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How To Smoke a Turkey With Brine Recipe

Smoking a fresh turkey leads to a juicy, delicious dish and is a great excuse to cook outside. You don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to take your bird to the smoker. Smoked turkey can be more flavorful and tender compared to a roasted turkey because of the longer cooking …

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By Michael Haas

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How To Smoke A Whole Turkey
Smoked Turkey using Wet Brine

Smoking a fresh turkey leads to a juicy, delicious dish and is a great excuse to cook outside. You don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to take your bird to the smoker. Smoked turkey can be more flavorful and tender compared to a roasted turkey because of the longer cooking time and the flavors infused through the smoke and brine. My favorite part of a smoked turkey is the crispier skin. 

We loaded the steps in this smoked turkey recipe below with information to help make your smoked turkey a success. Smoking a whole turkey may take a little more time than roasting but the results are well worth the effort. 

Do I need a smoker for smoked turkey? 

Despite the name smoked turkey, you can use your gas grill, charcoal grill, an electric smoker, or any grill that you have on deck for this smoked turkey recipe. You just need one where you can add in the element of wood smoke and maintain consistent temperatures with indirect heat. 

For this turkey, I’m using my Yoder YS640s pellet grill. It holds temps really well and can easily fit a large, whole turkey. It’s easy to use and with the onboard WIFI, we can keep an eye on our bird from anywhere during the cook. Many people struggle with temperature control when smoking meats, but this has a digital control board that ensures you can keep the temperature consistent when smoking turkey. There are lots of options out there, so start by checking out our recommendations for the best smokers.

Yoder YS640s with Bear Mountain Pellets
Yoder with Bear Mountain Pellets

The other key thing to keep in mind is the size of your turkey, as it needs enough space around it so air can circulate properly. You likely won’t be able to fit a full-size turkey on smokers smaller than 18″. Typically pellet grills are large enough to handle any size of turkey. Smoker not big enough? Checkout our smoked whole chicken recipe instead.

What Size Turkey Do I Need for Smoked Turkey? 

For the best smoked turkey, it’s best to use a 10 to 12 pound turkey, which feeds 7 to 8 people. A larger turkey may lead to food safety issues, as a turkey must reach 140°F within 4 hours. Harmful bacteria starts to multiply as meat stays in the temperature danger zone (40 – 140°F) for over 4 hours. Remember the 4-hour window for smoked meats. 

Preparing the Turkey for the Smoker

Smoked Turkey Brine Ingredients

I always brine my turkey whether I’m smoking it or cooking it in the oven. Turkey is a lean meat that doesn’t produce a lot of natural flavors when compared to beef. A brine helps add so much flavor to a turkey, so I believe this is a must for any turkey cook. Give yourself two days of brine time before the day of the cook.

I have to give a shout out to my mom for this recipe. She’s used it for decades and it’s always a family favorite.

Turkey Brine Equipment

  • Clean 5 gallon pail (only used for food) or a Very Large Ziploc Bag
  • Large Wooden Spoon
  • Measuring Cups
  • Measuring Spoons

Turkey Brine Ingredients

  • 16 Garlic Cloves
  • 3.5 Cups Brown Sugar
  • 2 Cups Kosher Salt
  • 1.25 Cup Soy Sauce
  • 6-7 Bay Leaves
  • 1.5 TBS Coarse Black Pepper
  • 7 Quarts of Water – Cold
  • 1 – 12-15lbs Turkey – Thawed

Turkey Brine Instructions

  1. Skin the garlic cloves and use a knife to crush each clove.
Skinned Garlic Cloves
Crushing Garlic Cloves with Knife Side

2. In the clean 5-gallon pail, add all the brine ingredients together and mix well with a large wooden spoon.

Crushed Garlic Cloves Added to Turkey Brine
Adding ingredients to brine mixture in pail
Mixing Turkey Brine Ingredients
Stir ingredients well

3. Clean your turkey and make sure the giblets are removed.

4. Submerge the turkey in the pail of brine. Do your best to make sure the turkey is completely submerged.

Submerging turkey in brine
Add turkey to brine

Turkey completed submerged in brine
Do your best to completely submerge the turkey

5. Store in your refrigerator for 24 hours, turning the turkey 180 degrees after the first 12 hours.

6. After the 24 hour brine is complete. Remove your turkey from the brine, rinse and pat dry with paper towels and store in the fridge for 1 hour. The brine process is complete.

Drying Turkey After Brine

How Long Does It Take to Smoke a Turkey? 

A smoked turkey must reach an internal temperature of 165°F in the breast before being served. Smoking at 300°F takes about 15 – 20 minutes per pound. For a 12-pound turkey with no stuffing, plan on smoking the bird for around 4 hours before you hit this temperature in the turkey breast. For more of a breakdown on cooking times for various turkey sizes at different temperatures, Epicurious has a great article. For this cook we are going with 300°F for around 4 hours.

