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Need help with smoking turkey

Discussion in 'Poultry' started by usmcoklahoma, Oct 25, 2010.

  1. usmcoklahoma

    usmcoklahoma Newbie

    Hey all. This Thanksgiving I may get the chance to smoke a turkey. My misses wants to just plain cook one cause she thinks it'd be easier but I'm tryin to talk her into letting me smoke it. I did a pretty dern good job with some pork ribs a month ago but that was pork and not a bird. So, to begin, these are the things I have to smoke:

    A smoker (obviously)

    Hickory chunks

    A meat thermometer

    A few days off for the holiday.

    This is what id like knowledge of:

    A good rub/brine that isn't spicey or overly salty, perhaps even a little sweet

    How long should I smoke it and at what temp?

    What temp do I want it to be when its done?

    I'm not sure how heavy the bird will be or if it will be stuffed while cookin. Any help is appriciated!
  2. eman

    eman Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member

    First off, Welcome and thanks ,

     Now for the bird.

     Try finding some apple and / or pecan wood . ( Hickory could get a lil strong)

    Make sure that your thermo is calibrated.

    You want your done  temp to be 160 in the thickest part of the breast and thigh.

     Check out emans pig rub in the wiki section ,No salt and it is good on poultry.

    Also tips poultry brine is there ,You can cut the salt in half and it will be great.

    Now for the important stuff. Smoke a smaller turkey (under 12 lbs) The reason behind this is that a larger bird will be to hard to get into the safe zone in 4 hours or less.

    DO NOT stuff a bird for smoking. Again, The stuffing can keep you from makeing the safe zone.

    Around here we never stuff any bird . No matter how we are cooking it. allways make it on the side.

     Hope this helps , Bob
  3. pineywoods

    pineywoods SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster Staff Member Administrator Group Lead OTBS Member OTBS Admin SMF Premier Member

  4. coffee_junkie

    coffee_junkie Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Be careful, once you do one, your wife will never use the oven again (for turkey) I now cook the turkey every year for the family get together. The thing is, make sure you do one before the big day so you know what to expect. I normally start around 6 am just to have enough time. I watched jeffs you tube video before I did my "first" real smoked turkey. It is a good one to watch.
  5. fpnmf

    fpnmf Smoking Guru OTBS Member

  6. nozzleman

    nozzleman Smoking Fanatic

    Check out the latest newsletter it is about smoking turkey.
  7. bigal

    bigal Smoking Fanatic OTBS Member

    My fav way is to brine and spatchcock.  We don't care for the skin so I go 225-250* until done and not worry about crisp skin, but to crisp put on a grill skin down toward the end.  If you brine, make sure you buy a bird that is NOT in a "solution", sometimes hard to find.  I usually google to find a basic brine but I think it's 1C salt, 1C sugar, 1gal water.  I use kosher salt, brown sugar &/or honey, water, and then add some spices like garlic, and what ever is w/in reach that sounds good(I'd have to look in pantry to see).  Easy on the spices, like 1/2-1T at most.  I did a side by side by side a few yrs ago, brined & smoked, smoked, oven.  Brined won but the oven(Mom did it) bird had good crisp skin.  Sorry, no pix. 

    I also like to spatchcock cause the bird cooks more evenly, imho.  I've also heard of put'n a weight(like bricks) ontop of spatchcock to make it juicy.

    Good luck! 
  8. greechneb

    greechneb Fire Starter

    I have always liked the dark meat, and disliked the white meat because it gets to dry. A few years ago I was prepping the turkey, and saw my injector sitting in the drawer, and decided to inject. Looking around (On Thanksgiving when the stores were closed) I melted some butter (everything's better with butter!) and took some of the leftover chicken broth from my wife's noodles, and pumped that bird up, concentrating mainly on the breasts, since they always seem to dry out. It turned out to be the best turkey I'd ever had. Since then anytime I do a turkey, I use that same basic mixture.
  9. usmcoklahoma

    usmcoklahoma Newbie

    Thanks for the replies! She told me she wants to do a herbal rub thing, I told her she could season it however she wanted as long as I get to smoke it. So I'm seeing that I should use apple and pecan. Do I start with pecan and end it with apple or vice versa? Ill also look up the news letter and the other videos and articals mentioned.
  10. mballi3011

    mballi3011 Epic Pitmaster OTBS Member SMF Premier Member


    I'm with all the folks here and if you brine your bird with Tip's Slaughter House Brine and then smoke it. You won't have any problem with Mama next year or anytime you can get a turkey to smoke. I did one a few years ago and now the folks want a smoked turkey atleast once a month around here. So smoke one and you will have her hooked.
  11. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Sorry for the long post. Here is my last Turkey Smoke

