Most of us eat turkey only once or twice a year—at Thanksgiving and possibly at Christmas. However, once you taste smoked turkey prepared in your own smoker, you may find yourself wanting it a little more often.

There’s just one potential downside. Ever notice that smoking turkey tends to produce rubbery skin that is pretty much inedible? Poultry skin needs high heat to get crispy, but low and slow is where the flavor happens, so you have to find a balance between those two worlds. To crisp the skin on your turkey, see the variation that follows the recipe.–Jeff Phillips

david caricature

Why Our Testers Loved This

Our testers loved that this smoked turkey was easy to make and impressive to behold. It also results in a juicy bird with a lightly smoky flavor. As tester Eydie Desser suggests, it’s “not your normal dry turkey. Try it — you’ll like it!”

What You’ll Need to Make This

  • Turkey brine–Although this is listed as optional, we highly recommend you brine your turkey. It helps the bird to stay juicy and moist throughout the smoking process.
  • Turkey–If you purchased a frozen turkey, be sure that it is thawed before proceeding. In the refrigerator, turkeys take about 1 day per 4 to 5 pounds of weight. If you’ve got a 12-pound turkey, start thawing at least 3 days before; longer if you plan to brine it. If you need to thaw your turkey pronto, submerge it in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes.
  • Kosher salt–Crystal sizes in kosher salt can vary dramatically. So if you’re using Diamond Crystal kosher salt, use 2 tablespoons, and if you’re using Morton kosher salt, use 1 1/2 tablespoons. If you’re uncertain of the brand, weigh your salt. You should have 2/3-ounce (18 grams).

How to Make This Recipe

  1. Brine the turkey. Soak the turkey in brine for 8 to 12 hours. This step is optional but highly recommended.
  2. Season the turkey. Pat the turkey dry, then season it inside and out with salt and pepper.
  3. Prepare the heat source. Prepare your smoker, gas grill, or charcoal grill for low heat with smoke.
  4. Smoke the turkey. Cook the turkey until the internal temperature reaches 165°F (74°C), replenishing coal, pellets, or wood chips as needed.
  5. Rest and carve the bird. Let it rest for 30 minutes before carving the turkey.

Common Questions

Can I make this smoked turkey recipe without a smoker?

Yes! There’s no need to invest in a smoker for this recipe. We’ve included methods for how to make this using a gas or charcoal grill.

What’s the best type of wood to use for smoking turkey?

We prefer apple wood for smoking poultry; however, cherry, hickory, or mesquite will work well here.

What should I serve with smoked turkey??

The beauty of smoking your bird outside is that it frees up your oven for all the other important holiday sides and desserts. For a classic Thanksgiving meal, try this juicy smoked turkey with bourbon sweet potatoes, pan-fried green beans or classic green bean casserole, wild mushroom stuffing, and pumpkin pecan pie.

Can I stuff this turkey?

If you’d like to impart some herb flavor to the turkey, feel free to toss a few sprigs of thyme or rosemary into the cavity of the turkey before smoking, but do not attempt to put traditional stuffing inside it. Stick with your favorite oven-baked version, like this herbed bread and celery stuffing.

Helpful Tips

  • To make a crispy-skinned turkey, smoke the turkey it until the internal temperature of the bird reaches 145°F. Transfer the bird to a hot grill preheated to 350° to 375°F and finish it off until the temperature bumps up to 165°F.
  • If you’re not feeding a crowd but still want to try your hand at smoking turkey, try these smoked turkey legs.
  • If you’re preparing your turkey in a smoker or charcoal grill, don’t add too much charcoal or hardwood at once. The key to even cooking is maintaining a low, steady temperature, and large additions of coal or wood can cause the smoker or grill to become too hot.

More Great Smoked Turkey Recipes

Write a Review

If you make this recipe, or any dish on LC, consider leaving a review, a star rating, and your best photo in the comments below. I love hearing from you.–David

A whole smoked turkey in a metal serving dish on a bed of fresh herbs and cranberries.

Smoked Turkey

4.75 / 4 votes
Most of us eat turkey only once or twice a year—at Thanksgiving and possibly at Christmas. However, once you taste smoked turkey prepared in your own smoker, you may find yourself wanting it a little more often.
David Leite
Servings6 servings
Calories289 kcal
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time4 hours 10 minutes
Total Time4 hours 30 minutes


  • Apple or mesquite wood or wood chips


  • Turkey brine, optional
  • 1 (12-pound) turkey
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper


