Smoked Turkey Rub

5 from 1 vote
5 from 1 vote

This easy smoked turkey rub blends paprika and cayenne pepper with brown sugar for the perfect blend of smoky-sweet. Take your smoked whole turkey, turkey breast, or thighs to the next level with this simple homemade BBQ seasoning.

smoked turkey bbq dry rub

Using a good BBQ turkey dry rub is the perfect way to infuse your BBQ bird with an added layer of flavor. Applied just before you cook it on your backyard smoker, this rub will add just the right level of sweetness and spice to your smoked turkey.

Everyone has their own go-to seasoning recipe, but this one stands out in its own right and is perfect for any cut of turkey: You can use it for your whole smoked turkey, or for simple turkey breasts, thighs, or drumsticks.

Our smoked turkey rub recipe combines smoked paprika, brown sugar, and cayenne pepper to strike the perfect balance between sweetness and spice, as well as deep earthy flavors to complement the smoke from your backyard cooker’s wood or coals. Discover how to make the best smoked turkey dry rub with our easy BBQ seasoning recipe. Let’s get smoking!

smoked turkey bbq dry rub

Easy Smoked Turkey Dry Rub Seasoning

Like all good barbecue dry rubs, this seasoning blend uses a combination of spices, salt and herbs to elevate the natural flavors of the meat as it’s cooked low and slow over smoke. Striking the perfect balance here while avoiding overpowering the turkey is crucial here, and to do this we need our rub to cover these basic elements:

  • Sugar: Brown sugar in our rub does more than just sweeten. It plays a pivotal role in forming a caramelized exterior via a phenomenon known as the Maillard Reaction. This gives the turkey its appetizing brown hue but also counteracts the bitter and acidic undertones sometimes seen in smoked dishes.
  • Savory: Our rub incorporates savory elements like garlic and onion powder to harmonize with the brown sugar and salt, while also introducing nuanced flavor notes
  • Spice: Even if heat isn’t your thing, bear with me here: Mild spices like smoked paprika and ground pepper introduce a gentle sharpness that complements turkey’s natural flavors.
  • Salt: Just like with so many meat dishes, salt helps intensify flavors and offset the bitterness from the smoke


To help create the perfect balance of sweet, savory, salt and spice, these are the ingredients we’ll be using for our BBQ turkey dry rub:

  • Brown Sugar: Introduces a hint of sweetness to the rub, aiding in caramelization and creating a delightful crust on the smoked turkey. Avoid using artificial sweeteners here as they won’t yield the Maillard Reaction effect we’re after for our barbecue recipe.
  • Smoked Paprika: Imparts a gentle sweetness and additional smoky dimension, complementing the natural flavors of the turkey
  • Mustard Powder: Provides a tangy kick to enhance the depth of flavors and offer a contrast to the sweetness from the brown sugar
  • Cayenne Pepper: Delivers a spicy zing to help add a subtle layer of heat
  • Ground Cumin: Introduces an earthy and aromatic touch for indeed complexity
  • Onion & Garlic Powder: For savory notes and added aroma
  • Kosher Salt: A fundamental ingredient in any dry rub seasoning that intensifies the turkey’s natural flavors and helps keep the bird juicy
  • Ground Black Pepper: For a final subtle touch of warmth and complexity
smoked turkey breast dry rub

How to Season a Turkey for Smoking

Like any good BBQ seasoning, this smoked turkey rub is quick and easy to prepare. For precise ingredient measurements, be sure to refer to our detailed recipe below:

  1. Combine: In a small bowl, add all the dry rub ingredients. Use a fork or whisk to mix them, aiming for an even mix. If any clumps form, use the fork to crush them.
  2. Prep the Turkey: Before applying the BBQ rub, rinse the turkey with cold water and then pat dry with paper towels. We want a dry surface to help the skin caramelize as it smokes.
  3. Oil the Skin: Apply a very thin layer of olive oil over the turkey skin. This will act as an adhesive to help the dry rub stick to the skin surface throughout the smoking process.
  4. Apply the Rub: Season the turkey with the dry rub, covering evenly on all sides. Use your hands to work the rub into any folds or crevices in the skin.
  5. Smoke: Once the turkey is fully seasoned, it’s ready for smoking!


Got leftover seasoning? No problem – simply tip the leftover dry rub into an airtight container or jar (I use these ones from Amazon) and store it in a cupboard or pantry, away from light and moisture. It should then keep well for one to two months.

Quick Tips

  1. If you prefer a milder flavor, consider reducing the cayenne pepper by half. Similarly, if you prefer a little more spice, simply dial up the cayenne or chili powder by half for some added zing.
  2. Don’t be shy when applying this seasoning! Aim for an even coating across the turkey surface, and use your hands to work it into any crevices or folds along the meat surface (disposable food gloves can come in handy here).
smoked turkey bbq dry rub

Smoked Turkey Rub

5 from 1 vote
This easy smoked turkey rub blends paprika and cayenne pepper with brown sugar for the perfect blend of smoky-sweet. Take your smoked whole turkey, turkey breast, or thighs to the next level with this simple homemade BBQ seasoning.
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Prep Time10 minutes
Total Time10 minutes


  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp ground black pepper


  • In a small bowl, combine all the dry rub ingredients. Use a fork to crush or remove any lumps that may form.
  • Rinse your turkey under cold water and pat dry with paper towels
  • Apply the rub to the turkey, covering all sides generously and working into any crevices or folds in the meat
  • Smoke immediately

About the Author

Ben Isham-Smith

A BBQ obsessive, Ben is behind 250+ of The Online Grill’s recipes, as well as countless barbecue guides to help barbecue newbies get to grips with the world’s best form of cooking.

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