A properly cooked turkey with all the trimmings is a true sight to behold. The star of any Thanksgiving feast.
Unfortunately, cooking a 15lb thunder chicken takes up a lot of kitchen real estate, leaving precious little room in the oven for anything else.
Enter the humble electric smoker.
Smoking your turkey frees up your oven for the rest of your dishes and turns your humble bird into a smokey bbq masterpiece.
So, if you are low on kitchen space but big on serving up delicious new twists on festive favorites, read for the full turkey recipe to find out how to smoke a turkey in an electric smoker.
Electric smoker turkey recipe
Smoking a turkey in an electric smoker is so easy, and it produces such fantastic results.
You can just set your temperature, put your well-brined bird in the smoker, and get on with the rest of your day, safe in the knowledge that dinner is going to be something spectacular.
Choosing to smoke your turkey in an electric smoker frees up space, making it feasible to cook a bird in a place with limited kitchen space, like a trailer or an RV.
Ingredients you’ll need
- Turkey – 10-14 Pounds is the sweet spot. Make sure you allow time to brine and thaw.
- Rub – I used our turkey rub recipe. Around 3-4 tbsp depending on the size of your bird.
- Butter – For stuffing and also to baste with during cooking.
- Aromatics – I like to stuff the turkey cavity with fresh herbs, onions, lemon, and celery.
Equipment you’ll need
- Electric smoker – I used my trusty Cusinart COS-330 for this recipe, but this recipe will work great on a Masterbuilt or any smoker that uses wood chips. If you own a pellet grill check out our pellet grill smoked turkey instead.
- Wood chips – I used apple wood chips, but any fruit wood will work well with turkey.
- A large container to brine your turkey – I used a cooler, but you can also use a brine or any large container.
- Butcher twine – To tie the turkey legs together for more even cooking.
- Basting brush – To brush butter on to help skin get nice and crispy.
Choose the perfect turkey
The first thing to figure out is how many hungry turkey eaters you’ll host. Once you’ve removed the bones and giblets, one pound of turkey equals about half a pound of delicious smoked turkey meat per adult.
So, if you’re hosting 10-12 guests, you need a turkey that weighs around 10 to 12 pounds.
Generally smaller turkeys in that range are better for smoking.
Always consider the size of your smoker. Most electric smokers have removable racks, so you should have enough vertical space, although that does take away space if you have other items to smoke.
Turkeys also come in a range of types, from self-basting to heritage. For a full breakdown of exactly what those terms mean, check out our turkey buying guide.
There is a good chance that, like most Americans, you’ll be buying your turkey frozen, so the first step is to thaw your turkey while avoiding giving yourself food poisoning.
Should you inject the turkey before smoking?
Injecting a turkey is precisely what it sounds like. You fill up a specially designed syringe, called an injector, with things like melted butter, duck fat, cognac, maple syrup, and lemon juice, and then inject it into the meat of the turkey to give it a flavor boost.
Injecting is usually brought up as an alternative to brining. Still, there is absolutely no reason you can’t both brine a turkey and inject it, as long you’re not adding extra salt with the injections.
The only benefit of choosing one over the other is that brining takes around 24 hours, and if you don’t have that kind of time, injecting your turkey is a much faster way to add extra flavor,.
What would chips are best for smoking turkey?
I’ll often use a mix of apple and hickory wood chips throughout the smoke. I find the combination of the sweetness of applewood and the robust smoke flavor of hickory wood compliments turkey meat well.
Turkey meat isn’t as delicate as fish, but using pure hickory or mesquite can be slightly overpowering.
Thawing your turkey
Making sure your turkey is appropriately thawed out is vital to it smoking at a consistent rate and not growing unpleasant colonies of day-ruining bacteria.
If you plan on brining your turkey for a few days, you’ll need to allow enough time for the turkey to thaw and then brine, so you may need to start the process up to a week before Thanksgiving.
To make this as easy as possible, we have put together a detailed guide to thawing your turkey, but here are some salient facts to remember:
- Allow for around 24 hours of defrosting time for every 4-5lbs (1.8-2.2kg) of turkey to make sure it is properly thawed.
- Defrosting your turkey at room temperature is a terrible idea. At this temperature, colonies of bacteria like Salmonella or Campylobacter will multiply every 20 minutes.
- Washing your turkey in the sink does nothing but cover everything, including you, in bacteria.
Brining your turkey
Brining is a method of making meat more tender by soaking it in a mixture of water, salt, and flavorings. This method is called ‘wet brining.’