  • If desired, brine the turkey. (It’s highly recommended that you brine the turkey before smoking to help prevent it from drying out during smoking.)
  • Pat the turkey dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Rub the salt and pepper on the outside of the turkey. Let the turkey sit on the counter while you set up your smoker or grill.
  • If using a smoker, prepare it for cooking at 225° to 240°F and have enough smoking wood ready to last 3 to 4 hours or so. Place the turkey, breast side down, directly on the smoker grate. Smoke for 1 hour, maintaining the proper temperature in the smoker.
    If using a gas grill, wrap a handful of unsoaked wood chips in foil, poke a few holes in the foil, and toss it on one side of the grill grate. Turn on all the burners and leave the lid of the grill open until you see smoke coming from the foil packet. Turn off all the burners but the one beneath the foil packet. Place the turkey, breast side down, directly on the grate over indirect heat (that is to say, opposite the lit burner and the foil packet). Close the lid of the grill, turn the heat to medium, and maintain a temperature of 225° to 240°F. Smoke for 1 hour, maintaining the proper temperature in the grill. You may need to occasionally check the foil packet to ensure it’s still smoking; if it’s not, fashion a new one and toss it on the burner you’re using for heat.
    If using a charcoal grill, place a metal drip pan in the center of the grill under the grate. Pour about 1/2 inch water into the drip pan. Pile hot charcoal on either side of the drip pan and close the lid. Modulate the coals to maintain a temperature of 225° to 240°F. Toss a handful of unsoaked wood chips directly on the charcoal. Place the turkey, breast side up, directly on the grate over the drip pan. Smoke for 1 hour. You may need to occasionally check the wood chips to ensure they’re still smoking; if they’re not, toss another handful on the burner you’re using for heat.
  • Whether you’re using a smoker or a grill, have the bird breast side up. Insert a digital probe meat thermometer, if you have one, into the thickest part of the breast or thigh. Continue to smoke the turkey, maintaining the proper temperature in the smoker or the grill, until the internal temperature reads 165°F, which could take as little as 2 hours more or as long as 4 hours more, depending on the size of the bird and the precise temperature in the smoker or grill. If the wings, breast, or other parts of the turkey start to get too brown, cover them with pieces of foil. You may need to add additional wood or wood chips to keep up the smoke.
  • Remove the turkey from the smoker or grill and allow it to rest for 30 minutes before carving.



  1. Crisp-Skinned Variation–For a turkey with crisp skin, smoke it until the internal temperature of the bird reaches 145°F. Transfer the bird to a hot grill preheated to 350° to 375°F and finish it off until the temperature bumps up to 165°F. (You can instead smoke the bird the whole time at 275°F to 300°F, but the cooking time will be much shorter than what is stated in the above recipe. This method really cuts down on the time a bird spends in the smoker, and for me that translates to cutting flavor. But if you’re curious—or short on time—you should try the various approaches to determine which works best for you.)
  2. Salt–If you’re using Diamond Brand kosher salt, use the full 2 tablespoons for a 12-pound turkey. If you’re using Morton brand, cut it back to 1 1/2 tablespoons. If in doubt, weigh your salt. You should use 2/3-ounce (18 grams).
Smoking Meat

Adapted From

Smoking Meat

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 289 kcalCarbohydrates: 1 gProtein: 44 gFat: 11 gSaturated Fat: 3 gMonounsaturated Fat: 4 gTrans Fat: 0.1 gCholesterol: 145 mgSodium: 2551 mgFiber: 1 gSugar: 0.1 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2012 Jeff Phillips. Photo © 2012 bhofack2/Deposit Photos. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This smoked turkey isn’t only easy to make, it wows a crowd like nothing else.

I own a Big Green Egg and cooked the turkey in that. It was a little difficult to keep the temperature below 240°F (116°C); I think I put too much lump charcoal in the grill/smoker. So be careful of that. You really don’t need that much coal if you’re cooking at such a low temperature, as the coals won’t burn up as fast.

I followed the recipe as written, using only salt, pepper, and olive oil for seasoning. Next time, I’d bump up the flavor a bit and add some herbs, lemon zest, etc. The turkey was a bit bland, but the smokiness of the meat thrills people.

Also, the cooking time is way off. It only took 2 hours and 45 minutes to cook my 14-pound bird. [The recipe says to cook a 12-pounder for 6 hours, but I took my turkey off when the thickest part of the breast meat reached 150°F (66°C), not the 160°F to 170°F (71°C to 77°C) others recommended. The meat continues cooking while resting and is perfectly cooked through and moist.] Not your normal dry turkey. Try it—you’ll like it!

What can I say about this magnificent bird? I don’t have a smoker or charcoal grill so I made 3 wood-chip packets for the gas grill. Keeping only 2 burners out of 5 on, I placed 1 packet over the live burners to create the smoke. The temperature inside stayed between 250°F (121°C) and 300°F (149°C) for cooking, as I fiddled with the positions of the burner knobs between half and fully on.

Cooking time was about 4 1/2 hours for a 12-pound turkey. Instead of brining the bird (I forgot), I injected it with a light marinade and dried it off again. I used cherry wood chips to smoke it with and used almost all of the 3 smoke packs. The end result was a golden bird with crisp skin and a light smoky flavor.

The bird was magnificent to look at and delicious to eat. Because of the injected marinade the meat was juicy and tender. I think brining/injecting a marinade into the meat is essential to keep it moist. In short, this was the best turkey I’ve made in a few years. I’d certainly be happy to do this again.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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  1. Hello! Thanks for the guidance on this. I was mainly refreshing my memory for total smoking time… for me it seems to depend as much on outside temp as anything else, and it’s gonna be cold up here in Idaho this year!
    Regarding your specific instructions, I am surprised no one else pointed this out yet, after being on the web for 7+ years…
    In step 3, you say to place the bird on the smoker grate breast side down. But then in step 4, you say “whether using a smoker or grill, place the bird breast side up.”
    So… whaddya mean!? LOL Do you mean flip it over after that initial hour of smoke time? I’ve smoked a few turkeys now, in my old beat-up Brinkmann Gourmet electric smoker –with the water bowl in place, it holds pretty steady between 220º and 240º. Always has turned out great, but often the breast isn’t entirely done yet… If it’s too close to showtime, I just carve the whole breast off the bones and finish it wrapped up in the grill or oven. I also often add a bit of what’s left in the herb garden (usually sage, rosemary and maybe some thyme if it’s survived the cold) along with a lemon, an onion, a garlic bulb and maybe a soda or some cider into the water bath.

    1. Dan, your turkey sounds lovely! Great suggestion on finishing it off in the oven. To clarify, yes, you want to flip that bird after the initial hour of smoking to protect the tender breast meat. Happy Thanksgiving!