How To Smoke A Turkey

How To Smoke A Turkey

The last turkey I smoked was during one of our Weber product photo shoots earlier this year.  It was a huge bird, and if it turned out anything like the turkey we had smoked a few days prior, it was destined to be the star of the holiday dinner scene.  Sadly, I never got a bite, and worse, the turkey never even made it to the set. 

It was the last shot of the day, and bad weather was moving in.  We were scrambling.  The real family, who was the talent of the scene, had just sat down when bam - the storm hit.  In fact, it was not just a storm, it was a microburst, or rather a non-rotating tornado. 

As the crew raced for cover in the backyard, our grill camp in the front drive turned to wet chaos.  We dropped our pop-up tents, stashed our supplies into trucks, and got wet, real wet.  Branches fell down around us, and the power went out in the neighborhood we were shooting in.  To put it professionally, it was nuts.

As we waited for the weather to pass, which it finally did, the decision was made to wrap for the day.  Thankfully it was not only the last shot of the day, it was the last shot of a super successful week.  As I walked back around front to survey the remains of our grill station, I found our Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker still vertical and more importantly, still smoking away.  Under the lid, the turkey was to temperature.  It looked beautiful, and the owners of the home we were using suddenly had dinner. 

I would have taken a photo with my phone to savor the moment, but I was not the only thing drenched in water.

So here it is a few months later and what I am craving?  Yeah, smoked turkey.  Here’s the process, this time with great weather.  

Smoked Turkey
by Mike Lang

Serves 7-8 people

Ingredients:
1 14 pound turkey, fresh or thawed
½ cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 orange with zest, quartered
olive oil
salt and pepper
butcher twine

Instructions:

1. Bring the butter to room temperature and mix with the rosemary and thyme.

2. With a pair of poultry shears, remove the wing tips.  

Starting at the bottom cavity, use your fingers to separate the turkey’s skin from the breast meat.  Work slowly up towards the neck being careful not to split or tear the skin.  

3.  Once separated, work equal amounts of butter on to both breasts and down towards the thighs. Season the inside of the turkey cavity with salt and pepper.  Place the orange quarters inside the cavity and truss the turkey with the butcher twine.

Note: Trussing promotes even cooking by keeping the turkey compact and as an added benefit, makes for a more attractive bird when cooked.

4. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. 

Tip: For crispy skin, leave the turkey uncovered in the refrigerator overnight.

5. Season the outside of the turkey with salt, pepper, and the orange zest.  Rub all over with olive oil.

Prep the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker

6. ​Disassemble the WSM and fill the fire ring halfway up with charcoal.  You will roughly cover up the first layer of circles.

7. Fill a charcoal chimney half full with charcoal briquettes and light.  

8. Since this is a hot cook, there is no need for water in the water pan.  To make cleanup easier, think about lining the pan with aluminum foil.  

9. Once the coals in the chimney have turned grey and ashed over.  Dump them over the unlit coals in the base of the smoker and let sit for about 10-15 minutes.

10. Re-assemble the smoker.  If you plan on making a pan gravy, be sure to place a disposable foil tray on the lower grate.

11. Grill the turkey over medium low heat, 300-350 F.  As the smoker climbs towards 300 F, place the turkey on the top grate.  

12. Close the lid.

13. Open the front door panel and place no more than 2 or 3 medium chunks of wood on the hot coals.  I always opt for something sweet, like apple or cherry.  An aggressive species of wood can be too harsh.  In this case, a little goes a long way.

14. If the fire burns too hot, close the bottom vents halfway.  If you are battling cold weather, and need to keep the temperature up, add 8-10 unlit briquettes every hour.

Figure 15-18 minutes of cook time per pound.  Cook until the deepest part of the thigh reads 165 F with an instant read thermometer.

15. Before you carve into that beautiful bird, share your #BestTurkeyEver pictures with us! 

​Looking for more turkey inspiration?  Be sure to check out more tips here

What are your thoughts? (25)

12.25.16

Iain W

Just smoked a 14lb turkey (for Christmas dinner) on my WSM followed your method and worked really well. Smoked it at 260f for 5 hours used 3 chunks of apple wood to smoke with. . I let it rest for 1 hour. Worked out really well. Nice and moist which I have always struggled with when using a more traditional method. I will ever go back.

Thanks

12.25.16

Mike Lang

Hey Iain -

It sounds like a perfect Christmas celebration. I'm so glad everything worked out. It looks like dinner will always be at your house!!

Grill on!
Mike

12.24.16

John K

Great guidance! Tried this on Thanksgiving - only complaint from the family was that I didn't make more! Thanks!

12.24.16

Mike Lang

Hi John!

Thanks so much, that is great to hear!! I'm sure next year that "complaint" will go away!!

Cheers!
Mike

12.06.16

Rodrigo C

Hi. I'm doing 2 turkeys in my smokey mountain this saturday. My family is huge!
Can I do both turkeys in the same WSM?

