How to Smoke a Turkey in a Charcoal Smoker?

Nothing sounds better and tastes more delicious than a turkey on Thanksgiving, and there is nothing yummier than a smoked turkey in a charcoal smoker. Once you smoke it right, your home will be the …

How to Smoke a Turkey in a Charcoal Smoker

Nothing sounds better and tastes more delicious than a turkey on Thanksgiving, and there is nothing yummier than a smoked turkey in a charcoal smoker. Once you smoke it right, your home will be the ultimate choice of your friends and family for Thanksgiving. They will remember you for a long time and will long to eat that delicious, juicy, and smoked turkey of yours.

If you don’t know how to smoke a turkey in a charcoal smoker or you are looking to improve your recipe or the final taste, you are at the right place. In this article, we will discuss how you can smoke a turkey in a charcoal smoker. We will also discuss some tips about buying a turkey, preparing it for smoking, selecting wood chips, and some other aspects.

So, let’s get down to smoking some turkey right away!

How to Smoke a Turkey in a Charcoal Smoker

Before discussing how to smoke, it is important to know how to source the best turkey for smoking.

Frozen or Fresh: The basic question that comes to your mind after you set out to buy a turkey is to get a fresh or a frozen turkey. Fresh turkeys are not available easily. You can always find a frozen turkey at a supermarket near you. Turkeys are more commonly available during Thanksgiving days. If you know how to thaw a frozen turkey, you don’t need to bother about it being frozen or fresh. Let’s learn how to thaw or melt a frozen turkey.

How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey for Smoking?

Many people thaw their turkeys using cold water or leaving it on the counter for a few hours. It is not the hygienic way. It can attract a lot of germs. Follow the following steps for thawing a frozen turkey in the right way.

  • Make sure that the internal temperature of your refrigerator is around 40F.
  • Please keep the original wrapping on the turkey and place it in a tray. This tray or shallow pan will keep your refrigerator clean and collect all the juices that may come out from the turkey. It is best to store your turkey on the bottom shelves of the refrigerator, so any juices may not fall on other things.
  • Give your turkey an appropriate time for thawing. A 12-pound frozen turkey may take up to 1-3 days for thawing properly. The general rule is that it takes 24 hours for every 4-6 pounds of frozen turkey. You can do the math and calculate the time needed for thawing.

Brined or Un-brined: If you plan to brine your turkey before barbecuing it, look for a turkey that doesn’t have a label of self-basting or kosher. These turkeys have already been brined. The benefit of self-brining is that you can add extra flavors during brining and keep the salt according to your taste. If you have an un-brined turkey, you can bring it easily with the help of the following steps.


How to Brine a Turkey?

You will need 12-24 hours to bring. The time depends on the size of the turkey. You will need 4-5 gallons of water, 4 cups of kosher salt, 4 cups of sugar, 4 bags of ice, and a plastic ice cooler for brining. If you can adjust the turkey in the refrigerator, you don’t need to add ice to it.

Just make sure that the temperature is below 40F. If you want some additional flavors, you can add spices, herbs, or scents like lemon or garlic to the brine.  Once the brining is complete, take out the turkey, don’t rinse it in your sink, and pat dry it with paper towels.

Size of Turkey: The next important question is the size of the turkey. It depends on two things; the size of your smoker and how many people you need to feed. For one individual, 1 ¼ pound of turkey meat will be perfect. You will be taking into account the number of kids at the party. So calculate accordingly concerning the number of guests and size of your smoker. The common size for a turkey is 12-15 pounds, and it is perfect for smoking.

marinated turkey

Marinating Turkey: If you have brined the turkey with spices and herbs, don’t marinate it with anything else. Just use some olive oil or butter before smoking. If you have brined your turkey with only salt, water, and sugar, skip the salt in your rub recipe. For marinating the turkey, remove the neck and giblets from the inside cavity. Pat the bird with paper towels, tie the legs together and fold the wing tips behind the shoulder joint.

The last step before smoking is marinating your turkey. You have two options here. Either you can go for a readymade rub sauce, or you can make one for yourself. Both work well, but you must go according to your taste. We suggest that you buy a commercial sauce as they are tested repeatedly and come in various flavors.

Follow the instructions on the packing for rubbing the sauce on the turkey, and make sure you give it enough time to settle down. If you are going for a dry rub, you will have to sprinkle olive oil on the turkey. Once the turkey is ready, divert your attention towards your charcoal smoker.

Please note that if you have already brined your turkey, you don’t need to add any additional seasoning on the exterior. A light coating with olive oil will do great and ensure a crispier skin. If you want to stuff the turkey inside, you can use aromatics such as onions, apples, garlic, or lemon slices. Don’t pack the inside stuffing too tightly. Just keep it loose so that air can circulate inside the cavity.

Smoking Turkey

You will need the following things to smoke a turkey.

