Jayden Lawson
Published by Jayden Lawson
Last Updated On: July 15, 2023

I’ve been in charge of Thanksgiving dinner for the last five years, so I thought about how I could make the process easier and get to spend more time with my guests. The answer was obvious — eliminate cooking the turkey on the actual Thanksgiving day.

I experimented with smoking a turkey a day ahead and tried different methods until I learned all the pros and cons of cooking turkey ahead of time.

Here’s how you can smoke a turkey a day ahead, and most importantly, how to store and reheat it so your guests won’t even know it’s precooked.

Quick Summary

  • You can smoke a turkey a day ahead, but you won’t have the same presentation as with a just-cooked bird.
  • You can smoke a frozen turkey, but a thawed one gives better results.
  • How long the turkey will cook depends on its weight and your smoker’s temperature.

Can You Smoke a Turkey a Day Ahead?

A turkey being cooked inside a smoker a day ahead

Yes, you can smoke a turkey a day ahead. Smoking turkey results in juicy cooked meat and is usually a better choice than the traditional roasted turkey, which often turns out dry.

However, smoking a day ahead can change the turkey’s texture, so it won’t look as nice on your table. The skin won’t be as brown and won’t look as appetizing as a turkey fresh out of the smoker.

Plus, expect that it’ll take you around three hours to reheat, so you’ll still have some work on the day you want to serve it.

While this isn’t ideal, there are still advantages to smoking a turkey ahead. Reheated smoked turkey saves you time on the day you plan to serve it.

A turkey cook time is around 8 to 10 hours, which is significantly longer than preheating.

Plus, the reheating process is mostly hands-off — you should only check the smoker and the turkey temperature occasionally.

Overall, you can smoke your turkey a day ahead, refrigerate, and reheat it on the day you plan to serve it. With the right techniques, guests won’t even notice any difference.

4 Ways On How to Smoke Turkey a Day Ahead

Two whole turkeys inside a smoker

You can smoke turkey ahead the same way as you normally do. Most recipes recommend you smoke the bird for 30 to 60 minutes per pound, depending on the size of your bird and the smoker’s temperature.

The main thing when smoking a turkey ahead is starting out on time and calculating how long it’ll take.

Here’s how to smoke your turkey ahead step-by-step:

1. Calculate the Smoking Time

Turkey’s smoking time depends on the weight and the smoker’s temperature.

Here are the average smoking turkey times:

  • 225 degrees - Turkey cooks 40 minutes per pound, so it takes eight hours to smoke a 12 lbs turkey.
  • 275 degrees - Turkey cooks at 30 minuter per pound, so it takes six hours to smoke a 12 lbs turkey.
  • 325 degrees - Turkey cooks at 20 minuter per pound, so it takes four hours to smoke a 12 lbs turkey.

Smoking turkey doesn’t need a lot of attention, especially compared to an oven turkey. You can put the whole turkey in the smoker before you go to bed and wake up to a ready turkey.

“Cooking times depend on many factors: the size and shape of the turkey, the distance from the heat, temperature of the coals, and the temperature of the outside air.”
- U.S. Department of Agriculture 

2. Prepare the Turkey

Thawing the turkey inside the fridge

Make sure to defrost the turkey before smoking. You can cook a frozen smoked turkey, but a completely thawed turkey will achieve better results.

Place the turkey in the fridge a few days before smoking. If you’re short on time, you can defrost with cold water in the cooler.

Pat dry thawed turkey and put it breast side up on a roasting rack or a pan. You can leave it in the fridge for a few hours to dry. A dry turkey will have crispy skin and moist meat.

Once your turkey is defrosted, season it. Use a dry brine to get tender and flavorful meat. Kosher salt and pepper work great.

If you like strong flavors, use stronger seasonings or spices. Peanut oil creates a nice bark as well. Stuff the turkey and place it in the smoker.

3. Preheat the Smoker

Heat the smoker to 250 degrees. I like to use apple wood chips to smoke for about half an hour before I put the turkey in.

4. Check the Internal Temperature

Checking the internal temperature of the turkey inside the smoker

Check the internal temperature periodically throughout the smoking turkey period. Pellet grills usually have temperature probes, so you don’t have to open the smoker, but charcoal and gas grills don’t.