12.06.16

Mike Lang

Hi Rodrigo -

Sounds awesome. Yes, two can fit depending on the size of your WSM. Check out this link for your exact model number: http://www.weber.com/weber-nation/blog/what-size-turkey-will-fit-in-my-grill.

Grill on!
Mike

11.24.16

Steve E

Mike,
I'm having some temperature issues. I have the 18.5 WSM, I live in CA so the weather is good, there's no wind, the charcoal is full and a good ash grey color, all my vents are open and I cant get above 250 degrees.

Any suggestions?

11.24.16

Mike Lang

Steve -

I'm sorry to hear this and I realize my reply is a little late to help you out in the moment. The 250 F isn't a deal breaker, but as you know it's a longer cook time which isn't going to help you this late in the game for timing. With that said, I'm assuming you have no water in the water pan and a full load of coal. If not, I suggest no water and a full load. Past that, I would suggest using a remote temperature probe to check the ambient temperature on the grate.

I hope that helps for any future cooks.

All the best,
Mike

11.23.16

Matt B

Mike,

Looking forward to trying this recipe tomorrow, but just had a quick question. Does it matter if the turkey is self-basted or not when you buy it? I usually buy the store bought turkeys and they have the solution already in them, but this year I got a fresh turkey so was wondering if it matters in regards to the moistness after to cook. Thanks in advance.

11.23.16

Craig P

Hi Mike,

Smoking my first turkey thanks for this helpful guide. I've seen other guides including on on this site that say it's important to cover the bird with cheesecloth for the first half of the cook to keep the skin from going past golden brown and getting took dark. That tutorial was using Hickory though, I plan to use Apple as you suggested. So what's your take on the cheese cloth thing? Thanks!

11.23.16

Mike Lang

Hey Craig - Awesome to hear you are smoking your turkey this year! Cheesecloth is fantastic when you have a lot of smoke coming from a lot of wood. In this post, I'm only using a few wood chunks, so as not to overpower the turkey. If you plan on adding more or simply want to increase the smokiness, I would add the cheesecloth to avoid the turkey turning completely dark. I hope that helps!

Cheers!
Mike

11.22.16

Jeremy W

After doing the turkey on my Summit rotisserie the past 2 years, going to do on my 18.5 WSM this go around. I'm planning on doing a wet brine in advance. Do you recommend any extended refrigerator time between removal from brine and putting on the smoker?

Best,
Jeremy

11.21.16

Mike Lang

Hi Jeremy - Isn't it great to have multiple ways to grill a turkey?! I'm sure the WSM will treat you just as well! While you can go direct from the brine to the grill, for crispier skin, leave the turkey in the fridge uncovered for a few hours to help dry the skin out. At the bare minimum, just make sure to pat the skin completely dry before it hits the WSM.

Good luck!
Mike

11.21.16

Roscoe c

Hey there,

I've been using a 22" WSM for years now, and am planning on smoking two 20 pound turkeys -- one on the upper rack and the other on the lower. Any concerns with budgeting the time requirements? I'll cook to 165 internal temperature, but does the 15-20 minutes a pound guide still seem about right since it's two birds? Thanks!

11.21.16

Mike Lang

Hi Roscoe -

Sounds awesome! If you are smoking at a low temp, 225°-250° F, you will need to up your grilling time to between 23-27/pound and probably a bit more with two birds. Here's our grilling guide to help keep you in the ballpark: http://www.weber.com/weber-nation/blog/how-many-minutes-per-pound-will-my-turkey-take.

You are going to have a feast!

Grill on!
Mike

11.19.16

Bryan G

Going to be smoking a turkey for the first time and not sure if water in pan is needed or not?

Thanks

11.19.16

Mike Lang

Hi Bryan -

I'm glad to hear you are firing up the WSM! If you are smoking at low temperatures, you will need water in the bowl to act as a heat sink. However, if you decide to grill at a higher temp, like around 350° - 375° F, you will not need water, but may need to add more coals to keep the temperature up over a longer cook.

Grill on!
Mike

11.19.16

Josh W

Hey there! The past few years I've grilled our turkey on my Genesis, but was thinking about smoking it on my Performer. It's a 19lb bird, so I'm hoping it will fit. I'll try your suggestion of putting the frozen bird on first.

I was wondering if you could layout the specifics on how to go about smoking this bad boy. Temp, time, etc.

Thanks!

11.19.16

Mike Lang

Hi Josh -

Great idea on firing up your Performer! A 19 lb bird should fit fine, but to be sure, check out our "fit" guide: http://www.weber.com/weber-nation/blog/what-size-turkey-will-fit-in-my-grill.

While it's perfectly fine to buy a frozen turkey, just make sure it's thawed prior to grilling!

Here's our guide to getting it all done: http://www.weber.com/weber-nation/blog/smoked-turkey-on-a-kettle

Cheers!
Mike

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