How to Smoke a Turkey on a Pellet Grill (Step-By-Step Guide)

Gabriel Woods
Published by Gabriel Woods
Last Updated On: March 21, 2024

How does a pellet-smoked turkey with crispy skin and maple flavors sound? Heavenly delicious, we bet.

We’re big fans of smoking turkeys on a pellet grill. We have a few tricks of our own for getting a luscious taste each time. Discover them in this quick guide.

Quick Summary

  • Smoking a turkey on a pellet grill requires about 7 hours, including preparation with brine, maple, and butter, and using specific wood pellets like apple, cherry, or hickory for flavor.
  • The process involves cooking the turkey at 180℉ for 3 hours, then 350℉ until 165℉, spraying with apple juice and vinegar to keep moist.
  • A 2021 review in the National Library of Medicine highlighted the health risks of chemical hazards such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic amines, and nitrosamines in smoked turkey meat, noting that their levels often exceed European Union limits [1].
  • Pellet smokers offer temperature control, and consistent monitoring ensures perfectly cooked turkey.

Smoking Turkey on Pellet Grills Takes Time

A turkey with other meats inside a pellet grill

The first thing you’ll need to successfully smoke turkeys on pellet grills is time.

You’ll need about 7 hours just for smoking. Keep in mind that you need to brine the bird overnight, and you’re looking at two full afternoons of fun.

Make sure you have the time. Smoking a turkey in a hurry never ends well (we’re talking from experience).

But if you stay patient, you’ll be rewarded with a drool-worthy Fall feast.

If you’re going to smoke turkeys, use the best pellet smoker. Pellet smoking is just perfect because it gives you a lot of control over temperature.

Consistent temperature is critical here because a whole turkey consists of both dark and light meat, and the two should be cooked at different temperatures.

We’ll even show you how to make our special maple turkey marinade so that you can use this delicious recipe at Thanksgiving too.

What You'll Need For a Pellet Smoked Turkey

Here are the ingredients you’ll need if you’re making turkey brine from scratch:

  • 1 whole turkey (thawed)
  • ½ cup of kosher salt
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic
  • 1 ½ gallons of water
  • 2 tablespoons of canola oil

If you bought a pre-brined turkey and you’re ready to go straight to your grill, you’ll only need:

  • 1 whole thawed turkey
  • 2 tablespoons of canola oil or olive oil

In case you’re serving smoked turkey for Thanksgiving, you’ll also need two extra ingredients to make the traditional butter and syrup mixture:

  • ½ cup of butter
  • ½ cup of real maple syrup

You’ll also need wood pellets.

A study in the National Library of Medicine examined the impact of using various wood chips (oak, apple, bourbon soaked oak, cherry, and hickory) for smoke flavoring, revealing that specific chips like bourbon soaked oak and cherry not only imparted distinct flavors but also significantly reduced harmful polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic aromatic amines [2].

We love combining smoked turkey with apple, cherry, and hickory wood pellet flavors. They make for a great smoke flavor.

 

How to Prepare a Turkey for Maximum Flavor

Step 1 - Get the Right Turkey

Turkey on a pellet grill

Smoking essentially means cooking with indirect heat and at lower temperatures using a pellet smoker.

In contrast, grilling means cooking with direct heat. This is important for food safety reasons.

The heat won’t be able to penetrate a large turkey well, so some parts may be left uncooked, and harmful bacteria may remain in the meat.

To avoid this, pick out a turkey that weighs a maximum of 15 pounds. We prefer to use fresh over frozen turkey.

If you’re smoking a frozen turkey, make sure it’s completely defrosted and thawed before smoking. You should also remove the neck and giblets.

In the end, if you are not able to get your hands on a fresh turkey, we always recommend choosing meat through ButcherBox.

Step 2 - Brine First

You can’t get the perfect smoked turkey without brine. It keeps the meat moist and adds a slight salt flavor that makes the real magic happen.

You can either make your brine or buy a pre-brined bird. We prefer to mix our own when we smoke turkey.

Wet brine works better than dry brine. That’s because wet brining allows you to add more flavors.

