Thanksgiving is just around the corner and, if you haven't already, you need to nail down  your plan for smoking the turkey.

We've done a lot of great birds over the years and any one of them would be a huge success at your dinner table but, this year I sort of went nuts and mixed my original rub (purchase recipes here) with soft, melty REAL butter.

This wonderful goodness was stuffed under the skin, on top of the skin and brushed all over the turkey while it smoked. To say it was too good for words would be an understatement!

On that delicious thought, let's get started!

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Barbecue's Greatest Secret.. My Original Rub Recipe!


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Everyone knows that southern cooking is known for it's use of “lots of butter” but when you mix really soft butter with my original rub, it becomes something like a slightly spicy dessert that you can eat with a spoon or make your smoked turkey the best tasting turkey in the world.. pick one.. or both, your choice really!

As a side note, I put some of this butter/rub mixture on some baby back ribs and, well, you'll hear about that in another newsletter down the road;-)

promise you’ll love my dry rub/seasoning recipes and my barbecue sauce recipe or you don’t pay!

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Helpful Information
  • Prep Time: 35 minutes
  • Brine Time: 8-10 hours
  • Cook Time: 5 hours 30 minutes
  • Smoker Temp: 240°F
  • Meat Finish Temp: 165°F
  • Recommended Wood: Apple/Hickory
What You’ll Need

*When smoking meat, it is always better and safer to smoke multiple turkeys of 12-14 lbs or less rather than a single larger one. The caveat to this is when spatchcocking the bird, a much larger bird is relieved of it's backbone and then laid open like a book so that it cooks quicker and more evenly than it would otherwise.

Thaw the Turkey

Millions of Americans will end up with a frozen turkey this year and, if so, you'll need to thaw it before it can be used. The best way to do this is to place it in the fridge several days before you are ready to use it.

Turkey tends to thaw at a rate of about 5 lbs per day so you'll have to do a little quick math to figure out how soon it needs to go in the fridge. I usually give a 12 pounder about 3 days.

Another method of thawing a turkey quickly is to run the kitchen sink full of cold water and place the turkey into the water. Replace the water every 30 minutes and flip the turkey over each time. With this method, you can thaw a turkey in 4 to 6 hours.

Using this method, it is also important to make sure the turkey is in a leak proof package. If in doubt, place it in a very large zip top bag that can be sealed.

I usually also sanitize the sink really well before and after this process.

Why Brine the Turkey?

I almost always brine turkeys and there's a great reason for it. It turns out birds that are a lot more awesome than they are without brining.

Brining in a nutshell is simply soaking meat, such as turkey, in a 6% salty solution for several hours. The salty solution is drawn deep into the meat fibers making it more flavorful and more moist. If you add flavors such as herbs, spices, juice, etc. to the brine, those flavors also end up inside the meat. It's easy to see how potentially beneficial and exciting this can be.

I created a new turkey brine for this Thanksgiving and I am using it on all of the turkey that I prepare this month. The recipe and directions are below:

Make the Brine

Get the brine made up a day or two early so it can cool down in the fridge before you need to use it. You can always add ice but that dilutes it some.

Ingredients:

  • 3 quarts of water (approx.)
  • 1 to 1.5 quarts of ice
  • A couple of 4-inch sprigs of thyme
  • A couple of 4-inch sprigs of rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon of course ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of red pepper flakes
  • 8-10 garlic cloves smashed with the side of a knife to release lots of flavor.
  • 1 cup of kosher salt

Directions:

Add 1 quart of the water, the rosemary and thyme, black pepper, red pepper flakes and garlic into a medium sized pot. Cover the pot and bring it just to boiling and then turn off the heat. Let the ingredients steep in the water for 20-30 minutes before removing the cover. Put the “tea” in the fridge to cool down. I recommend giving it several hours at least but overnight is best.

If you procrastinated, don't worry.. I have your back. Simply pour the hot brine through a sieve into a gallon sized pitcher. Add about a quart of ice and stir the ice and brine mixture to cool it down.

Add more ice if you need to to cool it on down.

Finally, to the pre-cooled brine mixture, add enough cold water to bring it up to a gallon.. you should have a total of 1 gallon of liquid in the pitcher.

Add 1 cup of kosher salt to this liquid and stir gently for a minute or two until the salt is completely dissolved.

This, my friends, is your brine.

Note: if you want to make a simple brine with nothing extra, add 1 cup of kosher salt to 1 gallon of cold water and stir until the salt is dissolved. This will also do wonders for the juiciness of the turkey.. it just won't add anything other than a little bit of saltiness to the meat.

Turkey Prep

Remove the turkey from the packaging, remove the neck, giblets, etc from the cavity and set aside, remove the popup timer and discard.

