How to Smoke a Turkey

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How to smoke a turkey – turkey is the centre piece of Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner. It takes hours to roast in an oven while everything else is being prepared.

The kitchen feels like a furnace because there’s so much cooking going on and there’s a slight air of panic that the bird will be undercooked, or everything else will be over cooked. Or that nothing will be ready in time for guests arriving.

Escape the emergency room like environment of the kitchen and go outside and smoke your turkey on the barbecue. Quietly, with a beer perhaps. :-)

It will take longer than an oven, but apple or hickory smoked turkey tastes delicious, tender and is surprisingly easy to make. In fact it’s so easy to do; you will be tempted to do this more than once or twice a year. Learning how to smoke a turkey is well worth it.

If you haven’t already got a smoker, but are interested in buying one have a look at our BBQ smoker page, there’s a lot of general info on what to look out for and which brands are any good. Think Weber or Brinkmann and you won’t go far wrong – but there are a good few other good manufacturers besides these.

Ingredients for BBQ Smoked Turkey

  • A turkey, 12 to 14lbs, no more or it takes too long. The main thing to be sure of is whether or not it will fit in your BBQ smoker!
  • Lemon and rosemary marinade or Cajun rub (or some other rub), make double amounts; there’s a lot of surface area to cover.
  • Wood chips or logs.

    Hickory is a safe choice, maybe apple or any other fruitwood. Pecan is nice. Some combination of the above is worth experimenting with. Apple and cherry wood? Apple and pecan wood? Hickory wood and cherry?

How to Smoke a Turkey: Preparation

  • Give the turkey a good coating of the marinade, let it stand for half an hour at least to penetrate the meat. If you use a rub of some kind instead, now is a good time to apply it.
  • Soak the wood chips.
  • Light the BBQ charcoal, you will need a lot – have more on hand, you’ll need it. Open the vents fully, stoke the coals periodically until they are all glowing evenly.
  • Close the vents to half way, the temperature needs to be 225 to 250F (105 – 120C), so some adjustment will, be required.
  • Put the drip pan full of water in the bottom, your BBQ turkey on the rack, and close the lid. Now is the time to put you wood chips in as well.
  • Expect the cooking time to be 4 to 5 hours for a 12 pound turkey.

Smoking Your Turkey

Monitor the temperature and keep it in the 225 – 250F range. Throughout cooking make sure there is enough charcoal, and be ready to light more – a charcoal chimney is best for this.

Every hour or so open the lid and have a look, and brush it with more of the marinade, or apply more of the rub. Basting it with apple juice and pouring more apple juice in the drip pan is another way to add flavour and moisture.

As you do this, you could rotate the turkey 180 degrees to help ensure even heating.

How to Smoke a Turkey: When is it Ready?

When the internal temperature is 165F (75C) at the thickest part of the bird i.e. the breast or thickest part of the thigh, it is ready. The best way to be sure is to use a meat thermometer – get one they cost peanuts.

If you don’t have a meat thermometer, carefully try pulling one of the legs off. If the joint easily pops out and juices run clear it’s ready.

If you have trouble getting it up to temperature, use the oven as a last resort.

When it is finally ready take it out of the BBQ and place it on a platter, cover with foil and let it rest for 20 minutes at least.

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