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How To Smoke A Turkey For Thanksgiving (Easy Smoked Turkey Recipe)

When I first learned how to smoke a turkey, I never expected it to be so good! But I am here to tell you, that it is the most delicious turkey that I have ever had.

And I am not alone. Once I served it to my family they all raved about how moist and flavorful it was. Therefore, ever since that day, I am now responsible for making the turkey in the smoker every year for Thanksgiving.

So earlier this week when we had our annual (early)Thanksgiving dinner, I pulled the smoker out and got to work. The turkey not only cooked perfectly with very little effort, it turned out moist, tender and full of great flavor.

whole turkey in a smoker
Smoking a turkey is an easy way to have your turkey turn out moist and delicious every time!

How To Thaw A Turkey

No matter how you decide to cook your turkey, you must be sure to thaw it out completely prior to cooking. And if you have never cooked a turkey before, you might be shocked at how long it takes for the bird to thaw.

There are two safe ways to thaw a whole frozen turkey: in the refrigerator or in cold water.

Thawing a Turkey In The Refrigerator

This is the safest method, but it takes the longest. Allow one day for every 4 pounds of turkey. For example, a 15-pound turkey will take about 4 days to thaw.

However, because the turkey will need to soak in a brine overnight be sure to have the turkey completely thawed the day before you plan to smoke it.

**Please note that it is not recommended to smoke a turkey over 15 lbs due to the low temperature cooking process.

To thaw a turkey place it (still in its original packing) on a baking tray, breast side up. Then place it in the refrigerator. Allow one day for every 4 lbs. of turkey. Then use within 4 days of thawing.

Thawing a Whole Turkey In Cold Water

This method is faster than thawing in the refrigerator, but it requires more attention. You will need to change the water every 30 minutes to ensure that it stays cold.

To thaw a turkey in cold water:

  1. Place the turkey, breast side down in its original packaging in a large sink or bucket.
  2. Fill the sink with cold water until the turkey is completely submerged.
  3. Change the water every 30 minutes.
  4. Allow 30 minutes for every pound of turkey to become thawed.

Important safety tips

  • Never thaw a turkey at room temperature. Bacteria can grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
turkey brining
The night before you want to smoke the turkey, be sure to brine it. If it floats, add a heavy pan on top to submerge it in the water.

Brining Instructions

Although there are several recipes on how to brine a turkey, we use a simple mixture of salt, water, and sugar along with a few optional aromatics.

Depending on what type of container that you have and the size of your turkey, the amount of brine needed will vary.

To Make Turkey Brine: For every gallon of water add 1 cup of Kosher or Pickling Salt and 1/2 cup of sugar.

Heat the brine on the stove just until the salt and sugar dissolve. Then remove it from the heat and let it cool.

Once cool, add one entire lemon cut into wedges, a small handful of peppercorns, and two bay leaves to the brine. Pour the brine in the container and slowly lower the turkey into the water. Then cover and refrigerate.

However, be sure that if the turkey begins to float, to apply a pot, pan, or foil lined brick so that the entire bird is submerged in the liquid.

Let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. First thing in the morning remove the turkey from the brine and rinse it under cold water to remove the excess salt flavor from the skin.

Next, pat the rinsed turkey dry and place it on a large baking tray. Put it in the refrigerator to air dry for up to 4 hours. This will allow the skin to crisp up nicely when you go to smoke the turkey.

dry rub
Use your favorite dry rub to season the turkey.

Optional Dry Rub

Now that you turkey has had time to air dry it is time to apply extra virgin olive oil and a dry rub to the skin.

You can use your favorite store-bought dry rub, make a homemade dry rub, or simply use Kosher salt and pepper. The key here is to add a little additional flavor to the turkey.

I use the same Sweet Dry Rub recipe that I use to make pulled pork. However I sprinkle it not only on the skin, but inside the cavity as well. It adds a little sweetness, but also a lot of additional flavor as well.

Once the turkey has been oiled and seasoned, be sure to tie the legs together with twine or tuck them under the flap of skin below the cavity. Now it is time for the bird to go in the smoker.

Temperature Settings And Smoke Time Required For A Whole Turkey

It is best to smoke a whole turkey at 225°F. As a general rule of thumb, for each pound of turkey, it will need to be in the smoker for 30 minutes. Plus, I always give a little wiggle room and add an extra 30 minutes to the calculated cook time.

Therefore, if you have a 12 pound turkey, you would smoke it for 6.5 hours.

Prepare you smoker per your manufacturer’s instructions. I have used my Masterbuilt programmable electric smoker, Big Green Egg, and a pellet smoker and the turkey always comes out perfect.

wood chips soaking in water
Be sure to soak your wood chips before adding them to the smoker.

