Smoking a turkey is a delicious and flavorful way to prepare the bird for holiday gatherings or special occasions. However, it’s important to pay attention to the cooking time and temperature to ensure that the turkey is cooked to perfection. In this article, we will provide tips and recommendations from competition pitmasters, barbecue gurus, celebrity chefs, and grilling experts on how long to smoke a turkey to achieve the best results. Whether you are a seasoned pro or new to smoking, these guidelines will help you create a juicy and flavorful turkey that will be the star of the show.
When smoking a turkey, it is recommended to maintain a temperature of 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit and smoke the bird for approximately 30 minutes per pound. Some experts suggest allowing 45 minutes to an hour of smoking time per pound of turkey. The total cook time for a small turkey cooked at 325 degrees Fahrenheit is approximately 2.5 to 3 hours, while a turkey cooked at 300 degrees Fahrenheit will take around 3.5 hours and one cooked at 250 degrees Fahrenheit will take approximately 4 hours. It is worth noting that the size of the turkey will also affect the cook time, with larger birds requiring more time than smaller ones. As a result, some pitmasters recommend smoking two smaller turkeys rather than a single large one for ease of management.
Smoking Times for Turkey at 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit at 30 Minutes Per Pound
Expert opinion varies, but in general, 30 minutes per pound at 225°F to 250°F is a safe cooking temperature for turkey. Below is a table that you can use to work out how long it will take to smoke a turkey.
|Turkey Weight (lbs)||Smoking Time (hours)|
“Smoking a turkey is an art form, but with a little patience and the right tools, it’s easy to achieve delicious results. Plan on about 45 minutes to an hour of smoking time per pound of turkey.”– Myron Mixon, competition pitmaster and BBQ expert
“When smoking a turkey, the key is to keep the temperature low and slow. Aim for a temperature of 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit and smoke the turkey for about 30 minutes per pound.”– Chris Lilly, competition pitmaster and BBQ expert
Smoking Times for Turkey at 45 minutes to 1 hour Per Pound
Other pitmasters recommend smoking turkey at 45 minutes to 1 hour per pound at a cooking temperature around 250°F
|Turkey Weight (lbs)||Smoking Time (hours)|
What the Experts Say
Smoking a turkey is an art form that requires patience and the right tools to achieve delicious results. Competition pitmaster Myron Mixon recommends allowing 45 minutes to an hour of smoking time per pound of turkey.
To get the most out of your smoked turkey, make sure to allow plenty of time for the bird to brine. As competition pitmaster Aaron Franklin suggests, a well-brined turkey will have a moist, flavorful finished product.
When smoking a turkey, it’s important to keep the temperature low and slow. Chris Lilly, competition pitmaster and BBQ expert, recommends a temperature of 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit and smoking the turkey for about 30 minutes per pound.
To add flavor to the meat, celebrity chef and grilling expert Bobby Flay suggests using a dry rub, such as a mixture of paprika, garlic powder, and brown sugar. BBQ expert and author Steven Raichlen recommends using pecan or cherry wood for a good quality smoke flavor.
To ensure that the turkey is fully cooked, use a meat thermometer to check that the internal temperature reaches at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, as recommended by celebrity chef and grilling expert Gordon Ramsay.
To keep the turkey moist while smoking, grilling expert and author Jamie Purviance suggests using a spritzer bottle filled with water and apple cider vinegar and spritzing the turkey every hour or so. Celebrity chef and grilling expert Tyler Florence advises basting the skin regularly to keep it from drying out and to add flavor.
For a crispy skin on your smoked turkey, BBQ expert and author Adam Perry Lang recommends applying a dry rub to the skin and then placing the turkey in the smoker breast-side down for the first hour of cooking. Celebrity chef and grilling expert Emeril Lagasse recommends using a brine solution of water, salt, and your choice of seasonings and brining the turkey for at least 12 hours before smoking.
Celebrity chef and grilling expert Tom Colicchio suggests using a combination of oak and hickory wood for a deep, smoky flavor, and celebrity chef and grilling expert Mario Batali recommends adding a mixture of herbs and butter under the skin before smoking. Celebrity chef and grilling expert Guy Fieri suggests basting the bird regularly with a mixture of butter and your favorite BBQ sauce.
Turkey is Difficult to Manage
Turkeys are awkward to cook because they have a large hollow cavity, they have red, fatty meat in the thighs and legs, and lean white meat in the breast. Unfortunately, the breast dries out. The thighs and legs contain more blood vessels and fat, so they can retain more moisture.
“One of the keys to smoking a delicious turkey is to use a dry rub to add flavor to the meat. A simple mixture of paprika, garlic powder, and brown sugar works well.”– Bobby Flay, celebrity chef and grilling expert
The Ideal Turkey Done Temperature
You should aim for an internal meat temperature of 165° F in the breast and 175° F in the thigh. Make sure you use a good instant-read thermometer to verify the correct temperature. Poultry contains a lot of bacteria, so you need to ensure it’s cooked well. Also, measuring the correct temperature will prevent you from overcooking your turkey. If you go beyond 175°F, the meat is at risk of drying out.
“To get that perfect smoky flavor in your turkey, make sure to use a good quality wood. My personal favorites are pecan and cherry wood.”– Steven Raichlen, BBQ expert and author
Spatchcock the Bird for an Even Cook
Spatchcocking the turkey is a great way to make to help cook the bird more evenly. To spatchcock a turkey:
- Remove the backbone.
- Place the turkey breast down on the cutting board.
- Take some kitchen sears or a knife and cut an incision along the backbone.
- Pull out the backbone.
- Flip the turkey around, then push down on the breastbone until you hear a crack.
How to Position the Turkey on the Smoker
Place the turkey with the breast away from the heat source if possible. Position the thighs and the legs towards the hottest part of your smoker to absorb most of the heat. For example, face the thighs and legs to the left if you use a smoker where the heat source is coming from the left.
“For a perfectly cooked smoked turkey, you’ll want to use a meat thermometer to ensure that the internal temperature of the bird reaches at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.”– Gordon Ramsay, celebrity chef and grilling expert
Should You Brine a Turkey?
Brining a turkey is always the best way to retain moisture and add extra flavor. Turkey doesn’t have much flavor, so a brine is the best way to enhance the overall taste. You can use a wet brine and soak the bird overnight in a pickle bucket, or use a dry brining method.
A dry brining method is simply rubbing kosher salt into the bird the day before cooking. This will penetrate the flesh, add some flavor, and help the bird retain moisture during the cook. The wet brine method involves soaking the turkey in a pickle bucket, and this can be done by mixing sugar and salt in a bucket of cold water overnight.
“To keep your turkey moist while smoking, try using a spritzer bottle filled with a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar. Spritz the turkey every hour or so during the smoking process.”– Jamie Purviance, grilling expert and author
Franklin’s Turkey Brine Recipe
The night before, I like to brine the turkey and soak it in water to boost its flavor. I use Aaron Franklin’s brine recipe, which is very simple compared with other people’s mixtures that contain many herbs and spices. I like Aaron’s method of smoking meat because it’s always very simple. To make this brine, mix the following ingredients:
- 2 gallons of water
- 1 cup of kosher salt
- 1 cup of white sugar.
- Take the sugar, salt, and some of the water and place it on a stove to dissolve the ingredients.
- Then place the ingredients in a pickle bucket with the remaining water.
- Place ice cubes in the water to cool the warm sugar and salt solution.You don’t want the bird going into a hot brine. Make sure the ice and all the water quantities match the two gallons of water from the ingredients.
- Place the bird in the pickle bucket and leave it in a fridge overnight.
- The next day, take the turkey out of the brine and air it out so the skin is dry. Otherwise, leave the bird damp so the rub sticks.
- Apply a barbecue rub once you’ve removed the turkey from the pickle bucket. A dry rub will add extra flavor and help you get a nice crispy skin on the outlet side of the bird.
“When smoking a turkey, it’s important to pay attention to the bird’s skin. Make sure to baste the skin regularly to keep it from drying out and to add flavor.”– Tyler Florence, celebrity chef and grilling expert
Best Rub For Turkey
There are so many dry rub recipes and pre-made rubs you can use on a smoked turkey. You can use a simple salt and pepper rub with a little of garlic and onion powder, or you can use a more traditional barbecue dry rub. For championship rubs, check out some the rubs made by barbecue champions such as Harry Soo and Malcolm Reed.
- - ½ Cup Paprika
- - ½ Cup Salt
- - ½ Cup Sugar
- - ½ Cup Granulated Garlic
- - ¼ Cup Granulated Onion
- - ¼ Cup Chili
- - ¼ Cup Cumin
- - 2 Tablespoons Black Pepper
- - 2 Tablespoons Dry Mustard
- - 1 Tablespoon Cayenne Pepper
- Combine all the spices together in a large mixing bowl
- Store rub in rub shakers
What Temp To Smoke Turkey?
Set the temperature of your smoker between 300° F to 325° F. Turkey is best cooked at higher temperatures in order to get a crispy skin. To get a nice crispy skin on a turkey, you need to cook at temperatures above 275° F to 350° F. However; you need to be careful you don’t dry the turkey out. To prevent this, monitor the turkey’s temperature.
“To get a crispy skin on your smoked turkey, try applying a dry rub to the skin and then placing the turkey in the smoker breast-side down for the first hour of cooking.”– Adam Perry Lang, BBQ expert and author
Tips on How to Get a Crispy Turkey Skin
- Don’t tent the bird. Tenting is a common technique used when smoking turkey. Some people tent their bird so it doesn’t go black from the smoke. Tenting will create steam, which will make the meat moist, but will soften the skin.
- Don’t place the turkey in a pan because this will make the bottom of the bird soggy. Try to dry the skin prior to cooking, as this will help.
- Soaking the bird in brine will contribute to soft rubbery skin, so perhaps dry brine rather than wet brine if you really want crispy skin.
- Don’t spritz the bird during the cook, as this will add more moisture and soften the skin. Using a water pan is always a good idea, but the extra moisture in your cook chamber may contribute to the skin going rubbery.
- Keep the temperature of the smoker in the 300°F range. A low temp will cause the turkey skin to become soft and rubbery.
“For a perfectly cooked and flavorful smoked turkey, use a brine solution of water, salt, and your choice of seasonings. Brine the turkey for at least 12 hours before smoking.”– Emeril Lagasse, celebrity chef and grilling expert
Do You Foil Turkey?
Later in the cook, put foil on the tips of the wings. After about 1.5 hours, remove the turkey from the smoker and lay it on aluminum foil. At this stage, the bird should get close to a temperature of about 155 to 160° F. During the last stage of the cook, we want to cook the bird wrapped in foil and cover it in butter. Keep some butter and cover the turkey on top and underneath. Turkey doesn’t have a lot of flavor, so the butter really helps. Use about 1 lb of butter. Cook the bird for about 1 hour, until the breast reads 165° F and the thigh is 175° F max.
“One of the keys to smoking a great turkey is to use a good quality charcoal or wood. I prefer using a combination of oak and hickory wood for a deep, smoky flavor.”– Tom Colicchio, celebrity chef and grilling expert
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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.