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How Long to Smoke Turkey

How Long to Smoke Turkey

Ever run out of room in the oven while cooking your Thanksgiving day feast?

Isn’t it the most frustrating thing knowing that you’ve brined and prepped your turkey, and now you’ve got no space to cook the most important item on the menu.

Avoid this annoying thanksgiving day conundrum by smoking your turkey.

Not only will you free up more oven space to cook more foods, but you will yield a deliciously smoked bird.

How Much Turkey Do I Need?

In general, when planning your holiday menu, you should factor in 1 1/4 pounds of turkey per person.

For example, a 12-pound turkey can feed up to 12 people.  

Additionally, this rule will also leave you with leftover turkey, so you do not have to cook the next day.

Hot Tip
Remember, the turkey still has to fit into your smoker or grill. Do not go overboard and purchase a turkey that can’t fit into your cooking unit.

What Do I Need to Smoke a Turkey?

One of the keys to smoking a turkey is making sure you have all of your tools and ingredients before starting the smoking process.

Make sure that you have a turkey to smoke. Ensure your turkey is completely thawed before cooking it and that it is 15 pounds or less.

Fuel is important whether you use a pellet smoker, propane grill, or offset smoker as it helps you smoke the bird.

Ensure you have a steady supply of wood chips or chunks, charcoal, gas, propane, or pellets, so you do not run out of fuel for your smoker during the middle of the smoking process.

Just as fuel is important to the smoking process, you also want to make sure you choose the right smoking wood.

Traditional woods such as hickory are popular for smoking turkeys. Hickory infuses the bird with a robust, pronounced smoky flavor.

On the other hand, maple wood imparts a sweeter flavor and gives the turkey a beautiful golden hue.

Apple and cherry wood are popular woods for turkeys.

The next important tool is a drip pan. Smoked turkeys are known for their juicy texture.

Therefore you must ensure you have a drip pan to catch the liquids that render from the turkey.

In addition to this, a thermometer is also needed. A thermometer is extremely important whether you are cooking ribs 3-2-1 style, smoking brisket, or smoking a turkey.

It is the only way you will know if the turkey is safe to consume. Luckily if you need a thermometer, we’ve got a smoker thermometer guide.

Closeup Turkey Legs On Barbecue Grill . Selective Focus

Turkey Brines and Rubs

The only instance a turkey should not be obtained is if you purchased a store-bought turkey that is already brined.

Pre-brined turkeys can be smoked as soon as your smoker is prepped.

If your turkey does not come pre-brined, you can easily make your own brine and soak the bird overnight.

If you intend to brine your own turkey, make sure it was not injected with a brining solution before you purchase it.

To brine your own turkey, simply combine salt, water, sugar, garlic, citrus peels, cloves, or star anise in a large container and submerge your turkey in the brine overnight.

Make sure you rinse the brine off of the turkey to remove some of the salt, then pat it dry.

You can also use a BBQ rub on your turkey for added flavor.

If your BBQ rub contains sugar, it could cause the surface of the turkey to develop a dark color since the sugar caramelizes as the bird cooks.

You can exclude the sugar in your rub or reduce the quantity.

Turkey Smoking Temperature

Another great pointer when it comes to smoking a turkey is using indirect heat and maintaining constant temperatures.

Ultimately you want to make sure your smoker’s internal temperature is 225°F during the entire smoking process. 

To create an indirect heating source on a gas grill or smoker, turn half of the burners to medium-low and leave the remaining burners off.

To create an indirect cooking environment using a charcoal grill, heat your coals just until they are covered in a layer of ash, then arrange them on one side of the unit and open the vents a quarter of the way.

If you are using a smoker, simply heat it until it has a temperature of 225°F.

If you use a gas unit, you can add wood chips to the smoker box and produce ample smoke.

In contrast, if you are using wood chunks, you can place your wood chips on top of your hot charcoal.

Hot Tip
To add wood chips to a smoker, consult your smoker’s manual, as it will help you to produce an even amount of smoke. The goal is to create a thin cloud of smoke, not a heavy thick cloud of acrid smoke.

Turkey Doneness

The best indicator of turkey doneness is a temperature of 165°F. It is the standard temperature of a cooked turkey.

This not only protects you from potential foodborne illness, but it also protects your turkey’s moisture content.

A bird that exceeds a temperature of 165°F will likely be overcooked, dry, and tough.

It is best to check your turkey’s temperature 1 hour before it is estimated to be finished cooking.

It is also worth noting that each turkey can have different cooking times, so make sure you monitor your turkey to prevent overcooking.

To check your bird’s temperature, insert the probe into both the breasts and thigh portions of the meat.

One side of the grill may be hotter than the other side, so it is important to check both sides of the bird to avoid having an undercooked turkey.

Tips for Smoking a Turkey

While it would be extremely easy to stick a turkey in your smoker, cook it and carve it, smoking a turkey requires a little more effort.

Fortunately, you can use these tips to ensure you have the best smoked turkey.

Opt for a Small Turkey

Two small smoked turkeys are better than a large smoked turkey.

Large turkeys are prone to drying out because they take longer to reach a temperature of 165°F.

