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How to Smoke a Whole Turkey


Learn how to smoke a whole turkey on a pellet grill like a seasoned outdoor chef. We’ll teach you techniques from how to spatchcock a turkey to making your own brine and marinade injections.

One of the pleasures of owning a pellet grill or smoker is being able to cook Thanksgiving dinner outside so the rest of the house doesn’t have to overheat from the oven running all day. Whether this is your first time, or you’re a pellet grilling expert, these techniques will elevate your traditional turkey recipe into a delicious, tender, and juicy bird that is infused with the wood fired flavor that only a Louisiana Grill can bring.

Follow along step by step and you’ll be sure to impress your guests with your culinary prowess.



Choosing the Right Grill for Smoking Turkey

You can smoke a turkey on multiple different types of grills. From pellet to charcoal to a traditional smoker to even propane, your grill just needs to be able to circulate smoke and cook your turkey with indirect heat. We recommend using a pellet grill because it is the easiest way to maintain a consistent temperature.

How to Choose a Turkey for Smoking

When choosing a turkey, be sure to select one that is less than 15 pounds. Because of how long it will take to cook your turkey at a low temperature, on bigger birds you risk parts of the meat being contaminated by bacteria. Better to be safe than sorry and choose a turkey that weighs under 15 pounds.

How Long Does It Take to Defrost a Turkey

Typically, it will take about 24 hours for every 5 pounds of Turkey. While defrosting your turkey, it is best to leave it in its original packaging to avoid cross contamination in your refrigerator.

Smoking a Whole Turkey on a Pellet Grill

After the Turkey has been brined, be sure to rinse the Turkey with cool water. Pat the turkey dry and coat the outside skin with seasoning (but don’t use salt. The brine will infuse enough salt flavor into the meat). Place the Turkey directly on the pellet grill and smoke at 250°F to 275°F until the breast and thigh meat reaches 165°F to 170°F internal temperature (about 6 hours).

How to Brine a Turkey

Most grocery store turkeys come pre-brined so be sure to check the label beforehand. You'll notice terms like “saline solution” or “self-basting.” If the turkey is pre-brined just be sure it is fully defrosted and dry before you add in your seasonings or rub.

Making Your Own Turkey Brine

If you bought a turkey that hasn’t been pre-brined, then you should either use a wet brine or a dry brine.

Dry Brine



A dry brine consists of salt, sugar, and other optional seasonings or herbs. To dry brine your turkey, make sure it is defrosted and then simply cover the skin and the meat underneath with as much salt, sugar, and spices as you would use to normally season the turkey (try 3 tablespoons of kosher salt, 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of ground rosemary on a 15 pounder).

After applying the brine, allow your turkey to rest in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours. This will allow the salt to draw out moisture from the meat, dissolve the water-soluble ingredients of the brine, and then that liquid glaze will seep back into the meat of the turkey. This brining process renders the meat tender, juicy, and flavorful down to the bone.

Wet Brine



The other way to brine a turkey is with a wet brine. Wet brining is simple, and you can even buy a kit that comes with seasonings and a bag to brine the turkey in. A wet brine is much like a marinade where the turkey sits in a salty liquid. Over time, the meat draws in the liquid and the water-soluble seasonings.

To wet brine the turkey, start by making the brine. Add the brining mixture and 4 cups of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Carefully add this to 1 gallon of cold water and place into the bag with the turkey. Close the bag and refrigerate for at least 1 hour per pound of turkey.

You can replace some of the water with other liquids to add in more flavor if you prefer. Chicken stock, apple juice, pineapple, lemonade, beer, etc, are all good choices. This is one advantage that wet brining has over dry brining because you can infuse more flavors this way. Dry brining, on the other hand, is simpler and in some cases, less is more. This is a matter of personal preference and we recommend experimenting with both beforehand on a smaller turkey or chicken to see which one you prefer.

Turkey Marinade Injection

If you want to save time you can always inject a marinade directly into the turkey. The drawback to this approach is that you won’t be able to inject flavor into as much meat as you would be wet or dry brining. It is still a strong technique to keeping your bird moist during the low and slow smoking process.

