Smoked turkey is one of the most iconic crowd-pleasing smoking recipes out there. But with every step of the process key to enhancing the flavors of the bird, there’s a lot that’s easy to get wrong. Here’s how to smoke turkey in an electric smoker.
BBQ smoking is one of the best ways out there to cook large cuts of meat while infusing them with the beautiful smoky flavors often associated with outdoor cooking and barbecuing.
While the cooking method can take a long time, what it gives you in return is beautiful textures, with wood-infused spices and meaty flavors working in combination to give you the perfect cooked meat.
Electric smokers have been a very welcome addition to the market for barbecue and smoking enthusiasts. While some may think that something electric is inauthentic, what it does do is provide a cooking environment that’s easy to control and extremely safe to use.
If you don’t have an electric smoker, then take a look at my guide to the best smokers for beginners.
Turkey is the perfect choice of meat for smoking. It’s a beautiful white meat that benefits from being cooked at relatively low temperatures over a long period of time. If we combine this with smoking’s woody and smoky flavors, then we have an incredible cooked meat.
Not sure where to start though? Here’s our guide on how to smoke a turkey in an electric smoker.
Got an offset smoker? Check our guide on how to smoke turkey in an offset smoker
Choose your turkey
While this step might seem like one of the simplest, it can be daunting if you’re not entirely sure what you’re looking for. There are plenty of options out there so here’s my tip: Always go for something without any added ingredients or flavors. We can add flavors later with injectors, rubs or a brine.
Never smoke a frozen turkey. Ever. This can be dangerous or even leave your meat with uneven hot and cold spots throughout its flesh.
Start cleaning your turkey thoroughly by removing the neck, gizzard, and other parts inside the turkey. Do this by reaching inside the turkey and remove the neck. If the bird is completely thawed then you should find that the neck is loose inside the cavity.
You can locate the gizzard either inside the main or neck cavities. The latter you’ll be able to find between the wings of a turkey. Finish by rinsing the inside of the bird with cold running water.
One of the most important steps of bird preparation is brining. This is the process of treating food with salt so that it can retain moisture while being cooked for long periods of time. Originally brining was used as a means of preserving meat, but with the evolution of smoking it’s been used more of a way of enhancing flavors while also preventing food from drying out.
Our smoked turkey brine uses a simple saltwater solution with added rosemary, thyme, and sugar for flavor. It’s easy to make and will keep your turkey juicy and flavorful on the smoker. Alternatively, you can try a turkey marinade injection recipe if you’re short on time.
Once you remove the turkey from your brine, it’s important to remove any excess by rinsing it thoroughly. Use cold for this, and when rinsing make sure that you rinse the body cavity as well as all other surfaces of the bird.
After you’ve rinsed it, you need to allow it to dry properly, and also let the salt and flavors disperse through the meat. Do this by leaving it to dry for 12 to 24 hours.
Brining and cleaning isn’t the only steps we need to take for preparing turkey for smoking. We also need to season the bird.
For this I recommend using two types of rub. One is a dry rub, which you should apply to the cavity. The other is a wet rub, which you should apply to the outside of your turkey. The reason for this is that a wet rub will stick to the outside surfaces of the bird much better.
To create a wet rub, mix in vegetable oil with your seasonings in order to create a thick paste. As well as applying it to the outside of the bird, we also want to get it under the skin of the breast. To do this, very gently separate the skin from the flesh and softly massage the rub between the two. Be careful not to completely remove the skin from the bird. Use toothpicks to keep the skin attached to the turkey.
Choose the right wood
One of the keys to a great smoke is choosing the right type of wood. This is particularly true with turkey, which is a meat that tends to absorb the flavors of smoke much easier than other types of meat.
The best woods for smoking turkey are mild hardwoods. So try to avoid hickory or mesquite, as these can both overpower the flavor of your turkey. Instead go for something a bit more subtle, like apple of cherry. These are both quite sweet, but tend to complement turkey very well.
Preheat your electric smoker to 225°F/110°C. While it’s heating up, oil the grate to help prevent your turkey sticking to it.
Once preheated, put your turkey in the smoker. Cook for 40 minutes for every pound of bird.
While it’s cooking, use a little bit of butter or vegetable oil to baste it every now and then. This is to help keep it moist, and is particularly important for large cuts of meat that will need cooking for much longer.
The ideal internal temperature of your meat that you want to reach is 160°F/70°C. Use a meat thermometer probe to gauge the temperature of your meat (if you don’t have one then check out my thermometer guide here). Once you have reached the desired temperature, remove the bird from the smoker.
Electric Smoker Turkey
- Smoking wood, apple or cherry
- 1 10-15 lb turkey defrosted or fresh
- dry rub
- ¼ cup light oil
- ¼ cup water
- 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp ground bay leaf
- 1 tsp ground thyme
- 1 tsp ground sage
- 1 tsp finely ground black pepper
- Prepare turkey by removing neck, gizzard, and giblets. Transfer to refrigerator.
- Combine all brine injection ingredients in saucepan over low heat. Stir until well mixed, and bring to simmer. Transfer to injector.
- Map out a grid-like pattern on meat, with about one-inch gaps between each hole. Apply brine to each hole, inserting needles holes firmly into meat. Slowly remove needle as you push the injector plunger.
- Pat down with paper towel to remove excess water or brine solution.
- Preheat electric smoker to 225°F (107°C). Apply a thin layer or cooking oil to cooking grate, and add a handful of wood chunks to smoker box.
- Cook for 40 minutes per pound of turkey, about 8-10 hours. Aim for internal temperature of 165°F.
- Remove turkey from smoker. Wrap in foil and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
- Slice and serve.
What are the benefits of smoked turkey?
BBQ smoking turkey is more than just a way to flex your BBQ muscles. There are actually a few great health benefits to smoked turkey.
The meat is a fantastic source of protein, which helps you feel fuller for longer. No more snacking to get you between meals.
It’s also comprised of very lean meat, with high levels of vital B vitamin and zinc. It’s also far lighter in calories in comparison to other types of meat, including chicken.