How To Smoke Your Thanksgiving Turkey

My husband has been smoking our Thanksgiving Turkey for the last few years, and it’s so deeelicious! Not only did everyone enjoy it on Thanksgiving day, but the leftovers were SO much better than a traditional oven-roasted turkey. It’s perfect for soups, such as gumbo or turkey noodle, or just by itself—not a piece of it will go to waste. Here’s what he’s learned from his experience and how you can smoke your own Thanksgiving Turkey this year.


by Jason Leake

I am a sucker for smoked meat, but recreating the delicious flavors I’ve experienced at restaurants and BBQ joints didn’t seem easy at first.

After much experimenting, I found what I feel is the best (as in most convenient and repeatable) smoker to use and developed what I feel is a great recipe to please both traditionalist and smoke lovers alike on Thanksgiving day. I really appreciate the flexibility of only needing 3.5 hours total cook time (for a 12-pound turkey). Jump to the recipe down below or read on to learn about smokers.

Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey

Choosing A Smoker

There are many types of smokers on the market, but I’m going to stick with discussing the three I have direct experience with.

Cheap Electric Smoker

Trying to get the turkey finished on time (don’t mind the mess in the background … we had major construction going on at the time!)

This was our first purchase, and while these smokers are capable of producing tasty smoked meat, I found it difficult to know how long it would take to cook. This can make for a stressful situation when entertaining family and friends!

I remember one Thanksgiving I actually had to cut the turkey into parts to speed up the process. While it tasted fabulous, Lisa was a bit disappointed she could not present a whole turkey to the family (as we traditionally do), and even so, we still ate later than planned. :(

Pros: Inexpensive, lightweight, no charcoal or wood fuel required (you still need wood chips to create smoke, but the heat comes from the electric heating element).
Cons: Low-heat only and no insulation can result in unpredictable/long cooking times, especially when it’s cold out.
Good for: Budget-conscious, occasional use.

Electric Smoker
A basic electric smoker, available on Amazon

Kamado Smoker Grill (egg style)

Smoke A Turkey On An Egg Style Smoker

“Egg” ceramic smoker/grills have a cult-like following, so we recently bought one off of Craigslist to see what we were missing. They can definitely produce great results with a wide variety of cooking styles, but are a bit fussy for someone as busy as me.

Pros: Efficient (not much charcoal is required), very versatile (smoke, grill, sear, cook pizzas, etc.)
Cons: Expensive, requires a fair amount of monitoring/adjusting, charcoal is messy, takes a while to get up to temperature, there is a learning curve
Good for: Someone who loves the process of grilling and wants one grill that does it all

Kamado Joe Ceramic Smoking Grill
Kamado Joe ceramic grill/smoker on Amazon

Pellet Smoker Grill

Charcoal Grill Smoker

Ah, grilling nirvana. We bought this Camp Chef pellet grill for our tiny house in the mountains, and I LOVE to use it because it is so easy.

You add your wood pellets of choice into the hopper (you can use it many times before having to add more pellets), set the dial to “Startup,” and 10 minutes later you are ready to go. Set it to low smoke, high smoke, or your grilling temperature of choice (up to 400 degrees), and then easily monitor the actual temperature of the grill or the meat (via the included probe) on the digital readout.

Typically I’ll low smoke first to inject great flavor, and then from there, I can easily adjust the temperature to increase or decrease cooking time as needed to make sure everything is ready at the same time for dinner.

Pros: Efficient and clean wood pellets, versatile (smoke, grill up to about 400 degrees), super easy to use
Cons: Not cheap, but still only about half the price of a new Kamado. Does a lot, but not good for very high-temperature grilling (like pizzas).
Good for: Busy people (like me!)

Pellet Smoking Grill
The smoker/grill I love

I am so in love with this grill that I want you to watch this video if you are considering buying one (we ordered ours on Amazon).


Smoked Turkey Recipe

Thanks Giving Dinner With My Family
Last year with our girls ready for the Thanksgiving Day feast!

I developed this smoked turkey recipe to hopefully please everyone at your Thanksgiving gathering. What I mean by that is I tried to keep a mostly traditional flavor profile to please the more conservative crew while kicking it up a notch with the smoke for the more adventurous set. Everyone loved it at our house! And as Lisa mentioned, the leftovers are awesome.

Leftover Smoked Turkey Sandwich
A “turkey terrific” sandwich made from leftovers. Yum!

I used our pellet smoker for this recipe, but you could use whatever type of smoker you own (see recipe notes). Step one is called dry brining, and I prefer it over wet brining. Here’s why.

For turkey and other poultry here are my thoughts on the types of wood/woodchips…

  • Mild fruit woods like cherry or apple are safe bets that won’t overpower the flavor of the meat.
  • I may experiment with hickory this year, which I’ve read will impart a stronger bacon-like flavor.
  • Avoid mesquite as it is too strong and bitter for turkey.

If you give this recipe a try, I’d love to hear from you in the comments about how it was received.

