Instax picture of man picking up a smoked turkey from a smoker BBQ

How To Smoke a Turkey

Thanksgiving meal plated on Chinet Classic plates

Smoking a turkey doesn’t need to be intimidating if you’re prepared with the right tools and information. Follow our tips and tricks throughout this recipe to smoke the best turkey!

Move over oven-roasted turkey, smoked turkeys are here. Amaze your Thanksgiving guests this year with the incredible flavor that only comes from a smoked turkey. From seasoning it to slicing it, we’ve got the tips and recipe you need.

Step 1: Select the Turkey

What size turkey is best for smoking?

We recommend a turkey that ranges from 12-14 lbs. Larger turkeys tend to cook unevenly, so the 12-14 lb. range is our sweet spot. Cooking for a pretty big crowd? Rather than smoking a larger turkey, we recommend smoking two separate turkeys within our recommended range.

How long does my frozen turkey need to thaw?

It typically takes a 12-14 lb. turkey about 3-4 days to thaw in the refrigerator. Always thaw meats safely in the refrigerator, never at room temperature. (Thawing at room temperature or running it under hot water to thaw could introduce bacteria to the turkey, but a slow thaw at a cool temperature is safe!)

Should I brine my turkey?

Brining is completely optional when smoking a turkey. Because the turkey smokes at a low temperature, it doesn’t tend to dry out like a traditionally cooked turkey. However, we do encourage buying a brined turkey or creating your own brine to double down on the flavor and tenderness of your turkey.

Can I purchase a brined turkey?

Yes! Some turkeys are brined before being packaged, which can be a great time-saver if you don’t have the extra days to add the brining process to your turkey-smoking schedule. Brined turkeys should be clearly labeled on the turkey packaging. If you purchase a brined turkey, there is no need to brine it yourself.

If you prefer to brine your turkey yourself, it is a fairly easy process. There are two types of brines: a wet brine and a dry brine. We prefer the wet brine method, which submerges the turkey into liquids mixed with seasonings. 

Step 2: Prep the Turkey

Remove the turkey from the brining solution (if used) and place it on a rimmed baking sheet lined with paper towels to soak up any excess water. Use a paper towel to dry off the turkey as much as possible and be sure to dry the cavity of the turkey too.
Tuck the wings of the turkey underneath the body; this helps the turkey stay stable while resting in the smoker.

Coat the turkey with a type of fat: we recommend canola oil spray, vegetable oil spray, olive oil spray, or if you’re feeling fancy, duck fat spray. This helps the seasoning stick to the skin. (We like to do this step near the sink so any excess spray will spray into the sink for easy cleanup.)

Hand spraying cooking spray on a raw turkey

Season the turkey generously with your favorite seasonings! We love an all-purpose rub of salt, pepper, and garlic powder combined with Cajun seasoning. A 12-14 lb. turkey will require about ¼-⅓ cup total of seasoning or around ½ tbsp. per pound.

Season the turkey thoroughly, and be sure to get the wings, legs, thighs, and underside of the body.

Simple Smoked Turkey Seasoning
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. onion powder
  • 2 tsp. cracked black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. Cajun seasoning
Hands sprinkling spices on a raw turkey

At this point, you can add stuffing to the cavity to give the bird more mass. (This is totally optional and based on personal preference.) Most stuffings consist of a sliced apple, a sliced onion, and chopped celery. Quantities may differ depending on the size of the turkey, and you are more than welcome to add any additional fruits, vegetables, herbs, and even a touch of unsalted butter if preferred.

Once the turkey is thoroughly seasoned, fill a large plastic bag with ice. Place the bag of ice on top of the turkey breasts and let it rest for one hour. The breasts consist of white meat, which cooks faster than dark meat (dark meat is found in the legs, thighs, and wings of the turkey). The ice brings the temperature of the breasts down, which helps the bird cook more consistently and evenly.

A bag of ice resting on a raw turkey

Step 3: Smoke the Turkey

What wood chips should I use for smoking a turkey?

Hickory or another lighter wood is recommended for turkey. Poultry absorbs wood smoke more than denser cuts of meat, and the smoke can easily overpower the turkey. Use 3-4 lumps of wood to generate about two hours of smoke before the wood burns out, then the turkey can cook on its own without the smoke for the remainder of the cooking time.

How long does turkey need to cook on the smoker?

Cooking times will vary, but 3-4 hours is a great estimate.

How to smoke the turkey

Place a disposable roasting tray beneath the grates of your smoker to catch any liquids that release from the turkey as it smokes.

Bring your smoker to a constant temperature of 275°-300° F. Remove the bag of ice from the turkey breasts and transfer the entire turkey to the smoker. Close the smoker and cook for one hour. After the first hour, open the smoker and spray the skin of the turkey with your preferred cooking spray. (This helps the skin stay moist and prevents it from splitting). Close the lid of the smoker and cook for another hour.

A turkey smoking in a smoker BBQ

After another hour (two total hours of smoking at this point), spray the turkey with your preferred cooking spray one last time, and carefully insert a meat thermometer into the turkey breast. If you have a dual meat thermometer system or two individual meat thermometers, insert the second one into the turkey thigh. At this point, keep an eye on the individual temperatures as they continue to rise; the breast needs to cook to 165° and the dark meat to 175°. (If either goes over a little bit, that’s ok!)

A hand spraying cooking spray on a turkey in a smoker

Once the meat is cooked to temperature, carefully remove the meat thermometers. Carefully pick up the turkey and position the cavity over the roasting tray that is placed beneath the grates to allow any excess liquids to drain from the inside of the turkey.

A cooked turkey in a smoker BBQ

Transfer the turkey to a clean roasting pan fitted with the wire rack and tent with foil. Allow the turkey to rest for 15-20 minutes before carving. (We suspend the turkey in a roasting pan to catch any additional liquids that may accumulate beneath the turkey. A large, rimmed baking sheet fitted with a heavy-duty wire baking rack works too!)

Step 4: Serve the Turkey

Once the turkey has rested, it’s time to serve! Transfer the turkey to a large cutting board.
There are several ways to cut a turkey, and we prefer to slice the turkey breasts off first. We transfer the sliced turkey breast to a Chinet Classic® platter alongside the wing meat.

Hands carving a turkey

The turkey legs can be removed from the turkey and placed on a separate Chinet Classic® platter alongside the thigh meat. We find that some guests are very particular about their turkey meat, so this method makes it easy for guests to choose their preference!

Thanksgiving meal plated on Chinet Classic plates