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It’s almost Thanksgiving, and you’ve got a turkey. Now what? Don’t know how to smoke a turkey?
Well, you are not alone. This step-by-step turkey smoking guide is all you need to smoke that big bird if this is your first time cooking one.
You can almost never overcook anything in a smoker, so that’s one benefit of smoking a turkey.
Temperatures are kept low, and the meat is slowly cooked, resulting in perfect moistness and tenderness.
The Traeger pellet smoker I’ll be using will be the best choice for smoking a turkey, but you could also do it in an oven.
Okay. I’m going to explain it in more detail. To get the perfect turkey, you need to follow these steps.
Okay, so before I get to the fun part, here are a couple of things to keep in mind first for the best results.
- If you choose to use a frozen turkey, it needs to be thawed thoroughly before cooking.
- If you plan to smoke a whole turkey, we recommend choosing one that weighs no more than 15 pounds.
- The longer it takes to heat a large turkey, the less likely it is to be fully cooked.
- All turkey giblets and gizzards must be removed.
What Size Turkey Should I Buy?
Haven’t bought one yet? Well, you are in luck. As I’ve said before, don’t try to smoke a turkey that is over 15 pounds unless you are pro-chef.
Now, depending on how many people you want to feed, you should choose the right turkey accordingly. First, check out this section below.
If you want to smoke a turkey for 8 – 10 people, go with a turkey that is around 12 – 14 lbs. Let’s say you have more hungry mouths to feed if that’s so, that go with one 16 lbs. turkey. That should be enough to feed 12 to 14 people.
If there will be a lot of guests, and the number of people reaches 18, you should smoke two 12 pounds turkeys instead of smoking an enormous bird.
One and a half pounds of turkey per person is the general rule of thumb to follow when buying a turkey.
Nevertheless, you need to be very careful when feeding a large crowd. Smoking a bird for the first time can be intimidating. Depending on how many guests you expect to have, you will need to smoke a larger or smaller turkey.
We recommend sticking with a turkey that weighs 16 pounds or less rather than running out to find the biggest one you can find.
You will almost always find male turkeys weighing more than 16 pounds because they are heavier than females.
The meat of a large bird will be tougher when cooked. Why? Female turkeys are more tender than male turkeys. Besides checking the size of the bird, do not overlook the bird’s quality.
Fresh is always best. A fresh turkey can usually be ordered in advance. If you plan to smoke your turkey, buy it four or five days before you smoke it.
You will need to be on your A-game if you are cooking for Christmas or Thanksgiving. The birds don’t normally get stocked in large numbers until just before a holiday. Also, don’t forget to defrost your turkey if it’s frozen.
Thawing A Frozen Turkey
Not all of us can manage to buy a fresh turkey. If that’s the case, you can get by using a frozen bird. Just make sure to give it the proper time to thaw.
It takes one full day for a five-pound bird to thaw fully. If you have a 16-pound frozen turkey, you will have to wait for three days or 72 hours for the bird to thaw fully.
Tools Needed For Smoking Turkey
Now that you have a turkey, you will need to prepare some tools to smoke it.
- A pellet grill.
- Hardwood pellets.
- A meat thermometer.
- A large pan.
Preparing The Turkey For Smoking on – A Step By Step Guide
Now that you have everything, we will first start with the brining process. Once you’ve chosen the right bird, you’ll want to prepare the brine. The secret to a mouth-watering turkey lies in the brine. It’s what prepares the turkey meat for smoking and what leaves all those earthy, zesty flavors behind.
It all comes down to salt concentration. By infiltrating the cells of the meat, brine triggers a mouth-watering chemical reaction. The salt prevents the brine liquid from escaping the meat cells after it has entered them.
Any flavors you choose to use will be slowly absorbed into the meat as the bird rests. A 24-hour brine is recommended for your bird. Brining your turkey directly before smoking is also an option if you are low on time.
1. Brining Turkey
First comes the liquid, then comes the salt, and after that, you will need to add spices and herbs. Now, you can choose stock, beer, or water for the liquid part to bring that classic savory flavor.
Additionally, you can add a few cups of wine, juice, or vinegar if you want a sweeter taste. There are plenty of brining recipes online. Go with the one that suits your taste buds.
Now, another component here is salt. For every gallon of liquid, you will need to add half a cup of salt. The last step is adding spices and herbs. Typical bird accompaniments like sage are included in many bird recipes. Celery, carrots, and onions are frequently included as well.
Combine all these ingredients over medium-high heat and cook until the salt dissolves. Brining the turkey should be done at a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Giblets (Add or Remove)
Giblets can enhance the flavor of your bird. If you bought a turkey from the store, chances are all the giblets such as the neck of the bird, gizzard, heart, and liver are in a paper bag inside the bird’s cavity. If you plan on not using them, you will still need to remove them.
On the contrary, you can use them to add texture and flavor to the gravy. If you keep the giblets inside, it will take more time to cook, and the flavor might change afterward.
3. Rub For Turkey
If you want evenly browned skin, you will need to apply a rub. You can add butter or oil for a crispy texture. Just before smoking, you should apply a dry rub. Also, don’t use salt if you have already brined the turkey.
