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Today, at Compass and Fork, we put the spotlight on smoked turkey, as cooked in the smoker, to help celebrate the festive season. Here is everything you need to know to smoke your turkey perfectly!
A little more work, maybe, than roasting your festive-season turkey in the oven, but the extra rewards make this a great reason to go the extra mile and use a smoker to cook your turkey. And here is how to smoke your turkey so it turns out perfectly!
If you are looking to cook turkey so that people will still be talking about it this time next year, read on. We will take you through the whole process of how to smoke your turkey:
- Buy a fresh turkey from your local butcher/provider;
- Brine the turkey for extra juiciness, flavor and tenderness;
- Massage a wet rub to perfectly season your turkey;
- Cook the turkey on the smoker low and slow, basting with a butter-based solution;
- Rest your smoked turkey for around 1 hour; and
- Carve your turkey masterpiece and serve.
Welcome to the festive season here in the USA. If you are not from the USA, find out what all the fuss is about with turkey over the Thanksgiving and Holiday season.
The Festive Season in the USA
I don’t know any person that doesn’t enjoy the celebrations around the festive season. In the USA, the unofficial festive season commences with the advent of fall and Halloween. There is nothing like this anywhere else in the world.
Around late September, you will see all sorts of fabulous, yard decorations signaling fall, or autumn. Think haystacks, pumpkins and scarecrows. When you first observe these fall decorations, you know that Halloween is just around the corner, with its ghoulish decorations, ghosts and no end of fun parties to attend.
Although Halloween has its roots in Europe, the US is responsible for developing the modern traditions we associate with Halloween, such as trick or treating for the children and the fun “dress-up” parties for the adults. Thoughts then soon turn to Thanksgiving.
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Thanksgiving is celebrated in the USA and Canada. In the USA, celebrations are the fourth Thursday in November. In Canada it is the second Monday in October. The holiday is to give thanks for everything you have with your family and friends. A time for a moment of gratitude.
And after Thanksgiving, it’s time to put up the Christmas decorations! We all know what comes in late December. More family celebrations ensue.
For people outside of the US, it is interesting to observe Thanksgiving. It seems bigger in the US than Christmas. Americans often travel to be with family at Thanksgiving more so than at Christmas.
All in all, it is a fun time of the year to be in the US.
Smoke Your Turkey in A Smoker
Within the US, turkey is extremely popular and you typically roast a turkey to celebrate Thanksgiving as well as Christmas. And why not? It is good for you and is relatively cheap compared to turkey in other parts of the world. Many other countries also celebrate Christmas with a roast turkey. This recipe offers you the chance to do something different this year!
The traditional way of cooking turkey is to roast it in the oven, but I can tell you turkey cooked in the smoker just adds a touch of class to your festive celebrations. Although any time of the year is a good time to cook turkey in the USA, Thanksgiving and Christmas offer you the opportunity to do something special with your family and friends.
It is true there is more work involved in smoking your turkey. But cooking your turkey slow and low in the smoker will reward you with taste and tenderness. You will need access to a smoker for this recipe. Several years ago we did extensive research about smokers. You want one with good heat insulation (to maintain a constant temperature) and a separate door for the wood chips (so the heat does not escape when you need to top the wood chips up).
Do you need to brine your turkey before you smoke it?
If you want tender, juicy turkey, brining really does become “essential” for larger poultry like turkey. You should brine your turkey prior to smoking and you want your turkey to be around 12 lbs (5.5kg or less), although I have successfully cooked a 16-pound turkey in the smoker. A pre-prepared brine mix makes this an easy task. For those unable to find a prepared mix you can find a good turkey brine recipe here.
You can brine the turkey in a brining bag (large strong bag, or in a brining bucket. It probably depends on how dedicated you are to continuing to use the smoker if you would like to invest in a brining bucket, but it does help to brine food evenly.
After brining the turkey, I season the turkey with a wet rub, the recipe is below.
What are the best type of wood chips to use to smoke turkey?
Generally fruit based wood chips are good for poultry as they are milder than some other hardwood chips. Apple or peach wood chips are good options for poultry or cherry wood chips also darken the turkey giving a golden brown color.
You can purchase a handy magnet which gives you a guide to the best type of wood chips and the correct temperature to know when the meat is fully cooked. (A great gift for Dad.)
