Are you ready to eat the most tender, juicy, delicious smoked turkey you’ve ever had with extra crispy skin and gravy made from the drippings? If so, this is the smoked turkey recipe for you!
How long does it take to smoke a turkey?
The smoking duration for the turkey depends on the weight and temperature of the bird. It is usually recommended to smoke the turkey for 30 to 40 minutes per pound. But this duration may also vary according to the temperature at which you are smoking your turkey. Here is a cheat sheet that will help you understand the smoking duration and their relevant temperatures:
- For 115°C or 225°F, you should smoke the turkey for 30 to 40 minutes per pound.
- For 120°C or 250°F, you should smoke the turkey for 25 to 35 minutes per pound.
- For 135°C or 275°F, you should smoke the turkey for 20 to 30 minutes per pound.
We also recommend not going above 135°C or 275°F for smoking, or it will enter the baking temperatures instead. If following the recipe above, you'll only want to increase the heat once the turkey has smoked at a lower temperature for a few hours first. Similarly, a lower temperature than 115°C or 235°F will not be enough to kill the bacteria in the turkey for human consumption. Set yourself enough time to smoke the turkey at the recommended temperatures.
Turkey Brine Recipe
Here are the ingredients that you will need for the brine; this recipe is for 10-to-18-pound turkey:
- 1 gallon water
- 1 gallon vegetable broth
- 1 gallon cold ice water
- 1 cup sea salt
- 1 tbsp dried sage
- 1 tbsp dried rosemary
- 1 tbsp dried thyme
- 1 tbsp dried savory
Heat together all ingredients except ice water. Heat until the salt is dissolved, then let it cool at room temperature. Meanwhile, pat your turkey dry with a kitchen towel. Place the bird breast side down into a large bucket for brine - 5 gallon buckets or coolers work really well. Now pour the broth and ice water over it. Brine the turkey for 1 hour per pound.
How long should I brine a turkey?
It is recommended to brine turkey to make the meat tender and provide overall flavor to the meat. Before we talk about brining time, it is crucial to discuss the fresh and frozen birds and their weight.
If you have a frozen bird, you must check the label to make sure it isn't already pre-seasoned, enhanced, or brined. If not enhanced with a salted or seasoned solution, you must first thaw the bird in the refrigerator or water bath. Then you will brine the turkey for 1 hour per pound.
If you purchased a fresh turkey the brining process will be much easier. You'll want to stick to the same 1 hour per pound brining rule. So, if you have an 15 pound bird, then 15 hours of brining is perfect.
How to thaw a turkey?
Thawing a turkey depends not just on the size but also on the environment you are thawing the bird. By that, we mean you can either defrost the turkey in the refrigerator or in the sink.
Thawing a turkey in the refrigerator is a slow process compared to the "thawing in the sink" method. A bird of only 4 pounds can take an entire day to thaw in the fridge. Here is the estimated time duration for various weights if thawing in the refridgerator:
- 1 day for a 4 pound turkey
- 2 days for 4 to 8 pound turkey
- 3 days for 8 to 12 pound turkey
- 4 days for 12 to 16 pound turkey
- 5 days for 16 to 20 pound turkey
- 6 days for 20 to 24 pound turkey
Once you have calculated the duration of the thaw, you'll want to add another day to the process if you are going to brine the turkey.
If you use the "thaw in sink" method, a 4 to 10 pound turkey will thaw in the cold water in approximately 2 to 5 hours. In short, the estimated duration is around 30 minutes for a pound. We also recommend changing the water every 30 to 40 minutes and adding ice to keep the turkey cold. Another method that we personally use it to thaw the turkey in a cooler with ice water. A good cooler will keep the turkey cold enough the entire duration.
How to get crispy skin on smoked turkey?
Here are a few PRO tips that will help you achieve beautiful, crispy skin all over your turkey:
- Air dry the turkey for 24 hours in the refrigerator to remove excess moisture from the skin. Less water in the skin, the crispier it will get.
- Rub butter or oil all over the turkey skin to enhance its crispiness.
- Do not cover the turkey with foil once it's finished smoking. The steam from the turkey will be trapped in the foil, making the skin soggy.
Where to probe a turkey when checking for doneness?
We recommend probing the thermometer in the thickest part of the smoked turkey breast. You can also check the thermometer's reading inside the bird's inner thigh. Make sure that the thermometer does not touch the bone or you may get a false reading.
For perfectly cooked turkey, the thermometer must read around 170°F or 76 °C in the inner thigh and 160°F or 71°C in the thickest part of the breast. The turkey will continue to cook when resting and you'll end up with a perfectly cooked, juicy smoked turkey when finished.
