Mon 27 Nov 2017
Read other related stories: Charcoal Grill , Gas Grill Techniques , indirect cooking , Turkey
HOW TO SMOKE A TURKEY
There are so many ways to smoke a turkey with the main difference found in the amount of time for both preparation and cooking. One of the favorite methods is hot smoking whether done on a traditional smoker, charcoal grill, or gas grill.
To smoke a turkey, you’ll need the following supplies:
- Grill or Smoker plus fuel for the equipment (charcoal, propane)
- Wood Chunks
- Meat Thermometer
- Dry Rub and/or Brine (about 1 cup of dry rub and 2 cups brine)
- Whole Turkey preferably fresh and less than 18 lbs.
- Aluminum Pan
- Aluminum foil and towels or an insulated blanket
Preparations Before You Smoke
The cleaning of the bird is the same as when you do traditional roasting; removal of the giblets and neck, rinsing and drying the bird, and trimming any loose skin. However, don’t truss or tie the legs as this can make it harder to cook the bird completely through when smoking. You can use toothpicks to pin the wings in if they seem to be falling away from the bird. If you elect to brine your turkey, be sure to start this process at least a day ahead of smoking. Even brined birds will have more flavor if a dry rub is applied. So apply any combination of dry ingredients you prefer to the turkey, being sure to put some of the rubs under as well as on top of the skin. Refrigerate the rubbed turkey overnight.
Once you’re ready to smoke, remove the turkey from the refrigerator and rub a small amount of oil on the skin, especially the bottom portion that will be touching the grill grates. This will keep the bird from sticking. Don’t apply oil to the grates as that will not guarantee the bird won’t stick! Always place a cold turkey on the grill or smoker as cold will attract more smoke vapor. Plan about 30 minutes cooking time per pound.
Preparing the Grill or Smoker
When using a traditional smoker, you can simply place the charcoal and wood chunks, as normally done, for a long smoking event. Usually, you position unlit charcoal in the firebox. Then lite a chimney starter full of charcoal and pour that next to the unlit charcoal. Then place a few wood chunks on the lite charcoal and some on the unlit areas so you will have wood flavor infusion during the entire cooking process. Place a disposable pan under the turkey that contains a few cups of water or mix of water and broth/stock. This will add moisture to the cooking environment and collect all the turkey drippings if you should want to make gravy. The goal is to maintain a cooking temperature of 225-275°F, though you can go as high as 300°F if desired.
When using a kettle-style charcoal grill, set up the drip pan and the turkey to one side of the grill, placing the hot coals on the opposite side. You can also set up some fire bricks in the charcoal area to retain more heat and stabilize the temperature.
These grills need to be set up using an indirect method of cooking – heat on one side meaning burners on one side lite while the turkey and drip pan goes on the unlit side. Wood chunks will be placed on the heat shields of the lit burners. These will smolder/burn giving off true wood flavor. Additionally, smoker wood chunks last a lot longer than using wood chips in a smoker box or foil pouch. Still, maintain a temperature of 250-275°F which can be tricky. You will have to see how many burners need to stay lit to do this technique. Then check the level of heat those burners need to be set to for that temperature. Certainly, you can cook at a higher temperature if you like but you may need to replenish the wood chunks as they will likely combust faster.
It’s important that you allow the turkey to cook on its own without fussing with the lid. Each time you open the lid, you release smoke vapor as well as heat. If you want the bird to cook in a reasonable amount of time, then leave the lid alone.
Never stuff a turkey that will be smoked as this causes the overall cooking time to extend and produce overcooked meat. Heat flow is blocked by anything put in the cavity as well so try to avoid stuffing herbs, citrus slices, etc. in there.
Always use a quality digital thermometer. You’re looking for the breast meat to register 160°F. You can remove from the grill/smoker at that point. Remember, if left sitting, the bird will continue to cook from all the radiant heat that has been trapped in the bones and meat.
If you need more than 18 lbs. of turkey, then consider smoking two smaller birds doing the same set up as above, just with two birds on the grill.
Feel free to mix some of your dry rubs with melted butter and a little oil and brush this mixture on the bird during the final hour of cooking. It will produce a fabulous color to the bird and help crisp the skin.
Remember, turkeys labeled as basted or enhanced contain a salt solution so be sure you season lightly so you don’t end up with a salty outcome.
You do not need to foil or tent the turkey when smoking. Let the air always circulate for the entire cooking process.
When cooking with charcoal, you will likely need less wood than with the gas/propane grill.
I hope I’ve inspired you to try smoke a turkey, so you can see just how unbelievably flavorful and easy this technique is. Remember to leave a comment and subscribe to our channel. Bringing you tips, techniques, recipes, and the science behind the fire and flavor – that’s®!
Smokinlicious products used in this Blog: