Smoking a turkey can sound a little scary, especially if it’s your first time. However, its is quite simple if you have the right tools and wood. That said, what’s the best wood to smoke a turkey? Let’s take a look at some of the best wood to smoke a turkey and some tips on how to smoke it.
Each type of wood has a different flavor profile. Depending on what kind of flavor you’re going for, you can try the wood types on our list.
If you are looking to smoke some turkey and are looking for some recipes, here are my favorites.
Smoked Turkey Wings – This is a simple and delicious recipe that uses apple wood. The smoky wings are the perfect BBQ finger food for your guests.
Smoked Turkey Legs – This is my favorite recipe. It reminds me of the turkey legs at Disney, and the honey glaze at the end locks all the flavors in. This is a must-try recipe.
Smoked Turkey Breast – I used an apple cider brine for this one, just to give you some options in preparing your next meal. The brine is simple and the end results are delicious!
Smoked Turkey Thighs – This uses a classic beer brine and adds a depth of character that just can’t be beat!
The first option on our list should be familiar to most people. We all love the fruit of the apple tree, but it’s not the only part of the tree that’s tasty!
You can use apple tree wood to add incredible flavor to smoked dishes. Applewood gives food a distinct and subtle flavor. This complements the turkey nicely without overpowering it.
To make sure your bird doesn’t dry out, you may need to baste it a couple of extra times or use a wet brine.
For the basting liquid, you can try using apple juice or sauce. It’ll keep the turkey moist as it smokes.
It can take anywhere from 3 to 4 hours to smoke a whole turkey. That’s a long time it will be exposed to the smoke, so you really should target a slow trickle of smoke. The huge billowing clouds of smoke look good, but you really run the risk of having your dish taste like ash.
Another mild fruitwood that does a phenomenal job is Cherry. This is a classic, mild wood that is easily found in your local BBQ store.
Cherry wood works wonderfully when using rubs and marinades. It also works well if you want to combine it with other wood types. Add a little oak or hickory wood to amp up the smoked flavor of your turkey.
Maple wood is one of the more complex woods on our list. It adds an earthy, spicy flavor to your dish. The flavor can also be slightly sweet depending on the type of maple wood you’re going to use. Sometimes the wood can add an almost honey-like flavor to your turkey.
Note: If you are lucky enough to fins Sugar Maple wood chunks, make sure to grab them! This variety of maple has a higher sugar content and that works perfectly with poultry, especially turkey.
This combination of flavors pairs beautifully with turkey. The flavor is so subtle that you really don’t have to worry about it overpowering your turkey.
It complements herbs really well. So, if you’re using maple wood to smoke, it may be a good idea to use a herb rub.
Maple wood is a bit on the subtle side when it comes to flavor. That’s why many people choose to pair it with other woods like alder and oak to amp up the flavor.
Pecan wood is one of the most common woods to use while smoking. It adds a combination of sweetness, smokiness, and sharpness.
This is an incredible combination for turkey meat, which has a mild flavor and a high-fat content. That means that on its own, turkey meat can be bland and gamey.
Pecan wood can cut through the fat with a slight sharpness in flavor. It also has a subtle nuttiness that pairs well with turkey.
The wood has a more robust flavor than the previous entries on our list. If you are comfortable that your guests will like a bit more robust flavor, then pecan is a fantastic option. Just remember that the stronger flavors from the smoke may overpower dry rubs, herbs and brines. It is just something you need to be prepared for.
Speaking of strong smoking woods, let’s talk about mesquite. Many people enjoy barbecuing with mesquite wood. Most southwestern states exclusively use it in their barbecues.
Mesquite wood packs the most punch on our list, flavor-wise. If you want an intense, strong, smokey flavor, mesquite is the way to go. You won’t need to build up the flavor of the turkey. All you’ll have to do is place the bird in the smoker and wait.
Be careful, as it is easy to use too much smoke here and it will ruin your bird.
Note: A great trick is to use multiple kinds of wood. You can use a little mesquite for the intense flavor and for the rest of the cooking time use a mild wood like applewood.
Tips and Tricks
If this is your very first time smoking a turkey, here are some tips and tricks to help make your journey easier:
Stuffing – Stuffing your bird makes it cook unevenly, so skip the stuffing completely.
Short on Time? You can spatchcock the turkey to cut down on cooking time significantly.
Spatchcocking also gives you more surface area for rubs and marinades.
Drip Pan – Use a drip pan so that the fat doesn’t drip and splatter on your plate setter. This is a fairly long cook, and smoke caused by fat is not pleasant. Add some water, wine or fruit juice to the drip plan to enhance the flavor slightly.
Add vegetables like celery and carrots to the drip pan as well to enhance the flavor.
Let it Smoke! Keep your smoker closed and only open when necessary.
Use a Thermometer – To tell when your turkey is ready, use a digital thermometer.
A Little Goes a Long Way – You do not need a huge amount of wood chips for longer smokes. The turkey will be on for quite a while, so a low and slow trickle of smoke is ideal. This about how long the poultry will be exposed to the smoke.
Smoking a turkey can be an intimidating task. There are several variables like cooking time and the different types of wood to use.
If you’re wondering, what is the best wood to smoke a turkey? There are a few factors you need to consider. You have to know what flavor profile you want. Is it sweet and smokey, or sharp and nutty?
Still aren’t sure? Check out my free wood pairing worksheet.
Your answer will determine what kind of wood is best for you. Other factors to consider are time and whether you’re using rubs and marinades.