Adding a good chicken rub to the meat will enhance its natural flavor and add good color to the skin. Rubs are typically used in most recipes.
4. Optional: Stuffing & Trussing
Stuffing is an optional process, but it can increase the overall flavor. If you want to put stuffing inside the bird’s cavity, do so during the preparation process.
Traeger BBQ owners prefer to stuff their turkeys. This is also a popular method since the stuffing also gets cooked inside during the smoking process.
The term “trussing a turkey” refers to holding its legs close to its body. Trussing is done to give the bird’s surface a regular shape.
You can also tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Turkeys purchased from stores often come with trusses already attached. You should do this so that hotspots do not form in certain areas.
Smoking A Turkey On A Traeger Grill – Step By Step Guide
If you want to cook a large bird like a 16-pound turkey, it’s nearly impossible to do that with a BBQ grill. For this, you will need a smoker.
A wood pellet grill is best for this. So far, you have selected a turkey and made all the preparations.
Now comes the fun part. I will be showing you three turkey smoking methods.
- Roasting A Consistent Medium Temperature
- Low To High Method
- High To Low Method
Before I get to that, let me go over some important aspects first. You don’t want to mess up the smoking part, so it pays to plan ahead.
1. Choosing The Right Hardwood Pellets
Since we will be smoking a turkey on a pellet grill, we will need to determine the best smoking wood for turkey. There are plenty of options depending on the type of flavor you would like.
I prefer hickory wood or hickory chips. You can also use oak blends. Both of these hardwood pellets will give you a slightly nutty yet natural flavor boost. If you prefer a mildly sweet tone, you can use maple pellets.
A slightly fruity smoke flavor is the perfect combination when you are smoking a turkey on Christmas eve. Applewood pellets can give you that light taste for your final product.
2. Planning Enough Time To Cook
Smoking a turkey is a lengthy process and will require your attention from time to time.
However, people often don’t do that. 165 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal temperature for smoking a turkey. However, you will need to ensure that the internal temperature stays consistent.
That is why you use pellet grills to ensure the turkey is smoking evenly. These grills are designed to circular hot air to maintain a consistent temperature.
Now, there are different methods of achieving that 165 degrees temp. Let’s start with the most popular method.
3. Getting The Meat Up To 165 (Smoking Process)
A temperature probe should be used to check the thickest part of the breast. Make sure the meat reaches 165 degrees. Around the same time that the turkey breasts are at this temperature, the thighs should be at about 180 degrees.
Consistent Medium Temperature:
- Your turkey should be cooked for 3-4 hours at 325 degrees Fahrenheit in your Traeger.
- 325 degrees is the optimal temperature for your turkey to reach without the meat drying out.
- You can expect a total cooking time of 3 to 4 hours regardless of size.
- It’s then just a matter of taking it off the grill and letting the smoked bird rest for 15 minutes.
That’s all there is to it
Low To High Method:
- To reach 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit internal temperature, turn the temperature on your Traeger up to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
- When it reaches that point, it’s time to increase the temperature.
- Finally, the temperature should be raised to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
This simple method allows the bird to absorb an adequate amount of natural smoke. After the final temperature increase, the cooking process is complete.
High To Low Method:
- Begin the smoking process by setting the temperature at high settings for the first 30 minutes.
- Once that is done, lower the temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Continue to cook at this final temperature for the remaining time.
- As a result, the skin gets crispy, and the flavor is locked in.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the recommended time and temperature for smoking a turkey?
Use a smoker set at 240 degrees Fahrenheit (115 degrees Celsius). Each pound of meat should be cooked for 30 minutes.
If you open the smoker too often, you will lose heat, and the cooking time will increase. Pour the turkey’s juices over it a few times during cooking.
2. How long should turkeys be brined before being smoked?
You can ruin the flavor of your turkey by skipping brining, which is an essential step of preparation. Brining the turkey meat before smoking will help keep it moist and flavorful while cooking.
3. Before smoking a turkey, how long should it be brined?
Put your turkeys in a brine for 30 minutes per pound. As most of the meat will burn, smoking a turkey is best with a smaller bird (15 lbs. or under).
Turkeys weighing 15 pounds are brined for 15 hours. Turkey meat can become spongy and taste extra salty if brined for more than 18-24 hours.
4. For a 15-pound turkey, how long does it take to smoke it?
The turkey should smoke in about 30 minutes per pound at 225 degrees F. A fifteen-pound turkey, for example, will take 7 and a half hours to bake at 225 degrees F. It’s always a good idea to allow for an extra 30 minutes.
5. Can I use turkey drippings?
The fat and flavor from your bird fall to the bottom as it cooks. The drippings from the turkey can be used to make turkey gravy. The turkey should be removed from the oven after it has been cooked.
As for the liquid, it should be strained into a container. Additionally, you can make gravy with strained drippings.
Slow cooking at a constant temperature can truly bring out the best flavor in a turkey. Things get even better when you have a pellet grill.
It’s one of the main reasons why Traeger grills are still one of the top choices for choosing a smoker.
However, there is more to smoking a turkey. Your choice of recipe, how you prep the bird, and how you pick the bird all play an important role.
So, don’t forget to pay attention to the preparation process. After all, that will determine the outcome.