Originally Posted by fatboyz
hmmm, did I miss it? I am doing my first smoked turkey this year, what is the recommended cooking temp and what internal temp should I be looking for? How long per pound should I plan for?
Hmm, old thread, but, no, I don't think you missed anything...I'm thinking we just didn't discuss it here. I checked and noticed you hadn't asked elsewhere here, so, let me start with some basics and insight from previous experience.
I've never really tried to get an accurate time on one, but then, I've cooked birds on just about every outdoor cooker I have that will hold one (I experiment a lot). Every cooker and method will produce different results, as the convection efficiency will vary depending on flow through the cooking chamber and many other factors. The type of cooker (horizontal/vertical) and mods or internal configurations, heat source, intake sizes, draft settings as well as exhaust sizes and settings, actual heat output, ambient temps, cooker exposure to wind and/or precipitation, etc, all effect cooking times due to variances in cooking grate/chamber temperature and convection efficiency.
Depending on the size of bird, I would recommend a minimum chamber temp of 275*, and up to 325* for larger birds. The bigger birds are risky in smokers (if the typical processing is used: injected with broth) due to not being intact whole muscle where the 40-140*/4hr guideline should be adhered to, and higher chamber temps will be needed to safely pass through the danger-zone. If your smoker can achieve and maintain those higher chamber temps, then you can still smoke them...I've successfully smoked over 20lb birds with a propane fired smoker.
Minimum safe internal temperature for USDA inspected poultry is 165*F, but I take that a bit further and shoot for around 172-175* in the dark meat and 170-172* in the white meat. Reason being the pink to red you will likely encounter near the bones, especially the thighs and legs. Areas near the bones don't seem to cook through as well as it does further from the bones. Temp readings near the bones can be deceiving at times, so watch for that. If you stay under 180* IT it should yield a juicy bird, regardless of methods/cookers used.
Higher chamber temps will yield a more crisp skin, if you're looking for that in specific. Also, do not use water in a pan in the cooking chamber (as most vertical smokers have...I use a thermal mass such as washed pea-gravel or sand), as water adds humidity (and reduces thermal efficiency, as water vapor cools it's environment). High humidity is good for improved smoke adhesion to the food (more smoke flavor), but bad for crispness. Some precooking treatments will help as well, such as allowing the skin to dry while the bird is elevated on a rack (uncovered) in the fridge (post-seasoned). Some say they dry their birds overnight. I've never tried that method, but have gone somewhat the opposite direction by patting the bird dry and rubbing with butter, olive oil or some other fat, then applied my dry rub, and went straight to the smoker. You definitely need higher chamber temps for a crisp skin, at least towards the last ~45 minutes, when rubbing it down with added fats.
Just remember, the bigger the bird the higher the chamber temp you should run, so a smaller turkey (under 14lb) would be best unless you're burning propane (most gassers will jam 350-450*F, or get a hot fire stoked-up). The smaller turkeys are not easy to find in many supermarkets, in my experience.
For baseline cooking time with 300* chamber temp and 170* IT, plan for 15-20 min/lb for a highly efficient cooker...again, depending of tons of variables, but check it a bit earlier so you don't overcook it and end up with a Griswold turkey...LOL!!! If temps are well below the desired IT, then it may need another couple of hours. I've had some birds take over 45min/lb pound in the 275* range of chamber temps, so 300* could easily break the 30-min mark. Once you get your first under your belt you will have a much better idea what to expect from your particular cooker. Keep notes on everything you do for a starting guide the next time around...not like I usually do, trying to rely on memory alone......I guess that's part of why I used to post most of my cooks here years ago...then, I had it documented.
Oh, if you stuff the bird you obviously need even more time, and possibly higher chamber temps.
Lastly, don't forget to verify your thermometer readings before you start the smoke...especially the meat thermometer.