When it comes time to smoke a turkey, my usual method is to spatchcock it.
While this speeds up cooking time, sometimes you want to go with that classic Norman Rockwell whole turkey.
In this recipe, I will go over some tried and true methods for smoking a whole turkey. My method takes a little more time, but the results are worth it.
How to make a whole smoked turkey
1. The bird
I find the sweet spot for turkeys is between 10 to 12 pounds as they are generally more flavorful and are less prone to drying out.
If you are feeding a larger crowd, opt for two turkeys in this size range instead of one giant one.
For this recipe, I am using a Ferndale Market turkey from Crowd Cow. Each Ferndale Market turkey has been raised antibiotic-free and is free-range. They are naturally processed with no additives. The neck and giblet come included, like most turkeys, and most importantly, they taste delicious!
2. The brine
One step that a lot of people overlook or ignore is the brining process. Brining is a way to add more flavor and moisture to your turkey and is really a step that shouldn’t be avoided. It’s a game-changer, so don’t skip it.
I like to brine my turkey with a mixture of salt, sugar, spices, herbs, and citrus.
For a great brine, check out our turkey brine recipe that will ensure each bite is loaded with juicy flavor.
You want to make sure you remove all innards (neck, giblets, etc) before soaking your bird. I like to brine my turkey for 24 hours.
3. Pre seasoning
Here are a few things to keep in mind before seasoning your turkey.
- Make sure you dry your turkey, especially if you’ve brined it. You can pat it dry with paper towels and leave it in your fridge uncovered for one to two hours. This will help get the skin nice and crispy.
- Stuff the cavity of your turkey for increased flavor with onions, celery, carrots, apples, lemons, oranges, and herbs. This will also help keep your turkey moist.
- Truss the turkey legs by crossing them together and tying them with butcher’s twine.
After you have brined your turkey, it’s time to season.
I let a stick of unsalted butter soften at room temperature and slather the whole outside of the turkey with it.
The turkey will slowly baste itself as the butter melts and cooks into the skin. The butter also helps with the color.
I used a poultry rub from my friends at Crove Food Co and seasoned the entire turkey generously with it.
Any poultry rub is great. There are a lot out there to choose from. If you are looking for a great homemade turkey rub, we have just the thing! Our homemade rub will give your turkey a nice deep mahogany color and rich herby flavor.
If you want to get under the skin and season that is fine too. Just be careful not to tear the skin in the process.
I find that if you brine your turkey properly there is no need to season underneath. However, it’s your turkey, so you call the shots!
Let your turkey rest on the counter for about 10-15 minutes while you fire up your smoker
5. The smoke
Preheat your smoker to 250°F.
If you don’t like cherry or have it on hand, any fruit or mild wood will work. Try to avoid harsher smoking woods for poultry, like hickory or mesquite, as they can quickly overpower.
Once the smoker is up to temp, place your turkey directly on the smoker rack and place a temperature probe into the deepest part of the breast.
Let the turkey smoke for 2 hours, and then increase the temperature of your smoker to 350°F.
Once the turkey is temping around 135°F, start basting with melted butter.
Take a brush and just let the butter drip off onto the turkey and down the sides. You want to avoid actually brushing the turkey, so you don’t ruin the skin.
Repeat this every 10 degrees until the turkey reaches an internal temp of 165°F.
Once the turkey reaches an internal temp of 165°F in the deepest part of the breast, you can remove it from the smoker.
Don’t worry if the thighs and legs temp higher than 165°F as the dark meat should still retain moisture.
The total cook time will vary depending on the smoker and the size of the turkey. Mine took about 3.5 hours.
Rest for 20 minutes before carving.
Here are some sides that go well with turkey:
- Maple glazed bacon-wrapped carrots
- Smoked cranberry sauce
- Sausage stuffing with herbs.
- Herby roast potato salad
- Cranberry walnut pasta salad
Whole Smoked Turkey Recipe
- 15 lb whole turkey
- 2 sticks celery
- 2 carrots
- 2 onions medium size
- 1 apple
- 1 orange
- 1 lemon
- bunch of thyme
- bunch of rosemary
- 3 tbsp poultry rub
- 3 sticks butter unsalted
- Brine your turkey for at least 8 hours up to 24 hours.
- Heat your smoker to 250°F.
- Pat turkey dry and stuff the cavity with aromatics.
- Cover the turkey with 1 stick of room temperature butter and season generously.
- Smoke at 250°F for the first 2 hours.
- Increase the temperature of your smoker to 350°F and continue smoking.
- Melt the remaining 2 sticks of butter. When the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 135°F, baste the turkey and do so every 10 degrees.
- Remove the turkey from the smoker when the internal temperature of the breast reaches 165°F.
- Rest for 20 minutes before carving.