How Does Aaron Franklin Smoke Turkey? We Break It Down For You

Smoking turkey isn’t easy. Not only is it hard to prevent the meat from drying out, trying to get a crispy skin is also a challenge. Whenever I’m struggling to cook something difficult, I always ask myself: “what would Aaron Franklin do?” In this post, I’ll show you how the master himself smokes a turkey.

  1. First, Aaron Franklin prepares a brine mixture of salt, sugar, and water, then soaks the turkey for 24 hours.
  2. The next day Franklin applies a salt and pepper rub.
  3. Aaron then puts the turkey into the smoker at 325° F.
  4. After 1 1/2 hours, Franklin checks the color of the bird. Once the turkey is dark, he wraps (tents) the turkey in aluminium foil. At the wrapping stage, the internal meat temperature should be 160° F in the thigh.
  5. Prior to wrapping, Franklin places the bird in a foil pan, then covers it with 1 pound of cubed butter,  then wraps the turkey in aluminium foil.
  6. Then the turkey goes back in the smoker for about 1 hour, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 165° F.
1Brine the turkey in a mixture of salt, sugar, and water for 24 hours.
2Apply a salt and pepper rub.
3Place the turkey in the smoker at 325° F for 1 1/2 hours.
4Check the color of the bird and tent it in aluminium foil when it’s dark. The internal meat temperature should be 160° F in the thigh at this point.
5Place the bird in a foil pan, cover it with 1 pound of cubed butter, and wrap it in aluminium foil.
6Return the turkey to the smoker for about 1 hour, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 165° F.
7Let the turkey rest for about half an hour and save the juices from the pan for gravy.

How Long Does It Take To Cook?

The total cook time using this method takes about 2 1/2 hours. Then he rests the turkey for about half an hour and saves all the juices from the pan for the gravy.

What Size Turkey Does Aaron Franklin Buy?

Aaron doesn’t use those huge turkeys because they are difficult to smoke. You’re better off buying two smaller turkeys rather than one enormous bird. Large turkeys are too difficult to manage.

Trim The Turkey

Franklin trims the extra fat around the cavity of the turkey. Remove the neck, and any of the gizzards and organs. This will all just burn up in the smoker, so it’s best to remove it all.

Franklin’s Turkey Brine

Aaron Franklin soaks turkey in a brine the night before smoking. A brine gives the bird extra flavor and moisture to prevent it from drying out. Brining the Turkey’s optional, but you have a much better outcome if you soak your bird in a bath prior to smoking. Turkey is a lean cut of meat, and I can dry out easily. Therefore, you need to do everything you can to make sure that you get a tender, juicy turkey.

Aaron’s brine mixture is very simple. Many people put all different herbs and spices in their brines, but what I love about Franklin is he always he keeps things simple. Franklin’s philosophy is to make the meat the star of the show.

Franklin Style Turkey Brine

Franklin Style Turkey Brine

Aaron Franklin style turkey brine

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes


  • 2 gallons of water
  • 2 cups of kosher salt
  • 2 cups of white sugar


  • When adding the water to the brine, Aaron never uses hot water because it has a lot of impurities.
  • He always uses cold water for the brine mixture.
  • Franklin combines the brine mixture in a pot, then places it on the stove.
  • He then uses a whisk to mix the ingredients until it’s dissolved.
  • He doesn’t use all the water from the recipe, but reserves a portion of the water for ice.
  • Keep the temperature nice and low, because the mixture has sugar and you do not want that to burn.
  • This technique will make the brine mixture very concentrated.
  • Take a large bucket or a pickle bucket, and pour in the concentrate.
  • You don’t want the turkey going into a hot brine, so Aaron places some ice water into the brine pickle bucket.
  • Keep the proportions right, because the rest because for two gallons of water.
  • Stick to these measurements and make sure the ice and the mixture you bought together on the stove all comes to a grand total of 2 gallons.
  • Aaron uses a 2 quart pitcher and places the ice and cold water into the pitcher, and then into the pickle bucket.
  • The total volume should equal 2 gallons.
  • Once you’ve got the pickle bucket full of brine mixture, place the bird into the mix and place the lid on top of your pickle bucket.
  • Finally, place the pickle bucket into the fridge for 24 hours.
  • Let the turkey soak overnight in a 5 gallon pickle bucket.

Nutrition Information:

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 1548

After Brining

  • After the turkey has been soaking in the brine mixture for 24 hours, remove it from the fridge.
  • Take the turkey out of the brine.
  • Give the turkey a little shake over the brine.
  • Place onto a pan then apply the rub.
  • There’s no need for a binder because the turkey is wet from the brine and the seasoning should stick well.

What Rub Does Franklin Use On Turkey?

Aaron always keeps it simple, and it comes to rub. More often than not, he just uses salt and pepper, which is common in Texas barbecue. For the turkey recipe, Aaron uses a 16-mesh cafe grind black pepper. The place is about half a cup of pepper in a container. Then place half a cup of Morton’s kosher salt into the container. Then mix well.

Since turkey doesn’t have a lot of flavor, Aaron applies a liberal amount of rub on the bird. Aaron often talks about letting the natural meat flavors shine. When he smokes brisket, he wants the beef flavored to be the star of the show. But since turkey doesn’t have a lot of flavor, it needs more flavor in the seasonings.