    Honey Glazed Smoked Turkey with Apple Gravy


    Note: when smoking turkey always purchase one that is no more than 12-14 pounds. Much larger than this and the meat stays in the danger zone (40-140 °F) for too long.
    A 20 pound turkey will take 10-14 hours and larger turkeys greatly increase food contamination risks. A 12-14 pound turkey will be good.
    For a turkey over 14 pounds, bump the temp up to 300-325
    °F the first few hours but this may not give you the smoky flavor and tenderness you would want from a smoked turkey and for goodness sake, no peeking.

    • Brine Turkey, unless it already has been, such as "Moister Enhanced with up to 8% of solution" or "Self Basting" or "Kosher".
    • Brining enhances flavor but at the same time gives the cook a wider margin of error, ensuring a moist bird, in  my opinion anyway.
    • USDA States that BASTED or SELF BASTED: Bone-in poultry products that are injected or marinated with a solution containing butter or other edible fat, broth, stock or water plus spices, flavor enhancers and other approved substances must be labeled as basted or self basted. The maximum added weight of approximately 3% solution before processing is included in the net weight on the label. Label must include a statement identifying the total quantity and common or usual name of all ingredients in the solution, e.g., "Injected with approximately 3% of a solution of.

    • The water to salt ratio is 1:16 or 1 cup of Kosher salt per gallon of non-chlorinated water.

    • Sugar is important, for the reason that it reduces the the taste of the salt, use the same ratio as the salt.

    Turkey Brine:

    2 Gal Water
    2 Cups Kosher Salt
    2 Cups Sugar (1 Cup white + 1 Cup Brown)
    4 TBS Black Pepper
    1 TBS Dried Rosemary
    1 TBS Thyme
    1/4 Cup White Wine (not Cooking Wine) or dry vermouth.

    • Combine all ingredients to 1 gallon of water in a large pot and bring to a slow simmer for 10 minute stirring, remove from heat and cool in refrigerator. Reserve  a few ounces for the beer can
    • Remove the neck and giblets from the inside, trash the liver and place the neck and giblets in the refrigerator, this will be used for gravy. Place the turkey in cooler add brine then add enough ice to last the length of time the bird will be in the brine and make sure bird is submerged and place in a cool location. Soak a 12 pound turkey in the brine overnight or 10-12 hours in the fridge, the goal here is about an hour a pound.

    • Slather: Olive oil, butter, Garlic, Rosemary Time, Cracked Pepper, etc.. note the picture with all the spices. I warmed the slather about 25 second in microwave, mixed thoroughly and rest about half hour, then the slather is placed in the fridge to thicken up.

    • Gravy:  Fresh Sage, smoked garlic, green onions, white onion, applesauce and various spices as pictured below. Use fresh apples if you have them, the applesauce is a bit sweeter

    • Fire up smoker: and bring temp up to about 350°F. I used white ash and cherry wood.
    • Setup the beer can apparatus: and fill halfway with reserved brine. I Did not brine this bird due to the fact that it was an enhanced turkey, since it was enhanced , I just used a bit of Killians and spices as pictured.
    • Drip Pan: Place a grate then a disposable tin foil pan on the reverse flow plate with a quart of water to catch the drippings for gravy, add water as needed, place the giblets and neck bone in the pan. Add some celery onion slices and spices to the drip pan. This smoke I tried apple sauce for a sweet gravy and only added the neck bone at the wife's request. I did add 2 cups of water during the cook but it dd not need it.
    • Reduce risk of contamination:   Make sure everything is ready, reducing the possibility of contamination for example having the spices premeasured in bowl and slather or rubs ready to go, because you will be handling the bird.
    • Trimming: Remove bird from brine, this was an enhanced bird so I did not have the option for brining, rinse thoroughly in cold water then pat dry. Trim the neck flap. Remove any pop up timer devices.
    • Rub/ Slather: At the least, make sure the breast is covered in a good slather or butter.
                              Note: If you want to baste the bird later set aside a tablespoon or two of the rub you intend to use.
    • Stuffing the turkey: I do not cook stuffing in a smoked bird, if not being smoked on a beer can style apparatus, stuff with apple and onion quarters.
    • Placing the turkey: Once the smoker is preheated, to 350°F, about an hour works for my smoker, place the turkey over top of the beer can apparatus, pin the wings close to the sides with toothpicks, place the turkey in the drip pan and insert meat probes. This cook I put the probe in the innermost thigh. Some will plug up the neck hole with an onion, this one was not but it may decrease the cooking time slightly, the jury is still out on this one but I will try it next time to see if it makes a difference.
    • Smoking: Let the temp creep down until a temperature range of 230-250°F is achieved, this may take an hour to level off. Plan on 30 to 40 minutes per pound at this temperature. Watch the wings and breast and if they start to get too brown you can cover them with some foil.
    • Sanitize: Once everything is on the smoker, I will wipe everything down with Chlorox Cleanup.
    • Mopping: If you want to mop your smoked turkey, wait until the last hour of the cooking time to start. This particular cook I brushed the bird  with honey about 60 minutes before it was done.

