Forget the oven and make a Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey for this year’s holiday! Full of flavor, juicy, and tender, once you’ve smoked a turkey, you’ll never want it any other way! 

Above shot of smoked turkey with golden brown skin rubbed with herbs on a platter with carving knife nearby.

Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey has plenty of wow factor, but it’s so easy to make! Don’t tell anyone how simple it is; just let them enjoy the juicy meat that’s perfectly cooked with a hint of smoke. Flavored with an easy smoked turkey rub of herbs, lemon, and garlic, it just doesn’t get much better than this smoked turkey.

Skip the brining, basting, maintenance, and worry about serving a dried-out, dull, and flavorless turkey! Instead, impress everyone with this moist, flavor-packed turkey that’s unbelievably easy to smoke.

This recipe works on a pellet smoker, Big Green Egg, Traeger, or wood smoker. Whatever you’ve got will make this the best smoked turkey recipe! The smoking process works for smaller or larger turkeys to get that authentic flavor, beautiful golden outer skin, and tender juicy meat with minimal effort.

Ready to impress? Grab a fresh or frozen turkey and get ready to wow everyone at your holiday table with this, my favorite Thanksgiving smoker recipe! And if you’re anything like us, we love making a Traeger smoked prime rib to serve with this!

Ingredients for a smoked turkey arranged on a black board.

What You Need To Make Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey

  • Turkey – I used a 12-15 pound turkey. Any size will work, but you’ll need to adjust the smoking time.
  • Lemon – Fresh lemon.
  • Garlic – Fresh garlic cloves.
  • Fresh herbs – I like parsley, and rosemary.
  • Kosher Salt, coarse black pepper, and my favorite all-purpose GirlCarnivore Over Easy Spice blend
  • Olive oil
  • Butter – Softened a bit
  • Onion, more garlic, and lemon for aromatics

How Much Turkey Do You Need Per Person?

I always plan on 1-1.5 pounds of turkey per person. Assuming that there’s a good mix of white and dark meat fans, this weight is calculated before cooking and taking the whole bird into consideration. Be sure to save the leftover bones for instant pot turkey stock.

Should I Smoke A Fresh Or Frozen Turkey?

Some people insist fresh turkeys are better than frozen turkeys, so it’s up to you and what you have access to. If you smoke a frozen turkey, make sure you give it enough time in the fridge to thaw completely. Never thaw a turkey on the countertop – my general rule of thumb is 1 full day in the fridge for every 5 pounds of frozen turkey. Add an extra day, just in case.

That means if you are smoking a bird for Thanksgiving, it needs to be thawing the Sunday before the feast!

Close up of minced herbs.

How To Smoke A Thanksgiving Turkey

This Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey recipe is super simple, but you need to plan a bit ahead.

The evening before smoking the turkey

Prepare the turkey by patting it dry with paper towels, removing the neck and giblets, and loosening the skin from the meat on the breasts. 

Make the easy smoked turkey rub by mincing the garlic, then combining the garlic with fresh herbs and lemon zest to make a paste. Add salt, pepper, Over Easy spice blend and olive oil to the mixture, then rub it all over the entire turkey. 

Above shot of raw turkey rubbed with herbs.
Be sure to rub the herb mix under the skin of the turkey as well.

Slide a few pats, about a tablespoon each, of butter under the turkey skin over the breast meat.

Shot of raw turkey rubbed with herbs and pats of butter pushed under the skin of the breast meat.
Slide the butter far up under then skin and space out additional pats of butter.

Chop the lemon in half and place it in the turkey cavity with a head of garlic with the top cut off, and an onion cut in half, into the cavity of the turkey. Tie the legs together, tuck the wings under, and place the turkey in an aluminum pan in the fridge overnight. 

Turkey in a foil pan placed in a grill.

The morning of smoking:

Prep the temperature of the smoker for around 225ºF and put water in the pan. 

Poke a hole in the bottom of the pan to drain liquids and place the turkey in the smoker to cook. 

If using an electric smoker with wood chips, or a smoker box on a pellet grill or gas grill, add more wood after one hour and then again after 2 hours to keep the smoke flavor going.

Let the turkey smoke until it’s 170º degrees F. This took my 12.5-pound turkey 6 hours for the perfect internal temperature and crispy skin. After it’s finished cooking, remove it from the smoker and let it rest for at least 20 minutes with more butter on top before slicing and serving.

Do You Need To Brine A Turkey Before Smoking?

Nope! Rather than submerging the whole turkey in a saltwater bath, this recipe uses a simple spice and herb wet rub for the turkey brine.. You just rub it all over the meat the night before you cook the turkey and let it soak in all that flavor!

Turkey halfway through cooking process in a smoker, light golden color starting to show on skin.

How long does it take to smoke a turkey?

The actual time to smoke a turkey depends on the weather, how good your smoker is at holding a consistent temperature, the size of your turkey, how cold the turkey is when it goes into the smoker, and more.  My 12-15 pound bird took 6 hours in the smoker.