Brining the Turkey

Place the turkey down into an empty cooler, a food safe plastic bucket, a large zip top bag, whatever works and pour the brine over it to cover. If you use a container that is just the right size for the turkey a gallon of brine should be enough. If you have to use a much larger  container, you may have to double the brine recipe.

How much brine is needed is totally dependent on the size of your turkey and the size of your container so you'll have to play this by ear.

With the turkey completely submerged in brine, place in the fridge, use bags of ice or place in an outbuilding (if the outside temperature is cold enough) so that the temperature of the brine and turkey stay at or below 40°F. About 37°F is ideal.

Leave the turkey in the brine overnight or about 8-10 hours for best results.

When the turkey is finished brining, rinse well under cold water and pat dry with a paper towel.

Make the Butter/Rub Mixture

Thanksgiving is not the best time to be on a diet unless you are under orders from your doctor in which case, I do not want to steer you in the wrong direction. For the rest of you, butter is your friend and you just can't overdo the stuff on this turkey for this special day.

Mix the butter and my original rub (purchase recipes here) together while the bird is brining so it'll be ready when you need it.

Butter/Rub Mixture

Ingredients

Directions

Leave 3 sticks of butter sitting out on the counter for several hours or until it gets very soft.

Place the butter into a mixing bowl and add 3 heaping tablespoons of Jeff's original rub (purchase recipes here). Mix well to combine and set aside.

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Trim the Wings (optional)

The turkey wings are made up of 3 sections called the drumette (part closest to the body) the mid-section and the wing tip. You can either tuck the wing tips under the bird or cut them off and I chose to simply snip them off.

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Loosen the Skin Over Breast

With the breast side up on the table, carefully work your hands under the skin surrounding the breast being careful to not let it tear.

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The handle end of a butter knife works well for this if you have large hands and/or you want to be extra careful so that it does not tear.

Apply Butter/Rub Mixture

Apply about 1/3 of the rub butter mixture under the skin of the breast making sure to spread it evenly on both sides.

Apply another 1/3 of the rub butter on the outside of the turkey breast, legs, wings and back

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Note: Use a paper towel to dry the area under the skin and on the outside of the skin to help the butter adhere better.

Apply Jeff's Rub to Entire Turkey

My original rub (purchase recipes here) sets the bar very high where seasoning is concerned. I get emails every year from folks telling me that the rub made a huge difference in the outcome of their turkey. It's what I use for my guests and there's a reason for that.. it's delicious!

Apply the original rub all over the outside of the turkey.

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After it sat for 30 minutes, the sugar in the rub began dissolving and it was looking real happy!

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You can leave the turkey just like that or go ahead and set it on a Weber Grill Pan or cooling rack to make it easy to carry to and from the smoker.

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Set Up Smoker

You can use any smoker to cook the Thanksgiving turkey.. if it will heat to at least 220°F or so (240°F or even a little higher is better) and can be setup to cook with indirect heat, it will work great.

I used the Traeger pellet smoker for this one but I have done plenty of these on simple electric smokers. charcoal bullet smokers, ceramic cookers, and big reverse flow wood smokers such as the  Meadow Creek. If you maintain the heat, keep a good light smoke going, and remove it from the heat when it reaches about 160°F, it will be perfect.

Setup whatever smoker you have so that it is cooking at 240-250°F or as close to that as you can get. Turkey can be cooked hotter than this even but I don't like to risk burning the rub. For this reason, I do not recommend more than 250°F.

Make sure you have enough wood for about 4 hours of smoke. I used a mix of apple and hickory. It worked out very well with great flavor but many other smoking woods will also work well. Use what you have available.

Let the smoker preheat for at least 30 minutes and you are ready to go.

Smoke the Turkey

Place the turkey directly on the grate or you can place the Weber grill pan with the turkey directly on the grate to make it easy. Both methods will work great.

Quickly close the door or replace the lid and let the cooking and smoking commence.

Don't worry about anything other than heat maintenance for the first 3 hours or so. After this, you will want to insert a thermometer probe into the breast meat so you can scientifically know when the turkey is perfectly done. This is no time for guesswork!

I monitored the temperature of my smoker and turkey with the new “Smoke” thermometer by Thermoworks and I have been so impressed with with this new smoking gadget!

The main part of the unit stays outside by the smoker..

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The receiver part of the unit goes around your neck, in your pocket or on the table next to where you are.

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This is the best product that's come out in a long time for us smokers.. range is about 300 feet, big, easy to read numbers, batteries last 1800 hours, it lights up, it's splash proof and it's super easy to set the high and low alarms.

The best part is that it comes paired together from the factory so when you turn it on, it's immediately ready to go.

Get your hands on one of these and you'll see what I mean.. it looks and feels extremely tough. Check it out!

