“After getting my first smoker and having my wife’s family over, someone joked about me taking over the Thanksgiving turkey duties. I took the joke seriously and decided that I would try my hand at it. If it failed, nobody even had to know I was doing it. If it succeeded, we’d have two turkeys that year, so the risk was low,” says Shawn Hill of TheGrillingDad regarding the origins of his easy smoked turkey recipe.
“To make a long story short, everyone loved the smoked turkey, and I am now responsible for the one-and-only turkey each year,” Hill adds. “It took several tries to nail down the perfect recipe, and this is it.”
Smoked Turkey by TheGrillingDad
Hands-on prep time: 25 minutes
Hands-off prep time: 5 days
Cook time: 7 ½ hours
1 whole apple, quartered
1 whole lemon, quartered
1 whole onion, quartered
1 tbsp of garlic, minced
4 tbsp of melted butter
4-6 sprigs of fresh rosemary
4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 tbsp of salt (if brining)
2 cups of apple juice (if brining)
Several cups of room temperature water (if brining)
A few chunks of hickory or pecan wood
1. Thawing a turkey usually takes about 24 hours for every 4 pounds. For a 15-pound turkey, you’ll want to put the turkey in the refrigerator 5 days before you want to smoke it. The extra day is for brining the bird, which is in the next step. Leave the turkey in the original packaging and place it on a platter or cooking sheet, so you don’t have a big mess to clean up after it thaws.
2. If you buy a higher-quality turkey, you don’t have to brine it yourself, though you may still want to do so. Brining is just soaking your turkey overnight, usually in saltwater, which allows the turkey to absorb and retain more moisture. I use a cooler and place the thawed turkey in it with 2 tbsp of salt, 2 cups of apple juice, and then I pour room temperature water until the turkey is submerged. Let it stay in the cooler for 24 hours. This can also be done in the fridge.
3. Go get your smoker started and set the temp to a steady 225° F. Now that your turkey is brined, you’ll want to drain all the water from the cavity into the cooler or sink. You’ll also want to dab the turkey with a paper towel, so it’s not soaking wet. Some moisture is okay, but you don’t want it so wet that it’ll slip from your hands or not hold your seasonings. Place the quartered apple, lemon, and onion in the turkey’s cavity. Also put half of the rosemary and half of the thyme in the cavity. After that, rub the melted butter and minced garlic all over the outside of the turkey.
4. Put the remaining rosemary and thyme sprigs on top of the turkey. You may want to break the sprigs apart for the outside of the turkey, but keep them whole in the cavity. Place the turkey in a roasting pan or cooking sheet. This makes it a lot easier to carry from the prep area to the smoker and it will be used again later.
5. Place the turkey on the smoker. You can either put it directly on the grill grates with the pan underneath it, or keep it on the pan inside the smoker. The pan being underneath it helps catch the drippings that can be used for dressing later, and it also helps clean up. If you put the pan underneath it, you may want to add water to cover the bottom of the pan, so the drippings don’t burn. Keep it unwrapped during this stage, so the turkey can absorb some of the smoke flavors. Try hickory or pecan wood for turkey.
6. After 30 minutes to an hour of being on the smoker, the turkey has absorbed about as much smoke as it’s going to get. At this point, we want to cover it with aluminum foil to preserve that nice golden color of the turkey. You can leave it uncovered, but the skin may crisp up more than you originally wanted.
After covering it, keep the turkey smoking until it reaches an internal temperature of 165° F. This should take about 7 hours. Before carving it up and serving it, you’ll want to let the turkey rest at room temperature for about 15 minutes.