Smoking a whole turkey for a large group of people can be intimidating- but don’t let it scare you! Read on to find out exactly how to smoke a turkey on a Traeger, Pit Boss, or other pellet grill. This smoked turkey recipe will help you to achieve a flavourful bird that is juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside.
Smoked turkey is an excellent main entree for Christmas, Thanksgiving dinner, Easter, or any other time that you need to feed a big crew! As a bonus, putting the turkey in your smoker will free up precious oven space for things like sourdough hot cross buns or other sides that might go with your feast!
I don’t care who you are, cooking a turkey is no small feat!! Read the recipe in full + make sure you have enough time to thaw the bird, brine it, and then smoke it. If you love my smoked turkey recipe, please leave a review and share on social media!
Why Smoke a Turkey vs. Bake it?
- the best way to keep juicy insides that take on an unreal smoky flavour
- fun to tinker with the smoker and spend time outside
- tender leftovers that can be used in a variety of recipes including my Dill Pickle Soup recipe
- well cooked meat that isn’t dry including the white breast meat
- crispy skin that has been blasted with the perfect amount of smoke
Brine + Dry Rub For Smoked Turkey
☆ Why You Should Brine Your Turkey ☆
- While smoking infuses flavour from the outside in, brining makes your turkey flavourful far below the surface.
- The salt denatures meat’s proteins, softening muscle fibres and allowing moisture to flow into the meat.
Check out my simple chicken brine with brown sugar recipe and add 3 orange peels along with your favourite spices.
Adding dry rub is optional but will only elevate your turkey! Once you have rinsed, dried, and buttered your turkey, you are ready for a dry rub. Use your favourite poultry rub with an extra tablespoon of brown sugar to help make your turkey skin crispy and irresistible. I love the Traeger Pork and Poultry Rub– its the perfect combination of spices without being too overpowering or salty.
How Much Smoked Turkey Do I Need Per Person?
How many people will your smoked turkey feed? This is an important question considering most of the time people endeavour to cook a turkey, it is for a crowd. Depending on the ages- I usually like to budget about 1 or 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person. This takes the entire bird into consideration including the bones and skin. It is always better to have too much than too little! You can add your leftover smoked turkey to Dill Pickle Soup, to make a turkey pot pie, or sandwich it between some whole wheat sourdough with a dollop of mayo and some fermented dill pickles. The possibilities are endless!
Which Grills + Smokers Work Best for Smoking a Turkey?
I prefer my Traeger Ironwood 885 wood pellet grill to smoke a turkey but there are other great grills that won’t send you on a shopping trip! No matter the type of smoker, arm yourself with a good meat thermometer and there will be no mishaps- knowing the internal temperature of your meat takes out all of the guesswork! My Traeger has a probe built in that I am able to connect to wifi. If you don’t have this built in on your grill this Meater thermometer gets amazing reviews.
Electric smokers are easy to set up and quite portable- some can even be used indoors making them a great option for smoking a whole turkey. Choose your wood chips and place them in the chip tray. You will have to keep an eye on the electric smoker to make sure that it is constantly producing smoke- if it becomes low on wood chips, you will have to refill. Best to check every hour.
This can be a bit more fussy but definitely worth the extra smoke flavour. Choose your wood chips, set up two zones to make sure that you can indirectly grill your turkey. Place the smoker box directly over the coals and the turkey on the empty side. Control the temperature by adjusting the vents on your charcoal grill.
In order to “smoke” a turkey on a gas grill, you will need to soak 2-3 cups of wood chips in water and place them over direct heat. Place your turkey on the other side of the grill in a roasting pan and cook it low and slow.
Wood Pellet Grill
I love my pellet grill because it cooks at a very predictable and consistent temperature! Fill the hopper and walk away- this is a very hands-off way to cook a turkey.
Cooking Time + Temperature
For this turkey recipe, you will smoke it low and slow at 300°F- and then crank it to 400°F at the end to render the fat in the skin and crisp it up!
Give yourself about 20 minutes per pound of turkey. My 13 pound turkey took about 4 hours to come to temperature (170 degrees f in the thickest part of the breast and 180 degrees f in the thickest part of the thigh). Large turkeys will take longer; smaller turkeys will take less time. Brined meat tends to cook a bit faster than un-brined meat. The most important thing is to make sure that you regularly check the internal temperature of the turkey!
Exactly How to Smoke a Turkey
Step 1. Defrost Stage (skip if you have a fresh turkey): If your Turkey is frozen, give it plenty of time to thaw in the fridge. Budget 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey. My turkey was 13 pounds so I left it thaw in the fridge for 3 days before brining it. Place the frozen turkey on a baking sheet or in a dish to catch the moisture that is released during the thawing stage.
Step 2. Simple Turkey/Chicken Brine Recipe: This step is optional but highly recommended for ultimate flavour and juiciness! Paired with smoking, brining your meat will bring your smoked turkey to the next level! If you love smoked + brined poultry, check out my Smoked Spatchcock Chicken and my Smoked Beer Can Chicken. Remove the organs, neck, and any other goodies that might be hiding inside of the bird. Rinse the thawed turkey thoroughly inside and out. Brine the turkey overnight or up to 24 hours. If your turkey is sticking out of the brine at all, make sure to rotate it at least once. Once you have brined your turkey for at least 12 hours, rinse it well under cold water and pat it dry with paper towels. Let it sit and come to temperature for about 30 minutes before moving to the next step.
Step 3. Preheat the smoker to 300°F. Brush the turkey with four tablespoons of melted butter or if you prefer, you can slather the turkey in olive oil or vegetable oil. Mix up 3 tablespoons of dry rub (I use Traeger Pork and Poultry) and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Spread the spice rub over your turkey, being sure to evenly coat in all of the nooks and crannies.
