How to Smoke a Turkey Perfectly

Updated on December 15, 2017
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Jan has been cooking and writing about food for over twenty years and has cooked on multiple television stations, including Food Network.

Smoking a turkey is actually one of the easiest ways to get a moist, perfectly done bird. The trick is just in taking some time - and a bit of basting!
Smoking a turkey is actually one of the easiest ways to get a moist, perfectly done bird. The trick is just in taking some time - and a bit of basting!

Lots of folks are intimidated by smoking meats, and lots of people think that it involves a ton of effort. The truth is that it's one of the easiest methods there is. The main tricks are really to just leave it alone and let the smoke do the work.

With that said, another major step to take for real success is to brine the bird beforehand. If you've never used a brine before, you'll be really amazed at the difference it makes and how much better your turkey will turn out. It's really just a soak in salted water (with some other seasonings if you wish), but it makes all the difference in the finished product.

Other than that, you have a simple baste, and your smoker will do all the work for you. I like hickory, or hickory and apple, but if you have a preference for another wood, by all means, go for it.

Keep your time in mind as well - this isn't a process that can be rushed. The bird in these photos was about 24 pounds and took a good 12 hours. Smaller birds will, of course, will be faster to reach that important 165F, so just plan accordingly and you'll be fine.

A couple quick tips and on to the recipe - leave the smoker alone. Other than basting you don't really need to open it. You'll let the heat out (and the smoke) each time you open the smoker. This causes longer and longer cook times. When you do open it, work quickly. Add chips as needed, and that's really all there is to it. Pinky promise.

Now go fire up your smoker!

Ingredients

  • 1 brined turkey
  • 2-3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Directions

  1. Remove the turkey from the brine at least 30 minutes before beginning the smoking. This lets the bird come closer to room temperature, which will aid in the smoking process.
  2. Pat the bird dry and rub it all over with the olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt, place turkey in the smoker, and insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. You're looking for a final temperature of 165F°. Use the wood chips of your choice - my favorite it hickory.
  3. Allow the bird to smoke for a couple of hours. Meanwhile, whisk together the chicken broth, honey, and apple cider vinegar.
  4. After a couple of hours, and then every hour or so until the basting liquid is all gone, baste the bird well all over with the honey/vinegar mixture. Refill chips as needed, and otherwise leave it alone.
  5. Allow the bird to smoke, refilling chips as needed, until the thermometer reaches 165F. Remove the bird from the smoker and allow it to rest for at least half an hour. The resting time is critical - don't skip it or rush it.
  6. Slice and serve! See? Easy!

Start with a Brined Bird

Brining is magic - it really is the easiest, surest way to get a fabulously moist bird. Combined with smoking the turkey is over-the-top delicious. Moist, tender and flavorful - and brining is the key.
Brining is magic - it really is the easiest, surest way to get a fabulously moist bird. Combined with smoking the turkey is over-the-top delicious. Moist, tender and flavorful - and brining is the key.

Brush with a Little Oil

Other than brining, all your going to do to the turkey at first is simply brush it with some olive oil, and tie the wings and legs down if need be. Set your smoker to 225F.
Other than brining, all your going to do to the turkey at first is simply brush it with some olive oil, and tie the wings and legs down if need be. Set your smoker to 225F.

Set the Termometer

Set a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh - called the oyster. You're going to aim for an internal temp of 165F. Turn your smoker to 225F, add hickory chips, sprinkle with kosher salt,  and just let it be for a couple of hours.
Set a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh - called the oyster. You're going to aim for an internal temp of 165F. Turn your smoker to 225F, add hickory chips, sprinkle with kosher salt, and just let it be for a couple of hours.

Basting Liquid

Stir together 2 cups of chicken broth, two tablespoons apple cider vinegar and two tablespoons honey in a glass dish. You'll use this to baste the turkey.
Stir together 2 cups of chicken broth, two tablespoons apple cider vinegar and two tablespoons honey in a glass dish. You'll use this to baste the turkey.

Baste!

Baste with the honey/vinegar/broth mixture about every hour. Don't worry too much about the timing - just give it a go every once in a while until the liquid is gone. I think this one took about four times to use up the basting liquid.
Baste with the honey/vinegar/broth mixture about every hour. Don't worry too much about the timing - just give it a go every once in a while until the liquid is gone. I think this one took about four times to use up the basting liquid.

Then Leave it Alone!

Other than adding chips, leave the bird alone. Don't open the smoker more than necessary - it lets all the heat and smoke out. This bird was big - about 24 pounds and took a good 12 hours to reach 165F.
Other than adding chips, leave the bird alone. Don't open the smoker more than necessary - it lets all the heat and smoke out. This bird was big - about 24 pounds and took a good 12 hours to reach 165F.

Reach 165F and Let it Rest

The bird is done - almost! LET IT REST! I promise the extra half hour is well worth the extra wait. The juices redistribute and you'll have a much juicier result.
The bird is done - almost! LET IT REST! I promise the extra half hour is well worth the extra wait. The juices redistribute and you'll have a much juicier result.

Perfectly Smoked Turkey - Easier than You Think!

It really is easier to smoke a perfect turkey than you may think - brine, baste and walk away!
It really is easier to smoke a perfect turkey than you may think - brine, baste and walk away!

Moist, Juicy and Delicious

Sliced, the turkey is ready to serve. It makes a pretty glorious sandwich too!
Sliced, the turkey is ready to serve. It makes a pretty glorious sandwich too!

Check out the Quick Tutorial!

How to Brine a Turkey

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Jan Charles

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      • profile image

        Rachel Alba 

        11 months ago

        Hi Jan, That turkey looks good enough to eat right off the page. lol There's nothing like a golden brown crispy turkey. Thanks for sharing this method of cooking one.

        Blessings to you.

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