An Easy Smoked Turkey Recipe for Your Smoker

The "Cookin' Cousins'" smoked turkey recipe could clinch your backyard barbecue fame. Let's start with our easy, step-by-step method for smoking a turkey.

This is one of our favorite methods to roasting a whole turkey, and we do it any time of the year! Bargain prices, during the holidays, lets us buy several of these wonderful birds for smoking a turkey any time we feel a hankerin' for America's favorite fowl. Let's start with... 

The 6 Secrets to Smoking Meat

  1. Great Meat
  2. Great Spices
  3. Great Tools (grill, tongs, thermometers, etc...)
  4. Heat Control
  5. Timing
  6. Smoke

You can review these in detail at our "6 Secrets to Smoking Meat".

The stuff you'll need for our smoked turkey recipe:

Patience Low and slow is the real secret to that great smoked turkey recipe. We're talking about holding the temperature around 250°F/121°C for an extended cooking period. You should figure about 30 minutes per pound (.45kg).

Meat Buy the best bird your budget allows! But worry not. They all taste wonderful with our smoked turkey recipe. Go to Secret #1 for more on this.

Spices Use a rub to infuse your bird with wonderful flavors. Not mandatory (as we believe the smoke is the magic), however spices can significantly enhance the results of slow roasting a turkey. You can put together your own with any combination of these basic fresh ingredients:

  • Salt (Kosher preferred)
  • Paprika (Hungarian much preferred for best flavor)
  • Pepper, black (fresh ground!)
  • Chili powder
  • Garlic, granulate or powder
  • Onion powder
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Basil
  • Poultry seasoning

Or you can try our Magic Turkey Rub. This wonderful turkey rub recipe uses Italian seasoning herbs, and Smoked Paprika, to greatly enhance your spice rack's common rub ingredients.

Apply the rub under, and on the skin. Also apply liberally in the cavity.Go to Secret #2 for more on this.

Smoker  The vertical "wet-pan" type is the most popular backyard smoker, so we wrote this smoked turkey recipe from our experience with this fun cooker. You can buy these wonders at any "big box" store, hardware store, or try the garage/yard sales for a real bargain! Our favorite, economical, easy to use backyard smoker, is the vertical propane model or its stainless steel vertical smoker brother.

Charcoal/charcoal briquettes  There are advantages to both fuels, however just one maxim applies to both...buy the best you can find. Kingsford brand briquettes top the list for quality, and availability. But please don't buy the "instant light" of any brand! Real charcoal (for you purists) can be difficult to find, and rather expensive, however...

We have found a great resource, reasonably priced, from Milazzo Industries. Their 20LBS of Lump Charcoal is a bargain.

Hardwood chips/chunks  When smoking turkey (or any meat in a smoker), use only seasoned (never "green") hardwood chips/chunks like Hickory, Oak, Mesquite, Cherry, fruit woods, etc., to suit your taste. These are generally available during the summer, wherever barbecue accessories are sold. Never use softwoods such as the conifers fir, pine, spruce, cedar, cypress, oleander,etc. Many trees and bushes/shrubs are toxic to humans, so stay with the known traditional woods used by the experienced "smokers".

Oven/Grill thermometer  To ensure your success with our smoked turkey recipe, this tool is the only way you will really know what's going on inside your smoker! Our two favorites are the Taylor Connoisseur Oven Thermometer. , and the Taylor Precision 5932 Classic Oven Thermometer.They are both very accurate, durable (stainless steel), and exceptionally reasonable in price.

Instant Read probe-type thermometer  This is fowl! Be safe and ensure the meat has reached the temperatures stated in our recipe. Our "hands down" choice for speed of read, accuracy, and price, is the CDN Proaccurate Stainless Digital Thermometer. The only instant-read thermometer that that we know to be faster, and another choice of professionals (albeit rather expensive), is the Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen - Instant Read Thermometer, Perfect for Barbecue, Home and Professional Cooking

Insulated Food Gloves  These things are fantastic for handling the finished bird! There are many food handling gloves out there, however we have found these insulated barbecue gloves exceptionally well designed, and very easy to clean!

Chimney-type charcoal starter  Sure makes starting and maintaining the coals much easier. Our favorite top performer is the Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter. Lot of chimney starters out there, but this is the champ.

