Smoking Turkey 101: The Best Woods for Achieving the Perfect Smokey Flavor

When smoking a turkey, the type of wood you use can greatly impact the final flavor of the dish. With its thin flesh, it’s important to be mindful of the wood you choose, as the wrong type can easily overpower the turkey and ruin your Thanksgiving celebration. To help you achieve the perfect smoked turkey, we’ve compiled a list of the best woods to use, as well as those to avoid. Follow these tips to ensure that your smoked turkey is the star of the show on the Thanksgiving table.

When it comes to smoking turkey, it’s important to choose a wood that will enhance the natural flavors of the bird rather than overpowering it with strong smoke flavors. Soft, fruit woods such as cherry, apple, and pecan are popular choices for turkey, as they provide a subtle fragrance and attractive color. On the other hand, harsh woods like hickory and mesquite should be avoided, as they can ruin the taste of the turkey. Keep in mind that the thin flesh of a turkey doesn’t require a lot of smoke, so it’s best to go with a wood that produces a soft, light smoke. Stronger woods like hickory or oak may work well for beef or pork, but they can make turkey taste bitter due to their overpowering smoke flavors.

WoodDescriptionBest for
CherryAdds a sweet flavor and dark colorTurkey
AppleAdds a mild, mellow flavorPoultry
PecanAdds a nutty flavorTurkey
MapleAdds a hint of sweetnessPoultry
PearAdds a sweet flavorPoultry
PlumAdds a soft, sweet flavorPoultry
AlmondAdds a sweet, nutty flavorTurkey
HickoryAdds a strong, pungent flavorCaution recommended
OakAdds a smoky flavorCaution recommended

The Importance of Selecting the Right Wood for Smoking Turkey

When smoking turkey, it’s important to choose the right type of wood because turkey has a mild flesh that can be easily overpowered by strong flavors. This means that if you use a wood that has a very strong, bold flavor, it can overpower the natural flavors of the turkey and make it taste unpleasant.

On the other hand, if you choose a wood that has a mild, subtle flavor, it will complement the natural flavors of the turkey and enhance its taste. This is why it’s important to choose the right wood when smoking turkey, because the wrong wood can ruin the entire meal.

So, to make sure your turkey tastes delicious, it’s best to choose woods that have a mild, subtle flavor, like cherry, apple, or pecan. These woods will add a nice, subtle smokey flavor to the turkey without overpowering it. Just be sure to avoid woods with a strong, bold flavor, like hickory or mesquite, because they can ruin the flavor of the turkey.

Avoiding a Turkey Disaster: The Importance of Carefully Selecting Your Smoking Wood

Hickory is a type of wood that is often used for smoking meat, including turkey. It has a strong, pungent flavor that can add a lot of smokiness to the meat. However, hickory can be too strong for turkey, which has a delicate, mild flesh.

If you use hickory to smoke a turkey, the strong flavor of the hickory may overpower the natural flavors of the turkey and make it taste unpleasant. The turkey may also taste very smoky, which may not be desirable for some people.

Mesquite is another smoking wood to avoid when smoking turkey. It has a very strong, bold flavor that can make your meat taste bitter. You can mix in a little mesquite, but use it sparingly.

Mix And Match Woods

Mixing and matching different woods can be a fun way to experiment with different flavors when smoking turkey. While some woods, like hickory and mesquite, are too strong on their own and can overpower the delicate flavors of turkey, others, like cherry, apple, and pecan, are milder and work well with turkey.

One option is to blend some strong woods with softer woods to create a balanced flavor. For example, you could try mixing hickory with apple or cherry to soften the smoke flavor, or combining cherry with oak to add depth and complexity to the flavor.

Another option is to use wood pellet smokers, which allow you to easily try different wood blends by purchasing pre-mixed bags of wood pellets. This can be a convenient way to experiment with different flavors without having to mix the woods yourself.

Overall, the key to smoking turkey is to find the right balance of wood flavors that complements the natural flavors of the turkey without overpowering them. Mixing and matching different woods can be a great way to achieve this, and is a fun way to experiment and discover new flavor combinations.

Smoking Turkey to Perfection: The Top Woods for Achieving Delicious Results

Cherry wood is a good choice for smoking turkey because it adds a sweet flavor to the meat and gives it a dark, mahogany color. Mixing cherry with apple can also be a good combination, as the apple softens the cherry’s dark color if you don’t want the turkey to be too dark. Oak and cherry is another good combination, but you should be careful with using stronger woods.

Apple wood is a great choice for smoking all types of poultry because it adds a mild, mellow flavor. It’s similar to using pear, plum, or almond wood. I like to mix apple and cherry together because they make a great combination.

Pecan wood has a stronger flavor than other fruitwoods and gives the turkey a nutty taste. This wood belongs to the hickory family, which is why it has a bolder flavor than fruit woods.

Maple wood is a mild wood that adds a hint of sweetness to the turkey when used for smoking. Maple pellets are especially good for poultry. Maple is a safe choice, but some might say too safe.

