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Best Wood For Smoking Turkey

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 …

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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, my personal preference comes down to three different types of wood: Cherry, Alder, and Maple with Cherry being my number one pick. Cherry is not an overbearing smoking wood and it offers a subtle sweet flavor. Smoke  your turkey 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. Also, inject your next turkey for even more flavor.

Perfectly smoked turkey
Learn how to smoke a turkey like this.

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. You don’t have to confine yourself to only smoking whole turkey either. Smoked turkey breast is delicious and can be easier than a whole turkey! 

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

Cherry Wood

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.

IMAGE MODEL FEATURES
byb2-table__imageBear Mountain Wood Pellets : Cherry
  • No binders or fillers
  • Works well with all major grill brands
  • Low moisture
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageCameron Wood Chips: Cherry
  • 100% natural wood
  • Coarse Cut
  • Made in USA
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageDiamond King Wood Chunks : Cherry
  • 100% natural wood
  • USDA certified
  • Stored indoors
CHECK PRICE

Alder Wood

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.

IMAGE MODEL FEATURES
byb2-table__imageBear Mountain Wood Pellets : Alder
  • No binders or fillers
  • Works well with all major grill brands
  • Low moisture
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageCameron Wood Chips: Alder
  • 100% natural wood
  • Coarse Cut
  • Made in USA
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageCameron Wood Chunks : Alder
  • 100% natural wood
  • Precision cut
  • Kiln dried
CHECK PRICE

Maple Wood

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.

IMAGE MODEL FEATURES
byb2-table__imageBear Mountain Wood Pellets : Maple
  • No binders or fillers
  • Works well with all major grill brands
  • Low moisture
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageWestern Premium Wood Chips : Maple
  • 100% natural wood
  • Heat treated
  • Large sized chips
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageWestern Premium Cooking Chunks : Maple
  • 100% natural wood
  • Large size
  • Heat treated
CHECK PRICE

Apple Wood

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 applewood 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.

IMAGE MODEL FEATURES
byb2-table__imageBear Mountain Wood Pellets : Apple
  • No binders or fillers
  • Works well with all major grill brands
  • Low moisture
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageWestern Premium Wood Chips : Apple
  • 100% natural wood
  • Heat treated
  • Large sized chips
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageWeber Wood Chunks : Apple
  • 100% natural wood
  • Long lasting
  • Kiln dried
CHECK PRICE

Oak Wood

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.

IMAGE MODEL FEATURES
byb2-table__imageBear Mountain Wood Pellets : Oak
  • No binders or fillers
  • Works well with all major grill brands
  • Low moisture
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageCamerons Wood Chips: Oak
  • 100% natural wood
  • Coarse Cut
  • Made in USA
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageWestern Premium Cooking Chunks : Oak
  • 100% natural wood
  • Large size
  • Heat treated
CHECK PRICE

Hickory Wood

One of the most versatile woods for smoking, you may have found yourself wondering if you can smoke turkey with hickory. The answer is yes because 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 getting too much smoke on 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.

IMAGE MODEL FEATURES
byb2-table__imageBear Mountain Wood Pellets : Hickory
  • No binders or fillers
  • Works well with all major grill brands
  • Low moisture
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageWestern Premium Wood Chips : Hickory
  • 100% natural wood
  • Heat treated
  • Large sized chips
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageCamerons Wood Chunks: Hickory
  • 100% natural wood
  • Precision Cut
  • Made In USA
CHECK PRICE

Are There Any Types Of Wood To Avoid For Smoking Turkey?

If you’ve noticed, all the woods that we have shown you are hardwood. Regardless of whatever you’re smoking, you’ll always want to avoid soft woods like cedar and pine. When they burn, the resins present in the wood can give off unpleasant odors and ruin food. 

We also wouldn’t recommend wood that is as strong as say mesquite. We want smoke flavor without oversmoking our turkey, and the intensity of mesquite would just overpower the turkey.

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. You can also experiment with fruit wood like peach wood or pecan wood even though they aren’t necessarily the first woods we would go with.

We recently posted an overview of picking the best woods for smoking from a more general standpoint. We explain the difference between pellets, wood chunks, and chips. It’s also a deep dive into all the types of smoking woods. That link also has a general overview of what wood to use whether you’re smoking chicken, pork, or beef as well!

What Kind Of Smoker Should I Smoke Turkey On?

Thankfully you can smoke turkey on just about any type of smoker you’ve got. You just need to make sure you have both the right flavor of wood and the right type of wood. If you’ve got an electric smoker or gas smoker, you’re going to use wood chips. If you’re using charcoal smokers or smoking on a charcoal grill, you’ll want wood chunks. If you’re using a pellet smoker like the Camp Chef Apex, you’ll want wood pellets. You should be able to find the right wood in all those forms for smoking turkey.

FAQs

Question: What Temperature Do You Pull Smoked Turkey Breast?

Answer: Whether you’re smoking a whole turkey or just the turkey breast, the target internal temperature is the same: 165°F. You do need to remember the concept of thermal carryover, though. That’s where the meat will continue to cook for around three to five degrees more once you take it off the heat. So you really want to pull your smoked turkey breast off the smoker between 160°-162°F then cover with aluminum foil to rest for around 30 minutes before carving.

Question: Do You Wrap A Turkey Breast When Smoking?

Answer: Since you are only smoking turkey breast to around 160°-163°F internal temperature, you do not need to wrap it. We typically wrap large cuts of meat to help get them through the stall or we wrap ribs to help break down the tough connective tissue. We don’t need to do either of those with a whole turkey or turkey breast when smoking.

Question: How Do You Keep A Turkey Breast From Drying Out When Smoking?

Answer: The single biggest way to keep your turkey breast from drying out during the smoking process is by monitoring the internal temperature and pulling it off before it overcooks. You can use a wireless meat thermometer like the ThermoPro Twin TempSpikes, or the ThermoWorks Signals works quite well if you’re smoking multiple turkey breasts for a big Thanksgiving.

Another big tip for ensuring a whole turkey doesn’t dry out during the smoking process is spatchcocking it. We’ve talked about how to spatchcock a whole chicken while smoking a whole chicken, and the process is identical. Spatchcocking allows the turkey to cook faster and more evenly so you don’t have to worry about the differences between the dark meat (the thighs and legs) versus the white meat (the breast.)

2 thoughts on “Best Wood For Smoking Turkey”

  1. Hi,
    I’ve smoked turkeys before over pecan wood and the results were always good. After reading this article, I used cherry wood for the first time and the result was over the top. I always brine a smoked turkey to keep the meat moist. I also spatchcock the bird for two reasons: 1. It cooks faster and more evenly and 2. If the breasts get done before the dark meat, it’s super easy to separate the two. I paired it with a cabernet franc and my guests went wild. I will say it was a pasture raised turkey so it was very lean. The 14 lb turkey cooked in 2.5 hours, pulled it at 160 in the breasts, 165 in the thigh joint and it was perfect. There was almost zero smoked turkey left. I also baked a turkey and deep fried a turkey and there were plenty of left overs from these two turkeys. Thanks for the advice.

    Reply

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