Best Type of Wood To Smoke A Turkey

As for what type of wood chips to use, use a light flavored wood such as apple or cherry if feeding a diverse crowd. However if you want a stronger, smokier flavor use hickory chips.

Unlike when making Smoked Chicken Wings it’s best to soak the wood chips in water. This will allow the wood chips to smoker, rather than burn during the longer cooking process.

This will allow the wood chips to slowly smoke rather than burn quickly if put in dry. Now that you have the wood chips in the smoker, it is time to smoke the turkey.

Smoking The Turkey

Place the turkey, breast side up, directly on a lower rack of the smoker. However, don’t place it on the lowest rack if you have a smoker with multiple racks. This is where you want to put a shallow pan to catch the turkey drippings.

Add 2 cups of water to the pan and place it on the rack directly underneath the turkey. Then, when your turkey is finished cooking, you can use the drippings to make Turkey Gravy.

Although if you are using a barrel type of smoker such as a Big Green Egg, use the deflector and place a shallow pan on the deflector to catch the drippings. Although this is optional, it will make your gravy taste so much better!

turkey in big green egg
An hour before the turkey is supposed to be done, check the internal temperature in the thickest part of the thigh.

How To Know When A Smoked Turkey Is Done

About one hour before your turkey is supposed to be done, insert a digital food thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh. Remove the turkey from the smoker when it reaches 165°F.

I love my Wireless Digital Meat Thermometer that allows me to be in the house and still check the temperature of the turkey. This allows me to cook the rest of the meal so everything is ready to serve at the same time.

Remove the turkey from the smoker and let it sit covered for 20 minutes before carving. This will allow the meat to reabsorb the released juice, and it will give you enough time to use the drippings to make Turkey Gravy.

Enjoy! Mary

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How To Smoke A Turkey

whole turkey in a smoker

Once you have tasted turkey that has been cooked in a smoker, you will never cook your Thanksgiving turkey any other way! Moist and juicy meat with a slight smoky flavor. It will definitely become a new tradition in your house!

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 8 hours
Inactive Time 12 hours
Total Time 30 minutes


  • 12 pound whole turkey
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons dry rub, homemade dry rub link in article
  • 2 cups of water, to catch the drippings

Brining Ingredients

  • water
  • Kosher or Pickling Salt
  • Sugar
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • 1/4 cup whole peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves


  1. The day before you want to cook your turkey, be sure that it is completely thawed and remove the neck and giblets from the cavity.

3 tablespoons dry rub, homemade dry rub link in article
2 cups of water, to catch the drippings

    ! Brining Ingredients
    Kosher or Pickling Salt
    1 lemon, cut into wedges
    1/4 cup whole peppercorns
    2 bay leaves

Prepare Your Brine

  1. Because all turkeys are different sizes and all brining containers are unique, the amount of brine that is needed will vary from person to person. For every gallon of water, add 1/2 cup salt and 1/4 cup sugar and heat until it is just dissolved.
  2. Allow the brine mixture to cool. Then add your lemon pieces, peppercorns, and bay leaves to the brine.
  3. Pour the brine into a very large container and submerge your turkey inside the brine. Keep in the refrigerator and brine overnight.

Prepare Your Turkey For The Smoker

  1. In the morning, remove the turkey from the brine and rinse under cold water. Be sure to rinse both sides of the bird and inside the cavity. Pat dry with paper towels and let it sit on a large cookie sheet to air dry for up to 4 hours.
  2. Soak your wood chips in water 1 hour before you are ready to smoke your turkey. Use apple, cherry or hickory whenever possible.
  3. When you are ready to smoke your turkey, pat it dry with a paper towel one last time. Then rub oil all over the skin and inside the cavity.
  4. Next, sprinkle a dry rub mixture over both sides and inside cavity.
  5. Preheat the smoker to 225°F and once at temperature, place the turkey, breast side up on the second from the bottom rack.
  6. Place a shallow baking pan filled with two cups of water on the bottom rack, directly below the turkey to catch the drippings (optional).
  7. Add the wood chips and smoke for approximately 30 minutes per pound, then add another 30 minutes to the final anticipated cook time.
  8. One hour before the turkey is supposed to be done, insert a digital meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, being sure not to touch bone.
  9. The turkey is done when the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Remove it from the smoker and let it rest under foil for at least 10 minutes before carving.
  10. Use the pan drippings to make your gravy, if desired.


Recipe provided by Make Your Meals

Nutrition Information:



Amount Per Serving: Calories: 887Total Fat: 37gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 24gCholesterol: 494mgSodium: 467mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 130g

Nutritional Information is to be used as a general guideline only . Nutritional calculations will vary from the types and brands of the products used.

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