Step 4. Place your turkey breast side up on the top rack of your smoker (directly on the grill grate) if possible with a baking sheet or roasting pan underneath on a separate rack to catch any drippings for a flavourful gravy and easy cleanup. I had to lower the top rack of my Traeger and rest it on some brackets inside to make headroom for my big turkey.
Step 5. Check your Turkey after two hours to make sure that it is cooking properly and that you have an ample amount of pellets. At this point you can insert the probe of your meat thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey breast. Continue to cook your turkey until it reaches 170°F.
Step 6. Turn up your smoker to 400°F for 5-10 minutes, checking regularly. This should help to crisp your skin!
Step 7. Remove the turkey from your pellet grill and place it on top of a cooling rack on the same drip pan or baking sheet that you used to catch the drippings. Let the turkey rest uncovered for 15 minutes (if you cover it at this point it could make the skin of the turkey soggy rather than crisp). Replace the cooling rack with a cutting board that nests inside of your baking sheet to help catch any turkey juice that may escape while carving. Reserve the juice for a simple smoked turkey gravy.
Step 8. Carve the smoked turkey as usual. This simple video by Jamie Oliver has helped me a time or two! Garnish the whole bird with fresh herbs and sliced oranges. Enjoy the best smoked turkey recipe!
Frequently Asked Questions
No, you should not defrost your turkey on the counter. Although many people defrost chicken and other meat on the counter, it is generally frowned upon and because of the shear size of a turkey, it would need to stay out far too long to be safe for consumption. Budget 24 hours in the fridge for every 5 pounds of meat. Most turkeys take 2-3 days to defrost in the fridge.
It is ultimately up to your discretion- but I say NO! Trussing is one of the last turkey preparation steps before cooking. It involves tying the turkey legs together neatly in twine and is mostly for looks. Tying the legs together can prevent hot air and smoke from moving evenly around the legs, causing an uneven cook and smoke. Skip trussing your turkey for this recipe. If you don’t like the way the turkey looks when you are presenting it, you can always truss the legs after it is cooked, while it is resting and your company is drooling over it!
Generally for poultry, apple, maple, cherry, or pecan wood pellets or chips are suggested. I personally use whatever pellets I have on hand (I don’t find the type of wood alters the flavour of my chicken very much either way.)
Insert your meat thermometer probe into the thickest part of the turkey breast. It should read 170°F when it is fully cooked.
Brining your turkey before hand will help to prevent it from drying out! Coating the skin with a thin layer of butter before smoking it will also help. I like to cook my turkey breast side up to maintain the moisture in the bird. Lastly, use a probe thermometer to make sure that the turkey isn’t getting over-cooked (170°F in the thickest part of the breast is perfect).
Wrap the turkey in aluminum foil if you are finding that it is getting too crispy, you can also turn the heat down on your smoker.
I don’t recommend stuffing the turkey before smoking it. It will slow the cooking down and you won’t get even smoky flavor. Allow air to flow through the turkey for best results.
Batch + Storage
As a good rule of thumb, 1 pound of turkey = 1 serving. If you have a ten pound turkey, you can serve about ten people.
Leftover turkey can be kept in the fridge for 3-4 days in an airtight container. Chop up your leftover turkey for soups or pre-slice it and freeze it in an airtight container or bag for up to three months.
Leftover Turkey Recipes
Dill Pickle Soup with Shredded Chicken- Zupa Ogórkowa: Swap out the chicken for turkey in this family favourite recipe!
Leftover Turkey Fried Rice: A new twist on turkey leftovers, try this recipe for a light and colourful dish.
Turkey Pot Pie: Try out this recipe for instant comfort food that can be made ahead of time and frozen for a turkey delight later on- the smoke flavour will elevate this classic.
Printable Recipe Card
- 10 pound whole turkey
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons Traeger Pork and Poultry Rub
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- Defrost Stage (skip if you have a fresh turkey): If your Turkey is frozen, give it plenty of time to thaw in the fridge. Budget 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey.
- Rinse the thawed turkey thoroughly inside and out. Brine the turkey overnight or up to 24 hours. Once you have brined your turkey for at least 12 hours, rinse it well under cold water and pat it dry with paper towels. Let it sit and come to temperature for about 30 minutes before moving to the next step.
- Preheat the smoker to 300°F. Brush the turkey with four tablespoons of melted butter. Mix up 3 tablespoons of dry rub (I use Traeger Pork and Poultry) and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Spread the spice rub over your turkey.
- Place your turkey breast side up on the top rack of your smoker (directly on the grill grate) if possible with a baking sheet or roasting pan underneath on a separate rack to catch any drippings for a flavourful gravy and easy cleanup.
- Check your Turkey after two hours. Continue to cook your turkey until it reaches 170°F.
- Turn up your smoker to 400°F for 5-10 minutes, checking regularly. This should help to crisp the turkey skin!
- Remove the turkey from your pellet grill and place it on top of a cooling rack on the same drip pan or baking sheet that you used to catch the drippings. Let the turkey rest uncovered for 15 minutes. Replace the cooling rack with a cutting board that nests inside of your baking sheet to help catch any turkey juice that may escape while carving. Reserve the juice for a simple smoked turkey gravy.
- Carve the smoked turkey as usual. Garnish the whole bird with fresh herbs and sliced oranges. Enjoy the best smoked turkey recipe!
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 10 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 912Total Fat: 39gSaturated Fat: 13gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 23gCholesterol: 510mgSodium: 506mgCarbohydrates: 1gFiber: 0gSugar: 1gProtein: 131g