Smoked Turkey is one of the best parts of Thanksgiving. This is a project of love and patience that will set your table apart from the others.  Everyone wants a moist turkey that is fully cooked with amazing smoked flavor.  There is good news! It’s not difficult, does not require a new smoker and it’s delicious. A few minutes from now you will have all the answers.

Let’s talk equipment. After 25 years of smoking meat on every kind of grill or smoker you can imagine, its become apparent the equipment is not the challenge. The advantage to having better equipment is simply less time watching the meat cook, and that is often fool’s gold.  On a standard gas grill, there are multiple burners that can be turned on or off for cooking on multiple parts of the grill.  Put the turkey on one side and the fire on the other. If you use a charcoal grill the process is the same. As long as indirect heat is possible with the equipment you are using the rest of the process is burning wood and maintaining a low temperature. This can be done by leaving the lid partway open and turning fuel down very low or keeping a small amount of charcoal burning.

Next to consider is the fuel. It doesn’t matter if its propane, charcoal, straight wood, or any combination. The challenge is the same and if done correctly the flavor will be great using any of these options. The goal is a moist turkey that is fully cooked with amazing smoked flavor.  For best results use chunks of wood for flavor as opposed to chips and DO NOT wet them.  Now, this is going to be difficult to understand because everything you read is telling you different.  Wet wood can give a strange taste.  You need a low fire that keeps the wood burning and it may catch fire which has to be contained. Soaking wood it in water will create a steamed wood taste that is not great. A big piece of hardwood that can be placed in the fire a little at a time to create smoke and flavor is great. Let the charcoal or gas provide the temperature.  Remember that it’s easy to add fire but taking it away is not so easy. Start with a small fire or just a very small amount of wood and add as needed.

What kind of turkey should you cook?  Whatever you want. Good stuff in good stuff out is always the truth when cooking any product, however, it’s not all that matters. It doesn’t take a $5 a pound turkey to produce a great product. Most of us have eaten turkey from the chain grocery stores that have been thawed and sold and that doesn’t have to change. Purchase the best turkey you can and go with it. The results will still be great if you follow these next steps.

The technique is the most important part and its all about PACE.  Many people are really concerned about the temperature of the smoker or grill.  For many years I was taught and have taught people to cook based on a specific setting…a notch in the dial. It might seem like a notch is extremely primitive and strange.  The difference is the focus is on the product and the pace not what could be an otherwise unreliable oven thermometer. The proper pace is achieved around 180- 250 degrees ambient temperature and that is just a guideline.  Ten degrees per hour on average is the real measurement that creates a great product.  This is the most important part and what will require your time, attention, and patience. Your product comes out of the refrigerator at 40 degrees in an hour it should be at 50 degrees.  If it quickly jumps to 70 or 80 then it’s moving to fast, if it gets to 110 degrees and stays there for an hour then it’s too slow. Add or subtract fuel, prop the lid open, grab the turkey and run, whatever it takes to keep the pace.  Many of you will ask about the water and humidity.  Ignore that for now, we are creating a baseline this time and it will definitely work with or without the pan of water.  The final part of the process is when to stop cooking. The red plastic thingy that pops to tell you the turkey is done has been mislabeled. It should be a signal that the turkey is dry and overcooked! This isn’t put in the turkey to make sure your turkey is moist its put in there to make sure its safe!  Poultry is safely cooked at 165 degrees. There is no reason to go beyond this point unless you don’t trust your equipment or thermometer. In this case, you can go to 170 but every degree past 165 will come with a respective amount of moisture loss and dryness.  Check the temperature in the thickest parts multiple places.   That’s it your done. Thanksgiving is a hit and you are a hero. Enjoy!


Stan Riley

Barrel & Boar