Gobble this Up: How to Smoke a Turkey (The Right Way, Every Time)

With Thanksgiving less than two months away, it’s time to start thinking about what you want to do with what will most likely be the star of your Thanksgiving meal, the turkey. We say “likely” here because it is estimated that on Thanksgiving alone, 46 million turkeys find themselves cut up and served to hungry mouths across the country.

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Swig & Swine

The real question – if you know you’re getting a turkey – is what to do with it. Sure, you could throw it in the oven or you could even deep fry it, but, why not try something new this year? Why not smoke that bad boy?

In the past, we’ve covered how to smoke meats in general, but with the holiday ahead of us we decided to really dig in and figure out how to smoke a turkey the right way every time (if you have turkey for the Christmas holiday, too, you could consider Thanksgiving a trial run).

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Swig & Swine

The thing is, we’d never smoked a bird before, but thankfully, we knew someone who has smoked many-a turkey in his time. To find out how to not mess up the centerpiece of a meal where you may potentially be around all of your family members (including judgmental Aunt Carol), we sat down with Pitmaster Anthony DiBernardo of Swig & Swine in Charleston, South Carolina.

If DiBernardo’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he has previously been a guest on Beards, Booze, and Bacon, which you should check out – perhaps download it to listen to on your way to pick up a turkey?

10 Tips for Smoking a Turkey

  1. Use Fresh, not frozen –Hit up your local butcher and splurge a little. If you start with the best quality, you end with the best quality. (Plus you won’t have to worry about defrosting.)
  2. Handle safely –This is raw poultry, so handle accordingly. No one wants salmonella during Black Friday shopping.
  3. Don’t stuff your bird –You’ll want the smoke to penetrate the cavity, too.
  4. Put a drip pan under your bird –This will catch the drippings to use later for gravy, which is a staple of Thanksgiving and should not be skipped over!
  5. Use a digital thermometer –Fast and accurate readings means less time spent with your smoker open. On a turkey, you’ll want to check the temperature at the thickest part of the thigh.
  6. Don’t always check it – If you’re looking, you’re not cooking!
  7. Understand the elements  –If you’re experiencing cold temperatures, try using an old blanket to help insulate your cooker. (By blanket, though, don’t just use one off the back of the couch. Use an insulating blanket like this.)
  8. Let it rest –It’s best to let your turkey sit for about 30 minutes after cooking. This helps, when carving, because it keeps the juices in the meat and not all over the table. Resist the desire to dive in right away, you’ll be rewarded for it.
  9. Some pink is okay –Don’t worry if your bird is a little bit pink on the inside, it’s a natural process of cooking. As long as it temps at 165 degrees Fahrenheit, it is safe to eat. (You don’t want your bird to go above 180 degrees F, though, as it’ll dry the meat out.)
  10. Have fun! –We smoke meats because we love it, take pride in it and, ultimately, because it tastes great. This isn’t a competition, it’s Thanksgiving! Have a beer, spend time with family, laugh it up and enjoy the holiday. It’s okay if not everything is perfect.

We don’t know about you, but those tips and tricks makes it seem pretty simple to smoke a turkey. The only things left that you’ll need to figure out are how much turkey you need, what temperature you need to set your smoker to, and how long to smoke the bird. In terms of how much turkey you need, that depends on how many people you will be cooking for and how many sides and desserts will be present. As for the next two measurements, a good temperature for turkey is to keep the smoker between 225 and 250 degrees F. If you’ve got a ten-pound bird, that will amount to around an 8-10-hour cook time.

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Swig & Swine

Finally, remember, too, that depending on the size and setup of your smoker, you may not be able to smoke your bird whole. If that is the case, simply break the bird down before you put it into the smoker and voila, a perfect smoked turkey every time.

Now that you know how to smoke a turkey, it’s probably time you invest in an actual smoker. Check out our picks for the best smoker grill combos and become a mesquite master.


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