How about trying this delicious smoked turkey recipe for Thanksgiving this year? Smoking is a great way to cook the turkey and you will free up your oven for other dishes.

Ways To Smoke A Turkey

There are a few different ways to make the smoked turkey recipe: the trash can smoker, electric smoker, and of course the charcoal smoker. This smoked turkey recipe uses charcoal, but the other methods are worthy of mentioning as well.

Trash Can Smoker

With the trash can method, you can use either charcoal or an electric element. However, a lot of people fear the chemicals given off by galvanized garbage cans. I was fortunate to find a non-galvanized can for my “Garbecue“, but it was not easy. I set mine up with an electrical element using the element from parts found on Amazon for smokers. It works really well. I did a smoked turkey recipe in my “Garbecue” a couple of years ago and it turned out amazing!

Electric Smoker

Electric smokers are super easy to use and let you easily control the temperature while you are smoking. I have used a Little Chief smoker before and think they work great, but I only ever used mine for fish. With something like a turkey, the Little Chief may take a month of Sundays to cook as its temperature range stays pretty low, around 150° F. This may leave the turkey in the danger zone too long. If you are going to go the electric route, find an electric smoker that lets not only control the temperature but gives you the most temperature range. When I smoke poultry, I want the temperature to be around 275° to 300° degrees F. For fish, I will want that much lower, like the Little Chief smoker at around 150°. The thing that is so fantastic about electric smokers is that you can set it and forget it. You do not have to sit by the smoker and keep adding fuel to it while trying to maintain the temperature. You simply set the temperature, add the wood chips, and keep the wood chips fed for about 2 hours, the rest is just cooking time.

Delicious Smoked Turkey For Thanksgiving

Delicious Smoked Turkey For Thanksgiving

Charcoal Smoker

Charcoal smokers are inexpensive and do a great job smoking anything. The wonderful thing about charcoal is the flavor that it adds to the food and that electric smokers lack. Not only do you get the wood chip flavors, but the charcoal flavor as well. This is my favorite method of smoking because the quality is better. However, this is time-consuming and since it is more difficult to control the temperature, it can lead to less proven results. When you get it right though, it is amazing. Charcoal smokers do take more time since you need to keep an eye on the temperature, so be away if you have a lot of other dishes to prepare. If hubby is looking for something to do on Thanksgiving and wants to help out, this might be the job for him, and he will have a blast making the smoked turkey recipe. If hubby is looking for a new smoker, I really like the offset smokers. They also double as a charcoal grill.

Pellet Smoker

I have never used one of the pellet smokers, but I have a friend who has one and he loves his. He says whats nice about these smokers is that you set them up to feed a certain amount of pellets to the fire, this controls the temperature. So like the electric smoker, these smokers are easy to use and allow you to do other things while you smoke. The biggest downfall to pellet smokers is that they can be expensive.

Propane Smoker

I have used a propane smoker either but I know a guy who owns a food truck here on Whidbey Island who uses one for his pulled pork sandwiches. The nice thing about these is that they can also be set and ignored, and they are extremely portable since the fuel is in a propane tank. They tend to be fairly inexpensive too.

How Long To Smoke A Turkey

The length of time to smoke a turkey depends on the temperature you smoke it at as well as the size of the bird. Typically for traditional barbecue, you want to smoke meat at 225 for as long as it takes to get up to temperature. While this is great for cuts that are normally low and slow cooked, I like to cook my poultry at a higher temperature. This makes it more like roasting that barbecue, but you still get that awesome smoke flavor without the risk of drying out the turkey or undercooking it. Butterball recommends you make sure that the turkey gets past that critical temperature range between 40° and 140° in four hours or less. I smoke any poultry at about 300° F. At this temperature you should give the bird about 15 minutes per pound. Also, use a thermometer and place it inside the thigh or the deepest part of the breast. It should read 165° when done.

An amazing turkey smoked whole.

An amazing turkey smoked whole.

Can A Smoked Turkey Be Stuffed

Stuffing in a turkey, in general, takes a longer for the bird to cook. Stuffing the smoked turkey recipe with bread dressing would be risky as it would run the risk of leaving the bird in the danger zone for too long. If you want to stuff the turkey, use aromatics. The stuffing will likely end up being too smokey as well. If you have ever had something that is too smokey, it can be a real turn off. If you want your stuffing to be smokey, place it in a Dutch oven in the smoker at a high temperature to bake. If you decide to stuff the turkey with bread dressing, make sure both the turkey and the stuffing reach at least 165° F. before serving. It is not something I plan to ever do, you have been warned.

Why Brine A Smoked Turkey

The main reason to brine a turkey is flavor. Brining adds a lot of flavor to any meat and in my mind sends it over the top. The other thing that brine does is keep the meat moist. This would be the primary reason to brine a smoked turkey. I have smoked a turkey without brining it before, and it was decidedly dryer than when I brined the bird.

