First and foremost, I want to wish all of you a very happy Thanksgiving and I hope you are able to spend a lot of quality time with family and friends.

I know that many of you may still have questions about smoking the turkey and ham for Thanksgiving this year so I have compiled a few of the most asked questions and answers to hopefully help you out a little before the big day.

I get so many questions this time of year, that I just cannot answer all of them. If you have sent in a question and it does not get an answer, try posting it at the forum.

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This year's Smoked Turkey Recipe

2014-IMG_6036Every year I try to come up with a new and amazing Thanksgiving turkey recipe and based on emails I receive, I think I have produced some real crowd pleasers over the last few years.

Well, this year, in an effort to “hit it out of the ballpark” again, I have developed a smoked maple barbecue turkey that, quite frankly, may just be the best I’ve done yet if I can say that with a certain amount of modesty;-) See the recipe HERE.

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Can I Brine a Store-bough Turkey?

Some folks will tell you to not brine a store bought turkey but, for the life of me, I am not sure why not. I have been brining store purchased turkeys for many years and some of them with as much as 12% solution added and it is NEVER too salty. I am not a big “salt” guy so I would not like it or recommend it if it wasn't good.

The process they do at the factory does not result in a salty turkey.. not even faintly so. The brining you do at home does a much better job and if you follow my instructions of using 1 cup of kosher salt to 1 gallon of water for an overnight (10-12 hour) brine, it will be a more juicy, moist and tasty bird than it can ever be otherwise.

My recommendation is that you try to find a fresh, no solution added turkey if possible. If you can't find that, then shoot for a turkey that has 8% or less solution added.

Once you do it one time, you will most likely never eat an non-brined turkey again.

Smoking  a Turkey Larger than 14 lbs

As most of you know, I do not recommend smoking a turkey that is larger than 12 lbs.. 14 lbs is pushing it. This is due to the fact that the larger turkey takes too much time to reach a safe temperature at the low temperature. It is risky at best and in my opinion, is raising the chances that your family and guests could get a food borne illness.

To make it safe, keep the turkey on the small side (12 lbs is about right) and if you need more turkey, just smoke multiple turkeys figuring on about 2 lbs of raw weight per person.

I just usually figure a 12 lb turkey for every 6 people and it gives me plenty of turkey with a few leftovers.

So you've already purchased a big ol' 22 pounder so what now? Well, you really only have one option of smoking it safely. Prepare the turkey as you desire, smoke it for about 2 hours at 225-240°F in the smoker then finish it in the oven at 325 °F until it reaches 165°F in the thickest part of the breast and thigh. I expect this to take an additional 2.5 to 3 hours in the oven however, use the temperature as your guide rather than the time.

Should I Stuff the Smoked Turkey

ONLY after it's done. Stuffing prevents the heat from flowing into the cavity as it needs to and causes it to take longer to cook, something you do not need at low smoking temperatures.

If you want the bird to be stuffed for presentation, make the stuffing in a separate container in the oven and stuff it into the turkey after the turkey is done cooking and just prior to placing it on the table.

It is fine to place a few pieces of onion, apple, butter,etc. in the cavity as long as the heat flow is not impeded in any way.

Traveling to Grandma's House

If you must travel with the turkey, it is probably best to make it a day ahead of time and just as soon as it reaches 165°F, place it into a roasting pan with the lid off and let it cool for about 25 minutes.

After cooling, cover the turkey with a large piece of foil, place the lid on the roasting pan and place it in the fridge.

Keep it cold (less than 40°F)  while you travel.

Once you get to grandma's house and about an hour before you are ready to eat, pour about ¼ cup of water down in the bottom of the roasting pan for humidity (prevents the meat from drying out) and if you have any extra maple/rub sauce from the smoking process, take it with you and baste the turkey again.

Place the entire roasting pan in an oven preheated to 350°F. It should take about 1 hour to reach a good eating temperature but if it gets done early, just turn the heat down to 170 °F and hold it there until you are ready for it.

Keeping the lid closed, adding the extra moisture and basting again with the maple sauce will revitalize it and it will be nearly as good as it was right out of the smoker.

How Long Does it Take to Thaw a Turkey?

I usually figure on about 4-5 lbs per 24 hour period.

If you are in a hurry, you can place the frozen turkey in the sink full of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes (very important) until the turkey is thawed. For a 12 lb turkey that is completely frozen, you are looking at about 6 hours.

Using an Electric, Charcoal or Gas Smoker, How Long to Apply Smoke?

My general rule of thumb for applying smoke is ½ of the estimated cook time. I expect a 12 lb turkey to take about 6-7 hours so I recommend applying smoke for about 3 to 3.5 hours.

As long as you have good airflow.. i.e. your vents are open enough to allow plenty of air to come into the smoker and the smoke is able to exit quickly, you can easily and safely apply smoke for the entire time, after all, that is what happens by default in a wood burning smoker and there is no better way to duplicate that real wood smoked flavor.

What to Do When you Run Into Problems

I suspect that some of you will run into issues with your smoker such as not being able to get your heat high enough, the heat will be too high, or any number of other smoker related problems.

