Smoking a whole turkey

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mitchparker6

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Oct 11, 2021
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Looking for any pointers or tips to smoking a whole turkey. I built a reverse offset smoker and have hickory, cherry, maple, or oak wood. Dry brine or wet brine? Temp of the cook chamber? Never cooked a turkey on a stick burner and looking for some guidance. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!
 

okie sawbones

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Jul 11, 2014
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I inject my turkey with Butcher BBQ Bird Booster, use Yardbird rub, and smoke with a mix of peach and cherry. I cook at 300F for about 20 minutes per pound, pulling the bird when the breast reaches 160F. I place it in a thermal blanket, where it will stay warm for at least 4 hours, although I try to time it to where the turkey only rests 1-2 hours.
 
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SmokinAl

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Here is one I did on my Lang (used to have). It may give you some ideas. If you use the search it may help also, but I’m sure you will get plenty of responses.
Al
 

tallbm

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Looking for any pointers or tips to smoking a whole turkey. I built a reverse offset smoker and have hickory, cherry, maple, or oak wood. Dry brine or wet brine? Temp of the cook chamber? Never cooked a turkey on a stick burner and looking for some guidance. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!
Hi there and welcome!

The following info works no matter if you are using a stick burner, pellet, electric, or even an oven (no smoke with an oven lol).

1. I always wet brine my turkeys no matter if they have solution added to them already or not. I also inject the wet brine all over so it brines from inside out as well as outside in. They come out great!
I always encourage this.
For extra flavor add cure#1 for that great smoked turkey flavor and drumsticks that taste like state faire/Disney smoked drums.

To get the amount of salt correct for the wet brine you add up the weight of the water used (8 pounds per gallon is close enough) and the weight of the bird and convert to grams or ounces (grams is easier math).
Multiply that total weight by 0.0165 (1.65%) and that is how much salt you need to dissolve in to the water of your brine. Inject this brine all over.
Example: 2 gallons of water and a 14 pound turkey at 1.65% salt.
7,264gm of water (2 gallons) + 6,356gm (14pound turkey) = 13,620 total weight.
Amount of salt = 13,620 x 0.0165 = 224.73gmof salt

If adding cure#1 (I highly recommend this) get total weight IN POUNDS (.lbs) and multiply by 1.133 grams. This will give you the amount of GRAMS of cure#1 to dissolve in. Do not dissolve in hot or boiling water or it will kill the cure.
Example: 16 pounds of water (2 gallons) + 14 pound bird = 30 pounds total weight.
Cure#1 needed = 30 x 1.133grams = 33.99gm of cure#1

You add this amount of cure#1 to your wet brine, it won't be too salty at all unless you are very very sensitive to salt

2. If your smoker is running at 325F or higher then you won't have any issues with rubber skin. Turkey/poultry is notorious for having rubbery skin when not cooked at a high enough smoker temp. It should be edible and likely will crispy, which so many desire!
This is a key point to smoking a turkey!
Also, you don't want the breast to go over 165F. I cook to about 163F or so and it carries up to 165F. Many others will pull at a slightly lower temp so do what makes sense for u :)


3. Wood smoke flavor... I find a great flavor with about 60% hickory and then 20% Maple and 20% Cherry. Maple/Hickory/Cherry is what most competition blends are and the Cherry will give great color.
I don't like to go above 60% Hickory on most things because it makes stuff start tasting too much like bacon. This is fine for doing bacon but to me, it's not desirable when I want to taste the bird flavor.

Final rando tip. When the bird is done, try to avoid covering the bird with foil or plastic wrap, etc. while waiting to eat it. It will cause steam which will start to rehydrate the skin and may make it less crispy or even a little rubbery. It is best to store the bird uncovered in a pre warmed oven (not oven turned on).


I hope this info helps :)
 
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chp

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Looks like you already have some great information. I have one thing to add. Keep in mind that using typical smoking techniques, you need to stick to smaller birds. My understanding is that the larger birds spend too much time at the wrong temperature. I am sure others can provide options if you do need to smoke a larger bird.
 