4 Tips to Smoking the Entire Turkey 

 1. Invest and use a digital meat thermometer. We talk about temperatures a lot here because the safest way to cook meat is to use temperature checks during your cooking process. A meat thermometer reads quickly and accurately so you’re not guessing when your turkey is done. Keep in mind for smoking a turkey it will continue to cook after being taken off the smoker. You’ll get a smoky flavor and avoid a dry overdone turkey, if you smoke the turkey to an internal temperature of 155°F. Let the turkey rest until the probe in the turkey breast reaches 165°F. Our favorite smoker thermometers.

2. Don’t stuff the turkey. It’s critical that the inside of your turkey reaches a certain temperature in a period of time to avoid bacteria growth. Stuffing causes the bird to cook slower. Instead, make your stuffing in the oven. You’re welcome to put the stuffing in the turkey cavity after they’ve both been cooked separately for presentation purposes for your holiday meal.

3. Choose your type of wood. The type of wood you use in your smoker affects the flavor of your smoked turkey. Cherry wood, alder wood, and maple wood complement a turkey’s natural flavors. Although hickory is frequently used with barbecues, the deep strong flavor may overwhelm the subtle turkey flavors. Choosing the type of wood chips you’ll use for your smoked turkey recipe can dramatically impact the flavor, but we can help with our article on best woods for smoking turkey.

4. Control the temperature inside your grill. The goal is to maintain a grill temperature of 300°F. If you are not using a Pellet Grill, managing a perfect 300°F temp can be a challenge. If you are using a charcoal grill with wood chunks, you will need to watch the temperature regularly and adjust your top and bottom valves. This is even more of a chore on windy days.

Smoked Turkey Recipe

After you’ve kept your bird in the smoked turkey brine for 24 hours, it is time to move on to the actual smoking part of the cook. This is the easiest part and since we are not adding any stuffing to the turkey, the time to cook will only be around 3 to 4 hours with a 12lbs turkey.

Equipment Needed

  • Smoker: We are using a Pellet Grill/Smoker, You can also use a Charcoal, Kamado, Electric or Offset
  • Temperature Probe
  • Butcher Twine
  • Cherry or Maple Pellets for the Smoker
  • Carving Knife
  • Cutting Board

Ingredients

  • Brined Turkey
  • 4 TBSP of your Favorite Turkey/Chicken Rub
  • 1/4 Cup Canola Oil

Instructions

  1. Fire up your smoker to 300F.
  2. Coat the turkey with the canola oil. This will give the turkey a nice golden brown skin and allow the rub to stick to the skin.
Cover Turkey in cooking oil and apply rub
Oil and adding rub

Rub all over turkey.
Rub evenly applied

2. Truss the turkey by tying the legs together and propping the wings behind the back as shown.

Trussed Turkey
Trussed Turkey

4. Once the smoker hits 300F, place your turkey in the smoker and attach your meat probe into the breast of the turkey.

Turkey in Smoker

5. After about 1.5 hours, I will check the turkey and turn it around to make sure it is getting cooked evenly. Rotate again after another 1 to 1.5 hours.

6. Once the turkey temps about 160F in the breast and 165F in the thigh, we are pretty much done. I know I didn’t say 165F, but according to the FDA, if your turkey is at 160F for a minimum of 26.1 seconds, it is safe to eat.

Turkey at temp in smoker
Smoked Turkey ready to remove from smooker
Ultimate smoked turkey ready to be carved

It takes a lot of time to make a great turkey but you will notice how much more juicy and tender it is and the smoker gives it a nice flavor. The brine makes the biggest difference for any turkey. When the turkey is carved, make a broth out of the leftover turkey because the smoky sweet flavor makes for amazing stock.

Try our smoked mashed potato recipe to accompany your perfectly smoked bird.

Turkey Tips for Your Holiday Meal

Use Fresh Herbs

Garlic isn’t technically an herb, but you’ll see we’re using cloves instead of garlic powder. That’s because they’re fresher and easier to balance with the natural flavor of the turkey meat without overwhelming it. If you’re using other ingredients–many recipes call for fresh sage, fresh thyme, or fresh rosemary–stick with fresh herbs when you can to get the most flavorful turkey.

Go to Your Local Butcher

You’re more likely to get additional parts like turkey giblets if you get your Thanksgiving turkey from your local butcher. Those parts are key to a delicious recipe if you’re making gravy or using your leftover smoked turkey in a soup.

Turn to Bone Broth

You can’t capture turkey drippings in an aluminum roasting pan (r, hey, a disposable roasting pan) if you’re not roasting your turkey. Turkey drippings make for a pretty unforgettable turkey breast side (gravy!), but if there’s no way to get them, reach for bone broth over regular chicken broth. Chicken broth just doesn’t have the deep flavor of bone broth, which means it won’t work as well to infuse flavor in your gravy.