I suggest that you first, do not panic.

Second, do the best you can to apply about 2 hours of smoke then, if you are still having issues that you cannot alleviate, consider moving the somewhat smoked turkey to the oven following the same temperature and process recommendations.

There is no shame in moving to the oven if that is what is needed to make sure the turkey gets done and ends up delicious.

A few things you can do ahead of time to lower the risk of problems:

  • Make sure you have plenty of propane, wood chips/chunks, charcoal, etc..
  • Do a test run or two in the weeks preceding the big day
  • Make the rub, brine, sauce, etc. ahead of time
How Do I use the Maple Turkey Recipe With a Turkey Breast?

I would not change much.. make sure it is a bone-in (better in my opinion).

I would still brine it overnight and apply the maple syrup and rub as before. It may cook a little faster simply because the heat is able to get to all part of the breast unrestricted so you'll want to monitor it with a digital probe meat thermometer to make sure you take it off when it reaches it's optimum temperature.

If you plan to rest it as instructed in the newsletter, you can remove it at about 160 degrees since it will rise 5-7 degrees during the rest period.

Breast meat is perfectly done at 165 degrees.

Last Minute Smoker Tips
  • Use the water pan if you have one for your smoker
  • Almost all smoking is done with indirect heat. The turkey is also cooked with indirect heat
  • Do NOT use wet, soaked wood. Dry wood is so much better.
  • In charcoal and wood smokers, use lump charcoal for heat, and a little wood for smoke
  • Set the turkey open in the fridge for a couple of hours after brining to dry the skin. This can help you end up with a more crispy skin.

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If I could give these recipes away, I would do that. I really want you to have them! But, then, this is how I support the newsletter, the website and all of the other stuff that we do here to promote the art of smoking meat.

Read these recent testimonies:

Love the sauce and rub
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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
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..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
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 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.


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About the Author

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

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

  1. Jillian Burrup November 25, 2015 at 8:50 pm - Reply

    We smoked our turkey today to take to my husbands parents house tomorrow. We will be re-heating it using your method above, but what do you consider a good “eating” temperature?

  2. Dale November 24, 2015 at 10:27 am - Reply

    Jeff,
    We are expecting 3 to 6 inches of snow on Thanksgiving day here in Colorado with a high of 25.
    I have a 13 lb fresh turkey to smoke, needs to be ready by 3pm.
    Should I smoke it on Wednesday, high of 45 and no snow?
    How can I “reheat” it on Thursday?

    Love your site and newsletter

    Dale

  3. Dale November 23, 2015 at 11:26 am - Reply

    Jeff,
    I am smoking a 13lb fresh turkey this year needing it ready at 3pm on Thanksgiving.
    They are forecasting snow all day and up to 6 inches here in Colorado, with temps in low 20’s at best.
    With the temperature that cold, I am afraid my Landmann smoker will have trouble reaching and maintaining the temperature needed to get the bird done in time.

    Should I consider smoking it on Wednesday afternoon since outside temp will be in the 50’s?

    Love your site, it has really helped me be a better smoker

  4. Scott November 10, 2015 at 10:06 am - Reply

    Jeff,
    I absolutely love your site and emails. I have been smoking 18-20lb turkeys for the past 6 years using a Masterbuilt electric smoker set at 230 degrees with a probe in the thickest part of the breast and another in the thickest part of the thigh.

    I have never had it take longer than 4 hours to reach temp. Is this because of the relative even temp that the electric smoker provides?

    • Jeff Phillips November 11, 2015 at 10:01 am - Reply

      Have you tested the ambient temperature of your smoker with another thermometer that you know is correct? I suspect that it may be running hotter than what it is saying. Mine runs on the cool side– when I set it at 275 it is actually about 240.

  5. Scott September 24, 2015 at 4:34 pm - Reply

    Jeff,

    I smoked my first turkey breast (on an old Brinkman horizontal smoker) using the Buttermilk brine and it was fantastic. The meat was very juicy and a nice sweetness to it. I use a KC-style rub which I love. I do want to try your rub.

    Also, smoked some St. Louis ribs using your 3-2-1 method and your other instructions. My wife said it was the best batch of ribs she’s had yet. When I wrap them for the second two hours, I add some apple juice and melted margarine or butter. Thanks for the great tips – there’s nothing better than seeing family/friends enjoy great smoked meat!!

  6. Tim December 1, 2014 at 10:06 am - Reply

    I’m wanting to smoke chicken sausage on a low smoke under 170 degrees how much cure for 25 pounds of meat. Thanks

  7. Lyndon Hirano November 26, 2014 at 10:24 am - Reply

    I’m trying your Maple Turkey brine. My question is after I make the brine, How much more salt do I add to the 3 quarts of water? Is this in addition to the salt, rub, and Maple syrup mixed earlier?

    My family loves all of the recipes that I have made from your e-mails.

    Thank you,

    Lyndon

    • Jeff Phillips November 26, 2014 at 5:57 pm - Reply

      You only need a total of 1 cup of coarse kosher salt in a gallon of liquid. I mixed all of the salt required into the 3 quarts so no more is needed after the 4th quart is mixed in.

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