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mike243

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Creole butter injected and smoke heavy for 2 hours, into a cooking bag and into the oven to finish, no need to slave lol
 

chopsaw

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you need to stick to smaller birds. My understanding is that the larger birds spend too much time at the wrong temperature. I am sure others can provide options if you do need to smoke a larger bird.
True . pineywoods pineywoods has talked about this . Nothing over 12 pounds ? Rings a bell anyway .
 
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noboundaries

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Looks like you already have some great information. I have one thing to add. Keep in mind that using typical smoking techniques, you need to stick to smaller birds. My understanding is that the larger birds spend too much time at the wrong temperature. I am sure others can provide options if you do need to smoke a larger bird.
I hot smoke all poultry at 325°F+. No stuffing. Breast turned away from heat flow or the hottest part of the smoker. I either brine or buy pre-brined birds.

Smaller birds finish faster, and are recommended for beginners
Spatchcockimg evens out the temps.

The VAST majority of birds I've smoked were 16-25 lbs. Until three years ago I'd cook or hot smoke 4-6 turkeys a year I'd buy on sale around the holidays. When my swimmer kids were home, I'd do 2-3 turkeys the week of TG and fill the freezer with cooked meat.

Make sure the bird is completely thawed. Partially frozen birds work, too, but can take 50% longer. As an experiment, I once took one Butterball bird directly from the freezer. It cooked fine, and I was surprised it only took twice as long. It was safe to eat. Was also VERY juicy.

Keep it simple. Thaw, brine, rub (butter and spices under the skin), then cook hot and fast pointing the breast away from the heat. Take dark to 175°-185°F, white 160°F before the 30 minute rest.

I've injected, but prefer just a brine instead. Cherry and apple wood are my favorites, but I've done oak and mesquite, too. We love mesquite, and the trick is to use only half as much as normal to avoid piney off flavors.

Happy turkeying!

Ray
 

pineywoods

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As was mentioned don't low and slow any turkey over 12 lbs per USDA now what that actually means is don't smoke a bird weighing over 12 lbs in a smoker running 225 degrees. You can smoke heavier turkeys by doing one of several things such as higher smoker temp or spatchcocking the turkey which basically is cutting the bird almost in half (if you decide you want to try this there are threads on the site about doing it)
A smoker temp of 225 degrees will give you a nice smokey turkey with skin just like rubber. Any type poultry needs to be smoked at around 300 degrees to give you crisp skin. If you smoke at 225 you would need to either throw it onto a hot grill or into a hot oven meaning temps of 350 or higher to crisp the skin.
Smoking with a smoker temp of 300 or higher will mean less smoke flavor but crispy skin. Some people will smoke at 225 for awhile then kick the smoker above 300 to finish for the crisp skin.
As for brine tallbm posted a good brine that would be very good. Here's the one I use most of the time for Thanksgiving Birds https://www.smokingmeatforums.com/ams/tips-slaughterhouse-recipes-for-poultry.8585/
The biggest thing about the brine is the amount of salt in it. The more salt the less time it should spend in the brine. To much salt can lead to a salty bird.
You could also do what I do quite often and Smo-Fry the bird. Smoke the bird at 225 until it gets to 140-150 then drop it into some already hot 350 degree oil and finish it there. You get the best of both worlds.
Before we moved a few years ago my wife who is a nurse had to work Thanksgiving so being a good hubby I smoked a turkey, fried a turkey, and smo-fried a turkey and took them to the hospital for her and the rest of the ER staff to eat well I created a monster they begged her to work every Thanksgiving and it went from the ER staff to people from all different depts coming to the ER to eat. One of the last years I did it I cooked like 17 turkeys for the hospital, neighbors, and family. Since we moved I have not cooked turkey for the ER staff when she works Thanksgiving lol. While different people liked different turkeys the most popular was the smo-fried.
Hope this helps a little if you have any questions just ask if you don't get an answer feel free to send me a PM. Here's a couple links to threads that might help
https://www.smokingmeatforums.com/threads/how-to-spatchcock-a-turkey-video.317913/

