It’s that time of year again! With Thanksgiving just over a week away, it’s time to refresh our memories on how to smoke a turkey. Never smoked a turkey before? Let me tell you…this method is a game changer! Smoking a turkey will result in the juiciest, most tender, and delicious bird you’ve ever cooked. There are a few steps to take before the actual smoking, so get ready as I walk you through it.
Buying & defrosting the turkey
Before we get into anything, let’s discuss buying a turkey. In my opinion, a turkey that is in the 12-15 lbs range is perfect for smoking…much better than a 20+ lbs turkey. If you’re cooking for a larger group, I’d recommend getting two 12 lb turkeys vs one 24 lb turkey. They seem to cook more evenly and take a lot less time to defrost/cook when they are in this weight range. You will also need to defrost the turkey well in advance of when you’re going to cook. Foodsafety.gov recommends 24 hours of defrosting in the refrigerator for every 4-5 lbs of turkey. So if I have a 12 lb turkey, I am going to throw it in the refrigerator midday on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. You might think that sounds a little early, but that’s because I am going to brine the turkey…which I will get into next.
Brining the turkey
Before I started smoking turkeys, I would never brine them. That’s completely changed now and I make sure to ALWAYS brine my turkeys ahead of time. This process allows flavor and moisture to get deep into the turkey, resulting in a juicy, tender, and flavorful bird. Bonus: if your turkey is not 100% defrosted by brining time, it’s ok! It can finish defrosting in the brine. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Briner bucket or large pot
- Open Fire BBQ Rub
- Brown Sugar
- Bay Leaves
Those are some of the things I like to use for my brine but you can really use whatever flavors you like (except for water & salt – you definitely need those). You just need to bring the water to a boil and add the salt, Open Fire BBQ Rub, brown sugar, honey, and molasses. Mix until everything has dissolved and allow the mixture to cool (you could make this ahead of time and put it in the refrigerator to cool). Then add the peppercorns, thyme, and bay leaves. Pour the brine into a briner bucket or large pot, add the turkey (making sure it’s fully submerged) and refrigerate for 24 hours. Going back to the last section where we started defrosting the turkey on Sunday, I’ll start brining the turkey on Tuesday afternoon/night.
Removing the turkey from the brine
Now that the 24 hour brine is over, it’s time to remove the turkey. If you’re keeping track, we are doing this on Wednesday afternoon/evening (the day before Thanksgiving). Remove the turkey and pat it dry with paper towels. Then put it on a rack with a tray under, and refrigerate overnight uncovered. This will help remove moisture from the outer layer, resulting in crispier skin. I highly recommend this step.
Injecting the turkey & prepping it for the grill
It’s now Thanksgiving morning and there are a couple of more steps that we need to take before we throw it on the grill. Once we remove the turkey from the refrigerator, stuff the cavity with onions, apples, and celery. Spray the outside of the turkey with duck fat spray or cooking spray and then season it all over with Open Fire BBQ Rub or even Open Fire BPS Rub if you’d prefer a less BBQ flavor profile. After that, we are going to want to inject it. Injecting it, again, will help give the turkey more moisture and flavor. Here’s what you will need:
Of course, you can use any types of flavors that you want but that is what I like to use. Melt the butter in a small pot and add the remaining ingredients. Whisk until everything is mixed together and allow it cool. Once cooled, inject all over the bird: breasts, legs, thighs, etc. Try to hit each area 3-4 times. After all of that, it’s finally time for the easy part!
Smoking the turkey
Light your grill/smoker to 275ºF – 300ºF. Once stabilized, add some smoking wood of your choice. Fruity woods like cherry and apple go well with poultry so consider using one of those. Add the turkey breast side up. Every hour or so I like to check on the turkey and spray it with more duck fat spray. This will help the skin from turning too dark (you can also tent it with aluminum foil if it’s getting darker than you’d like). Continue to smoke until an internal temperature of 165ºF is reached in the breasts and 175ºF in the legs and thighs. A 12 lb turkey like this could take up to 6 hours to cook. My rule of thumb is 30 minutes per pound of turkey – but always go by internal temperature. Some turkeys are stubborn and take longer while others cook fast. I recommend checking the internal temperature by the 1 1/2 hour mark to get an idea of where you stand. Once the internal temperatures are hit, your smoked turkey is done!
Once you remove the turkey from the smoker, allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes and then it’s time to carve. This is where you will see that all of the effort was worth it. The turkey will be juicy, tender, and PACKED with flavor. You will understand why I don’t cook turkeys in the oven anymore…they’re just too good off the smoker. You’re going to have less leftovers and a happy crowd. Everything that you’ve been working on since Sunday will be worth it and you’ll be looking forward to doing it all over again next year. Enjoy this recipe and have a Happy Thanksgiving!
- 12-15 lb Turkey
- 2 gal Water
- 1.5 cups Salt
- 4 tbsp Open Fire BBQ Rub
- 1 cup Brown Sugar
- 1 cup Honey
- 1 cup Molasses
- 1 tbsp Peppercorns
- 1 Fresh Thyme bundle
- 4-5 Bay Leaves
Turkey Seasoning & Cavity
- Open Fire BBQ Rub to taste
- Duck Fat Spray or any other cooking spray
- 1 Onion Halved
- 1 Apple Halved
- 1 Celery Stick Quartered
- 1 stick Butter
- 1 tsp Open Fire BBQ Rub
- 1 cup Chicken Broth
- Hot Sauce to taste
Defrosting the Turkey
- Defrost your turkey enough in advance so that you can start brining it the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. According to foodsafety.gov, it takes about 24 hours for every 4-5 lbs of turkey to defrost. For a 12 lb turkey, put it in the refrigerator to defrost on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
Brining the Turkey
- On the Tuesday afternoon/evening before Thanksgiving, boil 1 gallon of water and add the salt, Open Fire BBQ Rub, brown sugar, honey, and molasses. Mix together until everything has dissolved. Allow to mixture to cool – you can add the second gallon of water now to help with the cooling process.
- Once the mixture has cooled, add the peppercorns, fresh thyme, and bay leaves. Pour the brine into a briner bucket or large pot and add turkey (making sure it is fully submerged). Refrigerate for 24 hours.
- After the 24 hour brine, remove the turkey and pat it dry with paper towels. Put it on a rack with a tray under it and refrigerate uncovered overnight (the Wednesday before Thanksgiving).
Seasoning the Turkey and Stuffing the Cavity
- Remove the turkey from the refrigerator. Spray the outside with Duck Fat Spray and season with Open Fire BBQ Rub.
- Stuff the cavity with onion, apple, and celery.
Injecting the Turkey
- Melt the butter in a small pot and add the remaining ingredients. Whisk until everything is mixed together and allow to cool.
- Once cooled, inject all over the bird: breasts, legs, thighs, etc. Try to hit each area 3-4 times.
Smoking the Turkey
- Light your grill/smoker to 275ºF – 300ºF. Once stabilized, add some smoking wood of your choice (ex: cherry or apple).
- Add the turkey breast side up. Check on the turkey every hour or so, spraying it with more duck fat spray each time (optional but recommended). At about the 1 1/2 hour mark, start checking the internal temperature of the breast, legs, and thighs to get an idea of how far along it is cooking.
- Continue to smoke until an internal temperature of 165ºF in the breast and 175ºF in the legs and thighs is reached.
- Remove from grill/smoker and allow the turkey 15-20 minutes to rest. Carve and enjoy!