- 15 pounds whole turkey, thawed
- 1 package of turkey brine, optional recipe in notes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Kosher salt, use less if desired
- 1 tablespoon black pepper, use less if desired
Butter Herb Mixture
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 6 cloves of garlic, minced
- 8 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
- 1/2 tablespoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 tablespoon black pepper
Smoked Turkey Gravy
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 3 tablespoons fat drippings from smoked turkey
- 2 cups drippings from smoked turkey, fat drippings removed
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 1 celery stalk
- 1 carrot, peeled
- 1/2 onion
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 1 sprig of thyme
Brine the turkey
If the turkey is frozen use the directions in the notes below to defrost it. Discard the giblets, but save the neck for the gravy. 2 days prior to smoking the turkey, brine it according to the turkey brine package directions or use my recipe in the notes below. You'll want to bring the turkey 1 hour for every 1 pound - do not brine much longer. I like adding orange and lemon peels along with a 1/4 cup of bourbon to the brine for added flavor. Don't add the peels if your brine mix has citrus flavors in it already.
Air dry the brined turkey
After the turkey is done brining, remove it from the brine, rinse, and pat dry with paper towels. Place the turkey - breast side up - on a wire rack or any rack that will allow air to pass on all sides. Place the turkey in the refrigerator and allow to dry overnight, preferably 24 hours. This will remove the excess moisture from the turkey allowing it to get much crispier skin when cooked. If you don't have time to brine, see the notes below for additional tips to get the skin crispy. You will notice the difference in the skin in the picture below after 24 hours of air drying.
Prepare the herb butter mixture
In a small bowl, combine the herb butter mixture ingredients and mix well.
Season the turkey
Start by separating the skin from the breast creating a pocket to stuff the butter herb mixture in. Be careful not to rip the skin. Once separate, cover the entire breast under the skin with 1/4" layer of butter mixture. You can run your hand along the top of the skin to spread it around the breast more easily. Add any leftover mixture to the inside of the cavity. Drizzle the outside of the turkey with olive oil and generously season with salt and pepper.
Preheat the smoker
Preheat smoker to 225°F. Most pellet grills don’t need it, but you can add a pan of water in the corner of the smoker to keep moisture inside. If using a Traeger with the Super Smoke setting, turn it on as well.
Prep the gravy
In a roasting pan or aluminum pan, add the saved neck from the turkey, chicken stock, celery, carrot, onion, crushed garlic, rosemary, and thyme.
Smoke the turkey
If possible, place the gravy pan underneath the grill grates to catch the drippings, otherwise place a rack inside of the roasting pan containing the gravy ingredients. If not using a roasting pan with rack, place the turkey directly on the grill grate with the breast aimed away from the heat source. This is my preferred method as it allows more smoke to flow around the turkey. Smoke the turkey until the internal temperature reaches 110℉, approximately 1-2 hours. I recommend using an internal meat thermometer to easily keep track the temperature.
Once the turkey hits the target temperature of 110℉, increase the temperature of the smoker to 350℉. Continue to cook until it reaches an internal temperature of 160℉ in the thickest part of the breast, about 3 more hours. The smoked turkey will continue to cook once removed from the smoker and eventually reach a final temperature of 165℉ in the breast. Remember, time can vary greatly depending on the smoker, outside temperature, and the type of turkey. Always cook to temperature and not time!
Rest the smoked turkey
Remove the smoked turkey from the smoker and transfer it to a carving board. Let it rest on the counter for at least 30 minutes before carving. This will allow the juices to redistribute back into the meat and not run out when slicing. I don't recommend tenting it with foil as it will make the skin soggy.
Make the gravy
Pour the drippings from the turkey gravy pan into a fat separator. If you don't have one, you can strain the drippings through a mesh strainer into a large measuring cup. Discard everything except the drippings. Wait a few minutes for the fat to separate and rise to the top.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add 3 tablespoons of the fat drippings from the top of the liquid and 3 tablespoons of flour. Whisk until combined and fragrant. Add the broth from the bottom of the drippings into the pan ensuring not to get much of the fat. If there isn't enough dripping to make 2 cups then add chicken stock until 2 cups of liquid is reached. Add the liquid to the pan and cook for 5 minutes or until the gravy is the consistency you like. You can add salt and pepper to the gravy if desired, but there should be more than enough flavor without it!
Serve the smoked turkey with gravy
Once the turkey has rested for at least 30 minutes, carve it and serve with the delicious gravy. Enjoy!