Smoked turkey is perfect for anytime of the year. During the holidays it can save much needed space in your oven as you prepare the rest of the meal. You can smoke a turkey to perfection by following these smoked turkey tips below.
Purchase a 12 pound or lighter turkey. A larger bird will be older, less tender, and a much longer cook time. The goal is to smoke the turkey at a low temperature, so a manageable cook time is a must. Keep in mind a frozen turkey takes 3 – 4 days to thaw in the refrigerator.
Unwrap turkey from packaging and remove giblets from the internal cavity. Use paper towels to dry the turkey as much as possible, including the cavity and under the skin. If time permits, place the uncovered turkey in the refrigerator overnight to air-dry.
Brining is optional. When smoking a turkey, it is not necessary to brine first. The long low and slow heat does not dry the bird out too quickly. The low heat draws the moisture into the bird instead of evaporating out of the bird. Since a lot of people prefer to brine, let’s go over it!
The most important part of brining is to plan ahead. The whole process can take up to 18 hours. Soaking the turkey in a brining solution prior to cooking helps the turkey take in extra moisture, resulting in moist and juicy meat.
Choose a container that will fit in your refrigerator. For an 8- to 12- pound turkey, you will need a 10-quart pot with tall sides or purchase a turkey brining bag. For a 12-pound turkey mix 5 quarts hot water and 1½ cups kosher salt or ¾ cup table salt. Solution must be completely cooled before adding the turkey.
Cover and marinate in the refrigerator 8 to 12 hours. Remove turkey from brining solution and rinse off to remove excess salt. Pat the entire bird dry, inside, outside, and under the skin.
If using an injectable marinade, prepare a few hours in advance so the flavors have time to meld at room temperature. If marinade gels over, run the mixture through a blender and filter through a fine mesh sieve to leave behind any gel.
When making injections, puncture the turkey skin as few times as possible. After piercing the skin, draw the needle out of the meat but leave it inside the skin and make a few more injections before moving to a different spot. If you brined the turkey beforehand, the injectable marinade is not needed.
The best method for seasoning is with a butter paste that includes a poultry or herb blend of your choice. If you brined the turkey or injected with marinade, do not include salt in the butter paste. Rub the seasoned butter paste all over the exterior of the turkey, inside the cavity, and under the skin. Place in the fridge for at least four hours or even overnight. Seasoning should be done the day before smoking the turkey.
Set the smoker between 250°F-325°F. If you are tight on schedule or prefer crispier skin, cook closer to 325°. Cook time at 250° is about 30 minutes per pound, so a 12-pound turkey would take about 6 hours. Cook time at 275° is about 20 minutes per pound. Cook time for 300°- 325° would be 12 to 15 minutes per pound. The USDA recommends cooking all poultry to an internal temperature of 165°F.
Use a digital, dual-probe thermometer to accurately measure the temperature inside the smoker as well as within the turkey itself. Place one probe in the thickest part of the turkey breast, making sure it does not touch the bone. The other probe is for tracking ambient temperature within the smoker. Position the ambient probe right next to the bird on a clip so it’s raised slightly above the grate level or hang it from the inside of the lid, so it dangles beside the turkey.
Baste the turkey every 30-40 minutes. For crispy skin, baste with melted butter and poultry herbs. If crispy skin isn’t a concern, baste turkey using some fat mixed with red wine or apple cider vinegar. Have the basting mixture in hand when you lift the lid, quickly apply and close the smoker.
Once the internal temperature reaches 165°F remove the turkey and let it rest for about 20–30 minutes. For crispy skin, carve and serve within 10-15 minutes to keep the skin from becoming soggy.