So here’s something I never thought I’d be able to do: smoke a turkey for Thanksgiving. And I mean smoke that bad boy like the pros. I want to feel like I have to wait in a line around the block just to get a taste.
And that’s exactly what today’s recipe is.
Would you believe me if I told you that smoking your Thanksgiving turkey (or turkey for any occasion) is easier than you think?
You can get a whole, beautiful, juicy, flavorful, smoked turkey with just a handful of ingredients. (If you follow my Instagram stories, you probably already know those ingredients)
And like my Slow Smoked Brisket, this recipe deals primarily with technique, because you actually don’t need those fancy rubs.
That’s right! No dry brining, no wet brining, no injecting, and no rubs! You’ll still get a turkey just as juicy and flavorful as any Thanksgiving bird.
AND with the turkey on the grill, you can free up the oven for baking sides & dessert!
Choosing your turkey
This is a good rule of thumb, and one recommended by Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue (the world-famous BBQ joint in Austin, Tx): get an organic, non solution turkey. What that means is, no additives or pre-brining/pre-injecting (which a lot of the big brands do). When you have an untampered bird you have much more control over the taste.
Obviously, in some situations this will be unavoidable. Outside of special ordering from your butcher, you might be unable to find one. Most grocery store turkeys are pre-brined or injected with some sort of solution. Use your judgement. If you got the same brand of turkey in the past, you’ll most likely still love this one. I tested this recipe on a turkey that was injected with an 8% solution and it was great.
Preparing your grill or smoker
So I don’t have a fancy pants smoker. I just have a plain charcoal/wood grill (this one, to be exact). You’ll want to light your coals or wood as you do normally and keep them near the grate. This part takes some fine tuning. If you don’t know your grill well, you’ll want to keep an eye on it and keep track of the temperature, but you want to keep it between 250-275°F. Generally, wider grate, higher temp; narrower grate, lower temp. You want a slow burn, so start at halfway and adjust as needed.
You might burn through all of your coals or wood before you’re finished cooking. As the pile gets low, just add more – the heat from the already lit coals will light the new ones.
But here’s where my knowledge comes to a stop. I do not use gas grills. I have never been a huge fan of them and do not know the first thing about smoking on them (I’m sorry!), but if you are already experienced on a gas grill I’m sure there are at least a few tips to take away from this post.
Once you’re prepared the bird (which I talk about in the recipe), you just set it on the grill on the opposite side of the coals, not directly over them. The hot smoke will permeate the skin and give it incredible flavor. In the last 1-2 hours of cooking, cover the turkey in two layers of foil and add the butter. It will braise in the butter & its own juices and produce a soft, tender turkey.
By the way, like with the oven, if you plan to eat this around lunch time or early afternoon, you’ll have to get up early. When I tested this recipe, I was up at 4 AM to start this thing, which means I was TIRED. I feel asleep like, twice, and kicked myself because I let the temperature dip to 150°F. If that happens, I promise it is okay, just know that you’ll probably have to add an extra hour to the cook time. But things happen, and I’ll be the first to tell you that being a good cook doesn’t just mean skill, it’s the ability to adapt to whatever the kitchen (or the grill) throws at you! You got this!
So try this incredible smoked turkey this holiday season – it’s foolproof! I promise you wont go back.
Did you cook this beautiful bird? Show me your masterpiece! Tag your photos on Facebook or Instagram with #aftbeats or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time. X
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Items used in this recipe:
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How to Smoke a Turkey
How to Smoke a Turkey
Learn how to make a whole smoked turkey for Thanksgiving or anytime. No need for fancy rubs – just salt and pepper here. It’s all in the technique!
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 6 hours
- Total Time: 6 hours 30 minutes
- Yield: 15-40, depending on your size of turkey 1x
- Category: Main Dish
- Method: Grill, Smoker
- Cuisine: American
- 1 whole turkey, skin on (size to preference)
- 1 c. salted butter, softened
- coarse salt
- freshly cracked pepper
Things you’ll need:
- heavy duty foil
- charcoal or seasoned firewood
Prepare the turkey:
- If frozen, thaw the turkey 24 hours per 4-5 pounds. Remove from the package and drain, then remove the neck and giblets (save or toss these, up to you).
- Place the turkey on a cutting board or in a large pan and rub 1/4 c. of the butter underneath the skin of the breasts.
- In a small bowl, combine a rub of salt and freshly cracked pepper. 1 part salt to 2 parts pepper. You’ll need about 1/4 c. of this rub per 5lbs. Rub the salt and pepper generously all over the turkey.
On the grill:
- Set about 20-30 charcoal briquettes in a tall pile on the grill, near the grate. Keep the grate open slightly, and open more or less throughout cooking in order to keep the grill at a steady 250-275°F. Light about 10 briquettes in a starter or on the other side of the grill, then add to your existing pile. You can add charcoal as the others die down during cooking, but don’t light them. They will ignite naturally from the existing charcoal.
- Place the turkey on the side of the grill opposite the coals, breast side up. *If your grill has a second rack, make sure it is removed or adjusted so it wont touch the turkey.
- Cook the turkey 4-6 hours (this will vary greatly depending on the size of your bird). The general rule is 15 minutes per pound.
- In the last hour of cooking, top the turkey withe remaining butter (it will melt and braise in the juices), then wrap tightly in 2 layers of heavy duty foil.
- Continue smoking until a thermometer inserted into the center of the breast, legs and wings read 160°F. Remove the turkey and let rest about 30 minutes before carving.
- Serve on a bed of greens for incredible presentation.
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