Last updated November 21, 2019
All the steps you need to make smoked turkey, including what size turkey to buy, when to defrost, an apple cider sea salt rub, smoke temps and cook time.
WHAT SIZE TURKEY DO I NEED?
I almost always buy a 12-13-pound bird, because I can cook it in around 3 hours. This size turkey will feed eight people. If I need to feed more than that that, I cook a second 12-pound bird. No one ever complains about having too many leftovers.
While 20-pound birds look impressive, they take a long time to cook and still only limit you to two wings and two legs. With two 12-pound birds, you’ll have more dark meat to share.
DEFROST YOUR TURKEY
You can obviously pick up a fresh turkey, but grabbing a frozen turkey a week or two before is perfectly acceptable, too.
When buying a frozen turkey, it’s important to defrost it properly. The key is to keep it in the food-safe zone (under 39F degrees) during the entire defrost process. For a 12-pound turkey, move it from the freezer to the fridge on Monday morning. By Thursday, it’ll be ready to smoke.
Be sure to defrost the turkey on a rimmed sheet pan, just in case the juices leak.
APPLY A TURKEY RUB
Every turkey is stuffed with a bag of innards, such as gizzards and heart. Remove this from the cavity. Dice these up and cook them into your stuffing, or just toss them.
You should also be able to reach into the cavity and find the neck. Smoke this alongside the bird; it’s actually quite good. Of you can boil it in water to make turkey broth for gravy.
We want to add lots of flavor. This recipe includes an apple cider sea salt rub that gives the bird a beautiful golden color and sweet and salty skin, but feel free to use your favorite blend of herbs and spices. Once you master the technique, I’m sure you’ll be trying all sorts of fun combinations.
Be sure to rub the bird inside and out. If you have time, you can let it rest in the refrigerator overnight for a dry brine, but if you’re in a hurry, you can rub it and let it set on the counter while you’re prepping your grill.
I like to wear gloves when working with raw meat, especially poultry. It makes clean-up so much easier.
KEEP TRACK OF THE TEMPERATURE
The biggest complaint people have about turkey is that it can be dry, especially the breast meat. It’s a lot of work to create an entire meal of sides and desserts and also keep an eye on the bird. So let something else take care of that for you.
The Weber iGrill and Thermoworks Smoke are thermometers that allow you to monitor the temps from your phone. You stick the thermometer probe into the breast of the bird. With the iGrill app, click “start grilling” and select whole turkey. With the Thermoworks Smoke just set the alarm to 165F.
Once your bird reaches that magic temp, the app will alert you on your phone while you’re watching the game.
SETTING UP THE GRILL FOR SMOKED TURKEY
Now that the bird is ready, it’s time to prep the grill. I light my coals in a charcoal chimney. I stick a chimney starter in a brown lunch bag and crumble it up under the chimney. Light a few edges of the bag, and your coals will be ready in no time.
Once they begin to ash over and turn gray, dump them onto the bottom grate. Create an indirect zone in your grill by moving the coals into a U-shape with a set of tongs or heat-resistant gloves. Then, add a few more unlit coals and three wood chunks. I usually use hickory or pecan with turkey. Finally, add the top grill grate.
Add the lid, and adjust the vents on the top and bottom of the grill. Your goal is to have an internal temperature of around 300-350F degrees. If your kettle grill doesn’t have a built in thermometer, clip a thermometer probe onto the grate and monitor the ambient temperature.
You can even use the thermometer app to set a temp range, so you know if the grill is getting too hot or too cold.
SMOKED TURKEY COOKING TIMES
The time it takes to smoke a turkey will depend on the size of the bird and the temperature of your grill. You can cook as low as 225F degrees, which will take about 30 minutes per pound. I prefer cooking the bird at 300-350F degrees, which takes about 15 minutes per pound.
I like the higher temp, because it creates a crispier skin, and I like that I can cook a 12-pound bird in around three hours.
Once the grill reaches 300-350F degrees, place the turkey over the indirect heat zone. Close the lid, set your thermometer, and go watch the game.
After an hour, give it a spritz with apple cider, beer or water. This helps create that beautiful golden color and adds a little bit of moisture.
Once the app alerts you that the turkey is ready, remove it from the grill and cover it with foil. Let it rest for 45 minutes to an hour to help the juices nestle into the sweet spots for an extra juicy bird.
That’s it! You got this. Go ahead and change up the holidays this year.
SMOKED TURKEY VIDEO
SMOKED TURKEY RECIPE
How to Make Smoked Turkey
All the steps you need (PLUS HOW-TO VIDEO) to make smoked turkey, including what size turkey to buy, when to defrost, an apple cider sea salt rub, smoke temps and cook time.
- 12 lb turkey
Apple Cider Sea Salt Rub
- 1 tbsp raw sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp herbes de Provence
- 1/4 tsp celery salt
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1/8 tsp ground allspice
- 1/4 cup melted butter
- 1/4 cup apple cider
- Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey and pat dry.
- Combine the rub ingredients. Pour over the turkey and rub inside and out.
Place your thermometer probe into the breast of the turkey.
Heat the grill to 300-350F degrees, setting up an indirect heat area that the turkey will smoke over. Add the turkey to the grill and cover with the lid.
Set the thermometer alarm to 165F degrees.
- After 1 hour, spritz with apple cider. Continue cooking until the iPhone app tells you it's done and your bird reaches an internal temperature of 165F degrees.
- Remove from the grill and let rest for 45-60 minutes before slicing.
If you cook a larger turkey, add a little more time. If you cook a smaller bird, reduce your cook time. The trusty thermometer will tell you when it's done, no matter the size.