Maple Turkey Marinade

Melt ½ cup of butter in a saucepan and mix with ½ cup of maple syrup. Remove saucepan from heat and let it cool slightly. Fill a marinade injector with the solution and inject into the thickest parts of the breast, thighs, and wings. If you have any liquid remaining, you can use it for a glaze to cover the skin later.

Turkey Glaze

A glaze can give a turkey add some contrast to the spices from the meat. For instance, if you used a spicy rub, a sweet and sour glaze will give your turkey tremendous depth in flavors. To glaze a turkey, you’ll want to reduce a liquid in a saucepan before applying it on top of the skin about 15 to 20 minutes prior to it being done.

Teriyaki Glaze Recipe

  • 1/2 CUP APPLE CIDER
  • 1/4 CUP MELTED BUTTER, UNSALTED
  • 2 FINELY CHOPPED GARLIC, CLOVES
  • 1/2 TEASPOON GINGER, GROUND
  • 2 TABLESPOON HONEY
  • 2 TABLESPOON SOY SAUCE

In a saucepan, whisk together melted butter, garlic, soy sauce, apple cider, ground ginger, and honey. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. In a separate bowl, mix cornstarch and cold water together and add to the original mixture to create a glaze. It will be ready to place on the turkey when it has thickened to the consistency of syrup.

Other Tips for Smoking a Turkey

Here are just a few of our favorite ways to infuse flavor into a turkey:

  • Spread soft, seasoned butter underneath the skin. If you can find Cajun butter, we recommend you go with that for a twist on the traditional Thanksgiving turkey.
  • Spatchcock the turkey for faster, more even cooking. On a flat work surface, place the turkey breast-side down. Using the kitchen shears, cut out the spine and discard. Flip the bird over so that it is breast-side up and press down to break the breastbone.
  • Spritz the turkey with 50/50 apple juice/apple cider vinegar every half hour after it reaches 125°F. This allows the turkey to fully absorb the smoke and will help keep your turkey nice and moist.
  • For pellets, we recommend using apple, cherry, or mesquite hardwoods. Apple will lend a soft and sweet smoky flavor. Cherrywood will be subtly tart. Mesquite is perfect if you’re using a spicy, Cajun-style recipe.
  • Don’t judge doneness by the pop-up thermometer that is usually found in grocery store turkeys. Always use a temperature probe.

Finally, the best way to smoke a turkey is on a Louisiana Grills Pellet Grill. With exceptional temperature control and dual fan convection heating, you can place your trust of cooking one of the most important meals of the year on a LG. We make exceptional grills for exceptional food. Preview one at a dealer near you!


Check out this Smoked Turkey Recipe



Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey recipe combines hickory and maple flavors that provide the perfect aromas and tastes for the Fall feast. Serve with pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes for a classic, elegant holiday meal.

Ingredients


  • 1 ½ cup Butter
  • ½ cup Maple Syrup
  • 16 LBS Whole Turkey, Pre-brined
  • 2 Tablespoons Champion Chicken Seasoning

Cooking Instructions


  1. Start your Grill on ''smoke'' with the lid open until a fire is established in the burn pot (3-7 minutes).
  2. Preheat to 250°F degrees.
  3. Melt the butter in a saucepan.
  4. Combine the melted butter and maple syrup in a bowl and whisk. With the Marinade Injector, fill with the butter and syrup mixture and pierce the meat with the needle while pushing on the plunger, injecting the flavor. You want to inject the marinade into the thickest part of the breast, thigh, and wings.
  5. Next, combine the room temperature butter and Champion Chicken seasoning and spread all over the turkey, making sure that you get it under the skin as well.
  6. Place the turkey in an aluminum pan to catch all the drippings (this makes incredible gravy) and place on the grill.
  7. When the breast and thigh meat of the turkey reaches 165°F to 170°F, remove from grill and let rest 15 minutes before carving. Happy Thanksgiving!

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