Whether you are thinking of creating a fantastic turkey dinner for the night or as the main course for the Thanksgiving holiday, knowing how to smoke a turkey properly can make the difference and leave your guests longing for more. There are many ways to prepare a turkey for everyone to enjoy, but this guide will specifically focus on how to smoke a turkey.

Before you can smoke that perfect turkey, you will need a few things for the preparation process. There’s choosing the proper turkey, picking and organizing the tools for the cooking process, preparing the turkey before you smoke it and preparing the turkey after you smoke it. We’ll help you along the way.

First things first:  before you can even begin preparing the turkey, you will obviously need one. But which one should you pick? Which turkey is the best choice? For the best-smoked turkey, you will want one that has been minimally-processed and weighs less than 18 pounds. When a turkey is frozen, its cells rupture. When it’s thawed, most of the juices drain out and are lost. This creates an unnatural dryness in the product which essentially carries over to the cooking process.

Most frozen turkeys have brine injected into them which allows for the moistness within to be retained. However, you do not want a pre-brined turkey because you’ll have to use your very own brine during the cooking process (ideally). If for whatever reason you are unable to get your hands on a fresh turkey, that’s okay. Just make sure that the turkey that you buy is completely thawed before injecting the brine.

What You Need

After you have bought yourself a turkey (remember, fresh over frozen if you can!), the next things you will need are the ingredients for the turkey and for the smoker.

For the turkey, you will need:

  • About 1 cup/240 mL of turkey rub
  • Turkey brine (optional)
  • Seasonings

As for the smoker and the entire cooking process, the essentials are:

  • Fuel (charcoal, propane, etc.)
  • Wood for smoke (chips, chunks, etc.)
  • An aluminum drip pan (if you’re not going to brine it)
  • Meat thermometer
  • Aluminum foil
  • Three toothpicks
  • Something to baste the turkey with

How to Smoke a Turkey

smoke the turkey

So now, we finally get to the most important part of the guide:  how to smoke a turkey. As part of the guide, we will take you through the entire pre-preparation process, the preparation process itself and finally, the post-preparation process. But before you begin, make sure you have everything from the lists above as you will need the items at certain points.

Pre-preparation

pre-preparation

Smoking a turkey isn’t going to be fast because it requires a cooking time of about 30 minutes per pound at a temperature of around 235 degrees F/115 degrees C. As a result, you will have to plan the fire accordingly. However, it is possible to slightly reduce the time by setting the temperature to 250 degrees F/120 degrees C (25 minutes per pound). This lower temperature is usually used for bigger turkeys since it reduces the amount of time that bacteria can grow within.

For this process, start off by lightly oiling your cooking grate. As you unpackage and prepare the turkey, keep an eye on the smoker, and make any necessary adjustments to hit the specified temperature.

Now that the smoker has been taken care of, place the turkey inside the aluminum pan (if you plan on making gravy and want to catch the drippings as the turkey cooks). Add about 4 cups/1 liter of water into the pan to prevent the drippings from drying out and potentially burning during the smoking time. Since most of the water will evaporate, check back towards the end of cooking time to make sure that there’s still water in the pan, and add more water if you have to.

As for the turkey itself, begin by removing the neck and the giblets from the inside. Afterwards, you want to remove any excess fat from the edges of the skin, but try not to remove the skin—in general—because the skin protects the meat from drying as it smokes. If the turkey is brined, rinse it in cold water to wash the brine away. Even if there is no brine, rinse the turkey to make sure it is clean.

Another important step is to pin the wings with a toothpick. Since the wings tend to dangle from the sides, they can become overcooked and very dry. Aside from the wings, it’s also important to take the skin from the neck, fold it and pin it down with another toothpick. Regarding skin from the breast, you want to loosen it with your fingers (don’t pull!) from the rear to front and then down the sides toward the legs. Doing this allows the brine to reach the breast meat.

From this point on, the guide will list an optional instruction, if you plan to brine your turkey. Since everyone has their own preference when it comes to brining a turkey (or not) while cooking it, we will talk about how to brine it before sending it into the smoker.

Brined

brined

To perfectly brine your turkey, place it into the brining container “head first” because if it’s placed “feet first,” then air might get trapped in the body cavity. Since you want the brine to contact every part of the body, the turkey has to be fully submerged. To do that, lay a heavy plate on top of the brine inside the brining container.

Once the turkey has been brined, rinse it in cold water and clean out the body cavity. Afterwards, put the turkey in an upright position, and let the water drain out. After 5-10 minutes, pat the turkey with an actual towel. Do not use paper towels since the towels can disintegrate and stick to the skin, creating a mess that can be hard to remove.

Post-brine/No Brine

After you have brined your turkey (or used none brine at all), it’s time to use the turkey rub. Use whichever spices and/or herbs you want, and apply them under the skin. To do so properly, start where the leg connects to the body, and slip your hand under the skin; loosen it as much as you can around the breast and body. Then, push the rub into the area, and spread it out evenly, working the rub into as many meaty areas as possible.

Preparation

Depending on your turkey’s size, get the smoker to the correct temperature and prepare to place your turkey. Knowing how to smoke a turkey is an important first step to preparing your Thanksgiving feast. You want to place the turkey in such a way so that the smoke can flow evenly around all sides (however, depending on your model, if the smoker puts out more heat on one side than the other, you want to rotate the turkey every 2 hours).

If you’re also using a dripper, make sure that the turkey is placed directly over the dripper so that all the juice can collect.

Once the turkey is in the smoker, check back on it periodically since the turkey will smoke between 30-40 minutes per pound. As you check on your turkey, measure the internal temperature with the meat thermometer, but remember to not open the smoker too often as heat can escape. Also, if you are planning to baste your turkey, wait until the last hour of cooking time. During the basting process, apply to every inch of the skin, including the insides.

As cooking time nears the end, check the temperature, and check all sides of your turkey. Use the meat thermometer to measure the breast, the thigh and the other side as well. The lowest temperature is the one you will use, and you are looking for a number somewhere between 175 and 180degrees F/80 to 85 degrees C. When the lowest temperature on the turkey reads the specified number, take the turkey out of the smoke,r and make sure you have aluminum foil ready.

Post-preparation

post-preparation

Your question on to “How to smoke a turkey,” is about to be answered. Now that you are done with cooking your turkey and have taken it out of the smoker, wrap it up in aluminum foil, and allow it to rest. Resting makes the meat more tender and juicy, lets the meat to relax and allows for the heat to even out.

Once you have tightly covered your turkey, put it someplace warm, and have it rest for 15 minutes. Once the 15 minutes are up, you can cut or carve your turkey, and prepare it for consumption.

Conclusion

Knowing how to smoke a turkey can be tricky at first because you want to get the right temperature, the right ingredients and tools and make sure that your turkey doesn’t end up being a disappointment. We hope that this guide has provided you with all the information and steps that you need to prepare a delicious turkey that you and your friends and family will be able to enjoy.


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