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This easy Smoked Turkey recipe yields a juicy, smoky-flavored bird that will leave your Thanksgiving dinner guests begging for more! Serve with your favorite holiday side dishes or check out the post about my family’s favorite Thanksgiving side dishes for easy browsing! Read on for all my tips and tricks about making the most perfect smoked turkey ever! Happy Thanksgiving, friends!
Why You’ll Love Smoked Turkey
I’m telling you, once you’ve had smoked turkey, you’ll never want to have it any other way! The combination of the natural flavors of the turkey meat and the smokiness from the wood creates a unique and savory taste. Leftover smoked turkey can be used in a variety of ways. Whether it’s sandwiches, salads, soups, or just enjoyed on its own, the mouth watering smoke flavor adds depth to any recipe!
What Kind of Smoker is Best for Smoking a Turkey?
When it comes to smoking a turkey, the best type of smoker really depends on your personal preference and experience level. Here are a few popular types of smokers and their pros and cons for smoking a turkey:
Offset Smokers: Offset smokers have a separate firebox attached to the cooking chamber. It allows indirect heat and smoke to cook the meat. They are excellent for smoking large cuts of meat like an entire whole turkey. They do require more attention to maintain a consistent temperature.
Electric Smokers: An electric smoker is convenient and easy to use. They allow great temperature control, making them very beginner-friendly. They are a good option if you prefer a set-it-and-forget-it approach.
Pellet Smokers: A pellet smoker uses compressed wood pellets as fuel and have a good balance between convenience and flavor. They provide consistent smoke and temperature and provide a rich smoky flavor to the turkey. I use a pellet smoker – the Traeger Wood Fired Pellet Grill to be exact, which is also a set it and forget it type smoker. All I have to worry about is making sure the pellets don’t run out!
Charcoal Smokers: A charcoal smoker provides a traditional smoky flavor that many people know and love. A charcoal smoker requires a bit more hands-on attention but you’re able to have excellent control over the cooking process. Charcoal smokers can yield a delicious, smoky turkey, especially if you use wood chunks or chips along with charcoal.
Brining a Fresh vs Frozen Turkey
A brine is a good opportunity to add extra moisture and flavor to your Thanksgiving Turkey. How you do this is obviously your choice. A fresh turkey comes basically ready to cook/smoke…no prep work needed. Adding a brine will make for a delicious flavorful turkey. But what about a frozen turkey?
If you have read the fine print…meaning read the entire package that a frozen turkey comes in, you will probably recognize the following sentence: “contains up to 8% of a solution of water, salt, spices and natural flavor for tenderness and juiciness”.
This basically means that your frozen turkey already comes with a brine of sorts. If you defrost your bird in the fridge for a few days, it will be sitting in this solution…therefore semi-brining itself before you cook it.
Should you still dry brine a frozen turkey? I would say yes. Not only does it leave you with an overall juicier bird, but it also adds the flavors you want your turkey to have. I have recipes for both a turkey wet brine and dry brine turkey. For this smoked turkey recipe, I just used plain ol’ kosher salt and it yielded an amazing finished product.
How to Make Smoked Turkey
For this recipe I give you the option of using a dry brine on your turkey before putting into the smoker. You’ll want to put a dry brine on 24-36 hours before. The smoking process can be pretty hands off (depending on your smoker) and you can be making your side dishes in the oven while your bird is outside in the smoker doing its own thing cooking away.
I used a 14 lb turkey and my smoker was preheated to 225 degrees F. Total cook time was 10 hours. The average time is 35 minutes per pound, but may take longer depending on your smoker. I find that typically a 14 lb turkey for me takes 45 minutes per pound if I smoke at 225° F, so 10 hours to reach temperature. You can speed this up by smoking at 250° F.
For full recipe details, see the printable recipe card down below. Here is step by step how to smoke a turkey:
Optional Dry Rub Brine
*This step is optional. Skip down to the next section if not dry brining your turkey.
Somewhere between 24-36 hours before you smoke your turkey, remove fully thawed turkey from package, remove giblets and neck from the turkey cavity, and pat dry with paper towels.
Sprinkle the entire outside of the turkey with kosher salt, rubbing in where needed and place in the refrigerator uncovered to dry brine overnight (or up to 36 hours).
*The Morning of Smoking Your Turkey*
Preheat Your Smoker + Prep Turkey
Preheat your smoker to 225° F. Remove brined turkey from refrigerator (if you opted for that step) and season generously with black pepper.
Pro Tip: If you did NOT dry brine your turkey, you will need to season with salt at this point. You can add any other desired seasonings here as well (garlic powder, onion powder, dry or fresh herbs, etc.). If you want to stuff your turkey with fruit, garlic, herbs, etc., do this now before you season the outside.