  • Charcoal smoker (obviously)
  • Food thermometer (if you are a regular griller, you will already have one)
  • Coal chimney or lighter fluid (to ignite coals)
  • Tongs (preferably with long handles)
  • Wood chips (get ones recommended for turkey, don’t worry, we will discuss it later)
  • Paraffin cubes (help keeps the coals burning, great for slow cooks)
  • Aluminum foil (comes in handy if turkey gets extra brown while being smoked)
  • Aluminum drip pan (for keeping water under turkey or collecting gravy)

That’s pretty much everything!

Time Required

  • 10-20 Minutes for Preparing
  • 3-5 hours for cooking (varies according to the size of the turkey)
  • 20-30 minutes for resting the turkey

Step 1: Clean your smoker and set it up for indirect cooking. Place the aluminum drip pan at the center of the bottom rack and arrange the coals around it. Your aim here is to bring it a temperature of 250-300F. You can use a thermometer to check the temperature. If you aren’t preparing curry with turkey, pour 4 cups of water in the drip pan. If you are using chicken broth, you will need to pour chicken broth after 1-2 hours to ensure that the bird isn’t getting dry.

Step 2: Place some wood chips over the hot coals and rest the bird on the top rack. It must be exactly over the drip pan. Now cover the grill.

Step 3: Now, you will have to be very careful. You will need to ensure that the internal temperature of the smoker is between 250-300F. You may need to add coals after half an hour or so to keep the temperature constant. Remember to add some wood chips after adding new coals. You will also need to check the drip pan and refill it periodically.

Step 4: Depending on the turkey’s size, the cooking time may vary from one bird to another. You need to ensure that the meat’s internal temperature at the bird’s thickest part is around 165F. Don’t go for checking methods like texture or feel of the meat. The best way is to use a food thermometer. If you notice that the turkey is getting too dark midway, use aluminum foil to cover those parts loosely.

How much time will approximately a Turkey take for Smoking?

At a temperature of 300F, 1 pound of turkey will take approximately 15 minutes to get ready. It is better to smoke turkey at a higher temperature because its meat is already tender. Keeping a higher cooking temperature prepares the fatty portion better and keeps the skin crispy and meat juicy. If you have a 12-pound turkey, it will ideally take 2-3 hours for smoking—the time frame increases as the turkey’s size increases.

Step 5: Once an internal temperature of 165F has been achieved as the thickest part, pick it up from the smoker and let it rest for 20 minutes, covered loosely in an aluminum foil. The rest time allows the juices to settle down and helps retain them in the meat. Now you are ready to slice your turkey and serve with your favorite sauces and sides.

Which Wood Chips are best for Smoking a Turkey?

Wood chips add flavor and aroma to grilled or smoked meat. There are various wood chips available in the market for you to use. We suggest that you use commercially available wood chips and don’t go with backyard wood or any other wood unless you are pretty much sure about it. Let’s look at some of the wood chips that are perfect for smoking a turkey.

Pecan: Pecan has a mild flavor and gives a bacon aroma to your smoked meat.

Almond: Almond chips are also excellent for turkey. They give a nutty and sweet flavor to the turkey.

Apple: Applewood also works well with turkey. It has mild flavor strength and gives a sweet fruity taste. You can also use apples for chicken, pork, and beef.

Jack Daniel’s: If you are looking for something strong, go for a bag of Jack Daniel’s chips. Though it is highly recommended for pork, it can also be used with turkeys.

Hickory: Another strong flavored wood, it is ideal for smoking a turkey.

Do I need to soak my Wood Chips?

It doesn’t really matter. Soaked wood chips delay the burning process and reduce the cooking temperature. It is better to go for dry chips as they burn instantly and don’t affect your smoker’s cooking temperature.

What to do if the Temperature is too Cold Outside?

If you live in an area where the temperature is too cold, you will need to take care of a couple of things. First, you will have to check on the cooking temperature more often and add coals and wood chips to keep the temperature constant. Don’t soak your wood chips if you feel the temperature will drop. Water in the chips will reduce the coal heat. It is best to have a leave-in thermometer to monitor the smoker and meat temperature.

My Turkey gets done too early; what should I do?

If you are turkey gets smoked earlier than expected, you can let it rest for a maximum of 1 hour. It already needs 20 minutes of rest before carving. You can let it rest for an additional 30-40 minutes. Remember to cover it in aluminum foil. If you need more time, cover your turkey with aluminum foil and place it in an oven at 200F. Don’t forget to keep a water bowl on the bottom rack, as it will help keep the meat warm and moist.

How to Speed up the Smoking Process?

Some birds are stubborn; they take way more time than anticipated. If you increase the smoker’s temperature, the turkey may burn from outside and remain raw inside. We don’t want that. If your turkey gets too brown outside and is left uncooked inside, remove it from the grill and cook it in your oven at 325F. Cover it with aluminum foil. Don’t worry about the smoking taste; your turkey’s time on the smoker has made sure that it has got all the aroma and flavor from the wood chips.

Final Words

If you have taken care of everything, we are confident that you will end up with a tasty, juicy, and finger-licking smoked turkey. Everyone eating will remember the taste for a lot of time and wish for your turkey repeatedly.

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