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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
If you bought a turkey that hasn’t been pre-brined, then you should either use a wet brine or a 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here are just a few of our favorite ways to infuse flavor into a turkey:
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!
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