Here’s our recipe:

  1. Pour 1 ½ gallons of water into a bucket or other container. You can replace part of the water with chicken stock for more flavor
  2. Add ½ cup of salt and sugar
  3. Add 1 tablespoon of garlic
  4. Mix until sugar and salt dissolve
  5. Place the whole turkey inside the bucket and make sure it’s completely covered in brine
  6. Cover the bucket and leave it in your refrigerator overnight

Step 3 - Maple and Butter

Maple syrups in a bottle glass

What would a Thanksgiving turkey be without maple and butter?

Here’s how to quickly make a Thanksgiving marinade: 

  1. Put butter in a saucepan over medium heat and start stirring
  2. When you get melted butter, it’s time to add maple syrup. Stir again
  3. Bring butter and maple to a boil. Add salt and pepper if you want, or some other smoked turkey rub
  4. Put the marinade in your fridge until it cools off

Our Pellet Smoked Turkey Recipe

Before we start smoking the turkey on pellet grills after applying a rub, we need to rinse it with cold water.

Pat the turkey dry with paper towels and you’re ready to smoke.

Here’s how to smoke turkey on pellet grills. Follow this easy turkey recipe:

  • Cooking Time: 7 hours
  • Cooking Temperature: 180℉ - 350℉
  1. Place the turkey breast meat side up in an aluminum roasting pan. Rub canola oil over the outside (we prefer using an aluminum roasting pan to catch drippings, but you can also place the turkey directly on the grill grate)
  2. If canola oil isn’t your cup of tea, you can spread room-temperature butter over the turkey and roasting pan instead
  3. Establish a solid fire in the burn pot. Preheat your grill to 225℉. Keep the lid closed for 15 minutes
  4. Place the turkey on the pellet grill and cook at 180℉ for up to 3 hours
  5. Cook at 350℉ until the thickest part of the smoked turkey breast and thigh meat reaches a temperature of 165℉. Use a meat thermometer to check. This usually takes 3 ½ hours
  6. Remove from the pellet grill. Let it cool off before serving (we’d serve this with pumpkin pie as a side for Thanksgiving)

Also Read: How to Cook a Turkey?

Pro Tips for Getting the Best Flavor

Turkey on a pellet grill with a drip pan underneath
  • Spray. Spray the turkey with a mix of apple juice and apple cider vinegar when it reaches an internal temperature of 125°F. Repeat the procedure every 30 minutes. This will help the turkey remain moist.
  • Choose the wood pellets with taste in mind. Wood pellets add flavor to the meat, and turkey isn’t good with everything. For example, we’d avoid oak and opt for something like apple flavor instead.
  • Use a meat thermometer. The best way to tell if smoked turkeys are ready is by using an instant-read meat thermometer. Turkey breast meat is cooked when it reaches a temperature of 165 degrees F, and dark meat is cooked when it reaches 175 degrees F.
  • Use a drip pan. Place it underneath the grill grates if possible to catch dripping juice while cook turkey on the pellet smoker.

Read More:

FAQs

Can You Smoke Two Turkeys at Once?

Yes, you can smoke two smaller turkeys at once, which is both time-efficient and allows for varied seasonings, catering to diverse tastes.

Does a Bigger Turkey Have More Food Per Pound?

No, a bigger turkey does not have more food per pound. A larger turkey has to have a bigger skeleton to support its weight, which leaves less room for the meat. You get more meat on smaller birds.

Can You Hang a Turkey in a Smoker?

Yes, you can hang a turkey in a smoker, provided you have the right equipment, such as sturdy meat hooks and a smoker designed with bars or rods at the top for hanging. Hanging the turkey allows for even heat distribution and smoke penetration, resulting in a more uniform cook and enhanced smoky flavor.

What Size Pellet Grill Do I Need for a Turkey?

The size of the pellet grill you need for a turkey depends on the size of the turkey and whether you plan to cook additional items simultaneously. For a standard-sized turkey (around 12-20 pounds), a pellet grill with a primary cooking area of at least 450 to 500 square inches should suffice.


Reference:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8645718/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6959562/
Was this article helpful?
YesNo

About the author

Gabriel Woods
Chef/Food Editor
Gabrielle Woods holds a BSc degree in Hospitality Management with a summa cum laude distinction from the University of Santo Tomas, majoring in Culinary Entrepreneurship. She helps clients achieve specific fitness goals through protein-based meal prepping. She believes cooking is both an art and a science best done with a balance of tradition and innovation.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *