How to Smoke a Turkey | Yummly

How to Smoke a Turkey

Moist, juicy, and infused with woodsy flavor, a smoked bird is the best Thanksgiving turkey ever. Check out our easy tips, techniques, and recipes. Then get the low-down on popular brands of smokers, and nail the doneness with the Yummly Smart Thermometer.

(Want more Thanksgiving recipes and tips? Check out our big Yummly Thanksgiving page!)

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Southerners sure know their “Que,” and it was a friend from Alabama who first got me hooked on smoking my Thanksgiving bird. Up until then, my only experience with smoked turkey had been wings that I’d bought at the supermarket and used for flavoring soup. I was intrigued when my friend told me his family always smokes their whole turkey, not just for Thanksgiving but year-round because it’s so darned juicy, tasty, and easy. 

Fast-forward a few decades of experimentation. I’ve learned that the low heat and slow, gentle cooking of a smoker allow the turkey to absorb fantastic hickory (or mesquite, or applewood) flavor that will just tickle your taste buds. 

I’ve also learned that I can keep things super simple. Instead of brining the turkey like I used to, now I just smear the bird with my favorite Thanksgiving turkey seasonings, including fresh herbs, crushed fennel seeds, minced garlic, lemon zest, olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper. Bingo, great depth of flavor from the herbs as well as the smoke. 

The topper is that a smoked turkey only takes a touch longer to make than a roasted turkey. One more thing? If you choose to smoke a turkey at Thanksgiving you’ll free up your oven for pies, sides, and anything else.

Smoking a turkey is easy once you learn the basic technique. It’s even easier to cook it right with the Yummly® Smart Thermometer because the meat thermometer tells you when your turkey has reached just the internal temperature you’re looking for. 

Ready to give smoked turkey a try? Let’s go! 

Jump ahead to:

Popular types of smokers >>

Smoked turkey Q & A >>

How to smoke a turkey with the Yummly Smart Thermometer >>

Get the recipe: Hickory Smoked Turkey with Lemon and Herbs >>

8 more favorite smoked turkey recipes >>


Although you can smoke a turkey on a regular charcoal or gas grill, it takes a fair amount of fiddling with the fire to maintain the low and slow environment and to get good results. People buy dedicated smokers because they are easy to use and create amazing flavor.

There are many different types of smokers on the market and each has its pros and cons. Here are the most popular.

Charcoal smokers

A picture of a Weber Smokey Mountain smoker taken apart to see the sections, with a bag of charcoal and bag of wood chunks
Equipment for smoking a turkey using a Weber Smokey Mountain smoker. Photo by Brittany Conerly.

This type of smoker is the most common of all smokers. Charcoal smokers come in multiple styles like bullet-shaped (sometimes called a vertical smoker, which uses a pan of water to help control the heat), kamado (aka ceramic), and offset. 

Popular charcoal smokersWeber Smokey Mountain, Big Green Egg XLarge, and Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Offset Smoker

Pros: Charcoal smokers create the best smoked flavor, and that’s why I used one for my turkey recipe. (I went with a Weber Smokey Mountain.) The fuel — charcoal, and wood chips or chunks — is easy to get at most hardware stores.

Cons: They are not as easy to use as an electric smoker or pellet smoker. Water pans for bullet-shaped smokers need to be cleaned in between uses. 

Electric smokers and propane smokers

This type of smoker runs on electricity or propane so you don’t need charcoal, just wood chips. They are basically an oven where smoke is introduced by adding wood chips which the heating element ignites.

Popular electric smoker: Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker

Popular propane smoker: Broil King Vertical Propane Smoker

Pros: Electric and propane smokers are very easy to use and maintain temperature. They are typically easier to clean than a charcoal grill. 

Cons: For electric smokers, you need an outdoor electrical outlet. Also, while food cooked on an electric or propane smoker gets smoky, it lacks that true charcoal/wood smoke flavor of traditional barbecue.

Pellet grills/smokers

Combination pellet smoker-grills have been around for a long time but have only recently become popular. They use small compressed wood pellets (available in many types of wood) that are automatically loaded into a hopper on the side of the unit and then pass through an auger into the heating chamber. These smokers run on electricity but the pellets also create heat.

Popular pellet grill: Traeger Pro Series XL 

Pros: Once you fill the pellet hopper and select the temperature you want, you can kick back while the smoker takes over to maintain the temperature. Many models have features that also let you select the type of food you are smoking.

Cons: You need an outdoor electrical outlet. Smoke flavor is milder than on a charcoal smoker with wood.


Smoked turkey Q & A

Now that you know a little more about equipment for smoking a turkey, let’s dial in on some FAQs.

How big of a turkey should I smoke?

I believe in starting small to become comfortable with the process, so go with a 12-14 pounder. As you gain experience, feel free to go bigger (and plan for the turkey to take longer to cook). I’ve smoked turkeys as large as 23 pounds with great results.

Do I need to wet-brine my turkey?