Make sure you get the rub into all the cavities. Get the rub in between the legs and the wings, etc. You can dry the turkey by patting with a paper towel after removing from the brine. If you want a crispy skin colour, it’s always good to try to dry the skin as much as possible. Brining softens the skin, which is the only downside.

Does Aaron Franklin Use a Binder On Turkey?

After he takes the turkey out of the brine, Franklin doesn’t dry it off; he just applies the rub. Rather than applying a binder, and rely on the wet bird out of the brine to help the seasoning stick.Aaron tells people that it’s okay to dry the bird after the brine. You can apply some olive oil onto the turkey so the rub sticks. Franklin doesn’t always do that, but there’s nothing wrong with doing it.

What Temperature Does Aaron Franklin Smoke Turkey?

In general, poultry should be cooked at a higher temperature. Aaron Franklin cooks his turkey at 325° F. This is much higher than most smoking meats, but a turkey is very different. Tough cuts of meat such as brisket, pork butt, need to be cooked low and slow over a long period. Turkey is a lean meat, and doesn’t need as long as the smoker. Also, in order to get a crispy skin on chicken and poultry, you need to cook above 300° F, otherwise the skin will be soggy and rubbery.

  • Aaron places the turkey on the grill with the legs facing the heat source. Since Franklin uses an offset smoker, he directs the legs towards the firebox. If you have a smoker, identify where your heat is coming from and try to direct the legs towards the hottest part of the grill.
  • Placing the legs towards the hottest part of the smoker is done for a reason. The thighs can handle more heat, but it’s also to protect the breasts which have a tendency to dry out. The last thing you want is dry turkey breast.
  • Positioning the turkey is important because you want to insulate the more vulnerable parts of the bird.
  • The thighs and the legs have red meat, so they contain more fat and more blood vessels. They can handle the higher temperature than other parts of the bird. The breasts, however, are white meat, and contain very little fat so it’s more likely to drying out.
  • Later in the cook, if the wings and the legs look like they’re burning up, Aaron suggests putting foil over the wings and legs just to prevent them from burning.

Does Aaron Franklin Use Water Pan?

Franklin nearly always uses a water pan when smoking meat — no matter what it is. A water pan provides extra moisture, and will help keep some humidity. If you live in an area where it’s very humid, skip the water pan. Some barbecue pitmasters don’t use water pans because they prefer a crispy turkey skin. If you find that the turkey skin is soggy and rubbery, skip the water pan and also skip the brine. It all comes down to preference and what you really want in your finished bird. Some people love a crispy skin and they will sacrifice risking drying out the bird.

How Franklin Wraps Turkey

After about an hour and a half in the smoker, Aaron removes the bird carefully and places it on aluminium foil. Aaron does a quick check with an instant-read thermometer, and the breast was reading just under 160° F, and the thigh was reading about 162° F. Normally you might find a bigger difference between the breast and the thigh. Sometimes the difference is close to 10° F.

Franklin likes to use a lot of butter on his turkey when the bird is at the wrapping stage of the cook. This is because Turkey is very lean, has a tendency to dry out. Since turkey doesn’t have a lot of natural flavor, it relays on butter, seasoning and smoke for a flavor boost.

  1. Cut a pound of butter into cubes.
  2. Place the turkey onto an aluminium pan, and lay out a few sheets of aluminium foil, laying them over the pan.
  3. Place the cubed butter all over the turkey on top and around the sides.
  4. Fold up the foil, and close it tightly. Make it like a foil tent.
  5. He plays as a turkey back into the smoker for another hour, and he is looking for a internal temperature of 165° F.
  6. The total cook time ended up banging about 2 and 1/2 hours.

When Is It Done?

Aaron smokes his turkey until it reaches 165° F, which is the safe temperature for eating poultry. The total cook time for the turkey was two and a half hours. He wrapped the turkey for 1 hour. Once you’ve pulled the bird off the smoker, let it rest for about half an hour. Make sure you save all the juices for the gravy, cos there’s a lot of melted butter in the pan.

Franklin Style Smoked Turkey

Franklin Style Smoked Turkey

Aaron Franklin style smoked turkey

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 40 minutes


  • Small turkey
  • Kosher salt
  • Coarse black pepper
  • Paprika
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Butter


    • After brining the turkey, dry it with a paper towel.
    • Apply a salt and pepper rub : A 50/50 mix of kosher salt and black pepper. You can also add some paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder.
    • Bring your smoker up to 325° F.
    • Use apple, cherry or pecan wood.
    • After 1 1/2 hours, checks the color of the bird. Once the turkey is dark, tent the turkey in aluminium foil.
    • Place the turkey in a foil pan, then covers it with 1 pound of cubed butter. Then wrap the turkey in aluminium foil.
    • Then the turkey goes back in the smoker for about 1 hour, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 165° F.

    Nutrition Information:

    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 48.2

    More Turkey Articles

    Why is My Smoked Turkey Tough and Dry?

    Why Is My Smoked Turkey Rubbery?

    How Does Aaron Franklin Smoke Turkey?

    How Long To Smoke Turkey?

    Why is My Smoked Turkey Black? 5 Ways To Avoid It

    How To Smoke Turkey in a Smoker

    What’s the Best Wood For Smoking Turkey? 

    My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools

    Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

    Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.

    Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.

    Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.

    Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.

    Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.


    Author and founder at Meat Smoking HQ

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