Smoked meats can be the highlight for BBQ parties and tailgates. If you want to move beyond the usual selection of cuts or plan to go for something leaner and healthier, turkey is always a golden option. Smoking poultry is always tricky—you want a nice smoky flavor without drying out the meat or overcooking it. A perfectly smoked turkey goes over well at Thanksgiving. Picking the right wood will help accomplish this.

Turkey is very lean and it can be a difficult proposition to smoke a turkey. However, if you choose the right kind of wood and get your cooking time and temperature right, smoked turkey can be a delicious departure from the traditional smoked meats.

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 turkey and delve deep into what they can bring to the table in terms of flavor and aroma.

Alder

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 : AlderAlder Wood PelletsCheck Price Button
Western Premium Wood Chips : AlderAlder Wood ChipsCheck Price Button
Camerons Wood Chunks : AlderAlder Wood ChunksCheck Price Button

Maple

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 : MapleMaple Wood PelletsCheck Price Button
Western Premium Wood Chips : MapleMaple Wood ChipsCheck Price Button
Western Premium Wood Chunks : MapleMaple Wood ChunksCheck Price Button

Cherry

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 : CherryCherry Wood PelletsCheck Price Button
Western Premium Wood Chips : CherryCherry Wood ChipsCheck Price Button
Diamond King Wood Chunks : CherryCherry Wood ChunksCheck Price Button

Apple

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 : AppleApple Wood PelletsCheck Price Button
Western Premium Wood Chips : AppleApple Wood ChipsCheck Price Button
Weber Wood Chunks : AppleApple Wood ChunksCheck Price Button

Oak

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 : OakOak Wood PelletsCheck Price Button
Western Premium Wood Chips : OakOak Wood ChipsCheck Price Button
Western Premium Wood Chunks : OakOak Wood ChunksCheck Price Button

Hickory

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 : HickoryHickory Wood PelletsCheck Price Button
Western Premium Wood Chips : HickoryHickory Wood ChipsCheck Price Button
Western Premium Wood Chunks : HickoryHickory Wood ChunksCheck Price Button

Determining Your Own Flavor

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. 

With a little practice and using one or more of the wood choices mentioned here, however, you can put out a mean turkey that your friends and family can enjoy – well perhaps everyone except that friend who will always prefer his cooking over yours. It is also a perspicacious idea to experiment with different mixes of woods to arrive at a signature flavor profile you can call your own.

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.

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