Pear wood is a good choice for adding an extra sweet flavor to your turkey. It’s similar to apple wood, but sweeter. Like other fruitwoods, pear wood doesn’t produce harsh smoke, making it a good match for delicate meat like poultry. I find pear wood hard to come by, but it just depends where you live.

Plum wood has a flavor similar to hickory, but not as strong. It’s a good choice for smoking turkey because of its soft, sweet flavor. Again, if you find some plum wood, use it. As long as the wood is dry and free of chemicals, this wood blends well with poultry.

Almond wood adds a sweet, nutty flavor to turkey. It’s often compared to pecan wood and is available in small bags of pellets. Another rare wood, but safe to use on chicken, fish or turkey.

Hickory has a strong, pungent flavor and should be used with caution when smoking turkey. It’s not recommended as the main wood because it may overpower the natural flavor of the turkey, leaving a strong smoke taste. However, a little hickory can add a nice smoky flavor when mixed with fruitwoods. Some people describe hickory as having a unique bacon flavor. If you want to use a little hickory, try mixing it with apple pellets to soften the smoke.

Oak is a versatile wood that can give a nice smoky flavor to turkey, but it’s too strong on its own. Like hickory, it’s best when blended with fruitwoods. Mixing woods can add depth and flavor to your turkey.

Tips For Smoking Turkey

  1. To add extra flavor and help keep the turkey moist, you can soak it in a brine solution (water, salt, and vinegar) for 24 hours before smoking. Use a large zip-lock bag to store the turkey in the brine mixture in the refrigerator.
  2. If you don’t want to use a wet brine, you can try a dry brine instead. Simply rub salt into the turkey a day before smoking.
  3. Before smoking the turkey, you can add flavor by using a dry rub (a mixture of spices rubbed onto the turkey). Dry the turkey with a paper towel and use a binder (like olive oil or butter) to help the rub stick to the meat.
  4. For easier management, it’s best to use a turkey that weighs 12 pounds or less. If you’re cooking for a large group, consider smoking two or three smaller turkeys instead of one large one.
  5. To help the turkey cook evenly, try spatchcocking it. This involves removing the backbone and flipping the turkey, then pressing down until you hear a snap.
  6. A meat injector is a tool that can be used to add moisture and flavor to the turkey by injecting broth, melted butter, or other liquids into the meat. You can find meat injectors on Amazon.
  7. The internal temperature of a cooked turkey should reach 165°F. The breast should be 158°F and the thighs should be 175°F.
  8. If you’re using an electric smoker, it may not get hot enough (about 250°F) to create a crispy skin on the turkey. In this case, you can smoke the turkey in the smoker for a few hours to add smoke flavor, then finish it in the oven (at 350°F) for an hour, basting it with butter.
  9. Fresh turkeys are preferred, but there’s nothing wrong with using a frozen turkey. Frozen turkeys are often more affordable and the difference in taste is not noticeable.

Apply A Glaze

A glaze is a liquid or sauce that is brushed onto the surface of the turkey while it is cooking. Applying a glaze to the turkey can help to keep the meat moist and add flavor to the turkey. There are many different types of glazes that can be used, such as sweet, savory, or spicy, so you can choose a glaze that matches your personal taste preferences.

It’s important to apply the glaze to the turkey during the last 20-30 minutes of cooking, so that it doesn’t burn or become too caramelized. If you apply the glaze too early, it may burn or become too thick and sticky. By applying the glaze towards the end of cooking, it will help to add a nice, shiny finish to the turkey and add a burst of flavor.

Here is the information organized as a recipe:

Turkey Glaze Recipes

  1. Brown-Sugar Glaze
  • Ingredients: brown sugar, butter, water
  • Directions: In a small saucepan, melt together brown sugar and butter until smooth. Add a little water to thin the glaze. Brush the glaze onto the turkey during the last 20-30 minutes of cooking.
  1. Maple Cranberry Glaze
  • Ingredients: maple syrup, cranberry sauce
  • Directions: In a small saucepan, heat together maple syrup and cranberry sauce until smooth. Brush the glaze onto the turkey during the last 20-30 minutes of cooking.
  1. Honey Glaze
  • Ingredients: honey, butter, water
  • Directions: In a small saucepan, melt together honey and butter until smooth. Add a little water to thin the glaze. Brush the glaze onto the turkey during the last 20-30 minutes of cooking.
  1. Apricot Glaze
  • Ingredients: apricot preserve or puree, water
  • Directions: In a small saucepan, heat apricot preserve or puree until smooth. Add a little water to thin the glaze. Brush the glaze onto the turkey during the last 20-30 minutes of cooking.


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

Why is My Smoked Turkey Tough and Dry? (7 Ways To Avoid a Dry Bird) 

Dry Rub Guide – The Best Dry Rubs On The Market (Plus 3 Homemade Recipes)


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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