If you’re looking for a way to make your holiday dinner more exciting this year, try smoking a turkey! Celebrate with a turkey that is full of flavor and fun. With our thermal tips you can be sure that you’ll get a delicious, safe-to-eat turkey unlike any you’ve served before.
Making a smoked turkey can be daunting because it’s such a large object—a rack of ribs is tiny in comparison—so it is understandable that many people have never tried it out. But in reality, the principles behind smoking a turkey are the same as those behind, say, a pork butt. The main difference is that we want to cook a pork butt to 195°F (91°C) to break down all the connective tissues, but we only want to cook a turkey to a pull temp of 157°F (69°C). Turkey breast is naturally tender and low in connective tissue, and will toughen and dry out if it cooked too high, as we’ve all tasted before. (It is true, however, that the dark meat in the turkey back, thighs, and legs does have connective tissue. For more on this topic, read our post, White Meat vs. Dark Meat Turkey Cooking Methods.)
To make sure our smoked turkey comes out juicy, we need to make sure we’re only cooking it to our target pull temperature and not any farther. To do that, we need to make sure we’re placing our thermometer probe correctly. Place the probe in the thickest part of the breast, in the center of the meat. This is the coldest part of the bird; when it reaches our pull temp we know the rest of the bird should be good too.
With all of this in mind, let’s smoke a turkey!
Smoking a Turkey
Seasoning the bird
You can season the bird however you like, whether with an herby compound butter under the skin, or with a BBQ rub of your choice. We opted for the rub this time, but we chose one with lots of herbs in it. We oiled the skin (mayo also works!) and liberally applied the rub.
(If you decide to go with a compound butter, prepare it by softening a stick of butter then mincing herbs—sage, rosemary, and thyme, for instance—and kneading them together with the butter and some ground black pepper. Then separate the skin of the turkey from each breast with your fingers and hand. Stuff one-third of the compound butter under the skin of each breast, smoothing it down under the skin to cover as much meat as possible. Melt the remaining herb butter and pour it over the top of the turkey breast. Rub it into the skin with your hands to coat the turkey.)
Prep your smoker
Clip the Pro-Series High Temp Air Probe With Grate Clip in your smoker and preheat it to 275°F (135°C). Choose your favorite wood or pellet for smoking. Use your Smoke X4™ to monitor the pit temp in the case of a pellet smoker, or to control the pit temp in tandem with Billows™ BBQ Temperature Control Fan in the case of another smoker. Set the air probe channel high alarm to 300°F (149°C) and the low alarm to 250°F (121°C).
Probe your turkey
You can use any of our Pro-Series® Probes in the thermal center of the turkey by finding the thickest part of the breast and inserting the probe in its center. If you’re using the Smoke X4, you have two more channels to use, so feel free to probe the thigh, and maybe the other breast, too.
Set the high-alarm for the breast-meat channel to 150°F (66°C). Set the thigh meat channel to 175°F (79°C).
Have a Thermapen® at the ready to spot-check the turkey at the end of cooking.
Smoking the turkey
Monitor the cooking
Your long-range Smoke X4 receiver will let you monitor the progress of your turkey and your smoker temperature without having to stick by the smoker all day. Its signal is strong enough to reach you anywhere in your house, so you can be in the kitchen making potatoes or in front of the TV cheering your team and still know what temp your turkey is outside.
We set the breast-meat alarm for 150°F (66°C), but that’s not where we’re taking out of the smoker1. That’s the temp at which we’re applying sauce.
When your Smoke’s meat probe high alarm sounds at 150°F (66°C), brush it with the BBQ sauce of your choice. We used one with a little cranberry in it, which was obviously tasty. Now increase the temp in your smoker to 325°F (163°C) to set the sauce and make it sticky, and increase the temperature alarm on your Smoke X4 to 157°F (69°C)—that is our pull temp.
When the high-temp alarm sounds, check your turkey with a Thermapen® ONE in a few places to be sure it is thoroughly cooked. Make sure the lowest temp you see is 157°F (69°C).
Note: If you see lower temperatures with your Thermapen, either continue smoking and check it again in a little while with your Thermapen OR, using hot mitts, you can reposition your meat probe until it shows a reading similar to the lowest temperature you’re seeing with your Thermapen and wait for the 157°F (69°C) alarm to sound again.
Rest and enjoy
Finally, let your turkey rest at least 20 minutes before slicing and enjoying. That rich smoky flavor is amazing with turkey.
With proper monitoring from Smoke X4 and Thermapen ONE, smoking a turkey for any big family gathering is no more difficult than making barbecue pulled pork. Treat the family to something exciting and different this year!
Shop now for products used in this post: