Prepare And Cook The Perfect Smoked Turkey Recipe and 9 Common Mistake

As proud and experienced pitmasters during Thanksgiving, we will never sit idly and let a whole turkey dry out in the oven while there is a smoker outside. Let’s learn the best smoked turkey recipe to solve this problem.

smoked turkey recipe featured

Most of us are short of oven space around Thanksgiving, so it is ideal for taking advantage of the outdoor smoker to get that juicy turkey for dinner. Here is an overview of what you will collect after reading this article.

Table of Contents

    We believe your guests would go crazy for this smoked turkey and beg for your secret recipe!

    Why Smoke A Whole Turkey?

    Besides delivering a tempting and delicious result in the end, using a smoker for turkey cooking comes with other amazing benefits. You know how hot an oven in a small kitchen can get if active all day long.

    Cooking Turkey In The Oven
    Cooking Turkey In The Oven

    Not to mention taking your turkey cooking outside the kitchen will keep it from turning into a sauna. The oven is now freed up to cook other side dishes, splitting the work for everyone to do with comfort.

    Although smoking a turkey is not much different from a regular piece of meat, there are challenging aspects, even for a skillful pitmaster.

    Unlike other birds, turkey is a delicate type of meat without much fat or connective tissue. That is why it tends to dry out and darken at a fast rate and absorb smoke flavors easier than other meat.

    How To Prepare A Turkey For Smoking

    Before smoking a turkey instead of using the oven, it’s crucial to know what to expect. One minor mistake might affect the turkey quality or flavor in the end, so keep in mind the following criteria.

    Good Seasoning For Turkey

    Homemade Smoked Turkey Rub
    Homemade Smoked Turkey Rub

    In general, a turkey has a relatively flavorless meat type, and you will want to coat this bird thoroughly. If you wish to add more texture to its skin and “catch” smoke better, give it a good spice rub.

    This is a quick and simple spice rub formula you can follow at home:

    • 1 quarter cup of vegetable oil
    • 1 tablespoon of mustard powder
    • 1 tablespoon of paprika
    • 1 teaspoon of powdered ginger
    • Half a teaspoon of powdered sage
    • 2 tablespoons of onion powder
    • 2 teaspoons of kosher salt
    • 2 teaspoons of white pepper
    • 2 teaspoons of garlic powder

    After mixing all of these ingredients, you want to take a basting brush or use a gloved hand to cover the outside of your turkey fully. The spice rub paste should be thick enough for enhanced sticking to the turkey.

    What To Put In The Turkey Cavity For Flavor?

    You might be overwhelmed by the ingredient combination that goes inside the turkey at first: apple, Coca-Cola, butter, onion, etc. But we believe you would find this mixture an impressive touch for a flavor boost.

    Cola and apple are excellent for a little added sweetness, while the juices you use to baste your turkey richly later comes from butter and onion. Tweak the ingredients as you prefer, but this mixture is brilliant!

    The Ideal Smoker For Turkey

    smoked turkey in electric smoker
    Smoked Turkey with Electric Smoker

    A smooth-working, well-performed smoker is the most important equipment to cook your smoked turkey. Your smoker should be large enough to work well with the size of the turkey you are planning to smoke. 

    It might be difficult for you to decide because many types of smokers are currently available on the current market. We will cover the most popular ones here, which we have experienced and succeeded with.

    • Electric Smoker: A electric smoker is an ideal start to smoke any type of meat. It appears to be compact and easy to handle, but it can manage to hold up to two whole turkeys at once.
    • Pellet Smoker: Once you have upgraded to a pellet smoker using woods, you will be delighted with its function. Not only does it smoke meat well, but it can also grill burgers.

    A rule of thumb is sticking to a small, unstuffed whole turkey from 8 to 12 pounds is ideal to fit in an 18 or 22-inch smoker. There should be space available around and above the turkey to make room for air to flow.

    The Best Type Of Wood Chips To Smoke Turkey

    Making turkey on an electric smoker is simple. But if you wonder how to smoke a turkey on a pellet grill, you need to know what type of wood chips works well with this smoker for enhanced turkey taste.

    Wood chips with some extra sweet flavor would be a brilliant choice to spice up your bland turkey meat, such as maple, cherry, apricot, or applewood chips. Hickory is a classic with a stronger smokey flavor. We also have an article about best good for smoking.

    Brining Turkey

    Brining is an essential step that helps to tenderize the turkey meat and maintain its moisture at the same time. It will take the most time and effort in your preparation process.

    Face your bird breast down in the brine the night before you cook. You may adjust the recipe if the turkey is especially small or large (but best not over 13 pounds), but retain the 1:1 salt and water ratio.

    Ideally, you should brine a pound of turkey meat for an hour. Follow this easy brine recipe to ensure your turkey is as juicy as possible:

    • 2 gallons of ice water
    • 1 tablespoon of mustard seed
    • 1 tablespoon of dried savory
    • 2/4 of bay leaves
    • 2 tablespoons of crushed rosemary
    • 2 tablespoons of dried thyme
    • 2 tablespoons of crushed sage
    • 2 cups of kosher salt

    Put all of these ingredients in a clean container (ideally a pot), then place the turkey in and let it sit in the refrigerator the night before. Later, you can cook the turkey directly or dry it and add spice rubs.

    Is It Necessary To Butter/Baste A Turkey?

    Many people wonder whether it is necessary to butter or baste their turkey, and the answer will be yes to get that juiciness from the meat. Maybe you only want to taste the turkey alone without flavors from spices.

    That is why basting it with some chicken broth before and during smoking will prevent your turkey from becoming dry. In case you have brined your turkey before, it is alright to skip the basting.

    How Much Turkey Per Person Is Ideal?

    A Thanksgiving Dinner Table
    A Thanksgiving Dinner Table

    Our advice is to plan one pound of turkey for one person; then, you will be able to estimate the turkey size to get. If you wish to have leftovers, you should plan for each person to have 1/2 pounds of turkey.

    How To Make Turkey In A SmokerA smoked Turkey recipe

    smoked turkey recipe

    Smoked Turkey for Thanksgiving dinner

    That is a quick wrap-up of the preparation process with all you need to cook an excellent smoked turkey recipe. Now it is time to get started with smoking this main course for a flavorful Thanksgiving dinner.
    Prep Time 10 mins
    Cook Time 6 hrs
    Total Time 6 hrs 10 mins
    Course Main Course
    Servings 12 people
    Calories 463 kcal
    • A whole turkey (12 pounds) with removed giblets and neck
    • 1 optional recipe of turkey brine (if you have brined the turkey, it is alright to skip the broth basting)
    • 1/2 cup BBQ spice rub
    • 1 quarter of a lemon
    • 1 quarter of an onion
    • 3 cups chicken broth
    • Cooking spray
    • 4 sprigs of fresh herbs (parsley, rosemary, and thyme)
    • Fresh herbs for garnish
    • Preheat the pellet smoker to reach the temperature range between 225 and 250°F/110 and 120°C. Load it up with applewood chips or other wood flavors as preferred.
    • Coat the cooking spray on a large disposable pan made from aluminum. After placing your turkey on the pan, tuck its wings under the body.
    • Take the lemon, herbs, and onion mixture to stuff the turkey cavity. The kitchen twine will help you tie its legs together.
    • Sprinkle the BBQ spice rub evenly all over the turkey.
    • Place your turkey in the smoker. Although it takes around 6 to 7 hours for a complete cook, you need to baste chicken broth on the turkey every half an hour to 45 minutes.
      Repeat this step until you insert a thermometer to the thickest part of its thighs, and the meter indicates 165°F. You can refill the applewood chips if required to keep the smoker running at its best.
    • If you find the turkey getting darker, cover it with a foil.
    • Rest your smoked turkey for 10 to 15 minutes, then transfer it to a plate. Garnish it with fresh herbs and serve.
    • When Can You Tell If Smoked Turkey Is Done?
      As described above in Step 5, you will know the turkey is done when the inserted thermometer in the thickest part of its thigh measures at 165°F. However, keep in mind that the built-in thermometer in the smoker is not truly reliable.
      In addition, guesswork is not recommended either. That is why we advise leaving a digital dual probe thermometer to manage the bird’s internal temperature, as well as maintaining your smoker at its ideal temperature.
      Even if they provide you with a quick pop-up thermometer when you buy a turkey, you should not rely on cheap units for accurate results.
    Nutrition Facts Per Serving
    • 463kcal calories
    • 70g protein
    • 231mg cholesterol
    • 794mg potassium
    • 10mg vitamin C
    • 1g carbohydrates
    • 18g fat
    • 4g saturated fat
    • 576mg sodium
    • 210IU vitamin A
    • 43mg calcium
    • 3mg iron
    Keyword smoking, thanksgiving, turkey

    Common Mistakes When Smoking A Turkey And Solutions

    Given that turkey is not entirely easy to work within the smoker, you will want to know the most common mistakes during this process to avoid encountering unwanted problems and ruin your Thanksgiving.