Turkey Cannon  Cook your turkey in half the time? Really sweet, juicy white meat? Yep! You can smoke, grill, or oven bake, an exceptionally succulent bird, with this ingenious tool. Our smoked turkey recipe can easily be adapted for this method. We love it! An extremely easy way to roast your bird to perfection every time. The Turkey Cannon's unique infuser allows you to use your favorite beverage (wine, beer, apple juice, etc.) to infuse the bird with moisture, and the flavors, of any added herbs or spices.

Want to see how it works? Click here to download the instructions...Turkey Cannon Instructions

Now, let's prepare the meat...

NOTE: Turkey should be always kept in the refrigerator (below 40°F/4.4°C) before preparation.

  • Remove the thoroughly thawed turkey from the refrigerator and remove the giblets, neck, and any thing else thrown in the cavity. Clean and rinse the bird thoroughly, especially the cavity. Pat dry with paper towels.
  • Remove the pop-up timer! They are virtually worthless.
  • If you use a rub, apply generously under the skin and in the cavity. To get under the skin, simply start with the loose skin at the butt of the bird, slide our hand up the breast. Loosen the skin over the meatiest parts, and use your fingers to move down to the legs, parting the skin from the top and sides. Put a generous amount of the rub under the skin, and a modest dusting on the outside of the bird.
  • For the maximum effect we like to do this at least a couple of hours, and preferably 1-3 days, before cooking. Our smoked turkey recipe doesn't require a rub, but it is fun! Remember to keep the turkey in the refrigerator until you are ready to put it on the fire.

Do not stuff the bird! No smoked turkey recipe should ever include stuffing the bird. It takes too long for the stuffing to reach the 165°F/74°C required for safe cooking. The bird stays too long in the "Danger Zone" of 40-140°F/4.4-60°C (bacteria heaven!).

Get that Smoker Ready...

  • Fill the water pan to within an inch of the top. Use hot water to help avoid wasting fuel.
  • For charcoal smokers, start with enough briquettes to fill the pan. Please do not use a petroleum based charcoal starter, unless you really enjoy the flavor! We use a chimney starter to avoid the nasty taste, and it makes the job of preparing add-on briquettes so much easier.

NOTE: If you use a charcoal fired smoker, soak 3-4 cups of (dry) chips/chunks for about 30 minutes, drain and place them directly on the coals, once the smoker has reached cooking temperature. This will be sufficient for the entire cooking period, regardless of the addition of more coals. Too much smoke = bitter and nasty! Control the temperature with the bottom vents only. The top vent should always remain wide open and never used to control air intake. Each cooker is different so... experience rules!

  • For gas or electric smokers, place the chips/chunks (pre-soaked in water for 30+ minutes) in the wood chip box/pan. One full box of chips, or 3-4 cups for pan type, will last for several hours, and will be sufficient for the whole cooking time.
  • Fire-up the cooker and get the temperature to about 250-300°F/121-149°C, and prepare to keep the temperature as steady as you can! For this smoked turkey recipe, maintain the temperature between 235-250°F/113-121°C for the ideal smoked turkey.

Cook 'Em

NOTE: Always use mitts and tongs! Never use the forked, sharp, pokey thing that seems to come with all backyard barbecue tool sets. It will pierce the meat and allow the juices to run out.

When the temperature (inside the smoker at the grill) has reached 250-300°F/121-149°C...

  • Place turkey(s) in the smoker, directly on the rack, or on a large baking sheet. We do not advise putting the bird in a roasting pan as this has a tendency to steam the turkey. Place a pan on a rack, under the bird, to catch the juices for gravy! Add a cup or two of water, if you wish.
  • Resist peeking! You're losing precious heat and smoke. Open the lid/door only far enough to add charcoal, and don't tarry!
  • You have time! If you have judiciously maintained the cooking temperature, you can leave your station several times before the bird(s) are done. For our smoked turkey recipe, think 20-30 minutes a pound to completion.
  • Using your instant read probe-type thermometer, check the turkey at the inner thigh, looking for 165°F/74°C and check the breast for a temperature of 170°F/77°C. Ensure the thermometer does not touch a bone.
  • When done, remove turkey to a pan/platter to "rest" for 15-20 minutes before carving. This is an important step to ensure the juices return to the meat. Cover with aluminum foil to assist in holding the heat.

Let 'em rave!...

With this smoked turkey recipe, the smell alone will drive them nuts. Add your wonderful side dishes, say your prayer, and brace up for the accolades!

Lets eat!

Have a gas or charcoal grill? Yes, you can smoke a turkey on your favorite backyard cooker. Just follow our tried and true method!

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