Smoking a turkey is easier than you might think. In fact if you plan ahead it takes less effort than traditional oven roasting. It also produces one of the tastiest, juiciest birds you will ever serve for Thanksgiving! The secret is the steps you take before loading the bird into the smoker to prepare it to cook.
If you buy a frozen turkey you need to make sure it is completely thawed before getting started. I will usually buy my bird 4-5 days before I want to cook it and leave it in the fridge to thaw for a couple days before getting started with the prep work.
After the bird is all thawed out you need to clean it. Get all the gizzards out and toss them (or use for gravy). Wash the entire bird in cold water.
If you want the turkey to be extra moist it is now time to brine it. Get a big aluminum baking dish and fill it with a gallon of water and 1 cup of kosher salt. Stir until it is all dissolved. Now add the turkey, breast down to the brine and put the whole deal into your fridge. It needs to sit for about an hour per pound of turkey, so depending on the size of your bird this could be a full day in the brine. Plan ahead. The salt in the brine breaks down the meat and allows water to penetrate into the skin.
After brining rinse the entire bird with cold water again. make sure to get the outside as well as the cavity.
Dry the turkey with paper towels and then place it back in the (now empty) baking pan and back into the fridge for another 12-24 hours to dry out and continue absorbing the salt.
Optional: Remove the backbone or “spatchcock” the turkey. I’ve included a video below. Basically this is a way to make the turkey flat and to provide more surface area for a faster cook:
At this point the bird is ready to cook, but since we are smoking it why not use a good rub? Use any type of dry rub on the inside, it should adhere to the meat on the cavity easily if well rubbed in. On the outside rub a little vegetable oil on the skin before applying the dry rub to help it stick. I’ll put a recipe for my poultry rub in another post.
Fire up your smoker to 225 degrees and insert a digital meat thermometer into the breast of the bird before placing it in your smoker. For wood I like to use a fruit wood, such as apple, since mesquite and other hardwoods can over power turkey’s natural flavor. Start with some smoke, and then add more wood a couple hours into the cook. Don’t feel like you need to keep smoke the entire time as this will also over power the flavor.
If you keep a constant temp it will take 30-45 minutes per pound of cooking time. Cook until the thermometer reads 160 degrees in the breast. Take the turkey out and tent it with foil and let it rest for 45 minutes.