https://www.smokingmeatforums.com/threads/how-to-smoke-a-whole-turkey-video.317911/

https://www.smokingmeatforums.com/ams/tips-slaughterhouse-recipes-for-poultry.8585/
 

cptnding

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Tried this a few years ago and I will never go back to cooking a whole bird. I go one step further and cut the bird in half so I can easily cook the dark and white meat to 180 and 160 respectively. Carry over will get the breast to 165. I shoot for 325-350 in the smoker. Great results every time.
 

Smoke-Chem BBQ

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Aug 20, 2021
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We hosted a holiday party for my SCUBA club Saturday. We made it a pre-Thanksgiving dinner, and smoked the turkey, using both Zatarains Cajun injection and Zatarains Cajun rub on the bird. It was a 12 lb bird, smoked about 6 hours over apple and a bit of pecan wood. I used an 18" WSM, with an empty water pan. It turned out very nice, smoker temperature averaged about 275F, up to 300F at times. That was sufficient to crisp the skin, though it also helped that I stopped misting with apple juice during the last 4 hours, and didn't cover the bird with foil during the rest. The bird did turn out saltier than I would have preferred. The only turkey I could find had been pre-injected with broth/table salt/sodium phosphate (most commercial turkeys are), and the Zatarains injection and rub are both quite salty. I skipped the brine for that reason, but it would have been even better without the commercial pre-injection.

I tried a new gravy recipe from the "Meathead--the science of great BBQ and grilling" cookbook, and we really liked it. You fill a pan with chicken broth, cut up onion, carrots, celery, lots of fresh and dried herbs, and the various bits trimmed from the turkey. The pan goes on the lower rack, the turkey above it, for four hours, to cook the pan contents and catch the turkey drippings. The pan is then removed during the last few hours of the cook (which help crisps the skin) and the broth gets filtered off, defatted, and boiled on the stove to concentrate it a bit. It's kept thin, so it can be lightly spooned over the turkey after it is carved and the meat soaks up the flavor and moisture. I'll be doing that again.
 

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mitchparker6

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Oct 11, 2021
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So update, we are getting 2 16 lb turkeys. Family wants me to cook a day in advance get the meat off the bones. Then put in oven bag and reheat the day of. Which I'm guessing doing that will get rid of the crispy skin correct? Also could I ride the smoker at at lower temp for 2-3 hrs to get more smoke flavor on the bird, then turn up the heat to 325 to crisp the skin?
 

tallbm

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So update, we are getting 2 16 lb turkeys. Family wants me to cook a day in advance get the meat off the bones. Then put in oven bag and reheat the day of. Which I'm guessing doing that will get rid of the crispy skin correct? Also could I ride the smoker at at lower temp for 2-3 hrs to get more smoke flavor on the bird, then turn up the heat to 325 to crisp the skin?
Hi there and welcome!

Bagging that skin will undo the crispiness, I would just eat it when it comes off hahaha.

If you brine and add the proper amount of Cure#1 and inject that cured brine all into your turkey you can safely do the low temp 2-3 hours and then crank up the heat.
If not using Cure#1 at all I would reverse the order.
I would start the Smoke/Cook 325F+ and once the birds hit 145F Internal Temp (IT) I would turn it down the temp to get more smoke flavor. Simply just reverse your order for safety reasons.

My personal experience is I could only get crispy skin when I cooked at 325F the entire smoke.
With many different attempts I tried:
  • cranking up the heat at the end
  • broiling in the oven with broil setting at the end
  • throwing on a super hot gas grill at the end
  • a propane torch after it was done
  • letting it sit and the skin dry in the fridge for 24 hours before cooking
None of those came close to working for me, but others seem to have some success.
Simply cooking hot enough to get the job done has been simple and fool proof for me, so I stick with it.

I hope this info helps :)
 
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