Melt the butter/rub mixture in the microwave so that's it's easy to brush on and baste the turkey with this about an hour before it's finished and then again about 30 minutes before it's finished.

Turkey is safely done at 165°F in the breast however, as we've discussed before, turkey tends to keep cooking for several minutes after you remove it from the heat. This is called carryover cooking and it can go up by as much as 5-7 degrees or even more in larger turkeys.

I usually figure on about 3-5 degrees of carryover cooking to be on the conservative side of safe and I  remove it from the heat at 160-162°F.

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Finish and Serve

When the turkey has reached 160-162°F, remove it from the heat immediately and carry it into the house. Tent a loose piece of foil over it and let it rest for 15-20 minutes before carving it. During this time, it will rise to 165°F and the juices inside will redistribute throughout the turkey.

Resting completed, carve the turkey into a platter and call dinner.

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Read these recent testimonies:

"Love the sauce and rub recipes. So far I have used them on beef ribs, pork ribs, and different chicken parts. Can't wait to do a beef brisket. Texas rub is great as well!" ~Peter S.
"I tried the rub on a beef brisket and some beef ribs the other day and our entire family enjoyed it tremendously. I also made a batch of the barbeque sauce that we used on the brisket as well as some chicken. We all agreed it was the best sauce we have had in a while." ~Darwyn B.
"Love the original rib rub and sauce! We have an annual rib fest competition at the lake every 4th of July. I will say we have won a great percent of the time over the past 15 years so we are not novices by any means. However, we didn't win last year and had to step up our game! We used Jeff's rub and sauce (sauce on the side) and it was a landslide win for us this year! Thanks Jeff for the great recipes. I'm looking forward to trying the Texas style rub in the near future!" ~Michelle M.

You see the raving testimonies and you wonder, "Can the recipes really be that good?"

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Jeff's Smoking Meat Book

smoking-meat-book-cover-275x289The book is full of recipes and contains tons of helpful information as well. Some have even said that "no smoker should be without this book"!

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It is a Bestseller in Barbecueing & Grilling books on Amazon.

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Printable Recipe

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Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey – “Lots of Butter” Method

5 from 2 reviews

A smoked Thanksgiving turkey recipe with seasoned real butter stuffed under the skin, rubbed onto the skin and then brushed on while it cooks in the smoker.

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 35 mins
  • Cook Time: 6 hours
  • Total Time: 6 hours 35 mins
  • Yield: 12
  • Category: Entree
  • Cuisine: Hot Smoking

Ingredients

  • 12-14 lb turkey*
  • 3 sticks of butter (¾ lb)
  • 1/2 cup Jeff's original rub
  • Turkey brine recipe

Instructions

  1. Thaw turkey in fridge 2-3 days before needed.
  2. Remove turkey from package and remove giblets, neck, etc from cavity and set aside.
  3. Remove and discard popup timer
  4. To a medium pot add 1 quart of water, 1 TBS of course ground black pepper, 1 TBS of red pepper flakes, 2 long sprigs of thyme, 2 long sprigs of rosemary and 8-10 garlic cloves smashed with the side of a knife.
  5. Bring to a boil then remove it from the heat and let it steep covered for 20-30 minutes.
  6. Place the mixture in the fridge for several hours to cool.
  7. To make the brine, add 3 quarts of cold water to a gallon sized pitcher and 1 cup of kosher salt.
  8. Stir the mixture until the salt is dissolved.
  9. Add the cooled mixture from the fridge into the brine and stir to combine.
  10. Place the turkey into a brining container and pour the brine over the turkey to cover and then into the fridge for 8-10 hours.
  11. After brining is complete, rinse the turkey under cold water.
  12. Pat the turkey dry with a paper towel and set aside.
  13. Mix 3 sticks of softened butter with 3 heaping tablespoons of Jeff's original rub to create the rub butter mixture.
  14. Stuff 1/3 of this mixture under the loosened skin of the breast on both sides.
  15. Rub 1/3 of the rub butter mixture onto the outside of the turkey breast, legs, wings and back.
  16. Season the outside of the turkey generously with Jeff's original rub.
  17. Setup smoker for cooking at 240°F with indirect heat.
  18. Place turkey on smoker grate and cook until internal temperature of breast reaches 162°F.
  19. Brush with remaining rub butter (melted) a couple of times during the last hour of the cooking process.
  20. Remove from heat and rest turkey under foil for 20 minutes.
  21. Carve and serve.

 

About the Author

Long time Industrial Engineer turned self-proclaimed fire poker, pitmaster and smoke whisperer and loving every minute of it!