    • Danger Zone: Pay close attention to the cooking temps and time, if you are nearing the 4 hour mark and are not close to 140°F, I would suggest bumping your temps up to 325°F until you are out of the "Danger Zone".
    • Checking the Internal Temperature: (I strongly suggest that anyone doing whole poultry, educate themselves on the proper handling and cooking procedures.) The breast and thighs must reach different internal temperatures for ideal doneness. When the breast reaches 150°F, cover it with foil to prevent it from being overcooked. I removed this turkey when the thick part of the thigh reached 160°F. The temperature will rise after removing it from the smoker. Keep an eye on your times and temps, if you get a reading that doesn't make sense with the time chart, err on the side of caution. Although I did not take a reading of the breast it was cooked perfectly and If I had taken the thigh up to 170°F, it would have been overcooked.

    • Disclaimer for cooking temps, you knew that was coming. USDA states that the turkey should be cooked to a minimum of 165°F at the lowest temp reading. I would suggest an instant read thermometer, such as a Thermapen if you plan on smoking turkey. Check at the innermost part of the thigh and the thickest part of the breast and the lowest reading should be at 165°F, per USDA guidelines.

    • Resting:   Remove the turkey and cover loosely with aluminum foil for about 30 minutes. If I need up to an hour, the turkey will be wrapped in a thick towel in a non drafty area, any longer than an hour and its foiled, toweled and placed in a cooler with more towels.The resting is very important, a lot of the juices will redistribute into the meat ensuring its a moist bird. If you are pulling your turkey slightly before its final temp, make sure that you let it rest about a half hour wrapped in foil and lay a towel on top.

    • Gravy: As the bird is resting finish up the gravy, Pour liquids from beer can apparatus and the drip pan through a strainer into a pot, bring gravy to a simmer and reduce by half, add spices to your preference, remove excess oil. Use arrow root or corn starch to thicken the gravy. If you have time you can refrigerate the gravy until the oils solidify on top then scrape the grease off  the top.

    • Carving: When carving the turkey if it appears pink Don't panic, this is normal. The smoking process causes a chemical change in turkey that causes it to turn pink. Just make sure the lowest reading is at 165°F.

    • Time charts, not an exact but in the ballpark,
    This was a 12.4 lb bird and took almost 34 minutes per/lb at 230 - 240°F, I was at exactly 4 hours into the cook when I reached 140°F, next cook I will maintain 250- 260°F until it is out of the "danger zone", this was too close for comfort.
    • Cooking
      • At 235°F your turkey will take 30 to 35 minutes per pound.
      • At 250°F your turkey will take 25 to 30 minutes per pound.
      • At 275°F your turkey will take 20 to 25 minutes per pound.
    • Thawing: Frozen turkey thawing timetable. Weight In refrigerator In cold water

              In the Refrigerator (40°F or below)
    Allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds


    • 4 to 12 pounds 1 to 3 days
    • 12 to 16 pounds 3 to 4 days
    • 16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days
    • 20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days

    I thawed this 12.4 pound bird in the refrigerator for 5 days and had ice inside the turkey around the neck bone.

            In Cold Water
          Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound

    • 4 to 12 pounds 2 to 6 hours
    • 12 to 16 pounds 6 to 8 hours
    • 16 to 20 pounds 8 to 10 hours
    • 20 to 24 pounds 10 to 12 hours
    Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.

