This Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey is an easy but impressive holiday meal that takes just 10 minutes to prep! It’s flavored with simple seasonings, fresh herbs, lemon, and garlic then smoked to fall-apart tender perfection.
Treat yourself to something a little bit different this year and smoke your turkey! Seriously. Skip the basting, skip the maintenance, and drop the worry of a dried-out, dull, and flavorless turkey. This smoked Thanksgiving turkey is guaranteed to be moist and flavor-packed with just 10 minutes of prep!
What you need to make this recipe
- Turkey – I use a 12-15 pound turkey for this recipe. I always plan for 1-1.5 pounds of turkey per person so this size is perfect for a pretty large gathering or to have plenty of leftovers. Remember, if you’re using a frozen turkey, leave plenty of time to thaw it! You’ll need 1 full day for every 5 pounds of turkey.
- Herbs – you’ll use a simple blend of fresh tarragon, parsley, and rosemary.
- Salt and Pepper – I keep it simple with just salt and pepper but feel free to use other spices if you’d prefer.
- Olive Oil – mixed with the herbs and seasonings to turn them into a spice rub for the meat.
- Butter – softened just a little bit so you can easily form it into a butter ball.
How to smoke a Thanksgiving turkey
The evening before smoking:
Prep the turkey by patting it dry with paper towels, removing the neck and giblets, and loosening the skin on the breasts from the meat.
Mince garlic then use a mortar and pestle to combine garlic with fresh herbs and lemon zest to make a paste. Add salt, pepper, and olive oil to the mixture, then rub it all over the turkey.
Chop the lemon in half and additional garlic in half and place them in the cavity. Tie the legs together, tuck the wings under, and place the turkey in an aluminum pan in the fridge overnight.
Finally, if using an electric smoker – per their instructions soak your wood chips. Otherwise, run your wood chips dry for a better smoke. I use apple but hickory or mesquite would work too.
The morning of:
Prep your smoker for 200-225ºF and put water in the pan.
Mold the butter into a 2” ball and press it onto the turkey breast. Cover with foil and slice a hole directly into where the butterball is.
Poke a hole in the bottom of the pan to drain liquids and place in the smoker to cook. Add more wood after one hour and then again after 2 hours.
Let the turkey smoke until it’s 170ºF. This took my 12.5-pound turkey 6 hours. After it’s finished cooking, remove it from the smoker and let it rest for at least 20 minutes before slicing and serving.
Do you need to brine turkey before smoking?
Nope! Rather than submerging the whole turkey in a saltwater bath, this recipe uses a simple spice and herb rub. You just rub it all over the meat the night before you cook the turkey and let it soak in all that flavor!
How long does it take to smoke a turkey?
My turkey took about 6 hours in the smoker, but the total time depends on the size of your turkey. Plan on roughly 30 minutes per pound!
The best way to tell that the turkey is done is to use a meat thermometer. Just stick it into the thickest part of the thigh. It should be 170ºF.
Tips, tricks, and notes for this recipe
- If you’re using a frozen turkey, leave plenty of time to thaw it. You’ll need 1 day or every 5 pounds, so a 12-15 pound turkey will need 3 days to thaw in the fridge.
- Use a pan to thaw. You’ll want to place the turkey in a pan before you thaw it can catch any drippings. You don’t want a big mess in your fridge.
- Pat it dry. Use paper towels to pat the outside of the turkey dry before you add any spices or herbs. If there’s too much excess moisture the skin won’t get that delicious crispy finish.
- Make sure you have plenty of wood so you don’t run out mid-smoke.
- I use apple wood chips because it adds a sweet smokiness but hickory or mesquite would work as well.
- If the skin isn’t getting that rich, smoked color, remove the foil during the last hour of cooking so it can brown slightly.
- Let it rest. After the turkey is done cooking, let it sit for at least 20 minutes before slicing into it so the moisture can redistribute.
Finish it off with a big slice of your favorite pumpkin pie and you’ve got yourself a darn good holiday feast!
How to store
Leftover smoked turkey will last in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-5 days or in the freezer for 2-3 months. To reheat, thaw in the fridge if frozen then microwave or warm in the oven with a splash of chicken broth to moisten.
More turkey dinner ideas
- Spatchcocked Smoked Turkey
- Smoked Turkey with Candied Pecan and Apple Stuffing
- Slow Cooker Turkey Chili
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Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey
- 12-15 lbs turkey if frozen thaw completely before cooking
- 1 lemon
- 1 head garlic
- ½ cup fresh tarragon
- ½ cup fresh parsley
- 2 to 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2 – 3 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 – 2 tablespoon pepper
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 tablespoon butter softened just a bit
- The evening before smoking, pat your turkey dry with paper towels, remove neck and giblets, and loosen skin on breasts from the meat. I tend to take this time to bond with my poultry and decide what name they would like to be called while we get to know one another over the next day.
- Mince 4 cloves garlic and the tarragon, parsley, zest of the lemon (reserving the lemon).
- Use a mortar and pestle if possible to combine the ingredients to make a paste. Add 1-2 tablespoon salt and 1 tablespoon pepper and the olive oil. Rub the mixture all over the turkey, under the skin, making sure to cover the wings, legs and bottom.
- Chop the lemon in half and the remaining garlic in half and place it in the cavity. Tie the legs together and tuck the wings under the turkey and place in an aluminum pan in the fridge overnight.
- Soak your wood chips. I used apple for this because it’s what I had, but hickory or mesquite would go well.
- The morning of, prep your smoker for 200 to 225 degrees. Put water in the pan and have everything ready to go.
- Mold the butter into a large 2″ ball and press gently onto the turkey breast to secure. Cover with aluminium foil and gently slice a hole directly into where the butter ball is. This is to help create a steam pocket and circulate the smoke. (I too was nervous about wrapping my boy in aluminum foil, but it worked. Trust me). Poke a hole in the bottom of the pan (to allow draining of fluids) and place in the slow cooker.
- Add more wood after 1 hour of cooking and again one last time after 2.
- Allow the turkey to smoke until it reaches an internal temp of 170 at it’s thickets point. It took 6 hours for my 12.5 lbs turkey. If the skin is not getting a rich smoked color, remove the aluminum foil for the last hour of cooking.
- Carefully remove the turkey from the smoker ( I used a heavy duty sheet pan to stabilize the aluminum pan while transporting) cover and let rest for 20 minutes before slicing to serve.