan with the turkey directly on the grill grate.
- Put the meat thermometer probe in the thickest part of the thigh, but be sure it isn’t touching bone.
- Roast the turkey for 3 hours or until it reaches a temperature of 165F. Usually you want around 13 minutes cook time per pound. The turkey should be beautifully browned with crisp skin, if your turkey is not browned to your liking, let it roast a little longer, but don’t let it get above 172 or it will start to dry out.
- Rest your turkey: transfer your turkey to a cutting board and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes. Do not tent it with aluminum foil or the skin will lose its crispness. Once it has rested and all those yummy juices have soaked back in, then carve and serve.
As you can see, this makes for one excellent bird! The flavor is going to be spot on too! I love using the ginger miso broth from Trader Joe’s as it gives it a subtle hint of sophistication, but have made it both ways, and it is sooooo good. Just remember to make more than you think you will need, because chances are there will not any leftovers.
How to Smoke a Turkey FAQ’s:
How To Smoke A Turkey
- 14-20 lb Turkey
- Turkey bag
- 1 1/2 cups salt
- 1 1/2 gallons water
- 8 bay leaves
- 1/2 c molasses -or- 3/4 c brown sugar
- 6 lemons washed and quartered
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 Tbs minced garlic
- 1 cup butter yes, so much butter
- 1/3 cup basil chopped fine
- 1/3 cup chives chopped fine
- 1 Tbs red chili pepper flakes
- 1/3 cup parsley chopped fine
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 3 cups chicken stock OR Miso Ginger Broth Trader Joe's
- Combine all brine ingredients in large pot and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes.
- Turn off, and let cool completely.
- Bring butter to room temp, add in the finely chopped herbs, and mix it all together.
- Make brine and herb butter.
- Completely thaw turkey, remove giblets, neck, etc. and trim the excess fat around the neck.
- Put turkey in a turkey bag, and place it inside of a cooler, fill bag with cooled brine, and tie off so it does not leak.
- Put ice around the turkey in the cooler to keep it cold and safe while brining.
- Brine 24 hours.
- After 24 hours, pour brine off turkey, and rinse the turkey completely.
- Pat turkey dry with paper towels.
- Use your fingers to gently life the skin away from the meat (start at tail and neck area)
- Divide butter mixture in half, lift skin, and rub half all over the turkey between the meat and the skin.
- Take other half of butter mixture and rub all over the exterior of the turkey. If it won't stick, just keep trying, the turkey may be too cold.
- Place turkey in a roasting pan.
- Pour 3 cups of chicken stock or ginger miso broth into bottom of the pan. More if the turkey is really large
- Turn smoker on to "smoke" with the lid open until fire starts, about 4-5 minutes.
- Once that has passed, turn temperature to 325 degrees F.
- Close the lid and let smoker preheat for 10-15 minutes.
- Place roasting pan directly on smoker grate, and insert meat thermometer probe into the thigh, not touching bone.
- Close lid, and roast for approximately 3 hours(11-13 minutes a pound on average, depending on the consistency of your heat), until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
- A few hours in, check liquid levels, and if needed, add a little more chicken stock or ginger miso broth to the roasting pan.
- Once internal temp reaches 165 degrees, remove roasting pan and turkey from smoker, and remove turkey from pan.
- Let sit on tray or cutting board for 20-30 minutes, to rest. This lets some of the juices reabsorb so your turkey stays nice and moist. Do not cover.
- Then carve and enjoy!
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