    1. Not Spatchcoking Your Turkey

    Spatchcocking is a smart technique to apply to your turkey for some advantages over cooking a whole bird traditionally. It speeds up the turkey cooking time with an even breast to prevent dryness at high temperatures.

    Here is how to spatchcock a turkey: get a pair of butcher shears to cut along its spine for breastbone removal. It lets you lay the turkey flat and absorb smoke, and a spice rub better, thanks to more surface area.

    2. Smoke A Turkey Without A Digital Thermometer

    A Thermometer On Turkey
    A Thermometer On Turkey

    One of the biggest mistakes while smoking turkey that leads to your failure is the lack of a proper thermometer. It reads quicker and more accurately than traditional ones or “turkey poppers.”

    3. Stressing About Buying Frozen Turkey

    Instead of picking up a turkey from the freezer aisle in the grocery store, you may prefer visiting a butcher. They will help you decide on the turkey size for the end serving to be juicier with an extra flavor.

    Not to mention there is no need to defrost the turkey. Although fresh birds do taste a little better, frozen ones are more convenient since you can buy them in advance and defrost them before Thanksgiving.

    4. Not Placing A Drip Pan Under Turkey

    A Drip Pan Under Turkey
    A Drip Pan Under Turkey

    A drip pan is highly effective in preventing your smoked turkey from leaking oil and excess juices on the smoker, creating a mess you have to clean up later. It also catches tasty gravy drippings from the bird.

    If you wish to add more flavor to the gravy in this drip pan, you can fill it up with fresh vegetable slices, such as carrots, chopped onions, herbs, celery, and stock. They will be excellent side dishes besides turkey.

    5. Stuffing The Bird

    Once you stuff the cavity of a turkey, it restricts the process of heat transferring and makes it longer for heat to reach the bird’s center. That is why the breast may dry up before its center is fully cooked.

    According to our experience, making stuffing in the oven is a much better idea as it tastes better than the soggy kind of stuffing inside your turkey. Plus, the oven stuffing also cuts down on your cooking time.

    6. Pink Turkey Meat After Smoking

    Pink Turkey Meat
    Pink Turkey Meat

    According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), the turkey can remain pink even after being cooked at the minimum temperature of 165°F  due to its normal meat color. Thus, it is safe for digestion.

    7. Resting A Cooked Turkey

    It is common sense to think that your cooked turkey needs to rest at least 30 to 45 minutes after smoking. This allows the redistribution of moisture through its muscle and keeps the juice as you carve its meat.

    In fact, resting a cooked turkey does not redistribute juices, so it is important for you to serve the bird when it is still hot. Leaving your turkey for too long may result in dryness and losing crispness on its skin.

    8. Opening The Smoker Regularly For A Check

    If this is the first time you make a turkey with a smoker, we know how tempting it can get to open the lid about every five minutes to check on the bird. You need to let it be, or the cooking time will never finish.

    9. Not Taking External Conditions Into Account

    Suppose the weather outside is getting cold. We recommend putting your smoker in an area without wind, or else it would be challenging for you to maintain a consistent temperature for proper smoking.

    Moreover, you may have to allow a little more time to finish cooking the turkey under such weather conditions, especially if the smoker tends to encounter sudden temperature swings that will affect your cooking.


    Ditch the oven and start making use of the effective smoker outside to make your Thanksgiving turkey! Our smoked turkey recipe offers attractive color, added flavor, delicious stuffing, and fine moisture.

    If you want to become a pitmaster for the family, we believe this article has helped you out a lot on smoking a turkey properly. You will do perfectly fine on Thanksgiving, and thank you for reading!

    Roger Lee
    Roger Lee

    Thanks for visiting my website. My name is Roger Lee, and I am a 30-year-old man with a hybrid blood of Chinese and Russian. I decided to set up this site to share with everyone my love and passion for open-air cuisine. It all started when my parents opened a restaurant and I had the chance of getting exposed to the art of outdoor cooking.
    This website aims at sharing about my hobby, recipes, and tips for cooking to everyone. Try them out and tell me about your experience.