Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: April 25, 2022

Smoking a turkey in a charcoal smoker may seem a little daunting due to the size of the bird, but it is not as troublesome as you may expect. The process does, however, require a little forethought and planning. Follow our expert advice for smoking a turkey over charcoal, and you will reap the tasty reward!

Quick Summary

  • Don't get over-ambitious with the size of the turkey.
  • Pre-smoking preparation is as important as the smoking process for a well-cooked, juicy turkey.
  • Brine the turkey to keep the meat juicy and limit bacteria growth while the bird gets up to the right internal temperature.
  • Monitor the smoker's temperature and the turkey's internal temperature frequently.
  • Rest the turkey for 15 minutes, carve and serve.

Smoking a turkey in a charcoal smoker can seem challenging, particularly if the pressure is on to produce a perfect bird for a special holiday such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. Take a relaxing deep breath and read through our method to smoke a turkey worthy of the special occasion!

Smoking A Turkey In A Charcoal Smoker

A marinated turkey inside a smoker

Using a charcoal smoker to cook a turkey is similar to smoking any other large meat cut. There are several factors for consideration to ensure the bird is cooked all the way through and that it is ready on time for the meal!

The best place to start is with the selection of the bird; we will then move on to how to prepare the bird, the time you will need to smoke it, and the method to smoke it over charcoal.

Choosing The Right Turkey To Smoke

A 20-pound turkey may be an impressive sight on the table; it may be completely impractical to cook in your charcoal smoker.

Large birds take a long time to cook, and your smoker may not have the space to accommodate such a large turkey. Choosing a smaller bird cuts down on the cooking time, and it is easier to ensure the turkey cooks all the way through. A smaller bird allows for better heat and smoke circulation inside the smoker, promoting even cooking.

Choose the correctly sized turkey for the number of guests you will have. The general guideline is to cater for 1.5-pounds of turkey per person. So, if you have 8 guests, a 12-pound turkey should suffice.

If you want to ensure there is enough to go around, select a slightly bigger turkey of 13 to 14-pounds. It would be better to cook two smaller birds than one large one when catering for a larger group [1].

Preparing the Turkey For Smoking On A Charcoal Grill

A raw turkey resting on a plastic

Turkeys are often sold frozen, which means that you will need to defrost the turkey thoroughly before starting the smoking process.

Many people forget about this aspect, which could scupper their smoking plans before they even start.

The guidelines for defrosting a turkey is 24 hours thaw time for every 5-pounds the bird weighs. Consequently, a 15-pound turkey would require 3 days defrosting time before smoking.

Once the turkey has defrosted, remove the giblets, and prepare the brine for the turkey. We recommend brining the turkey to prevent the turkey from drying out.

It is preferable to brine the bird for 24 hours, but if time does not allow, a quick soak in brine for an hour or two is better than not brining at all.

The brine can be a simple salt and water mixture. The brine must be enough water to cover the turkey completely, with ½ a cup of salt per gallon of water used. The brine must be below 40°F or 4.4°C to prevent bacteria growth. Keep the turkey in the refrigerator while it is brining.

The next stage of the preparation is to remove it from the brine, pat it dry with a paper kitchen towel, stuff the turkey with your favorite stuffing, and apply a rub on the outside of the bird. We recommend the Traeger Pork and Poultry Rub or a similar rub of your choice.

Time To Smoke A Turkey On A Charcoal Smoker

Although the correct test for whether the meat is cooked enough is internal temperature rather than time, you need a good estimate for cooking time to ensure the turkey will be ready to eat on time.

The time required to smoke the turkey depends on the smoking temperature and the size of the bird. The cooking time for a turkey at 250°F or 121°C is 25 to 30-minutes per pound. Cranking the temperature up to between 300°F and 350°F or 148°C and 176°C reduces the cooking time to 15 to 20-minutes per pound.

The Process For Smoking Turkey On A Charcoal Grill

A whole turkey with marinade inside a smoker

Set your charcoal smoker up for the smoking process by placing coals on one side of the grill, opposite the side where the turkey will be positioned.

It is preferable to have the turkey located under the top exhaust of the smoker so that it will be in the direct path of the heat and smoke.

Place an aluminum dish under the grill where the turkey will be positioned, and fill the dish with water. This will provide steam in the smoker to prevent the bird from drying out too much.

Preheat the smoker until it reaches at least 250°F or 121°C. This is the recommended minimum internal temperature for your smoker for cooking turkey. This is to bring the turkey up to the correct internal temperature of 165°F or 73.8°C as soon as possible.

Place the turkey on the grill opposite the coals, with the breast side of the turkey facing up. Leave the turkey in the smoker for at least 1 hour. Constantly monitor the smoker's internal temperature and try to keep it as close to 250°F or 121°C as possible. Replenish the charcoal as needed.

Place damp woodchips on the coals as you normally do to smoke meat in a charcoal smoker. The best wood that offers good flavor turkey is maple, applewood, oak, or hickory.

Turn the turkey over in the smoker several times to ensure even cooking. Check the turkey's internal temperature frequently to ensure it reaches the prescribed 165°F or 73.8°C. A good meat thermometer is ideal for monitoring the turkey temperature. A thermometer that can remain in the bird in the smoker and give you remote readings is an even better choice to monitor the temperature.

Once the turkey has reached the correct internal temperature, the bird is cooked all the way through. It is important to give the turkey opportunity to rest after the smoking process. Wrap it in foil for at least 15 minutes before carving and serving the turkey.

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Conclusion

Smoking a turkey in a charcoal smoker is similar to smoking a chicken in the same way. This also calls for to use the correct type of charcoal for the turkey.

The goal temperatures are similar, but the turkey will take longer to get up to temperature. This requires a hotter internal smoking temperature and a longer cook time to smoke a turkey.

Smoking a turkey is not difficult, but the preparation work is greater, which must be factored into your timing to get the bird ready on time.


References:

  1. https://www.traeger.com/learn/how-to-smoke-turkey

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