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.
Choose the perfect turkey
The first thing to figure out is how many hungry turkey eaters you’ll be hosting. One pound of turkey, once you’ve removed the bones and giblets, works out to 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.
I highly recommend the Free-Range turkeys’ from Crowd Cow.
Generally smaller turkeys in that range are better for smoking.
A larger turkey can build bacteria on the inner parts of the meat at low cooking temperatures. If you have a 20 lb turkey and want that smoke flavor, I would smoke it at 275°F for 60 minutes and then do the rest in the oven at 350°F. It might not have as much smoke flavor, but at least you won’t get anyone sick.
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.
Thawing your turkey
Making sure you’re 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 flesh of the bird, breaking down proteins and seasoning the meat. A good brine enhances the taste of smoked turkey and helps to keep it moist.
The traditional measurements for creating your brine are 1 cup of kosher or sea salt per 1 gallon of water.
With the base ready, it’s time to add extra flavor. The exact combination of herbs and spices you add to your brine is up to you, but some of the most common for poultry are garlic, paprika, sugar, vinegar, and thyme.
Feel free to come up with your own brine combination, buy something off the shelf, or use our turkey brine in the recipe below.
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 and leave the mixture in the refrigerator until it is cold.
You can use a container with a sealed lid or a brine bag. I like to use a brine bag and then place that inside an aluminum roasting pan to avoid any messy spills. If using the brine bag make sure you carefully remove all the air before sealing the bag.
I brined my turkey for 3 days. You don’t have to let it sit for this long but I find the extra time produces more moisture and flavor.
If you don’t have enough room in the refrigerator use an insulated cooler and keep topping it up with ice as it melts.
When the time is up, take the turkey out of the brine and rinse it thoroughly inside and out before patting it dry with paper towels. If you skip this step, you might find that the end product becomes unpleasantly salty when cooked.
Smoking your turkey in an electric smoker recipe
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.
You can be as bold as you like here, creating a spicy jerk smoked turkey, a deep south cajun turkey, or just sticking to the old favorites as I did here with a mix of herbs and simple spices.
Just remember, you went to 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.
Before applying the rub I also like to stuff the cavity with some aromatics. Think fresh thyme, rosemary, and garlic.
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, making sure to get the rub into those hard to reach places.
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.
2. Smoking your turkey
Once your turkey is seasoned, it’s time to get it in the smoker.
I smoked my turkey in a Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker which had a max setting of 275°F.
Ideally, you want to smoke 300-350°F to get nice crispy skin, but you can always smoke until the turkey reaches 135°F internal temperature and then finish it off in the oven at 350°F until it reaches 165°F.
This has the advantage of saving you some cooking time.
If you don’t have room in the oven, don’t stress, 275°F will still work, your skin just won’t be as crispy as it could be.
Fire up your smoker, be sure to add woodchips as it will help the smoker balance itself before putting the turkey inside. Add 1 cup of water or apple juice to the 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. The vent on my Masterbuilt is a circle, so I like having it a quarter open.
I also like to set a timer for every hour so I can add more wood chips and spray or baste the turkey with liquid or cooking oil.
Take it out of the smoker when the thermometer reads 165°F in the thickest part of the breast meat.
Once you take the bird out, move it onto a clean baking sheet, cover lightly in an aluminum foil tent, and let it rest for about 30 minutes before carving.
And there you have it – beautifully smoked turkey.
How to Smoke a Turkey in an Electric Smoker: Easy Masterbuilt Turkey
- 10 lb Turkey thawed
For the brine
- 2 cups Kosher salt
- 1 orange peel only
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1 lemon juice only
- 1 tbsp thyme
- 1 tbsp rosemary
- ¼ cup granulated garlic
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ cup onion powder
- 4 sprigs rosemary
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 1 head garlic
- ½ white onion peeled
For the rub
- 1 tbsp Kosher salt
- ½ tbsp black pepper ground
- ½ tbsp parsley dried
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp lemon pepper
To brine your turkey
- Add the brine ingredients to a large pot and mix with 6 cups of water. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 2 – 3 minutes stirring regularly.
- Let it cool to room temperature. Add 6 more cups of cold water, mix again and place the pot in the refrigerator until the mixture is cold.
- Place the turkey (with the neck and innards removed) in a brine bag or sealed container with the breast side facing down.
- Pour the brine mixture into the bag or container, making sure the turkey is fully submerged, add in more cold water if necessary.
- Place the bag or container into your refrigerator or a food safe cooler.
- After 2-3 days remove the turkey from the brine. Using cold water, carefully rinse the brine off, make sure to rinse the inside as well. Pat dry with paper towels.
To make the rub
- Mix all of the rub ingredients together and place them in a shaker.
To smoke your turkey
- Preheat your electric smoker to 275°F for 20 minutes.
- Once you have rinsed off the brine and dried the turkey, place it breast side up on a cutting board and stuff the cavity with 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 165°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.
Why smoke a turkey in an electric smoker?
Well, the simple answer is, if you only have an electric smoker, use what you have!
Choosing to smoke your turkey in an electric smoker frees up space, making it feasible to cook a massive bird in a place with limited kitchen space, like a trailer or an RV.
While this is true of any smoker, the electric smoker has the benefit of you not needing to carry extra fuel and electricity being the most ubiquitous and widely available power source on the planet.
It’s all about convenience!
Top tips for smoking a turkey in an electric smoker
As you can see, smoking a turkey in an electric smoker is really quite easy and following the steps above will give you great results. However, we also have some optional extras you can use to really make your smoked turkey stand out.
What are the best types of rubs?
Rubs are generally divided between dry rubs and wet rubs. Dry rubs are made of dry ground ingredients like herbs and spices. Wet rubs are typically made of similar elements but with the addition of a liquid component, such as oil, fruit juice, beer or vinegar.
Because a smoked turkey cooks for a long time at a relatively low temperature, a wet rub is a great way to impart a rich deep flavor to your bird.
The low temperature of the smoker won’t immediately dry out or char the rub, and the liquid in the rub will capture a little bit more of those smoky flavors.
If you need some inspiration for your rub recipes, check out our list of the best turkey rub recipes.
For a real taste explosion, you could even try using a wet rub on the outside and dry rub in the turkey’s cavity.
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.
If this is your first time smoking a turkey, it’s probably best to pick either a brine and rub or brine and injection. You’re already adding an extra layer of taste from the smoking, and you don’t want to overpower your turkey. You can always adjust the flavors later after you’ve had a few practice runs.
What would chips are best for smoking turkey|
I like to 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 really compliment turkey meat well.
Turkey meat isn’t as delicate as fish, but using pure hickory or mesquite can be slightly overpowering in my opinion.
Hickory and mesquite have stronger flavors, that can overpower the flavor of the turkey.
Wrapping it up
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.
Do you have a favorite rub you like to use with smoked turkey? Perhaps you favor brining over injecting, or the other way round. We’d love it if you’d tell us about it in the comments below.