Just look at this gorgeous dark crispy-skinned smoked turkey fresh out of the smoker. You are going to love the smoky taste of this brined turkey recipe!
🍽️ Why This Works
The wet brine keeps the meat juicy and flavorful. Turkey meat, which can easily tend toward dryness by the time it is fully cooked, benefits greatly from a brine soak, especially when you want to cook a turkey whole, low, and slow.
It’s easy. Unlike roasting turkey in the oven, you do not have to tent this turkey, baste it or do any of those other hands-on turkey day tasks. Just put it in the smoker and go to work on some delicious side dishes.
Turkey is inexpensive. The cost of turkey makes it a very attractive meal any time of year. Its especially nice if you stock up on whole turkeys during the holiday sales and keep one in the freezer to enjoy later in the year.
📝 Ingredient Notes
Turkey and Seasonings – We used lemon pepper for the seasoning, but you can use your favorite dry rub or seasoning mix. Don’t forget to remove the neck and giblets from the inner cavity of the turkey.
Wet Brine – This method of soaking poultry in a salty liquid brings intense moisture and flavor to the meat. It actually changes the physical structure of the meat’s proteins to hold more water.
⏲️ Equipment and Tools
Smoker. Our Big Green Egg is the house favorite.
Disposal aluminum pan for drippings. The juices collected in the drip pan help not only to avoid a mess but also to keep the inside of the smoker moist. You can also use the turkey drippings to make a scrumptious gravy!
Sheet Pan and Baking Rack.
Large Container for Brining. We used a cooler because it fit the bird and we were able to put it in the refrigerator to keep that nice, cool, safe temperature.
Smoking Wood. Any smoking wood type will work with turkey. We used apple wood chips.
Step One: Combine hot water, salt, brown sugar, and bay leaves into a large stockpot. Stir well until salt and sugar have fully dissolved. Add in the cold water and stir well.
Step Two: Place the turkey into a large container. A cooler like the one shown works really well. Pour the brine over the bird, making sure it is fully covered. Add water to make sure it is covered if needed. Add in the cut-up lemon and oranges.
Step Three: Place the cooler into your refrigerator and brine the turkey for 12-24 hours.
How to Make Smoked Turkey
Step One: Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse it thoroughly. We run water over the turkey directly in the sink. If you think you’re done rinsing, do it again. It is really important to get any salt out from the cracks and crevices.
Step Two: Place the rinsed turkey on a roasting pan with a raised baking rack nestled inside and pat it dry with paper towels. Preheat your smoker to 250°F while allowing the turkey to air dry.
Step Three: Rub the outside of the turkey with olive oil (or melted butter) and lemon pepper seasoning.
Step Four: Add your wood to the smoker. Place the roasting pan containing the turkey on the grill grates and close it up to smoke until it reaches an internal temperature of about 145-150ºF.
Note: Some people like to spray or baste the turkey with chicken broth several times during the smoking process to avoid the bird from overdrying. This is not necessary if you wet brined the turkey.
Step Five: Turn up the grill/smoker to 350 degrees f. Continue cooking until the internal temp reaches 165ºF deep in the thigh meat area. This hotter temperature at the end will help to darken and crisp up the skin.
Note: Let the turkey rest for 20 minutes before carving. If your turkey finishes smoking early, you can tent it with aluminum foil to keep it warm for longer. Be aware this might also soften up the skin a little but you can crisp it back up with a fast broil in the oven.
❗ Recipe Tips and Tricks
If it is as cold outside as it is in your refrigerator, you can keep your cooler outside while your turkey soaks in the brine. This saves space in your fridge, which is especially important during the holidays.
If it is not quite as cold as your refrigerator outside, this method can still work but you would need to add ice to the cooler and keep an instant-read thermometer probe inside the cooler so that you can make sure it doesn’t get too warm for food safety. The turkey must be kept below 40ºF at all times.
Make sure your turkey is thawed before you begin the brining process. Thawing a whole turkey takes one day for every four pounds of turkey at just under 40ºF.
That means a 16-pound turkey is going to take 4 full days to thaw in your refrigerator. The last day of the thawing process can take place as it soaks in the brine as long as you keep a close eye on the temperature.
This whole smoked turkey recipe works for all types of smokers including an electric smoker, a pellet grill, a gas grill, or a charcoal grill. You just have to use an initial smoking temperature of 250°F and crank it up to 350°F when the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 145-150ºF.
Looking for a faster smoked turkey recipe? With less cooking time needed, the smoked spatchcocked turkey is ready much sooner. Since it smokes faster, you can skip the brining process and still get a nice juicy turkey.
