Smoking Turkey for the Holiday (or any time)

When smoking turkey the best method is to try a basic barbecue turkey recipe and maybe add a little something here or there (experiment) to see how it goes.

The Basic Turkey Smoking Process

smoking turkeySmoking turkey is best done after soaking the bird in a saltwater solution called a brine which I will go over in detail on another page.

Basically the brine, through a process called osmosis, pulls the salt into the turkey meat in an effort to equalize things a bit… you do not have to understand why it works so well for now just know that it works and that it works well. the really cool thing is the fact that you can add other flavor enhancers such as spices, marinades, seasonings, fruit juices you name it and it will get pulled into the meat along with the salt.

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After he turkey is removed from the brine it is washed down to remove all traces of salt on the outside and then patted dry with a paper towel. The meat will have a bit of a sheen and is now ready for the application of butter which is rubbed all over the turkey especially under the skin. Be careful to not damage or tear the skin more than necessary since the skin will protect the meat from drying out while cooking and getting to much smoke.

I like to mix some Tony Chacheres cajun seasoning with the butter to give it a little louisiana flavor but that is totally optional.

Place an onion cut into quarters, a few cut up stalks of celery, 2-3 cut up carrots and an apple inside the turkey and he is ready for smoking.

Note: when smoking turkey always purchase one that is no more than 12-14 pounds. Much larger than this and the meat stays in the danger zone (40-140 degrees) for too long and that is just asking for trouble.

Place the Turkey Into the Smoker

Place the turkey on the smoker breast side down with the heat regulated to around 225° or so. Make sure you have plenty of smoke flowing around the turkey…I like to use mesquite when smoking turkey but other woods such as hickory and oak work just as well.

See my new barbecue turkey recipe where I smoke a turkey for 9 hours using plum wood.

Every hour or so I like to rebaste with some butter and turn the turkey a little to make sure it is cooking evenly on all sides. Watch the wings and breast and if they start to get too brown you can cover them with some foil.

The smoking turkey is done when the thickest part of the breast reads 175° and the thickest part of the thigh reads 180°. I will usually remove the turkey about 5° sooner than this since I know that the turkey continues to cook after it is removed from the smoker and will raise another 7°-10° in temperature.

Wrapping Up the Turkey

Allow the turkey to "rest" for at least 15 minutes before carving to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat.

Smoking a turkey should be on the list of things to do on Thanksgiving and Christmas or any other day for that matter and it would not hurt to practice a couple of times before then(you definitely don't wanna practice on the friends and relatives).

Juicy smoke flavored turkey should be on the menu this thanksgiving and with a little practice you will have raving fans that will want you to do one for them…heck they may even pay you to do it!

By the way… smoking turkey takes about 30-40 minutes per pound. using this calculation you can estimate what time you need to start in order for it to be done with the rest of the food.

Good luck and do not hesitate to contact us with questions and/or comments about smoking turkey.

Here is a "How to Smoke Turkey" video series that I recenty created:


  1. Tyler James November 4, 2017 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    So, I smoked a 12 lb. turkey last weekend to try it out before thanksgiving and it turned out pretty dang good. So my question is to see if anyone has done two at time and about how much time it took. My first one took about 5.5 hours to reach temp. I use the camp chef.

  2. Bobby December 23, 2013 at 10:26 am - Reply

    I have a 20# turky that I am going to smoke tomorrow. You say to use a smaller one for food safety reasons. Should I cook this turkey at a higher tempature to prevent staying in the danger zone too long?

  3. Jim Jeran October 14, 2013 at 3:14 pm - Reply


    I watched the turkey video, great information. 

    I do have a barrel smoker you used and  want to do a turkey like you had done. 

    My question is in my barrel smoker there are two grills. A top as your's was and a lower one above the water tray. What do you do on the lower one I never used it. 

    Let me know



    • Jeff Phillips October 15, 2013 at 4:44 pm - Reply

      The lower rack is a little harder to get to so it is just for overflow.. if you have more food than you have smoker, then you just use the lower rack.

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