How does a smoked turkey with crispy skin and maple flavors sound? Heavenly delicious, we bet.
We’re big fans of smoking turkeys on a pellet grill. In fact, we have a few tricks of our own for getting a luscious taste each time. Discover them in this quick guide.
Smoking Turkey on a Pellet Grill Takes Time
The first thing you’ll need to successfully smoke a turkey on a pellet grill 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 actually 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.
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 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 gallon of water
- 2 tablespoons of canola oil
If you bought a pre-brined turkey and you’re ready to go straight to your pellet grill, you’ll only need:
- 1 whole thawed turkey
- 2 tablespoons of canola 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. We love combining 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
Smoking essentially means cooking with indirect heat and at lower temperatures.
For 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 ordering one from 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 own 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:
- Pour 1 ½ gallon of water into a bucket or other container. You can replace part of the water with chicken stock for more flavor
- Add ½ cup of salt and sugar
- Add 1 tablespoon of garlic
- Mix until sugar and salt dissolve
- Place the whole turkey inside the bucket and make sure it’s completely covered in brine
- Cover the bucket and leave it in your refrigerator overnight
Step 3 - Maple and Butter
What would a Thanksgiving turkey be without maple and butter?
Here’s how to quickly make a Thanksgiving marinade:
- Put butter on a saucepan over medium heat and start stirring
- When you get melted butter, it’s time to add maple syrup. Stir again
- Bring butter and maple to a boil. Add salt and pepper if you want
- Put the marinade in your fridge until it cools off
Our Smoked Turkey Recipe
Before we start smoking the turkey on a pellet grill, we need to rinse it with cold water.
Pat turkey dry with paper towels and you’re ready to smoke.
Here’s how to smoke a turkey on a pellet grill:
|Cooking Time: 7 hours
Cooking Temperature: 180℉ - 350℉
- Place the turkey breast side up in an aluminum roasting pan. Rub canola oil over the outside (we prefer using an aluminum pan to catch drippings, but you can also place the turkey directly on the grill grate)
- If canola oil isn’t your cup of tea, you can spread room-temperature butter over the turkey instead
- Establish a solid fire in the burn pot. Preheat your pellet grill to 225℉. Keep the lid closed for 15 minutes
- Place the turkey on the grill and cook at 180℉ for up to 3 hours
- Cook at 350℉ until the thickest part of the turkey breast and thigh meat reaches a temperature of 165℉. Use a meat thermometer to check. This usually takes 3 ½ hours
- Remove from the pellet grill. Let it cool off before serving (we’d serve this with pumpkin pie as a side for Thanksgiving)
Pro Tips for Getting the Best Flavor
- Spray. Spray the turkey with a mix of apple juice and apple cider vinegar when it reaches the 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. 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 thermometer. Breast meat is cooked when it reaches a temperature of 165℉, and dark meat is cooked when it reaches 175℉.
- Use a drip pan. Place it underneath the grill grates if possible to catch dripping juice.
How to Smoke a Turkey on a Pellet Grill: Takeaway
If you’re going to smoke a turkey, 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.
This just adds to our point: use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of your turkey regularly during smoking.