A little olive oil and pepper season the skin of the brined turkey.

A little olive oil and pepper season the skin of the brined turkey.

Why Is Smoked Turkey Pink

Pink turkey meat should not necessarily alarm you if you are smoking the meat. When you smoke meats you want a pink ring around the outside of the meat. I described this in detail in my pork rib recipe. The pink color is achieved by adding water to the smoker. This creates a reaction with the smoke and creates this desired color. Do not confuse this with undercooked meat. You should know the difference. The smoke ring will be on the outer parts of the meat, the undercooked meat will be pink throughout, especially near the bone if there is one. When I smoked this turkey I had a pan under it, this was there to collect the juices to make a gravy, however, the turkey didn’t cook as evenly as it could have. In hindsight, I wouldn’t use this method in the future.

A piece of smoked turkey thigh with the smoke ring on the outside.

A piece of smoked turkey thigh with the smoke ring on the outside.

When Is Smoked Turkey Done

It is important to use a good meat thermometer to determine when the turkey is done. The bird needs to reach a minimum of 165° F at the thickest part of the breast as well as the inside part of the thigh. I do not ever trust the cheap plastic thermometers that come with the turkey. Half the time they do not work.

Halfway smoked turkey.

About halfway through the smoked turkey recipe.

How To Carve A Turkey

Follow these steps to carve the smoked turkey recipe. I generally use a heavy chefs knife to carve because it gets through joints easier than a lot of knives.

  1. Remove any strings tied to the turkey. Place on a cutting board with grooves to catch the juices.
  2. Remove the legs and thighs by cutting the skin between the thigh leg and the breast, continue cutting down until you find the joint of the thigh. Cut through the thigh joint to separate from the turkey.
  3. Cut between the thigh and the leg, through the joint to separate the thigh and the leg.
  4. Remove the wings by cutting at the joint.
  5. Find the breastbone along the top of the turkey. Carve along the breastbone as close as you can. Continue down pulling the meat away as you carve. Follow until the meat is separated from the turkey. You can then cut the breast piece crossways to create smaller portions.
A carved turkey breast.

A carved turkey. You can start carving the breast but removing the leg and thigh make it easier.

What Is The Best Wood For Smoking Turkey

Personally, I really like using hickory for all my smoking, but some consider hickory to be too much smoke for the bird. I read somewhere that oak and mesquite can have the same strong effect. Since I don’t smoke for as long as some people, I think using lesser smoking times may help that. However, a lot of people really like the fruit woods such as apple or cherry for smoking poultry. So for this recipe, I tried cherrywood to smoke the bird. Cherry is said to give the bird a gorgeous color and is mild in flavor. I found this to be true for this smoked turkey recipe. I will definitely use cherry again.

Looking For A New Smoker

There are tons of electric smokers on the market. You can spend a whole lot of money or a whole little depending on the features. Here are a few brands that I have used and like.

Butterball Oil-Free Electric Turkey Roaster

This was billed to me as an electric air deep frying but in real life, it is an outdoor roaster. While not specifically designed for smoking, it does have a little drawer that you can add wood chips to for smoking. While this isn’t my go-to smoker, it is a pretty good roaster. My biggest issue with it is that it is designed just for poultry. Using it for other meats is awkward.

The Offset Smoker

I love my Char-Griller offset smoker. It makes the best ribs I have ever made and it has been a proven way to achieve that amazing red smoke ring around the meat. If you prefer charcoal smoking then these grills are the way to go. They double as a charcoal grill as well so it is a handy grill to have in your backyard. This also makes the best-smoked turkey recipe I have had to date.

How To Smoke A Thanksgiving Turkey

The smoked turkey recipe for Thanksgiving takes just a little more work, but the results can be remarkable. The steps are to brine the turkey, prepare the coals, smoke the turkey, let it rest, then carve. It is the smoking step that takes a lot of effort if you are using charcoal. Charcoal gives it a really great flavor though and is highly recommended. If you want to simplify the process, use an electric smoker or an automated pellet smoker. All these methods are great, chose the one that suits your needs best.

Smoking a Turkey for Thanksgiving

Smoking Turkey

Smoked Turkey Recipe

Simple yet delicious smoked turkey for Thanksgiving

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 day
Cook Time 3 hours
Total Time 1 day 3 hours
Servings 6 people
Calories 779 kcal
Author Barbara Tidwell


  • 10 lb turkey
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • 1 gal turkey brine


  1. Place the turkey in brine 24 hours before you plan to cook it.

  2. Preheat the smoker and get the temperature up to 300° F. 

  3. Place a thermometer in the turkey.

  4. Place the turkey in the smoker and maintain the heat at about 300° F. for about 3 to 4 hours, or until the turkey reaches an internal temperature of at least 165° F.

  5. Remove the turkey from the smoker and cover loosely with foil for about 30 minutes to rest. Carve and enjoy with your favorite side dishes.