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How To Smoke Perfect Turkey - Smoked Turkey Tips
by Brad Bolton

smoked turkey

The absolute first step in cooking a turkey on a smoker is to pick out a bird (turkey) that is not the biggest one you can find. The main reason for a smaller bird (10 to 14 pound maximum), is the time limitations usually involved. It takes between 6 and 8 hours to smoke a 12-pound turkey and the bigger they get, the longer they take.

STEP TWO: Set up the smoker and toss on the bird. When using charcoal, it is best to let the flames burn out first, fill the water pan with water (seasoned water is fine too), then place the lid on the smoker and wait for the temperature to reach the safe zone on your smoker. Once that is accomplished, toss the turkey on there gently and cover the smoker. Start timing the turkey when the temperature returns to the save zone.

Safety Reminder: Remember chickens and turkeys are prone to salmonella bacteria which can ruin your whole Thanksgiving. Cooking temperatures of 165 degrees F. minimum are essential for destroying this bacteria. This temperature is not the OUTSIDE of the turkey, but the inside, so keep that in mind when you decide on a larger bird. This of course is unless you happen to be feeding the traditional army at Thanksgiving.

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Smoking Turkey Notes and Tips:

Smoking a turkey is no different from barbecuing in your back yard. You follow all these rules without even noticing them in most cases so go ahead, give it a try, you will not be dissatisfied when you try a smoked turkey.

Follow the safety rules without deviation and you will have the best turkey you have ever had.

If you don't have time to wait for 6 to 8 hours to wait for a turkey to cook, or you have went and bought a 300 pound turkey to impress your in-laws, just take it and cut it up like you would a chicken and it will cook twice as fast and taste just as good.

Type of Smoker: I use a water Electric Smoker which by design keeps the meat moist and prevents burning like a traditional smoker with no water in the event you forget about the turkey for an extra half hour or so. Most smokers have two (2) racks or more, so just distribute the parts evenly on each rack. I feed a small army here at Thanksgiving and/or Christmas, so I generally cut it into pieces and smoke it that way, which does take about 1/2 the time.

It is not as pretty when it comes off the smoker, but the taste is still the same and the effort you put into it will impress even that mother-in-law that thinks you are still a thief for taking her daughter away from her.

Now for those of you who have electric smokers and gas smokers, I am not sure of cooking times, so follow your instructions that you have with your smoker. I am certain they take less time and might be as good as a charcoal smoked turkey, but you would have to prove that to me before I would ever switch.

Type of Charcoal Used:
I have used inexpensive charcoal and the good stuff, and have found the main difference being the number of times you need to add charcoal. The better the charcoal, the longer between times you need to add it. You can expect to use 10 pounds or more of charcoal for a 10 to 14 pound turkey, so have some extra just in case.

You will most likely not have to check the charcoal or temperature for 3 hours if you use good charcoal so this gives you time to watch a football game or two or be with the guests or just sit back and have an eggnog and brandy if you are so inclined. When you check the temperature on your smoker, just look at the gauge that is there. Most of them have a "safe" zone or a actual read out with numbers but in either case, keep that temperature above the safe" zone.

Check the water after you add charcoal each time just to keep it full and not let it run out. If you happen to run out of water in the pan, add water carefully since if you spill on the charcoal, it will put off steam and it is not a pleasant feeling on your hands, arms or face. I use an old two liter bottle filled about 3/4 full of water and hold it from the bottom when I add it. It keeps you far enough away from the smoker and charcoal and in the even you happen to spill, (which I usually do), it just sends the steam up in the air away from you.

It is also possible to use hickory chips or mesquite chips or other chips in your charcoal to flavor the bird. Soak them for at least ONE hours in water and then toss them on the charcoal and they will smoke and add that flavor to your turkey.

Temperature of Smoker and Smoked Turkey:
I have never had a problem smoking turkeys, chickens, meats, or fish so just make sure of your temperature. When you add charcoal to the smoker, stir the ashes around and bring up the hot coal away from the ashes. This will help start the added charcoal faster and keep the temperature correct. Add plenty of charcoal at the beginning and when you add more, add as much as you can. That way you will not have to be going back and forth and adding a few pieces here and there. Just fill the pan up when you add charcoal, it is not important how much you use, but how hot the smoker stays.

thermapen thermometerThis is the type of cooking and meat thermometer that I prefer and use in my cooking. I get many readers asking what cooking/meat thermometer that I prefer and use in my cooking and baking. I, personally, use the Thermapen Thermometer shown in the photo on the right. Originally designed for professional users, the Super-Fast Thermapen Thermometer is used by chefs all over the world. To learn more about this excellent thermometer and to also purchase one (if you desire), just click on the underlined: Thermapen Thermometer.

After about 5 hours, it is a good idea to actually take off the lid and check the condition of the turkey. Each time you remove the lid for those of you who are lookie loos, it adds between 10 and 15 minutes to the cook time, so don't take the lid off to see your prize until you absolutely have to.

When checking the bird, you look for the meat to have a pink look to it. It should be moist and look cooked to the eye and it should not be raw looking. It is difficult to tell when the turkey is actually done without 'sampling' it of course, so take your big knife with you when you go and cut into the thickest part of the breast and check it there.

A little deep cut into the breast will tell you if it is done there and when the breast is done, the rest of the turkey is done also. Juices are always present and should be clear when cut, but the true test is the taste test. If it seems chewy, then it is probably NOT done, but if it seems moist and tender, then your bird is ready for the table. This may sound like a lot of work, but in reality, it is very simple.



Nice article! I religiously smoke a Turkey, Ham, and Sausage each Thanksgiving. Thought I'd respond to your statement, "Now for those of you who have electric smokers and gas smokers, I am not sure of cooking times, so follow your instructions that you have with your smoker. I am certain they take less time and might be as good as a charcoal smoked turkey, but you would have to prove that to me before I would ever switch."

I had a charcoal smoker (simple Brinkman) for a few years and it was absolutely the cat's meow. This smoker got damaged and my wife ordered a new one for me - a Brinkman electric version this time.  I was sure I would just hate it, but I was completely mistaken!!

This smoker produces the same flavor (using the same liquid blend and wood) exactly, but smokes in 1/2 the time. I couldn't believe it, and I'm sure I'll never go back to charcoal now as charcoal just takes entirely too long, and waiting for cool down and cleaning is a pain in the butt. So for what it's worth, I've been on both sides of the fence, and won't jump back over now. - Thanks Troy (11/25/05)



I have bought and brought home today a fully smoked turkey, done today by a church group as a fund raiser. Should I freeze it or will it keep until Thursday in my 'fridge? It is wrapped well in foil and then in plastic bags. - 11/18/07


Four days is too long to keep a cooked turkey safely. Three (3) days would be the maximum. I suggest you cut the turkey, like you would on thanksgiving, and freeze the slices until ready to use. It is better to be safe than sorry!

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