While your turkey sits in its brine, the salt permeates the bird’s flesh, breaking down proteins and seasoning the meat. A good brine enhances the taste of smoked turkey and helps to keep it moist.
Some people argue that wet brining is a waste of ingredients, and that you only need to salt the meat. I’ve tried both and I generally wet brine for a special occasion.
Use our turkey wet brine recipe, but feel free to experiment with different combinations of aromatics.
Simply add all ingredients to a pot and mix with water, bring to a gentle boil and stir to combine all ingredients.
Let the mixture cool and add some more cold water or ice.
When the time is up, take the turkey out of the brine and pat it dry with paper towels.
How to smoke a turkey in an electric smoker
It’s the big day. This is where all your prep pays off, and you wow your family with a smoked turkey.
You should have a thawed and brined turkey that’s almost ready to hit the electric smoker.
1. Season your turkey
Now that your turkey is brined, rinsed, and dried, it’s time to add those finishing flavor touches.
Before applying the rub, I like to stuff the cavity with some aromatics. Think fresh herbs, celery, onion, lemon, and butter.
I also like to tie the legs of the turkey together with butcher twine and tie the legs of the turkey as close and tight to the breasts as possible. This helps everything to cook more evenly and holds the aromatics in place.
To help the rub stick (and help the skin crip up) spray the turkey with cooking spray, you can use olive oil or soft butter as well. I have found that the spray is the easiest method, then apply the rub evenly all over.
For this recipe, we used our popular smoked turkey rub and simply reduced the amount of salt since the turkey was already brined.
Remember, you went through all the trouble of brining your turkey to distribute the salt throughout the meat evenly, so you don’t need to add extra salt to it now so avoid using any overly salty store-bought rubs.
2. Smoking your turkey
Once your turkey is seasoned, it’s time to get it in the smoker.
If your smoker can get hotter then 300-350°F is a perfect temperature for nice crispy skin and you can probably cut some time off the total cook time.
Be sure also to fill your water pan.
Once it starts producing smoke consistently place the turkey inside, insert a meat probe into at least one breast. Set a timer for 30 to 40 minutes per pound of turkey you are smoking.
This timeframe is only a guideline. Keep your instant-read thermometer handy (or leave a probe in the thigh and breast) and check the bird toward the end of the cooking time.
Close the smoker and make sure the vent is partially open.
I also like to set a timer for every hour to add more wood chips and baste the turkey with butter.
Take it out of the smoker when the thermometer reads 160°F in the thickest part of the breast meat.
3. Resting and serving
Once you take the bird out, move it onto a clean baking sheet, cover it lightly in an aluminum foil tent, and let it rest for about 30 minutes before carving. Carry-over cooking will ensure the breast reaches 165°F.
And there you have it – beautifully smoked turkey in your electric smoker.
Looking for more electric smoker recipes?
- Electric smoker pork ribs recipe
- Electric smoker brisket
- Smoked pork shoulder in the electric smoker
- How to smoke chicken breasts in an electric smoker
How to Smoke a Turkey in an Electric Smoker
- 12 lb Turkey thawed
- 3 tbsp turkey rub Exact amount will depend on the size of your bird so just try and get a nice even coating.
- 4 oz butter melted for basting
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 4 sprigs rosemary
- 4 sprigs parsley
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 white onion sliced
- 1 lemon cut into quarters
- 2 oz butter cubed
- If you have the time, brine your turkey the night before. Our turkey wet brine recipe helps ensure your turkey will be juicy and flavorful. Remove from brine after 12-24 hours and pat dry.
To smoke your turkey
- Preheat your electric smoker to 250°F. You can go as hot as 350°F if your smoker allows it as this will help the skin crispen up.
- If you brined your turkey, make sure you pat it down so its nice and dry. Place it breast side up on a cutting board and stuff the cavity with the aromatics.
- Spray the outside of the turkey with cooking spray and sprinkle the rub evenly all over.
- Using butcher’s twine, tie the legs of the turkey as close and tight to the breasts as possible.
- Place the turkey breast side up in your pre-heated smoker.
- Close the smoker and make sure the vent is partially open.
- Set a timer for 30-40 minutes per pound of turkey you are smoking.
- When the internal temperature reaches 155°F you can add a little more rub to the exposed parts of the skin.
- Remove the turkey from the smoker when the inner part of the breasts and thighs reach 160°F internal temperature. Be sure to use a meat probe to measure instead of relying on the little plastic pop up indicator that some turkeys have in them.
- Cover your turkey in butcher paper or tin foil and let it sit for 30 minutes before carving.