Once the turkey is cooking in the smoker, I baste the turkey with a butter-based solution. After removing the turkey from the smoker, I like to rest the turkey for 1 hour before slicing to allow for maximum juiciness.
A meat thermometer will tell you when it is done. If you don’t want to open the smoker door to check, there are remote digital meat thermometers available.
Do you like smoking food? You might also enjoy these recipes for cooking beef brisket or Carolina style ribs in the smoker.
And here is a super easy mashed potato recipe, the perfect accompaniment!
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- 12 lbs turkey brined
- Wet Rub Seasoning
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tbsp salt, ground sea
- 1 tbsp black pepper, ground
- 1 tbsp paprika, mild
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp ginger, powdered
- Butter Baste
- 1 stick butter 1/4 lb (120 grams)
- 1 cup chicken stock or turkey stock
- 2 tsp cajun seasoning or paprika
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- Brine your turkey for a minimum 1 hour per pound in the refrigerator. Remove turkey from brining solution and dry totally with kitchen paper. Allow to come up to room temperature.
- Mix together the wet rub ingredients and apply liberally over the turkey. Prepare the butter baste. Place the turkey in the pre-heated smoker, following the manufacturer's instructions. I cooked at a temperature of 225 f (110 c) and I used Jack Daniels wood chips.
- Cook for approximately 30 - 40 minutes per pound basting the turkey with the prepared butter baste each hour. I used a meat thermometer to determine when to remove the turkey from the smoker. It needs to register 170 f (75 c) in the thick part of the thigh and 160 (71 c) for the breast. Allow to rest for at least 30 minutes to 1 hour before carving.
And here is the link to our rustic style creamy mashed potato recipe! Perfect with this smoked turkey!
I have never smoked a turkey! Excited to try. Thanks.
Wow, this looks amazing. I wish we had a smoker so I could make this. I would love to have this for Thanksgiving!
I <3 smoked turkey! It has such an amazing flavor. My family makes or buys one almost every year for Thanksgiving. I have a Weber grill now that I've used for smoking ribs, so I'll keep your instructions in mind if I decide to smoke a turkey on my own soon!
I’ve not tried to smoke a turkey before, and now you have me thinking about buying a smoker. It looks so good!
I bet this turkey tastes so juicy and flavorful! Smoked turkey is the best!
Wow the festive season really sounds fun in the U.S. I’m in New Zealand and we don’t celebrate thanksgiving though it really sounds like a lovely time to spend with loved ones. I have never smoked a turkey before – it looks very tasty!
Thanksgiving is a great American holiday (Canada also celebrates, on a different day) but I think the rest of the world should adapt it- pausing to appreciate what you have is alaways a good thing!
Woah now this is the turkey my family needs to make this year! Loving all of the spices for the rub – so good!
Renee D Kohley
SO many great tips! Thank you, as I have never smoked a turkey before! I appreciate all the advice- looks so good!
I adore smoked turkeys, this one is beautiful!!
The golden brown color is fantastic!
I’ve never tried smoking a turkey before. You make it look super delicious, though
Give it a go, great fun! And as a bonus, you have smoked turkey sandwiches for leftovers.
Tina Dawson | Love is in my Tummy
That turkey – my oh my oh my! Never heard about this ‘smoking’ process though, but the results looks absolutely drool-worthy!
Thank you for that Tina. The smoking gives such a different element to the turkey.
What a beautifully colored bird! Does resting for an hour make the turkey cool down? Do you tent?
We actually wrapped the turkey in foil and then some tea towels around the foil. It was still warm to hot and very juicy.
I’ve never made, nor had smoked turkey! So many people love it, so I’m sure it’s delicious! I may try to brine my turkey next time! Thanks for sharing!
Good luck Patricia. Smoking is not for everyone but the brining definitely produces a juicier turkey.
This turkey looks amazing. I always brine my bird – because it keeps it so juicy! My husband mentioned that he wanted to try smoking a turkey — now I think we’ll have to do it with your tutorial! Thank you!
Lisa, one of the great benefits about traveling is picking up cooking tips like brining. I didn’t realize how important that was for larger birds like turkey, until I visited the US. I hope the smoker goes well for you.