Smoked Turkey FAQs

Question: Is it worth smoking a turkey?

Answer: The smoking process may seem daunting, but it’s well worth it. Smoking a turkey is better for infusing flavor as the turkey cooks and creating an irresistibly crispy skin that also locks in juices, keeping the turkey moist.

Question: Is it better to smoke a turkey at 225 or 250?

Answer: We prefer smoking our turkey, if we’re working with a whole bird, at 300 degrees F. This makes the cooking time more manageable for the thickest parts of the bird while also allowing plenty of time for the wood chips to impart their flavor.

How To Smoke A Whole Turkey

Smoked Turkey Recipe with Brine

4.63 from 8 votes
Author: Michael Haas
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American,BBQ
Keywords: bbq recipes,how to smoke a turkey,Pellet Grill Turkey,Smoked Turkey,Turkey Brine
Servings: 12
A brined turkey smoked on a pellet grill will always be the best way to cook a turkey. Here we share the best turkey brine recipe and our favorite turkey rub for a Thanksgiving turkey your family will never forget. Then we provide step-by-step instructions to smoke it on your pellet grill.
Prep Time: 1 day 30 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours

Equipment

  • Clean 5 gallon pail or Very Large Ziploc Bag
  • Large Wooden Spoon
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring Spoons
  • Smoker: We are using a Pellet Grill/Smoker, You can also use a Charcoal, Kamado, Electric or Offset
  • Butcher Twine
  • Cherry or Maple Pellets for the Smoker
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Carving Knife
  • Cutting Board

Ingredients
  

Turkey Brine Ingredients

  • 16 Garlic Cloves
  • 3.5 Cups Brown Sugar
  • 2 Cups Kosher Salt
  • 1.25 Cup Soy Sauce
  • 7 Bay Leaves
  • 1.5 TBS Coarse Black Pepper
  • 7 Quarts Water cold
  • 12 lbs Turkey thawed

Smoked Turkey Rub Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 4 tablespoons rub

Instructions
 

Turkey Brine Instructions

  • Skin the garlic cloves and use a knife to crush each clove.
    Skinned Garlic Cloves
  • In the clean 5-gallon pail, add all the brine ingredients together and mix well with a large wooden spoon.
    Mixing Turkey Brine Ingredients
  • Clean your turkey prior to brining and make sure the giblets are removed.
    Cleaned out turkey before brine
  • Submerge the turkey in the pail of brine. Do your best to make sure the turkey is completely submerged.
    Turkey completed submerged in brine
  • Store in your refrigerator for 24 hours, turning the turkey 180 degrees after the first 12 hours.
    Submerging turkey in brine
  • After the 24 hour brine is complete. Remove your turkey from the brine, rinse and pat dry with paper towels and store in the fridge for 1 hour. The brine process is complete.
    Drying Turkey After Brine

Smoking the Turkey Instructions

  • Fire up your smoker to 300F.
  • Take your brined turkey out of the fridge and prep it for the smoker. Move the wings behind the body of the Turkey as shown.
  • Apply the cooking oil all over the turkey. The oil will help give the turkey a nice golden brown color and allow the rub to stick to the skin.
    Cover Turkey in cooking oil and apply rub
  • Apply your favorite chicken/turkey rub mix all over the turkey liberally.
    Rub all over turkey.
  • Truss the turkey by tying the legs together and propping the wings under the back of the turkey as shown.
    Trussed Turkey
  • Once the smoker hits 300F, place your turkey in the smoker and attach your meat probe into the breast of the turkey.
    Turkey in Smoker
  • After about 1.5 hours, I will check the turkey and turn it around to make sure it is getting cooked evenly. Rotate again after another 1 to 1.5 hours.
    Turkey turned to even the cook.
  • Once the turkey temps about 160F in the breast and 165F in the thigh, we are pretty much done. I know I didn't say 165F, but according to the FDA, if your turkey is at 160F for a minimum of 26.1 seconds, it is safe to eat.
    Turkey at temp in smoker
  • When at temp. Remove turkey and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
    Perfectly smoked turkey.
  • Enjoy

Nutrition

Serving: 3.5ozCalories: 766kcalCarbohydrates: 67gProtein: 73gFat: 23gSaturated Fat: 5gPolyunsaturated Fat: 6gMonounsaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0.2gCholesterol: 232mgSodium: 20620mgPotassium: 897mgFiber: 1gSugar: 63gVitamin A: 224IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 146mgIron: 5mg

2 thoughts on “How To Smoke a Turkey With Brine Recipe”

    • Thanks for the comment Stephanie. No I haven’t tried that yet. The dripping from a smoked turkey are wonderful though. I don’t think a full turkey will fit on the top rack. Possibly if you spatchcock it.

      Reply

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