19 Comments on this article. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Richard McCubbin November 16, 2017 at 10:21 am - Reply

    My family usually has 16 to 18 for dinner plus leftovers so we end up with a 20+lb bird. I smoke the bird for 2.5 to 3 hours then throw it in the oven to finish it up. This recipe works well with this method.

  2. Doug Weaver November 16, 2017 at 8:42 am - Reply

    Good morning Jeff. I finally go my camp chef pellet grill. I smoked a boneless turkey breast on it last week and I didn’t get a good brown skin. What can I do to get a better color on the one I will be doing for Thanksgiving. I will also be doing two Boston Butts. Do you have a brine recipe for a 3 lb boneless turkey breast? I appreciate your help,

  3. Doug Weaver November 2, 2017 at 9:57 am - Reply

    Jeff, I noticed you smoked it breast side down. Does this make a difference? I have always smoked them breast side up.
    I am getting my new Camp Chef pellet grill on the 11/07/17. I hope you have some good recipes for this type smoker.
    Thanks
    Doug

  4. Jeremy January 2, 2017 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    I have made this twice in the last 3 weeks. First time it turned out good and the second time it turned out great. Had good feedback from the family at the Christmas party. The first time I made it I struggled with the butter under the skin because I didn’t melt the butter enough. I didn’t make that mistake the next time!!!! Delicious…..

  5. Josh November 26, 2016 at 6:06 am - Reply

    Jeff,
    First off, love the rub, recipe’s etc. I’m having a bit of a dilemma, we celebrate a late Thanksgiving simply due to logistics and are planning to cook tomorrow however my wife bought a 15.5 lb bird instead of 12-14 and I don’t want to have to get up at 4 in the morning to start the smoker. Is there a good compromise to starting a bird of this size in the smoker then finishing in the oven at a higher temp? If so I’d appreciate any guidance you could give me.

  6. Joe J November 25, 2016 at 10:55 am - Reply

    Holy cow or should I say turkey this was great. Getting the butter under the skin and having it even was a challenge but the finished product was delicious. My adult daughter who “hates turkey” took leftovers home!

  7. Shannon November 23, 2016 at 9:18 am - Reply

    Do I strain off the rosemary thyme and garlic mixture before pouring over the turkey? Or do I just add the salt,mix, and pour?

  8. Vernae A. November 21, 2016 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    Is it possible to dry brine my turkey and use this recipe to smoke it?

  9. Vernae A. November 21, 2016 at 8:47 am - Reply

    I’m smoking a turkey for Thanksgiving and I want to brine it but I don’t have the containers or space available to wet brine. Will a dry brine work just as well?

  10. Rimas Petrauskas November 19, 2016 at 10:08 am - Reply

    Is your original rub different from the basic rub in the book? I couldn’t find it in the book. I will be smoking a turkey with the LOTS OF BUTTER recipe

    • Jeff Phillips November 19, 2016 at 8:43 pm - Reply

      Rimas, The recipes that I sell here on the website are not included in the book since so many people purchased the recipes prior to the book being published.

      If you are wanting to use a rub in the book that is similar to mine, go for the Big Bald BBQ Rub.

  11. Matt W November 15, 2016 at 6:23 pm - Reply

    Any thoughts on using a frozen vs. “fresh” turkey?

  12. Brandon November 15, 2016 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    I’m a huge fan of injections.. Do you see any issues with melting the butter rub down and injecting the turkey prior to smoking, or have any other suggestions?

  13. Neal C. November 11, 2016 at 9:53 am - Reply

    Hey Jeff,

    Love the recipes and your rub. I bought the original rub and sauce years ago. How do we get a copy of the Texas style rub? It wasn’t “discovered” when I bought the others.

    I have a question on the recipe above. When you say “Stuff ⅓ of this mixture under the loosened skin of the breast on both sides.”, do you mean 1/3 total for both breasts or 1/3 for the left side and 1/3 for the right side?

    Thx
    Neal

    • Jeff Phillips November 16, 2016 at 8:12 am - Reply

      Neal, I just sent a download link to your email which includes the link to download the Texas style rub recipe.

      On the 1/3 mixture, you will use a total of 1/3 of the mixture across both sides of the turkey breast. This will leave you 2/3 of the mixture for the outside of the skin and for basting.

      • Neal November 16, 2016 at 3:40 pm - Reply

        Thanks Jeff!!

  14. Mike W. November 10, 2016 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    Hey Jeff, do you see any problem doing this as a spatchcocked turkey?

    • Jeff Phillips November 10, 2016 at 2:08 pm - Reply

      No problems at all. This recipe will work great as a spatchcocked turkey.. cook skin side up.

      • Shannon November 23, 2016 at 9:20 am - Reply

        Do I strain off the Rosemary thyme and garlic mixture before mixing the salt and pouring?

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