Pellet Smoked Turkey
Turkey for me, turkey for you! Smoking a whole turkey on a pellet smoker is easier than you think! The key steps are brining the turkey to retain moisture, spatchcocking (or butterfly) the turkey to ensure all parts cook evenly, and never going over the finish temperature. Everything else such as seasonings, injections, and wood selections simply enhance the final product. Nobody wants to mess up an all important Thanksgiving meal or Christmas dinner. If you have never smoked turkey on your pellet smoker before, use this recipe with chicken (and cook to temp not time). If you are a seasoned pro with smoking chickens, you can easily step up to smoking turkey (which is basically a big chicken).
- 1 10 – 15 pound turkey
- 2 64 oz bottles of apple juice
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme
- 5 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 5 sprigs fresh sage
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 sticks butter
- 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
- 1 cup Kosher salt
- 1 cup Killer Hogs AP Rub
- 1 cup Plowboys Yardbird Rub
This recipe needs 2 days of preparation prior to the Thanksgiving day cook. Usually your turkey will be fully frozen and if so let it thaw out in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.
When the turkey is thawed, remove it from the packaging and remove any giblets and pop up thermometers. Next, cut out the backbone using kitchen shears or a chef’s knife. Cut from the tail along the side of the backbone up to the neck. Repeat this step on the other side of the backbone and remove it completely. Following this, cut the breastbone in the center and now you can flatten out the turkey. This flattening of the bird is called spatchcocking and it will allow the breast and thigh meat to reach their finishing temperatures at the same time. And don’t throw way that backbone, it’s perfect for making gravy or turkey broth!
The next step is to brine the turkey for 24 hours. Place the turkey in an XL Ziploc bag or a brine bucket. Add the kosher salt, peppercorns, 4 sprigs of sage, thyme, and rosemary. Next pour in the 2 containers of apple juice and add water if needed until the turkey is submerged. Next seal the Ziploc bag while forcing out any air inside the bag. Use a zip tie or thick rubber band to collapse the empty top of the bag around the turkey (see video). Place the turkey back in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
When the brine is complete, remove the turkey from the Ziploc bag. Create an injection mix by crushing and mincing 3 garlic cloves. Add this to a small sauce pan or cast iron skillet along with 2 sticks of butter. Next add a sprig of fresh sage, rosemary and thyme. Heat the injection at medium temperature until the butter is fully melted. Allow the mixture to simmer for 5 minutes then remove it from the heat to cool. Once cooled use your injection needle to pump the turkey up with all the injection liquid. Start your injections in the breast meat followed by the thigh meat then drumsticks and finally the wings. You should be able to leave behind the big chunks of garlic and herbs.
Next season both sides of the turkey with salt pepper garlic rub (spg) as a base. For this recipe we are using Killer Hogs AP Rub. Following this, apply a poultry BBQ rub such as Plowboys Yardbird. As an optional step, you can pull back the skin over the breast and thigh and apply seasoning directly to the meat. However for some, this may be too salty and if you eat the skin you will have plenty of flavor from that. When you are done seasoning, place the turkey on an extra large cooling rack (21 x 15), then place that on a foil covered baker’s big sheet.
Turkey can be smoked at temperatures ranging from 225 F up to 325 F. However there are some food safety concerns when smoking a turkey larger than 15 pounds at 250 F or less. For this recipe we recommend smoking at 300 F which can help crisp up the skin. Use a wood such as pecan or hickory. When your smoker reaches temp, place the baking sheet with the turkey on it in the smoker. Your total cook time will vary depending on the total weight of the turkey and cooking temperature. So when cooking at 300 F you will need to allow for approximately 15 to 20 minutes per pound. While cooking you should baste the turkey every 45 minutes. If you placed your turkey on a large cooking rack and baking sheet, the juices should accumulate in the sheet. Use a baster to draw in the juices and coat the turkey skin all over. If your juices end up evaporating, you can brush melted butter on the skin. Continue this cooking process until the approximate cooking time is reached. At that point, check the temperature in the thickest part of the breast meat and you want to see at least 160 F. Check the thighs and you should be at around 170 F. Take several readings at different locations of the meat and your lowest reading is the one to go with. When the turkey reaches temp, remove it from the smoker and cover it with aluminum foil. While the turkey is covered there will be some carryover cooking bringing the temps from 160 F up to at least 165 F which is the safe recommended temperature. Let the turkey rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.