Smoking a turkey can be a lengthy process, especially if you’re going to use a brine to add flavor to your bird. If you’re going to invest all this time and money into a smoked turkey, you want to be sure you are selecting the correct smoking wood. Since turkey is such a lean meat, you have to be careful with the type of wood you choose and how much smoke you’re going to subject your bird to.
After smoking turkey for the last 15 years, it comes down to three woods. Cherry, Alder and Maple. Cherry being my number one pick. Cherry is not an overbearing smoking wood and it offers a subtle sweet flavor. Smoke it at the right temp, for the right amount of time, with the correct wood and you have one of the best Thanksgiving meals you’ve ever had. Want to learn how to properly smoke a turkey? Read our guide and recipe on smoking a turkey. Inject your next turkey for even more flavor.
If you look beyond Thanksgiving and Christmas, a smoked whole turkey can be a delicacy to be savored on any occasion. Different woods can bring different flavor profiles to the meat. Turkey meat is bland and needs a little help. This is why smoking can be an excellent way to cook turkey. Used judiciously with processes like brining, marinating, and basting, cooking turkey over wood smoke can definitely lead to delicious results. Let us take a look at some of the best wood chips, pellets and chunks for smoking a turkey and delve deep into what they can bring to the table in terms of flavor and aroma.
Best Woods For Smoking A Turkey
For many, cherry wood is the best choice for smoking a whole turkey. The naturally bland and lean nature of turkey is perfectly complemented by the deep, rich, smoky flavor that cherry can impart to the meat. If you are looking for your turkey to be a statement piece without the aid of other flavoring components, brining your whole turkey and smoking it over cherry wood can be one of the best ways to cook it.
Smoking with cherry wood also gives your turkey a deep red color that is excellent for visual appeal during presentation.
|Bear Mountain Wood Pellets : Cherry||CHECK PRICE|
|Cameron Wood Chips: Cherry||CHECK PRICE|
|Diamond King Wood Chunks : Cherry||CHECK PRICE|
Alder wood is a non-traditional choice for smoking turkey that can get you delicious results. While it is a more popular choice when it comes to smoking seafood, it can work wonders with turkey as well. If you want the smoking process to have a minimum impact on the flavor and instead want to focus on your dry rub, marinade, or herb butter flavors, alder is a poignant choice. It has a very light smoky flavor that adds a hint of smoke while leaving your main flavors intact.
Alder is also a wood that burns very slowly, giving off a gentle heat. A lot less can go wrong if you smoke your turkey this way—low and slow. If you’re using a pellet grill, then the burn rate of alder is not as much of a concern.
|Bear Mountain Wood Pellets : Alder||CHECK PRICE|
|Cameron Wood Chips: Alder||CHECK PRICE|
|Cameron Wood Chunks : Alder||CHECK PRICE|
If you are looking for a mild, sweet, aromatic turkey that looks like a million dollars, you can definitely try smoking with maple. The flavor of maple smoke is extremely mild with a slightly sweet floral note and a hint of honey. This goes particularly well with the rich, golden color that maple smoke can bring to the turkey.
If you want to preserve the natural flavors of your turkey while complementing it with a few choice herbs and aromatics and a hint of sweet smoke, maple can be an automatic choice. Maple-smoked turkey also scores high on visual appeal, especially with the right glaze or sauce.
|Bear Mountain Wood Pellets : Maple||CHECK PRICE|
|Western Premium Wood Chips : Maple||CHECK PRICE|
|Western Premium Cooking Chunks : Maple||CHECK PRICE|
One of the best fruitwoods that can deliver a subtly sweet flavor to your whole turkey is apple. The smoke is not heavily aromatic and does not overpower the natural flavor of the turkey. The best way to smoke a turkey using apple would be to take it low and slow, taking special care not to dry the bird out by introducing a water pan to the smoker or regularly basting the bird.
Apple is a great way for BBQ beginners to smoke a whole turkey. Very little can go wrong if you maintain the right temperature and ensure that the middle of the bird comes up to temperature. Using a meat probe can be a handy option. Apple is also a strong candidate if you are planning to mix different kinds of woods for a more complex, layered flavor profile.
|Bear Mountain Wood Pellets : Apple||CHECK PRICE|
|Western Premium Wood Chips : Apple||CHECK PRICE|
|Weber Wood Chunks : Apple||CHECK PRICE|
Oak is one of the classic choices for red meat. However, it can yield excellent results with turkey if used the right way. The rich, earthy flavor of the smoke can do wonders to your turkey if you choose a relatively shorter cook time. The naturally savory, wooden aroma of oak smoke can flavor your meat quite heavily and create a turkey dish that does not really need the aid of multiple sauces and sides.
Oak is also a great base if you want to mix in other woods. Mixing some appropriate fruitwood with oak, for example, can lead to an excellent sweet and savory result. You just need to get the proportions right.
|Bear Mountain Wood Pellets : Oak||CHECK PRICE|
|Camerons Wood Chips: Oak||CHECK PRICE|
|Western Premium Cooking Chunks : Oak||CHECK PRICE|
One of the most versatile woods for smoking, hickory can be a fantastic way to get your turkey looking, smelling, and tasting magnificent. Since turkey is a relatively bland meat (certainly white turkey meat), it can benefit from the wide range of complex flavors and aromas that smoking with hickory can infuse in the meat (if you do this right – you can make turkey taste as good as it does in a sandwich). The rich, brown appearance can also be an inviting quality if you smoke your turkey with hickory.
However, it can be a little difficult to get the balance right and avoid overwhelming the turkey if you are using hickory smoke. It is a prudent idea to take your time and figure out exactly how much wood to use and how long you should smoke your bird if you want that perfectly balanced deep, rich flavor playing well with the natural flavors of the turkey.
|Bear Mountain Wood Pellets : Hickory||CHECK PRICE|
|Western Premium Wood Chips : Hickory||CHECK PRICE|
|Camerons Wood Chunks: Hickory||CHECK PRICE|
Make Your Own Smoking Wood Blend for Turkey
Smoking poultry is a tricky proposition that might take time to get right. It becomes all the more difficult if you are working with lean meat such as turkey. You need to pay particular attention to the amount of wood you use, the cooking temperature, and the duration of the smoke.
Many pitmasters will work on their own smoking wood blends. I suggest trying half cherry wood with half alder to add some complexity to the smokey flavors.
We recently posted an overview of picking the best woods for smoking from a more general stand point. We explain the difference between pellets, wood chunks and chips. Also a deep dive into all the types of smoking woods.