Insert Smoker’s Thermometer Probe into Turkey Thigh
Time for the smoker! Place turkey directly on the smoker grate, breast side up and insert your smoker’s meat thermometer probe into the thickest part of the thigh of the turkey without touching the bone. (You won’t get an accurate read if the probe is touching the bone.)
Smoke for several hours (my 14 pound turkey took 10 hours) until the meat reaches an internal temperature of the turkey 165° F. Cooking time will vary for a smaller or larger turkey. Also know that larger birds may not fit in your smoker, so plan accordingly. 🙂
Pro Tip: The average smoke time is 35 minutes per pound, but may take longer depending on your smoker. I find that typically a 14 lb turkey for me takes 45 minutes per pound if I smoke at 225° F, so 10 hours to reach temperature. You can speed this up by smoking at 250° F.
Let Turkey Rest Before Carving
Once your turkey reaches temperature, remove from smoker and let rest for at least 30 minutes before carving and serving.
Classic Thanksgiving Side Dishes
So, you make this to-die-for Smoked Turkey for Thanksgiving…what do you serve with it? Here are some classic side dishes that are popular and traditional for Thanksgiving.
- Dinner Rolls – a must have
- Amazing Thanksgiving Stuffing or Easy Cornbread Stuffing Recipe
- Perfect Scalloped Potatoes or Funeral Potatoes…both are extremely popular on my site around the holidays
- Thanksgiving Turkey Gravy
- Mashed Potatoes or Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes
- Green Bean Casserole (with bacon!!)
- No-Knead Crescent Rolls– includes make ahead directions
- Cranberry Sauce
- Pumpkin Pie or Sweet Potato Pie
- Pumpkin Pecan Cobbler – highly rated!
Storing Leftover Smoked Turkey
Allow leftovers to cool completely to room temperature. Remove meat from the turkey carcass (you can save the carcass for making bone broth!). Store leftover turkey in airtight resealable bags or an airtight container for up to 4 days.
To Freeze: If you want to store turkey leftovers for a longer period of time. Place in freezer safe bags or containers for up to 4 months! Allow to thaw overnight in the fridge.
FAQ About Smoked Turkey
Apple or cherry wood would be great options. You want one that is milder and sweet for turkey. Hickory chips would be good as well. Stronger flavored wood might over power the turkey’s natural flavors.
If you’ve dry brined your turkey correctly, you should be sticking a bone dry turkey into the smoker for smoking. There should be nothing to rinse off. If you give it enough time to release its juices and then soak them back in, after 24-36 hours you should have a dry turkey that is ready for the smoker.
Also, keep in mind that you don’t want to add water to the skin! You want crispy skin on your turkey! Rinsing it would defeat the purpose and ruin all that hard work you put in the day before.
It can be difficult to catch turkey drippings in a smoker since the whole bird is placed directly on the grill grates. You could try to catch some drippings while slicing your smoked turkey by carving it on a cutting board with a lip around the edge. As you slice the juices will run to the edges and can then be used in gravy for that delicious smoky flavor.
The best salt for brining is kosher salt because it will stick to the turkey the best. It also doesn’t clump and will be easier to sprinkle over the turkey. Coarse sea salt will work too if you’re in a pinch.
Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes to Try!
- Turkey a la King Recipe
- Thanksgiving Leftovers Casserole
- Thanksgiving Turkey Meatloaf
- Leftover Turkey Casserole
- Turkey Salad Sandwiches
This truly is the best smoked turkey recipe! It’s the best way to get juicy smoked turkey for Thanksgiving or any time during the holiday season. The printable recipe card is below. Have a great day, friends!
If you make this recipe, I would really appreciate it if you would give it a star rating and leave your review in the comments! If you have a picture of your finished dish, post it on Instagram using the hashtag #laurenslatest and tagging me @laurens_latest.
optional dry brine
- 24-36 hours before you smoke your turkey, remove fully thawed turkey from package, remove giblets and neck from the cavity, and pat dry with paper towels.
- Sprinkle the entire outside of the turkey with salt, rubbing in where needed and place in the refrigerator uncovered to dry brine overnight (or up to 36 hours).
the morning of
- Preheat your smoker to 225° F.
- Remove brined turkey from refrigerator** and season generously with black pepper*.
- Place turkey directly on the smoker grate and insert your smoker’s thermometer probe in the thigh of the turkey without touching the bone.
- Smoke for several hours*** (my 14 lb pound turkey took 10 hours) until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165° F.
- Once your turkey reaches temperature, remove from smoker and let rest for at least 30 minutes before carving and serving.