When you’re in a big rush to get food on the table go for smoked turkey breast. In general, turkey parts smoke faster than the whole bird.
Smoked turkey legs are ready after four hours in the smoker and the breast is done in about two hours. Brining them overnight is highly recommended! You’ll get the most tender meat this way.
🧑🍳 Storage and Reheating
Raw turkey can be frozen for up to three months in its original packaging.
A fresh turkey can be kept in the refrigerator in its original packaging for up to two days past the sell-by date.
A thawing turkey can be kept in the refrigerator for the length of time it takes to thaw, but should be cooked as soon as it is thawed.
Leftover cooked turkey can be refrigerated and used in recipes for up to two days in an airtight container or a freezer plastic bag.
Cooked turkey can be frozen in airtight containers for future use and will keep for up to three months. It should be discarded if it shows signs of freezer burn.
Cooked turkey that has been frozen and then reheated should not be kept after your meal. In other words, it should not be cooked, frozen, cooked again and then frozen or refrigerated a second time.
Cooked turkey can be used in so many ways, it is always a good idea to make a turkey big enough to give you leftovers. Pull the extra meat off the bird, dice it up, and freeze it in one-cup portions.
If you know the recipe you will be using it for, freeze it in exactly the amounts you will need.
For instance, I know that if I want to make turkey pot pie, I will need exactly three cups of diced turkey. So I freeze three-cup portions in plastic freezer bags. This saves so much time later!
Use your leftover meat is perfect for turkey soup but also for stews, sandwiches, tacos, quesadillas, meat pies, rice bowls, salads, and stir-fries. It’s so versatile and also tends to be inexpensive.
Additions and Substitutions
It’s true sometimes the best smoked turkey recipe can also be the simplest. Even so, don’t be afraid to change up the seasoning. Lemon pepper is great, but we love the Dizzy Pig Wonder Bird seasoning. You have so many choices!
Here are some common dry rub ingredients to create the perfect blend:
- Black pepper
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Chili powder
- Red pepper flakes
- Brown sugar
- Lemon or lime zest
if you’re looking for a refreshing dry rub recipe, give our favorites a try!
- Yucatan Dry Rub – These bold Mexican flavors go exceptionally well with grilled and smoked turkey.
- All-purpose Dry Rub – It really does work for any kind of meat or veggie! Make a larger batch and you won’t regret it!
- Java Dry Rub – A hint of coffee turns smoked turkey into a whole new experience.
Some people like to add fresh herbs and fruit to the inner cavity of the bird as it cooks such as thyme or rosemary sprigs, a quartered onion, or lemon slices. The only purpose of this is the fragrance.
Anything cooked inside the bird cannot be eaten safely, and really does very little to flavor the meat but it sure does smell good. Since your smoker is outside there isn’t much point.
Whole turkey is a wonderful protein and you can serve it in a thousand different ways. Traditional Thanksgiving sides are always wonderful, but you could also change it up with rice and beans, a fresh salad, or a lovely risotto.
Need more inspiration? Check out this well-rounded selection of BBQ sides! Or perhaps you’d want to try one of our favorite side dishes for barbecue chicken that would work just as well with turkey and other poultry meat.
More Grilled And Smoked Turkey Recipes
Let’s be honest: grilling and smoking is quite satisfying! Turkey is an excellent choice: nutritious, affordable, and easy to cook.
Smoked Turkey Recipes
These smoked turkey recipes are insanely delicious and if you take a quick peek you’ll also notice they’re quite easy to pull off. As long as you have the proper equipment and willing to do some minimal prep work you’re good to go!
- Smoked Turkey Legs – A fast smoke with perfect results that’s easy to scale up.
- Smoked Turkey Wings – There’s a special appeal to smoked turkey wings and they’re ready in just a few hours!
- Smoked Turkey Breast – The delicate breast is even better after wet brining and the cooking time is really short.
- Smoked Spatchcock Turkey – Learn how to flatten the turkey for easier application of seasoning and faster smoking.
Grilled Turkey Recipes
Grilling turkey is faster and the ideal choice when you don’t have the time or patience to smoke meat. These grilled turkey recipes are on my “family favorites” list and I’m sure they’ll end up on yours too.
- Amazing Grilled Turkey Legs – Turkey legs offer plenty of dark meat for the fans. If you have any turkey leftovers they’re great for sandwiches, salads, and other quick lunches.
- Whole Grilled Turkey – In a rush? Don’t smoke the turkey, grill it! It will still get devoured, I promise!
