You know that beautiful mahogany color of the perfect turkey on the cover of all the magazines that everyone always goes for when cooking a Thanksgiving turkey? You might read all kinds of tips and tricks to get perfect golden turkey skin. Honestly, they don’t always work. However, rubbing some butter on your turkey and cooking it in a smoker will get these results every time.
One big advantage of smoking a turkey for Thanksgiving is it frees up your oven for all those other dishes you are usually rushing to bake either before or after the turkey goes in.
It all starts with the brine
If you have already tasted a brined turkey, then you already know there’s no going back. Giving your turkey a nice bath in a flavorful brine is the key to a super moist smoked turkey. Not only does this give it tons of flavor, but it guarantees a juicy bird.
A brine can be as simple as water, salt and sugar. I like to add extra aromatics like garlic, bay leaves, fresh thyme, fresh sage leaves, rosemary sprigs and black peppercorns that will boost the flavor.
The brine time determines the salt to water ratio
If you have more time to brine the turkey, then you will use less salt to water and if you need to speed up the process, you will use more salt to water.
Short 6-hour brine: 1 cup salt per 1 gallon of water.
Longer 12 to 24-hour brine: 1/2 cup salt per 1 gallon of water.
*If using a self-basting or pre-brined turkey, then you will want to skip brining.
Dry rub or no dry rub?
Look, this smoked turkey is really for Thanksgiving and not your regular Saturday bbq. The flavor is coming from the brine and the smoke. Spices that are less traditional are less likely to pair well with all the wonderful Thanksgiving sides. I say no to the dry rub after brining the turkey.
What I love most about The Big Green Egg is that it really is a set it and forget it BBQ. The temperature is maintained all day without having to add more charcoal because it is so insulated. This makes for a stress-free smoking process. You can add more wood chips if you wish, but I find that adding at the beginning is plenty for a turkey, as it is best to not overwhelm it with smoke.
Always use lump charcoal (not briquettes) in the egg. Bring the temperature up to 350 degrees F and add the wood chips just before placing the turkey on the grill.
Placing the turkey on a v-rack not only promotes air circulation, but it makes for an easy job of transporting the buttery bird from the kitchen right onto the hot grill. If you need to move it around on the grill to add more wood chips or on to a sheet pan after it’s done cooking. That’s a breeze too.
What temperature to smoke the turkey
Bring the temperature of your smoker or BBQ between 325 and 350 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal cooking.
What wood chips to use
There’s always a big debate when it comes to which wood chips are best. My favorite is a combination of cherry and hickory for smoking turkey. The smoke flavor is not overpowering and is perfectly sweet. Soak the wood chips in water for about 20 minutes before placing in the charcoal or heat source.
Open the lid as few times as possible during while it cooks. This will keep the temperature consistent as well as keep the smoke in.
How long does it take to smoke a turkey per pound?
It takes approximately 12 minutes per pound at 325 degrees Fahrenheit to fully cook the turkey. A 12lb turkey will take about 2 hrs 30 minutes and a 14lb turkey will take about 2 hrs 45 min to 3 hours.
Size should not be larger than 14 lbs, or it will take too long to cook for smoking.
*Be aware that brined meats cook more quickly than non-brined meats, which is why I list 12 minutes per pound instead of a higher number that you might see elsewhere. It’s important to start checking the temperature close to the finish time to make sure it doesn’t overcook.
When is the turkey finished cooking?
The turkey is finished cooking when the inside of the breast reads 160 degrees and the thickest part of the thighs read 175 degrees using a probe thermometer. The temperature of the bird will continue to climb 5 to 10 degrees after it is removed from the heat source and rests.
The Thermapen MK4 probe thermometer (affiliate link) the best tool for checking the doneness of the turkey. It is one of my most recommended products and is worth every penny. The Thermoworks Smoke is a 2-channel alarm/thermometer for remotely monitoring the temperature of your smoker and the turkey at the same time.
Rest the turkey on a cutting board tented with aluminum foil for at least 20 minutes before carving.
How to speed up the cooking time?
Let’s say you are in a hurry and want to cook your turkey quickly. The best way to speed up the cooking time for your turkey is to spatchcock it. Spatchcock is a technique to basically butterfly the turkey, which will significantly reduce the cooking time while still making a delicious bird.
To spatchcock a turkey, you basically cut the backbone out and flatten the turkey. Here’s a video from Alton Brown on how to Spatchcock a turkey.
Does this recipe work to smoke turkey breast?
Absolutely! Brining and smoking just a turkey breast is a wonderful way to enjoy turkey. The brining time and cooking time will be different, but the same technique will work great. Alternatively, you can check out my recipe for a Brined and Herb Roasted Turkey Breast.
How to smoke a turkey in a charcoal smoker
Brine the turkey overnight, then rinse and dry it with paper towels. Prep the smoker and bring the temperature to 325 to 350 degrees F and add wood chips and a disposable drip pan to catch the drippings. Rub butter all over the turkey and place it on a v-rack to easily move it on and off the smoker/grill. Smoke it over indirect heat for about 12 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature of the breasts is 160 degrees and 175 in the thickest part of the thighs. Rest the turkey for 20 minutes before carving.
Cooking over indirect heat is essential or the skin will burn before the turkey is finished cooking.
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Large container for brining
Grill/smoker such as The Big Green Egg
Big Green Egg All Natural Charcoal Starters for lighting the charcoal
Disposable Aluminum Steam Pans
Big Green Egg ConvEGGtor
V-shaped roasting rack
Thermapen MK4 Probe Thermometer
Smoked TurkeyPrint Pin Rate
- 1 12 to 14 pound fresh Turkey
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 cups wood chips (combination of cherry, hickory or apple)
- 2 gallons water
- 1 1/2 cups salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 head garlic halved
- 4 bay leaves
- 8 sprigs fresh thyme
- 10 fresh sage leaves
- 2 fresh rosemary sprigs
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
To make the brine
- Bring 4 cups of the water to a boil and add the salt, sugar, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, sage, rosemary and peppercorns. Stir until the salt and sugar are completely dissolved.
- Let the liquid steep for 15 minutes while it cools, then add it to the remaining water.
- Meanwhile, thoroughly rinse the turkey (no need to pat dry) removing the giblets and anything else inside that came with it.
- Place the turkey in a container large enough to fit and cover with the brine, making sure it is completely submerged.
- Cover and refrigerate for 12 to 15 hours, rotating the turkey at least once while it brines.
- Rinse the turkey thoroughly and pat dry. Bring the turkey to room temperature while you prep the smoker.
To smoke the turkey
- Soak wood chips for 20 minutes while the smoker comes up to temperature, then drain.
- Bring the grill/egg to a temperature between 325 and 350 degrees. Add soaked smoking chips.
- Pat the turkey dry with paper towels then brush melted butter inside and out.
- Spray a v-rack with cooking spray and Place turkey breast side up on the v-rack.
- Place in the smoker for 12 minutes per pound. About 2 hours 45 minutes for a 14lb turkey, or until the internal temperature of the breast reads 160 degrees and the thickest part of the thighs reads 175 degrees.
- Rest the cooked turkey for 20 minutes before carving and serving.
- If using a self-basting turkey or a turkey that has already been brined, you will want to skip the brining step in this recipe.
- Using a v-rack is totally optional, but it makes moving the turkey in and out of the smoker much easier.