No! Though you can wet-brine your turkey if you like (see Yummly’s Favorite Turkey Brine recipe, which includes options in case your fridge is full), it’s not necessary. Alternatively you can do a dry brine, which involves putting a salt rub on the turkey and leaving it uncovered in the refrigerator for a day or longer. 

My favorite method, though, is to skip the brine. Instead, I add flavor with an herb and garlic seasoning paste. It’s quick and easy and it can be done at the last minute. See my recipe that follows.

What type of charcoal should I use?

Not every type of smoker uses charcoal, but if yours does, charcoal come two ways: hardwood lump charcoal and briquettes. Regular briquettes are best for a bullet-shaped smoker because they burn longer (slower and cooler) and more evenly than lump charcoal. But kamado-style smokers such as Big Green Egg recommend using lump charcoal, so be sure to check the manufacturer’s recommendations. Avoid self-lighting briquettes or lighter fuel because they can give the food a “fuel” flavor. 

Wood chunks vs. wood chips

A picture of wood pellets, wood chips, and wood chunks
Wood pellets, chips, and chunks. Photo by Brittany Conerly.

Again, not every type of smoker uses wood chunks or chips to create a smoky flavor. With a charcoal smoker, I prefer using wood chunks because they smoke longer, which means I only have to add them a few times. Wood chunks also don’t need to be soaked in water before using. Chips burn faster so they need to be soaked in water before using, and added to the fire more frequently. 

If you have a pellet smoker, the pellets create the smokiness and are also the fuel.

How much wood to add

I learned the hard way that less is more when it comes to smoking turkey. Too much smoke and you’ll get a bitter flavor that will overwhelm the meat. For a 12- to 14-lb. turkey, plan on using about 4 fist-sized wood chunks or 2 cups wood chips (added a cup at a time during cooking), if your smoker calls for them.

What temperature should I smoke my turkey?

The ideal temperature for smoking a turkey is 250° to 275°F. That’s gentle enough to create slow smoke, which will keep the meat juicy and tender, and to develop a nice smoke flavor. Temperatures of 325°F or higher will cook the bird too quickly and make it more like roasting.

How long does it take to smoke a turkey?

Smoking a turkey at 250° to 275°F takes 15 to 25 minutes per pound (22 to 25 minutes per pound at 250°F and 15 to 18 minutes per pound at 275°F. A 12-pound turkey will cook in 3 to 5 hours while a 14 pounder will take 3 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours.


How to smoke a turkey using the Yummly Smart Thermometer

Let’s get this turkey on the smoker! Here’s how to make my recipe for Hickory Smoked Turkey with Lemon and Herbs. I cooked it on a Weber Smokey Mountain bullet-shaped charcoal smoker. If you use a different smoker, just follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

1. Defrost your turkey

Plan ahead! Maybe you bought a fresh turkey, but if your turkey is frozen, be sure to place it in the refrigerator at least 3 days prior to smoking to give it ample time to defrost.

2. Take the chill off

Remove the turkey from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature while you make your herb paste and set up your smoker. 

3. Flavor up

A picture of rubbing herb oil under turkey breast on a whole turkey
Rubbing herb oil all over a turkey and under the skin. Photo by Brittany Conerly.

First remove the turkey neck and giblets from the turkey and save them for turkey gravy if you like.

I like to make a paste of some of my favorite herbs. Combine fresh rosemary, thyme, oregano, crushed fennel seeds, lemon zest, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and extra-virgin olive oil in a bowl. 

Set the turkey with the breast up on a sheet pan or work surface. Now you’re going to need to get up close and personal with your turkey. Slide a hand under the breast skin as far as you can go to loosen it (you can also slide a spoon under the skin first to loosen it). Turn the turkey breast down and slide a hand under the skin of the thigh and legs to loosen them. Pat the skin dry with paper towels. 

Rub half of the herb mixture under the skin over the breast, legs, and thighs. Rub the remaining paste over the rest of the skin and inside the cavity. 

4. Tuck and tie the turkey (optional)

Next tuck the turkey wings under the bird. This helps to keep them from scorching during cooking and also helps to keep the turkey stable when you go to carve it. Then tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Tying the legs is optional but helps the turkey cook more evenly — and it looks nice!

5. Set up your smoker

Following the instructions for your smoker, light the charcoal (if you’re using a charcoal smoker) and adjust the vents to preheat the smoker to 250° to 275°F.  Add 2 chunks of hickory wood to the charcoal (if your smoker uses wood chunks), close the smoker, and wait for the wood to smoke.

6.  Insert the thermometer

A picture of a raw turkey with the Yummly Smart Thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the breast
Insert the Yummly Smart Thermometer in the thickest part of a turkey breast. Photo by Brittany Conerly.

Take the Yummly thermometer out of the case. On the Yummly app on your phone, select Turkey and a 12-14 lb. bird. Then select Smoker. Follow the insertion guide to insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the breast not touching the bone.