- Grilled Spatchcock Turkey – The spatchcocking technique is used to flatten the turkey. This way, it cooks faster and since the outer surface is increased it will absorb the smoke flavor more easily.
- Grilled Turkey Burger – Burgers are always a satisfying treat and these turkey patties cook really fast!
❓ Recipe FAQ
8-12 hours. You will notice that there is no time length on our recipe card and that is for a reason. Turkeys can vary greatly in size. The key is that your turkey needs to smoke until the meat is 165ºF.
We use a 2-step smoking process. During the first part, the turkey smokes at 250°F until its internal temperature reaches 145-150°F. Then, the smoker temperature is increased at 350°F and the turkey continues to cook until its internal temperature reaches 165ºF in the deepest thigh area.
You can thaw a turkey in a five-gallon bucket of cold water, as long as you keep the water colder than 40ºF by replacing it often and possibly adding ice to the bucket. Use an instant-read thermometer to keep track of the water temperature. Do not, under any circumstances, thaw your turkey at room temperature.
For more info on defrosting a whole bird safely, check out our full guide on how to thaw a turkey.
All uncooked meat, including turkey should not stay in the “danger zone” (temperatures between 40-140ºF that offer the best conditions for bacteria to multiply) for more than 2 hours, according to the USDA. The time is reduced to 1 hour if the room temperature is 90ºF or higher.
Make sure the turkey is completely thawed before smoking. The low temperatures used for smoking may cause the meat to spoil before it fully thaws.
It takes roughly 25 minutes per pound or 60 minutes per kilogram to smoke a turkey at 250ºF. For a 7 kg turkey, that would be roughly 7 hours. Always aim for an internal temperature of 165ºF in the deepest area of the thigh, rather than a specific total smoking time.
Allow a small bird to rest for at least 20 minutes and large turkeys up to 40 minutes after smoking or grilling. During resting, the juices will redistribute inside the meat keeping it moist and tender.
If you carve the turkey too soon, all those juices will leak causing the meat to dry out and lose flavor.
Tried this recipe? Please leave a star ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating in the recipe card below and/or a review in the comments section further down the page. You can also stay in touch with me through social media by following me on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook!
- Disposal aluminum pan for drippings
- Large Container for Brining
- 14 lb Turkey
- 4 tbsp Lemon Pepper Seasoning
- Olive Oil
- 8 cup Hot Water
- 8 cup Cold Water
- ¾ cup Brown Sugar
- ¾ cup Kosher Salt
- Bay Leaves
Brining the turkey
- Combine hot water, salt, brown sugar and bay leaves into a large stockpot. Stir well until salt and sugar have fully dissolved. Add in the cold water and stir into the stock pot.
- Place the turkey into a large container (we are using a cooler) and pour the brine over the bird, making sure it is fully covered. Add water to make sure it is covered. Add in cut up lemon and oranges. **You can add ice to the top as shown in the photos, it's not required**
- Place in the refrigerator and brine for 12-24 hours. Rinse well before smoking.
- Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse well in the sink. Place the rinsed turkey on a sheet pan with a raised baking rack and pat dry with paper towels. Allow to sit on the counter for 30 minutes to air dry and come down in temperature.
- While the turkey is resting on the counter air drying, heat up the smoker to 250°F.
- After 30 minutes of air drying, rub the turkey with olive oil and add the Lemon Pepper (or your favorite rub) seasoning.
- Add wood to the smoker. We chose apple wood chunks this time.
- Place the turkey on the grate and close up to smoke until it reaches about 145-150°F.
- Turn up the grill/smoker to 350°F and continue cooking until the internal temperature reaches 165°F deep in the thigh meat area. It is important to turn up the heat at the end to help the skin get nice and crispy.
Jason’s been firing up the grill for over 30 years after graduating from the US Coast Guard Academy. His love of finely-grilled steak and chicken led him to buy his first Weber grill to put on his apartment patio in 1992. Each military move led to a new grill (a mixture of gas and charcoal) until he fell in love with the Big Green Egg in 2008. Since then, he has added another 4 grills to the collection. Yes, he has a problem. Jason loves smoking in the ceramic BGE with exotic woods including olive wood from Egypt and hard to find varieties such as sassafras and orange wood. Jason takes the term “foodie” to a whole new level, jumping at the chance to take food tours and cooking classes during foreign travels. These have provided inspiration to incorporate new ideas into recipes when he gets back home. He has been featured in Fox News, Parade, Yahoo News, Kansas City Living and more. After retiring from the military and moving to southwest Florida, he has focused grilling and smoking locally sourced meats and fish (read: he likes to catch his own fish!)