How to Smoke Your Thanksgiving Turkey on 100 Days of Real Food

Smoked Turkey

This recipe maintains a mostly traditional Thanksgiving Day turkey flavor profile while kicking it up a notch with smoke for the more adventurous set. It's a crowd pleaser!
5 from 4 votes
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 3 hrs 15 mins
Dry Brine Time: 12 hrs
Total Time: 15 hrs 15 mins
Print Recipe
Servings: 12

Ingredients
  

For dry brining

For the rub

For cooking

  • 1 onion cut in half
  • wood pellets like apple, cherry, or hickory (stronger)

Instructions
 

Dry brining (overnight)

  • Mix the salt and black pepper. Rub it all over the turkey and inside the cavity. Place in a refrigerator uncovered overnight.

Day of

  • Mix all the spices for the rub in a small bowl. Rub the butter all over the turkey and then sprinkle it with the spice mixture, including under the breast skin. You may have to press the rub with your fingers to hold it in place in some spots. Cut an onion in half and place it inside the turkey.
  • Make sure you have enough wood pellets in the hopper and start your smoker.
  • Once the startup process is complete, place the turkey on the grill rack, breast side up. "High smoke” (220 degrees) for 45 mins.
  • Adjust temperature to 375 degrees and cook until the probe in the turkey reads 165 degrees. This took about 2.5 hours for our 12 lb turkey.
  • Remove from heat and let rest for 10 mins, carve, and serve.

Notes

Follow the main recipe with these adaptations for other types of smokers.
Basic electric (low-temp only) smoker:
  1. Soak wood chips in water for 20 mins to an hour then place in a metal smoker box on top of the heating element (or follow your grill directions).
  2. Plug in and then smoke your turkey at approximately 220 degrees for 45 minutes.
  3. Finish in the oven at 375 degrees until the turkey is fully cooked (165 degree internal temperature as read with a probe thermometer).
Kamado (egg) ceramic smoker/grill:
  1. Start your charcoal fire and warm up your grill according to the manufacturer's directions.
  2. Add wood chips and then smoke your turkey at approximately 220 degrees for 45 minutes.
  3. Adjust grill vents to maintain a 375 degree temperature and then grill until the turkey is fully cooked (165 degree internal temperature as read with a probe thermometer).
Nutrition Facts
Nutrition Facts
Smoked Turkey
Amount Per Serving
Calories 486 Calories from Fat 180
% Daily Value*
Fat 20g31%
Saturated Fat 5g31%
Cholesterol 236mg79%
Sodium 3524mg153%
Potassium 790mg23%
Carbohydrates 3g1%
Fiber 1g4%
Protein 70g140%
Vitamin A 1150IU23%
Vitamin C 1.2mg1%
Calcium 53mg5%
Iron 3.7mg21%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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21 thoughts on “How To Smoke Your Thanksgiving Turkey”

  1. 5 stars
    Used this recipe to smoke our 1st turkey
    (13.5 lbs, fresh and brined) for Thanksgiving using our Traeger smoker. We use our Traeger 3-4 times per week for beef, fish and salmon but this was first Turkey. It turned out totally amazing and was so easy. We will be smoking our Turkeys with this recipe from now on. No more oven! I used my own four pellet blend of 3.parts Applewood and 1 part Traeger pre-blend (hickory, maple and cherry wood). Also, I did 1 hour at “smoke” setting and then increased temp to 375 for 2 hours, then let it rest 30 mins.

    1. Hi Nancy – Good question. No, you don’t rinse it off, but some falls off and a fair amount doesn’t actually get eaten. There is no additional salt in the rub. Trust me, it shouldn’t come out too salty (our palates changed when we cut out processed food so I am pretty sensitive to salt and sweet flavors), but you could always reduce the salt if you are concerned. – Jason

  2. 5 stars
    Looks like I’ve found a kindred spirit!! Smoking meat is in my veins.
    And your turkey recipe is going to work out just well for the Thanksgiving!!
    Thank you very much and happy holidays to you and your family!!
    All best,
    Gerry!

  3. Been smoking w my xl Kamando joe .. recently did a turkey. The brine overnight is the way to go, along with a pan with brine, onions, apples and herbs while smoking. After three hours flip the bird and cover in foil to prevent drying out

  4. ANTHONY BURKHOLDER

    If you don’t mind a little odd looking turkey, you should spatchcock it. It allows the whole bird to more evenly cook and speed up the cook time as well. But dry brining is the way to go for sure. I’ve been doing that the last several years on my Egg and it works beautifully.

  5. I loves smoked turkey! I’ve been spatch-cocking turkey to smoke it for quite awhile now. Makes for a very even smoke and contrary to what you’d think, it’s even more moist that way. Just watch out brining turkey. A lot of turkeys are brined already, so be sure to get one that’s not if you’re gonna brine it.

  6. Charmagne Tucker

    5 stars
    We are so excited about trying this recipe. We have a small and a large Traeger pellet smoker. We use them all the time. My husband has perfected a pizza dough and makes homemade pizzas once a week for us. We will let you know how the turkey comes out, though I have no doubt that it will be delicious. We are having a great time cooking thru your last 2 cook books.

    1. I’d love it if you’d post your perfected pizza dough recipe! Sounds amazing….we also have a Traeger which we use all the time. Thanks in advance Charmagne Tucker :)

  7. BBQ turkey vs smoked is hands down the best. Mesquite charcoal, add coals about every hour to maintain about 400 F and in a couple of hours you’ll have the most moist, delicious turkey that you’ve ever had.

    1. If you have the ability to purchase from a local organic farm then I would highly recommend doing so, as it’ll taste so much better than store bought. Otherwise, try to find one that is organic :) – Nicole

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