Use a digital meat thermometer to check on the turkey. Keep in mind that dark meat, such as wings and drumsticks, is cooked before the turkey breast meat, so you should check the internal temperature in several places.

The turkey is done cooking when it reaches 165 degrees [1].

Note: Try not to open the smoker door too much, as this lets out the heat, and the turkey will need more time to cook.

Also Read: Not Popping Turkey Buttons

4 Ways Of Storing a Smoked Turkey

A smoked turkey ready to be stored

Here’s how to store a precooked turkey:

  • Place the cooked bird on a wire rack or an oven tray.
  • Double-wrap the whole turkey with foil and rest until the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees. This usually takes about half an hour.
  • If you want to cut the turkey, carve it down into parts, remove the skin, and shred the white and dark meat. You can separate the meats and add the dark meat with the chopped-up skin. Store the shredded turkey meat in an airtight container. You should bring the turkey temperature further down before storing it in the fridge. Fill your sink with cold water and put the containers in it so the meat quickly cools down. When the turkey is cool enough, place it in the fridge.
  • You can also store a whole turkey until the next day. Cover it with plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge.

5 Ways On How to Reheat a Smoked Turkey

A top view of a reheated smoked turkey

Here’s how reheating smoked turkey works:

  • Take the cooked turkey out of the fridge about an hour before you reheat it. This way, the turkey has time to warm up and will reheat faster. Remove the aluminum foil.
  • Preheat the smoker to 250 degrees.
  • Baste the turkey with batter or oil and season so it’s not dry. Wrap the turkey in aluminum foil again.
  • Put the Thanksgiving turkey into the smoker and reheat until it reaches 145 degrees. If you leave it for longer, all the meat will be dry.
  • Rest the turkey for 20 minutes before serving.

Reheating a whole bird takes about three hours, depending on its size. Individual pieces need about 20 to 30 minutes in the oven or microwave.

Pro tip: If you’re reheating turkey in the microwave, add a little water or chicken broth to the meat to keep it moist. Reheat in batches until the meat is steaming.

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Cons of Smoking a Turkey a Day Ahead

Smoking a turkey inside a smoker

Smoking an entire turkey ahead of time may make your life easier, but there are several drawbacks to it.

I mentioned that smoking ahead affects the turkey’s texture. You won’t have the traditional presentation when you reheat smoked turkey.

Freshly cooked turkey has a strong smoke flavor, and its texture can’t be replicated later on.

You may need to break down the turkey to store it. You risk having dry meat because of loss of moisture. You can also lose the crisp skin when storing cooked turkey in the fridge.

Finally, when you smoke a turkey and let it cool completely, it’s difficult to remove the meat from the bones as immediately after the initial cooking process.

Overall, the reheated turkey won’t look as impressive as a fresh turkey out of the smoker. However, you can have decent results and an impressive Thanksgiving feast if you properly reheat it.

Also Read: Smoked Spatchcock Turkey


How Early Can You Smoke a Turkey?

You can smoke a turkey five days early, as you can keep the turkey in the fridge for up to five days.

Can You Smoke a Turkey Halfway and Finish Later?

No, you can’t smoke a turkey halfway and finish later. The bacteria present in the meat may not be destroyed if you cook partially. You can only cook partially if you plan to finish cooking the turkey properly on the grill.

What if My Smoked Turkey Is Done Too Early?

If your smoked turkey is done too early, let it rest uncovered for half an hour. Then cover it with aluminum foil and a blanket and let the turkey rest for another half an hour. This releases the initial heat, and the turkey won’t overcook.

Should You Smoke a Turkey a Day Ahead?

You can absolutely smoke a turkey a day ahead. However, keep in mind smoking meat ahead won’t have the same texture as smoking on the day. It’s a compromise, but it’s up to you to decide what’s the best decision.

My go-to source for meat is ButcherBox, a meat delivery company that has a wide selection of poultry grown free-range without antibiotics or added hormones. To choose high-quality meat to purchase, read the Butcherbox review to learn more.

The birds are allowed to roam and are sustainably sourced and responsibly raised, ensuring premium quality with every box you get.


  1. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation
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