    • When carving the turkey if it appears pink Don't panic, this is normal. The smoking process causes a chemical change in turkey that causes it to turn pink. Just make sure the lowest reading throughout the turkey reads 165°F.
    • This was a 12.4 lb bird and took almost 34 minutes per/lb at 230 - 240°F, I was at exactly 4 hours into the cook when I reached 140°F, next cook I will maintain 250- 260°F until it is out of the "danger zone", this was too close for comfort.
    • Keep the turkey refrigerated or in iced brine until ready to cook, do not bring up to room temperature before smoking.
    • Watch temps closely, the bird needs to be above 140°F in under 4 hours, bump up the temps until you are above the "Danger Zone".
    • The turkey turned out great, It had good flavor and was moist throughout, the dark meat was exceptional.
    • Compared to an Oven Roasted turkey and my "Keg Roasted Turkey" the smoked turkey wins over the Oven Roasted but not the Keg Roasted turkey, but in all fairness the turkey was 11 months old and was an enhanced bird so I did not have the option of brining. I will follow this up with a fresh bird next time. However the skin was much better on the smoked turkey than the Keg Roasted Turkey,
    • The gravy was good but needs work, I think next time I will saute or brown some of the ingredients before adding to the drip pan and use fresh diced apples in place of apple sauce. The sauce was much better the next day, after removing the grease.
    • Many will say you can not get a crisp skin smoking with low heat, I had no problem getting a crispy skin and this bird was smoked sitting in liquids.



     Spices used for the slather and Gravy

     Fresh Sage, smoked garlic, green onions, white onion, applesauce and various spices.  Bird ready to go, can half full with Killians and spices as pictured with a large sprig of fresh sage and smoked garlic.



     Cherry wood smoke

     Foiled Wings, starting to get dark  Foiled breast when thigh reached 150°F



     Removed all foil at 155°F and brushed with honeyPulled when thigh reached 160°F  Rested, wrapped in foil and towels for 30 minutes and ready to carve.
  12. usmcoklahoma

    usmcoklahoma Newbie

    If my bird is going to get a rub, do I still need to brine it or can I get away with a rub only?
  13. richoso1

    richoso1 Legendary Pitmaster OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    A rub will not add any moisture to the bird, and the flavors in the rub will mostly be where the rub was applied. Rubbing after a brine can really bring out the best flavor in a bird. It really gets down to what you taste buds like, so give it at least one try either way. It's all good my friend.
  14. adiochiro3

    adiochiro3 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    All good input above.  I would add just a couple of thoughts: 
    • Start with breast side down until about the last hour, then "flip the bird" -- the breast meat will stay nice and moist
    • Catch the drippings -- unbelievable gravy!!!!!
    • Drape a few slices of bacon across the turkey for flavor and moisture.  This will start a new tradition of picking bacon off while the turkey rests before dinner.
    • Save the carcass for phenomenal turkey soup stock: celery, onions, carrots, seasonings and herbs to taste.  Boil with the bones 2-3 hours and let cool completely to remove fat.  Build your soup with TG leftovers, gravy, dressing, bits of turkey meat, mashed potato.  My wife always puts in barley as well.  TO DIE FOR!!!!
  15. I would like to share a brine I use that gives the meat incredible flavor, in fact once I used it the wife said you are doing the Thanksgiving turkeys! Previously she had said no way that will dry the meat out. 

    2 quarts of apple juice

    1 cup of brown sugar

    1/4 cup of salt

    2 tablespoons of cinnamon 

    Bring this mixture to a boil on the stove mixing constantly. Once the mixture has began boiling turn off  heat and add 3 quarts of cold water then refrigerate for an hour or 2 till the mixture is cool. Then add your turkey to the brine let it soak for 24 hours, once it has brined for 24 hours pull out of the brine and let let the bird sit for another 12 to 24 hours in the fridge. 

    In have smoked with apple once and cherry once, each time was amazing the one thing I will tell you is that I smoked the first one at 230 and my second at almost 300. Both times had great smoke flavor Although the second smoke was only a 5 pound turkey breast with no skin and it turned out amazing it was done in 3 hours. 

    One suggestion would be to cook to 160 in the thickest part of the breast and then foil and bring inside and let her rest for a half an hour before slicing. 

    Once you do one you will be doing more guaranteed.

    Good luck and happy smoking 
  16. Can anyone tell me where to find that YouTube video???

    Thanks, really enjoying this site and hope to do a T-Breast this year (once the dang smoker arrives!!!),

    Never mind... found it!

    Thanks for reading (this was a great post!  Love the pics).

    Last edited: Oct 31, 2010