7. Now you’re smoking!

A picture of a turkey with the Yummly Smart Thermometer smoking on a Weber Smokey Mountain smoker
Smoked Turkey with Lemon and Herbs cooking on a Weber Smokey Mountain smoker. Photo by Brittany Conerly

Once the smoker starts to billow clouds of smoke, set your turkey on the cooking grate with the breast side up. Cover the smoker. After 1 hour, add another 2 wood chunks (if your smoker uses wood chunks). Your turkey is done when the Yummly Smart Thermometer hits 175°F (you’ll get a “remove from heat” notification). 

Remove the turkey from the smoker and transfer it to a cutting board. Let it rest about 30 minutes before slicing. 


Get the recipe: Hickory Smoked Turkey with Lemon and Herbs

Ready to start a new Thanksgiving tradition? I think you’ll agree that this moist, smoke-infused bird with garlic, herbs, and lemon is the best Thanksgiving turkey recipe yet.

Hickory Smoked Turkey with Lemon and Herbs

Yummly Original

8 more favorite smoked turkey recipes

In these next recipes, you can explore lots of additional options for your smoked turkey, including whole turkeys, butterflied birds, and turkey breasts. You’ll also find favorite seasonings, and instructions written specifically for different kinds of smokers.

Smoked Turkey

Four ingredients — sold! A simple turkey rub goes a long way when the turkey is smoked just right. 

Traeger Smoked Turkey

If you have a pellet smoker, this turkey is for you. Classic dry rub flavors — paprika, onion powder, garlic power, salt and pepper — are rubbed over the skin, while fresh garlic and sprigs of rosemary are placed in the cavity to perfume the meat. The ease of this recipe makes it ideal for the holiday or any time of the year. It will wow your guests and leave you with some awesome leftovers, for sure.

Honey Smoked Turkey

I’m big on this recipe for several reasons. First, it’s smoked in a roasting pan on a grill over indirect heat rather than a smoker, so you can make it even if you don’t have a dedicated smoker. Mesquite wood chips (added directly onto charcoal coals or in a smoker box if you're using a gas grill) give the turkey a nice Southwest feel. Another reason — and the topper — is the honey that you pour over the turkey and use to baste it while it cooks. The result is a beautiful, glossy mahogany skin and a slightly sweet taste that balances perfectly against the smoke.

Apple Brined and Hickory Smoked Turkey

The brine in this recipe is a combination of apple juice, brown sugar, and salt along with aromatics like oranges, ginger and clove, which all add a nice undertone of sweetness. The hickory smoke helps to bring out the fruity notes and adds an earthy depth of flavor. 

Spatchcock Smoked Turkey

Spatchcock turkey! If you’ve never spatchcocked a chicken or turkey, it’s when you remove the backbone from the bird and open it up like a book so you can lay it flat. This method helps to speed up the cooking time because more surface area is exposed to the heat, and the turkey also cooks very evenly. There are some nice step-by-step photos to guide you. 

Cajun Smoked Turkey

Yummly Original

Here’s another option for a spatchcocked bird, with a lot of tips and techniques included. If you’ve never brined a turkey, this recipe gives you a straightforward method, as well as instructions for how to butterfly the turkey. In addition to using a smoker, you’ve got the option of smoking on a grill over indirect heat. Best of all, the finished product is dang good with a touch of heat and great Cajun flavors. 

Texas Style Smoked Turkey

Texas BBQ automatically makes me think of beef, with a big, bold salt and pepper spice rub. This recipe (also a spatchcocked turkey) uses those flavors plus cumin, coriander, sugar, chili powder, and oregano to proudly represent the Lone Star State. Juicy, smoky, and slightly sweet, with earthy notes from the cumin and coriander: yes, please!

Smoked Turkey Breast

If you aren’t into dark meat or are having a small gathering, then a smoked turkey breast is your answer. Now, white meat is leaner than dark meat and that could mean drier results. This recipe has you covered because the citrusy brine adds a nice brightness and just enough extra moisture. You can use either a bone-in or boneless breast with equally excellent results. 

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Turkey (and brisket), oh my!

You can never have too many options when it comes to the holiday bird — or maybe this year it just might be holiday brisket. Keep exploring in these next articles.

How to Spatchcock a Turkey

Want a Thanksgiving turkey that cooks twice as fast, more evenly, and with crispy skin? Spatchcocking is the method for you! It’s the best turkey yet.

How to Cook a Turkey: Your A-Z Guide to Buy, Prep, Cook, and Carve

Don’t play chicken with your Thanksgiving centerpiece! Whether it’s your first time cooking a turkey or your 14th, this step-by-step guide will help ensure that the star of the holiday table comes out perfectly.

Smoked Beef Brisket 101

Dibs on the crispy ends! Our best brisket recipe is juicy and irresistible, with bursts of black pepper balanced by smoke and tangy sweetness. Dive in with our how-to guide and the trusty Yummly Smart Thermometer.