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How To Smoke a Turkey

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This tutorial will show you how to smoke a turkey will become your go-to source for smoking turkeys. We include how to season your turkey before smoking to bring out the best flavors.

Two dark golden brown turkeys on the top rack of a Weber smoker.

1. Determine How Many Turkeys To Smoke

To begin, it’s best to figure out how many turkeys you can fit on your smoker. We use a Weber Smoker (I believe it is the Weber 711001 Smokey Mountain Cooker 14-Inch Charcoal Smoker). There is plenty of room for us to fit 2 small-ish turkeys on the bottom and 2 on the top racks.

The great thing about smoking multiple turkeys at one time is quite economical. For the same quantity of charcoal and wood chips, you might as well smoke 4 turkeys rather than 1. Even if you are not going to eat them all or give them away immediately, you can freeze them and enjoy them later.

2. Season the Turkeys

Turkey in a bag and seasonings in a glass bowl.

We use a homemade seasoning blend of salt, pepper, and garlic powder. To make it, simply combine equal parts of each. My husband guestimates that two tablespoons of each should be enough.

Once you have made the blend, rub it all over the turkeys the night before you plan on smoking them. We have found that placing the turkeys in a huge zip-top bag makes it easy to store them in the refrigerator.

NOTE:  If you purchase frozen turkeys, be sure to completely thaw them before smoking them. According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, there are three safe ways to thaw turkeys:  1) in the refrigerator, 2) in cold water, and 3) in the microwave. I recommend the first method which actually takes longer, but in my opinion, it is a safer route.

You will need to do a little math to figure out how long to thaw them. According to the USDA, it takes 4 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40 °F or below. Be prepared for them to “leak” as they thaw and the juices start to run. It’s good to place them in a container to catch the juices and to help prevent any contamination.

3. Prepare the Smoker

Weber lighter cubes.

For the best results, do not use lighter fluid. To prepare your smoker, place charcoal in the smoker bowl and top it with a couple of lighter cubes. Ignite the cubes.

Turkey smoking on a smoker.

4. Add two turkeys.

You should be able to fit 2 nice-sized turkeys on the lower rack of your smoker barrel. Insert a digital thermometer into a section of one of the turkeys that is really meaty. (If you purchase a new thermometer, check for one that can use with your cell phone to monitor the internal temperature of the turkeys.)

5. Add wood chips.

Next, place applewood chips on top of the smoking charcoal briquettes. Place the barrel of the smoker on top of the charcoal.

6. Add additional turkeys.

Put the top rack in place and add two more turkeys on top and then cover the smoker.

7. Monitor the smoking process.

Periodically check the smoker to ensure that it is in the ideal smoking range. (You do this by checking the dial gauge on the smoker.)

Smoke the turkeys until the thermometer probe reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the probe and turkeys from the smoker.

When is a smoked turkey done?

Turkey should be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the National Turkey Federation, you should insert a thermometer in three parts of the bird to check for doneness: the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the breast.

Will smoked turkey be pink?

It can. According to the USDA, there may be a pink-colored rim about one-half inch wide around the outside of the cooked meat. To be safe, make sure that you have used a thermometer and checked the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the breast and that the temperature has reached 165° Fahrenheit.

How long can smoked turkey sit out?

For safety, do not leave smoked turkey out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. (If the ambient temperature is 90 degrees or higher, do not leave it out longer than an hour.)

Storing Smoked Turkey

If you don’t plan on eating the turkeys immediately, allow them to cool, wrap them well in foil, and freeze them. Well-wrapped turkeys should keep in the freezer for 4 months. To reheat, allow them to thaw a day or two in the refrigerator and then you can either cook them in the oven, reheat them in the microwave, or even use an Instant Pot.

Smoking turkeys on a smoker.

Holiday Leftover Ideas

Now that you have that delicious turkey smoked, have you thought about what you will do with leftovers? Here are some great ideas of how to use leftover turkey, as well as leftover ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and eggnog.

List of 30 ways to use holiday leftovers.

Get a printable version -> 30 Days of Holiday Leftovers.

Smoked turkeys

How To Smoke a Turkey

These simple steps will guide you to smoking the best turkeys.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Dishes
Cuisine: American
Diet: Gluten Free
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 6 hours
Additional Time: 12 hours
Total Time: 18 hours 15 minutes
Servings: 24
Calories: 609kcal
Cost: $75

Equipment

  • Charcoal Smoker

Ingredients

  • Applewood Chips
  • Charcoal
  • 4 Turkeys
  • 1 extra large zip-top bag

Seasoning

  • 2 Tablespoons salt
  • 2 Tablespoons pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons garlic powder

Instructions

  •  Make a spice blend of salt, pepper, and garlic powder to rub over the turkeys. 
  •  Using fresh or thawed turkeys, remove the “guts” that are packaged in the crevices. Rub the spices all over the outside of the turkeys.
  •  Place the turkeys in a large zip-top plastic bag and refrigerate overnight.
  • Prepare your smoker:
    a.    Place charcoal briquettes in the smoker bowl.
    b.    Nestle 3-4 lighter cubes among the briquettes.
    c.    Light the cubes.
  • Insert an electric thermometer into the smoker so that it can be inserted into a turkey.  Be sure to plug the probe into the thermometer base. Place 2 turkeys on the lower rack of smoker barrel.  Insert the thermometer into one of the turkeys.
  • Place applewood chips on top of smoking charcoal briquettes. Place the smoker barrel on top of the charcoal. Place additional turkeys on the top rack of the smoker and cover the smoker.
  • Periodically check smoker to ensure that smoker is in the ideal smoking range.  (Check the dial on the smoker gauge.) . Smoke the turkeys until the thermometer probe reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Remove the probe and remove the turkeys from the smoker.

Notes

Nutrition information is a rough approximation and will vary depending on the number of servings and volume consumed.

Nutrition

Serving: 1 | Calories: 609kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 93g | Fat: 24g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 6g | Monounsaturated Fat: 8g | Trans Fat: 0.3g | Cholesterol: 309mg | Sodium: 1063mg | Potassium: 976mg | Fiber: 0.2g | Sugar: 0.3g | Vitamin A: 243IU | Vitamin C: 0.01mg | Calcium: 50mg | Iron: 4mg
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