Making Thanksgiving turkey is a right of passage into adult hood if you ask me. The problem is, most of us have no idea how to make the iconic bird the right way and no one wants to end up at Ihop eating pancakes like Tim Allen in the Santa Clause. The good news is, after years and years of disliking turkey meat I have finally discovered the best way to make Thanksgiving smoked turkey using an electric smoker. And I am happy to say that I now really enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, turkey and all!
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There is no doubt Thanksgiving is the biggest eating holiday in the United States. And if you take it seriously like most of us, you spend all day slaving over your favorite recipes to make that perfect meal for your friends and family. Front and center is usually the turkey. Sometimes there is a ham but there is almost always a turkey and about a thousand ways to prepare it. You can roast it in the oven. Fry it. Grill it. Stuff it. Or my favorite, smoke it!
What kind of turkey should be smoked?
This is entirely up to you. You can use a whole turkey or a turkey breast (I have done both). A larger turkey or a smaller one. But the best turkeys to smoke are the turkeys that have no added ingredients. In this recipe you will brine the turkey and apply a dry rub so there is no need to spend extra money on one that has added ingredients.
Why Smoked turkey is the best
Turkey is the type of meat that benefits from a slow cook and takes on the flavors you give it. The best smoked turkey is full of flavor, moist, and doesn’t even need gravy in my opinion. Smoking the turkey outside also frees up valuable oven space for all those delicious sides. And man do I love the side dishes!
How to prep your turkey
Prepping the turkey is just as important as cooking it when it comes to smoking a turkey. You definitely don’t want to skip any of the prep or you may end up with a Thanksgiving fail or a seat at Ihop.
Thawing the turkey
You MUST thaw the turkey before smoking it and this can take a long time depending on the size of your turkey. Make sure you plan ahead because you will need several days to safely thaw your turkey. You cannot smoke a frozen turkey. Because turkey is part of the poultry family, the safest way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator but you can also thaw it in cold water which is faster but requires you to babysit the turkey for about 16 hours.
Thawing in the fridge
To thaw a turkey in the fridge, keep your turkey in the original packaging. Place it on a tray or in a large bowl in case any juices leak out as it thaws in your fridge. You will need 24 hours of thaw time for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. So make sure to plan ahead. If you have a 20lb turkey you will need to start thawing it 5.5 days before Thanksgiving so you have time to brine it as well. A 12-pound turkey will take 3 days to thaw in the fridge.
Thawing in cold water
To thaw a turkey in cold water you, keep your turkey in the original packaging and place it in the kitchen sink, a large bowl, or a cooler and fill it with very cold water. The turkey will need to be completely submerged in the water. Every 30 minutes the water needs to be changed out to keep it cold. The water needs to remain cold to keep the turkey at a safe temperature. This method will take 8-16 hours depending on the size of your bird but will require your constant attention.
Thawing at room temperature – NO!
NO! I repeat, you cannot thaw a turkey at room temperature because of the risk of bacteria. The outer edges of the turkey will thaw before the middle and can start to develop bacteria. And no one wants to send their whole family to the ER with a food born illness on Thanksgiving. It’s just not worth the risk. Set a calendar reminder if you have to in order to have enough time to thaw your turkey the right way.
Cleaning the turkey
This is the worst part of making a turkey in my opinion and why I prefer to make a turkey breast or two rather than a whole turkey. If you decide to cook a whole bird for your Thanksgiving feast you will need to remove the neck and giblets. The giblets are frequently wrapped up by the butcher and placed in a sack inside the the turkey cavity. You will also need to reach in and pull out the neck. Both items can be saved to make other dishes or the gravy. Just make sure to take the trash out right away if you toss them because it will start to smell.
Brining the turkey
Brining the turkey helps give it flavor and keeps it moist during the cooking process. Brine also changes the texture of the muscles making the turkey more tender and it reduces the amount of moisture lost while the turkey cooks. I always use a wet brine but there are some chefs that prefer a dry brine. This turkey brine recipe is a wet brine.
Rinsing the turkey
Before you jump into smoking the turkey, you need to wash the turkey off with cold water. Do not use soap! Just rinse if off really well with cold water making sure to get all the parts of the turkey. Then use a few paper towels to pat it dry.
This part is very important and will give your turkey a lot of the flavor that doesn’t come from the smoke itself. You will want to first rub the turkey down with melted butter or olive oil to get the turkey skin wet and give the rub something to stick to. Coating the outside will also help you get a nice crispy skin when the turkey is cooked. You will want to rub the seasoning all over the turkey on both the outside and the inside to evenly distribute flavor.
Smoking the turkey
Low and slow is the name of the game when it comes to smoking any type of meat and Thanksgiving turkey is no different. So you will want to make sure you allow yourself enough time. You will smoke the turkey at 225 degrees until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the breast reaches 165 degrees.
The total cook time on the smoker will vary depending on the size of the turkey but plan on smoking 30-40 minutes for each pound of turkey. For smaller turkeys (8lbs) you may only smoke for 4-5 hours. But for large turkeys (20lbs) you will be smoking your bird for 10-13 hours.
What Type of Wood Chips to Use
When it comes to smoking a turkey most people prefer a sweeter fruit wood over a heavy earthy wood. But honestly this is going to come down to personal preference. Normally I use apple and hickory for a combination of earthy and sweet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does my turkey have to be refrigerated while it brines?
Yes! Raw turkey should never be left out at room temperature. You will need to brine in a container that will fit in your fridge.
Do I have to brine the turkey?
Technically this is an optional step. However, I have never smoked a turkey without brining it first so the flavor will likely not be the same.
How long do I have to brine my turkey?
The best brine is for 8-12 hours in my opinion. If you brine for less time it will not have the same results. And if you brine for too long your turkey will taste salty.
At what temperature is turkey safe to eat?
Turkey should be cooked to 165 degrees in order to be safe to eat. This is measured with a meat thermometer or an instant read thermometer. When the internal temperature of the thickest part of the breast reaches 165, it is safe to consume.
Can I use this recipe with a pellet smoker?
Definitely! This recipe can be used with any type of smoker. If the turkey fits, smoke it.
What should I make with leftover turkey?
My favorite things to make with leftover turkey are little turkey sandwiches and turkey pizza which also uses up my sweet butter and cranberry salsa. Both are a little out of the box, but trust me, they are really good!
How long does cooked turkey last in the fridge?
Cooked turkey will last 3-4 days in the fridge in an airtight container. The real concern with leftover turkey is bacteria growth. If it smells weird or looks slimy, toss it. It’s not worth the risk. Besides, I can’t take more than 4 days of eating turkey, haha!Print
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This post, Thanksgiving Smoked Turkey with an Electric Smoker, appeared first on Garrison Street Eats.