If you are cooking Thanksgiving day dinner for a large family or a large event, it is better two use two or more small turkeys.

Several small turkeys will cook faster and yield a lot of juicy meat. 12-15 pound birds are the ideal size for smoking.

Alternatively, you can also smoke a few turkey breasts instead of the whole bird.

Smoking turkey breast is also crucial if your family prefers white meat rather than dark meat.

Do Not Add Stuffing

Do not add stuffing to your turkey’s internal cavity.

Unfortunately, the turkey will overcook by the time the stuffing comes up to the recommended safe temperature.

In contrast, you can stuff your turkey with apples, limes, lemons, oranges, garlic, onions, or herbs.

However, it should not be packed tightly in the cavity, and there should be enough room for air to circulate within the cavity.

Discard all of the items in the bird’s cavity once it is finished cooking.

Do Not Open Your Smoker

Even though it is tempting to open your smoker and check your turkey’s progress, you must resist the temptation.

Smoke and heat escape the inside of the smoker every time you open the lid.

If you want to monitor the progress of your bird, a probe thermometer is your best option.

You can insert the probe into the bird, place it in the smoker and monitor its temperature outside of the unit without opening the lid.

Let the Turkey Rest

Once the turkey achieves an internal temperature of 165°F or higher, remove it from the smoker and transfer it to a platter or cutting board.

Lightly tint the turkey with foil and allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes before carving it into slices.

If you cut into your smoked turkey right away, all of your hard work will be lost.

Letting the turkey rest allows its juices to be reabsorbed into the meat and helps preserve its moisture.

How To Prepare a Turkey for Smoking

Thaw your turkey overnight in the refrigerator, then remove it from its packaging.

Remove the giblets and neck from the bird’s internal cavity.

If you are brining your turkey, now would be the time to do so.

Rinse the brine from the turkey’s exterior surface using cold water.

Pat your turkey dry using paper towels, then tie the legs together using kitchen twine.

Tuck the ends of the wings behind the shoulder joint to prevent them from burning during the cooking process.

Smear the exterior of the turkey with olive oil or butter and coat it with a BBQ rub.

Place the turkey into a preheated smoker and smoke it until it has a temperature of 165°F or higher.

How Do I Collect the Turkey Drippings?

As mentioned above, the drip pan is designed to catch the drippings rendered by the turkey and keep the bird moist.

To catch the drippings, you can place an aluminum pan directly beneath your turkey.

Add water to the pan during the beginning phases of the smoking process.

As the turkey smokes, the water will evaporate, so be sure to refill your pan at least 2-3 times.

Once your turkey is finished cooking, you can use the pan drippings that have collected in the pan to create the most beautiful, smoky, delicious gravy.

How Long to Smoke a Turkey?

Smoking a turkey involves slowly cooking a bird at a low temperature. 

Even though the general rule for estimating the cooking time is 15-20 minutes per pound, it can vary depending on multiple factors.

The size of the turkey and your smoker’s internal temperature are the most important factors when it comes to smoking a turkey.

For example, a 10-12 pound bird could take 2 1/2-4 hours, while a 12-14 pound bird may take 3-4 hours and 45 minutes.

Moreover, a 14-16 pound bird can take 3 1/2-5 1/2 hours to cook, and a 16-18 pound bird may take 4-6 hours to cook.

Rather than monitoring the time, monitor the temperature of your bird.

A thermometer inserted into the bird’s thickest part should read 165°F or higher.

What Side Dishes Pair Well With Smoked Turkey?

The classic Thanksgiving side dishes pair perfectly with the irresistible flavor of smoked turkey.

Whether it be creamy mashed potatoes or cornbread dressing, anything pairs well with this turkey.

Rather than cooking your side dishes on the stove or in the oven, you can also cook them in the smoker or grill if you have enough space.

What Happens if My Turkey Finishes Too Quick?

If your turkey finishes cooking before the expected time, there is no need to fret.

Even though you can strategically plan to have the bird done 15-20 minutes before dinner time, plans change.

Luckily, there are a couple of options you can use to save your turkey.

If dinner time is in 2 hours or less, place a single-use roasting tray into an insulated cooler.

Next, add the cooked turkey to the roasting pan and keep the cooler closed until service time.

The cooler serves as a makeshift warming box and allows the juices to reabsorb back into the turkey’s meat.

Alternatively, you can also use a carving and refrigeration technique to save your turkey.

Let your smoked turkey rest for 30 minutes.

Carve your turkey into the breast meat, legs, and thighs, then arrange the turkey onto a serving board or platter.

Cover the turkey with foil, and chill it in the refrigerator.

Before serving your thanksgiving day meal, heat the turkey in a 350°F degree oven for 20 minutes.

Keep in mind this carving and refrigeration technique only works if your turkey finishes cooking 2 hours before the expected cooking time.

Final Thoughts

You do not need a top-of-the-line smoker of fancy tools to smoke a turkey.

You can use a regular smoker, charcoal grill, or natural gas grill.

As long as you’ve got a unit that has a lid and can fit your bird, you can smoke a turkey!