Smoking Meat for Thanksgiving – FAQ

As Thanksgiving USA approaches, 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.

Here we go!

IMG 0492 1000x715Please note that my rubs and barbecue sauce are now available in 2 formats– you can purchase the formulas and make them yourself OR you can buy them already made, in a bottle, ready to use.

Can I Brine a Store-bought 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.
Order Jeff’s Rubs and Barbecue Sauce TODAY!
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You can also order the formulas for my rubs and sauce and make these yourself at home. Grab those HERE and download immediately.

Jeff’s Smoking Meat Books

smoking-meat-book-coverSmoking Meat: The Essential Guide to Real Barbecue – The 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”!

With more than 1000 reviews on and a rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars, it comes highly recommended and is a Bestseller in Barbecuing & Grilling books on Amazon.

AmazonBarnes & Noble | German Edition

smoke-wood-fire-book-coverSmoke, Wood, Fire: The Advanced Guide to Smoking Meat – Unlike the first book, this book does not focus on recipes but rather uses every square inch of every page teaching you how to smoke meat. What my first book touched on, this second book takes it into much greater detail with lots of pictures.

It also includes a complete, step-by-step tutorial for making your own smoked “streaky” bacon using a 100 year old brine recipe.

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  1. Stan November 25, 2019 at 9:35 am - Reply

    How can you get a crispy skin on a smoked turkey?

    • Jeff Phillips November 25, 2019 at 10:02 am - Reply

      The only way to get crispy skin on any poultry is to fry it, bake it or grill it at very high temperatures. Cooking a turkey for 6-7 hours in the smoker at 225-240°F does yield a skin with a decent bite but it won't be crispy.

  2. Richard Nichter October 22, 2017 at 6:15 pm - Reply

    I ordered one of your rubs for smoked turkey never received it I want it but if I don’t receive soon I will be getting ahold of my visa people please respond

    • Jeff Phillips October 23, 2017 at 10:30 pm - Reply

      Richard, as my sales pages and descriptions all describe, these are recipes (formulas) for making my rubs and/or my barbecue sauce. It sounds like you misread/misunderstood what you were purchasing and I will issue a full refund right away. Let me know if you have further questions about this.

  3. 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?

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

    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


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

    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

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

    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.

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


    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!!

  8. 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

  9. 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,


    • 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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