How to smoke a turkey – turkey is the centerpiece of Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner. It takes hours to roast in an oven while everything else is being prepared.
The kitchen feels like a furnace because there’s so much cooking going on and there’s a slight air of panic that the bird will be under-cooked, or everything else will be overcooked. Or that nothing will be ready in time for guests arriving.
Escape the emergency room like the environment of the kitchen and go outside and smoke your turkey on the barbecue. Quietly, with a beer perhaps. 🙂
It will take longer than an oven, but apple or hickory-smoked turkey tastes delicious, tender and is surprisingly easy to make. In fact it’s so easy to do; you will be tempted to do this more than once or twice a year. Learning how to smoke a turkey is well worth it.
If you haven’t already got a smoker, but are interested in buying one have a look at our BBQ smoker page, there’s a lot of general info on what to look out for and which brands are any good. Think Weber or Brinkmann and you won’t go far wrong – there are a good few other good manufacturers besides these.
Ingredients for BBQ Smoked Turkey
- A turkey, 12 to 14lbs, no more or it takes too long. The main thing to be sure of is whether or not it will fit in your BBQ smoker!
- Lemon and rosemary marinade or Cajun rub (or some other rub), make double amounts; there’s a lot of surface area to cover.
- Wood chips, or suitable small logs. Hickory is a safe choice, maybe apple or any other fruitwood. Pecan is nice. Some combination of the above is worth experimenting with. Apple and cherry wood? Apple and pecan wood? Hickory wood and cherry?
How to Smoke a Turkey: Preparation
- Give the turkey a good coating of the marinade, let it stand for half an hour at least to penetrate the meat. If you use a rub of some kind instead, now is a good time to apply it.
- Soak the wood chips.
- Light the BBQ charcoal, you will need a lot – have more on hand, you’ll need it. Open the vents fully, stoke the coals periodically until they are all glowing evenly.
- Close the vents to halfway, the temperature needs to be 225 to 250F (105 – 120C) – so some adjustment will, doubtless, be required.
- Put the drip pan full of water in the bottom, your BBQ turkey on the rack, and close the lid. Now is the time to put your wood chips in as well.
- Expect the cooking time to be 4 to 5 hours for a 12-pound turkey.
Smoking Your Turkey
Monitor the temperature and keep it in the 225 – 250F range. Throughout cooking make sure there is enough charcoal, and be ready to light more – a charcoal chimney is best for this.
Every hour or so open the lid and have a look, and brush it with more of the marinade, or apply more of the rub. Basting it with apple juice and pouring more apple juice in the drip pan is another way to add flavor and moisture.
As you do this, rotate the turkey 180 degrees to help ensure even heating.
How to Smoke a Turkey: When is it Ready?
When the internal temperature is 165F (75C) at the thickest part of the bird i.e. the breast or thickest part of the thigh, it is ready. The best way to be sure is to use a meat thermometer – get one they cost peanuts.
If you don’t have a meat thermometer, carefully try pulling one of the legs off. If the joint easily pops out and juices run clear it’s ready.
If you have trouble getting it up to temperature, use the oven as a last resort.
When it is finally ready to take it out of the BBQ and place it on a platter, cover with foil and let it rest for 20 minutes at least.
Smoked Turkey Recipe
- 10 to 15 pound fresh or thawed turkey, un-stuffed
- 2 medium onions
- 3 to 4 stalks celery with leaves
- 1 tablespoon salt
Fill water pan completely full of liquid. Rinse turkey inside and out with cold water. Rub inside and out with salt. Cut onion in quarters, celery in chunks and put in cavity. Put on cooking grill and smoke cook 8-12 hours or until turkey leg moves easily in joint or meat thermometer reaches 180°F .
Check water pan after 4-5 hours of cooking and add an additional cup or two of water. If necessary use juices in water pan to make gravy for turkey, if desired.
Rub turkey with ground sage before cooking, or use crushed rosemary leaves, marjoram or tarragon. Use dry white wine as part of the liquid in the water pan. Combine the following ingredients and rub inside and outside of turkey before cooking, adding remaining “rub” to the water pan.
Combine 1/4 cup each of vegetable oil and Burgundy wine, 1/3 cup of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of melted butter, 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon each of salt and marjoram and 1/2 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper.
Hickory Smoked Turkey, Honey Glazed & Steamed in Citrus Marinade
A smoked turkey is much more flavorful and succulent than a roast turkey, and this particular recipe gets rave reviews at holiday dinners and special occasions. Glazing the turkey with honey gives it a golden color and using concentrated orange juice in the water pan steams the turkey with a delightful marinade. Smoking the giblets makes for uniquely delicious giblet gravy. Fresh, uncooked ham can also be prepared using the following recipes. Hickory and oak are the best smoking woods for turkey and ham.
- 10 to 12 lb turkey
- 1 cup honey
- 2 tablespoons each celery powder and garlic powder
- 4 – 16 oz cans orange juices concentrate (reserve ¼ cup concentrate: mix remainder with water to fill water pan)
- 6 hickory wood chunks, water-soaked and wrapped in foil with holes to ensure long smoking
Remove giblets and rinse the turkey. Gently lift the skin and turkey with a thick coating of honey mixed with 1/4 cup orange juice concentrate, celery powder, and garlic powder. Replace skin to its original position and rub a thick coating of honey and celery/garlic powder mixture all over the surface of the skin.
Place wood chunks on charcoal or lava rocks, and pour orange juice mixture into the water pan. Place giblets and turkey in smoker basket with breast upright and set on lower level grill. Smoke cook for approximately 3 to 5 hours (electric/gas smoker) or 6 to 8 hours (charcoal smoker). Use a meat thermometer to test doneness.
Skim fat from liquid in the water pan to make gravy. Add smoked to the gravy.
Ultimate Smoked Turkey
For gift-giving or just pleasing your family, nothing beats a smoked turkey (executives call it the “ultimate gift”). The Super Smoking Sauce adds a super flavor.
- 1 – 8 to 10 lb. turkey
- 1 medium onion
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 recipe of Super Smoking Sauce (see index for recipe)
Rinse turkey, pat dry and rub liberally with oil. Place onion, bay leaves and wine in water pan with hot water. Place water pan in smoker and turkey on the smoker grid. Place dome on smoker and do not remove until midway through cooking time. Then remove the dome and liberally paint turkey with Super Smoking Sauce. Replace dome and continue smoking. When turkey is done liberally paint again and allow to smoke for 15 minutes more.
Charcoal: Use 10 pounds charcoal, 5 quarts hot water, 3 wood sticks and smoke 4 – 6 hours.
Electric: Use 4 quarts hot water, 3 wood sticks and smoke 4 – 6 hours.
Serves 8 – 10