Turkey is the ultimate smoked meat. Find out smoking times, temperatures, and best woods for this delicious pellet smoker turkey.
If you’ve invested in a pellet smoker or grill then a whole new world of meat cooking will be open to you. This pellet smoked turkey recipe might just be the very best out there.
One of the best things about this recipe is that you don’t need any fancy equipment to do it.
Just you, your turkey, and your trusted pellet grill.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Traditional roast turkey is beautiful, but it just doesn’t match a bird that’s been slowly smoked for hours low and slow over wood. Plus, who wants an entire bird taking up the oven?
This pellet spin on smoked turkey is smokey-sweet and easy to make. In this guide, I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know to cook the perfect turkey on your pellet grill or smoker.
As well as my fool-proof recipe I’ll walk you through the wood and equipment you need, and my best tips for pellet smoking the ultimate bird. Here’s how to smoke turkey on a pellet grill.
Avoid a roasting pan
Despite what you might read, avoid using a roasting pan when smoking your turkey.
Roasting pans are often used to hold the meat in liquid while it cooks. However, because we’re smoking low and slow this could result in a soggy bird.
Instead what we’ll do is smoke it directly on your pellet smoker’s grates. We’ll then place the roasting pan underneath the grill grates, about three inches away from the bird, and fill it with water.
This will function like a water pan and help to keep moisture in the grill chamber. This will keep our turkey moist without soaking it, while also letting it develop a crispy skin on the outside.
Don’t truss the turkey
Popular wisdom is that you should truss turkey when smoking it. I’m going to run the risk of receiving a barrage of abuse and argue against this.
Whole turkey is comprised of both dark and light meat, which each have different ideal temperatures. Dark meat is cooked until at 175°F, and light breast meat is best at 165°F. Trussing the meat will expose the breast meat and cook both light and dark to the same temperature. If we allow it to lie naturally then each part will reach their ideal temperature independently.
Don’t stuff the turkey
Unlike oven roasted turkey, pellet smoked turkey is best not stuffed. Herbs and rubs are fine, but we want to allow as much good smoke and air flow as possible.
Choose the best wood pellets
Mild woods with sweeter notes are best with turkey. Consider woods like maple, apple, cherry or pecan.
You can blend your chosen wood with oak or hickory to give it a smokey tone, but be careful not to overpower the natural flavors of the turkey meat.
Find out more in our guide to the best pellets for smoking.
Don’t forget to brine
Soaking your turkey in brine overnight will help the meat lock in moisture as it smokes.
A lot of people only baste, but this only really works at skin level whereas brining helps to keep the flesh of the meat moist at a much deeper level.
Leave your turkey in brine overnight in the refrigerator for the best results.
Contrary to popular belief, turkey is best served by deconstructing it first and then carving each individual piece.
A lot of people turkey from the whole carcass, which can prevent you from getting full access to the bird and lead to a lot of food waste.
Use a meat thermometer
While all recipes advise a cooking time, the truth with meat is that it’s only done when it’s done, and the biggest indicator of this is internal temperature.
In the case of turkey we want the breast meat to have reached 165°F. I strongly recommend getting a meat thermometer so that you can safely and accurately gauge the progress of your pellet smoked meat.
Now with all that out the way, let’s get on to how to smoke turkey on a pellet grill.
Pellet Smoked Turkey
- 1 whole turkey thawed, neck and giblets removed
- 4 quart water
- 1 cup kosher salt
For the Brine
- Combine 4 quarts of water and 1 cup of salt in a large container. Combine until salt has dissolved.
- Prepare turkey by removing giblets from turkey cavity.
- Place turkey in brine container and submerge. Place lid on top if you have one, or place turkey in a brine bag and add brine solution. Ensure that the turkey is as submerged as possible.
- Leave in refrigerator overnight, or brine for one hour per pound of turkey.
For the Turkey
- Start up pellet grill with your choice of wood pellets.
- Remove turkey from bine and pat down with paper towels to remove excess solution.
- Transfer turkey to grill grates and cook at 180°F. Smoke for two hours. Raise heat to 325°F.
- Use a meat thermometer to measure the internal temperature of your meat. Cook until breast meat has reached 165°F.
- Remove turkey from smoker and transfer to countertop or chopping block. Allow to rest in foil for 10-15 minutes to allow the juices to settle in the meat.