Grilling Guide

Smoked Turkey Tips

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.

Preparing

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

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.

Seasoning

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.

Smoking  

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.

Smoked Turkey on a Kamado Grill

Prep: 24 hours Cook: 3½ hours Serves 6-8
Courtesy of BBQ Guys, Chef Tony Matassa

Whole turkey, 12-16 lbs.

Wood chips or chunks (pecan, apple or cherry recommended)

3 cups apple cider

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

2 sticks of celery

2 onions

Green apple, quartered

1 red bell pepper

A few cloves of garlic

Fresh herbs: rosemary, sage, thyme

 

Turkey Seasoning:

1 stick butter

2 T. extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp fresh chopped thyme

2 tsp parsley

2 tsp oregano

1 tsp rosemary

Salt and pepper, to taste

Make a butter paste using a diced stick of softened butter, a little salt and cracked black pepper to taste, three cloves of minced garlic, two teaspoons each of freshly chopped thyme, parsley, and oregano, and one teaspoon of rosemary.

Add the zest of one lemon or orange, using a fork, mash it together into a rough paste drizzle in a couple tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and blend it into a smooth paste.

Once paste is made, remove the neck, and spare parts from the inside of the turkey. Save these for later if you plan to make turkey gravy. Rub the turkey down inside and out with some olive oil to help brown nicely and retain some moisture. Add a little salt and pepper inside the cavity.

Using your fingers gently separate the skin from the flesh on about sixty percent of the turkey; at the fronts and backs of the breasts and thighs.

Where skin is separated, take small portions of the paste and liberally pack it inside, using your hands to spread it around. This keeps the turkey moist and adds awesome flavor. Coat the inside well.

Chop aromatics: celery, onions, green apple quartered, one red bell pepper, a few cloves of garlic, and fresh herbs; rosemary, sage, and thyme. Stuff whatever will fit, inside of the turkey. The rest will go in the roasting pan. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place in the refrigerator overnight.

Smoking Directions

Fill the grill with natural lump charcoal and light the top of the pile to allow for a low and slow burn. Once the fire is going, add a few large, dry wood chunks into the fire. In about twenty minutes, there should be a good amount of smoke and a steady temperature of 250°F – 325°F.

Place a shallow water pan in the center of the cooking grid and something to hold your roasting pan. Then add the turkey to toasting pan. Add apple cider, apple vinegar, and remaining chopped aromatics to the roasting pan.

Close the lid and ensure temperature stays between 250°F and 325°F, basting every 30 to 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, check on the turkey and baste again if necessary.

Once it’s been smoking 1½ hours, check the pan to make sure it doesn’t run dry and give a quick mop with basting brush.

After 2½ hours, do one last mopping. Smoke for another 30 to 45 minutes. Closely monitor the internal temperature until it reaches 165°F in the thickest part of the breast.

Once the turkey has been smoking for roughly 3 hours and 15 minutes, remove the turkey. Drain excess juices from the cavity. This can be used for the turkey gravy.

Allow turkey to rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving. During this time, make the turkey gravy.

Tailgater Magazine