Plan on roughly 30 minutes per pound of turkey for deliciously juicy turkey meat, and to give yourself plenty of time for it to cook through.

The best way to tell if a turkey is cooked is by using a meat thermometer. Stick it into the thickest part of the thigh, near the bone, but not touching the bone, and wait for it to reach 170-F before resting the turkey.

Turkey smoking in a grill, almost to completion showing golden brown skin.

Recipe Tips

  • Use a pan to thaw the turkey if it’s frozen.  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 the turkey dry before seasoning it. 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. I let my turkey dry for 30 minutes to an hour before I even think of seasoning it.
  • Use apple wood, pecan, or maple wood chips, chunks, or smoking pellets for the best flavor when smoking a turkey.
  • 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. 
Showing a cooked turkey  resting on a platter garnished with sage leaves and citrus slices.

Serving Suggestions

Wondering what to serve with a Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey? I love to serve this holiday turkey with all the best sides and appetizers for a big feast! Some of my favorites include 

Mashed potatoes and roasted green beans, deep-fried macaroni and cheese, outside the bird stuffing, deep-fried cauliflower! You name it! Finish the meal with a big slice of your favorite pumpkin pie, and you’ve got a darn good holiday feast!

Close up of breast portion of a while smoked turkey to show crispy golden brown skin.

Storage

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 refrigerator if frozen, then microwave or warm in the oven with a splash of chicken broth to moisten. 

What To Do With Leftover Turkey

Looking for a delicious way to use your leftovers? Check out my leftover smoked turkey sandwiches or my classic hot brown recipe

FAQs

Can You Smoke A Stuffed Turkey?

Where I don’t recommend cooking a low and slow smoked turkey with stuffing due to safety reasons, I have cooked a smoked turkey with stuffing, not adding the dressing until halfway through the cooking time in my smoker. If you are going to smoke a turkey with stuffing, you need to run a digital thermometer the entire time in the stuffing due to the chance of bacteria from the lower temp.

The Turkey Meat Under The Skin Looks Pink – Is It Cooked?

If you used an accurate instant-read thermometer to check to see if the turkey has reached 170-F, then yes, it is cooked. What you’re probably seeing is the dark meat taking on a tinge of pink from the smoke, much like other meat gets a pinkish smoke ring. 

Above shot of smoked turkey on a platter with herbs showing glossy crispy skin.

MORE SMOKED TURKEY DINNER IDEAS

If you’ve tried my Thanksgiving Smoked Turkey recipe, or any other recipe on GirlCarnivore.com please don’t forget to rate the recipe and let me know where you found it in the comments below. I get inspired by your feedback and comments! You can also FOLLOW ME  on Instagram @girlcarnivore as well as on  Twitter and Facebook.

Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey

5 from 21 votes
Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 6 hrs
Total: 6 hrs 10 mins
Servings: 10 People
Above shot of smoked turkey on a platter, garnished with citrus and sage leaves and knife nearby.
If you're looking for crispy skin, juicy meat and an easy recipe – this smoked Thanksgiving turkey is one you have got to try!

Ingredients  

  • 12-15 lbs turkey if frozen thaw completely before cooking

For the herb rub

  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tbsp GIrl Carnivore Over Easy Spice Blend
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp butter cut into cubes, about 1 tbsp each

For smoking

  • 1 onion sliced in half
  • 1 head of garlic top removed, exposing the cloves
  • 1 lemon sliced in half

For Serving

  • 4 tbsp butter

Instructions 

Prep the turkey

  • The evening before smoking, pat your turkey dry with paper towels, remove neck and giblets, and loosen skin on breasts from the meat.
    12-15 lbs turkey
  • Completely dry the bird with paper towels inside the cavity and on the entire surface, making sure to move the wings and drums to dry every surface.

Prep the herb rub

  • In a small bowl, cobmine the chopped parsley, rosemary, garlic and lemon zest.
    3 garlic cloves, 1/2 cup fresh parsley, 1 tbsp sprigs fresh rosemary, 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • Add the salt, pepper, and Girl Carnivore Over Easy spice blend.
    1 tbsp kosher salt, 1 tsp pepper, 1 tbsp GIrl Carnivore Over Easy Spice Blend
  • Mix to combine.
  • Add the oil and with the tines of a fork, mash the hreb rub togeher to make a thick paste like texture.
    2 tbsp olive oil

Rub the Turkey

  • Rub the herb mix inside the cavity of the bird, until the skin and over the entirety of the turkey.
  • Add the pats of butter under the skin, a few pieces on each the left and right breast.
    4 tbsp butter
  • Place the turkey in a large aluminum pan and cut a few holes in the bottom of the pan.

Smoke the turkey

  • Add the cut lemon, onion, and hed of garlic to the cavity of the bird.
    1 onion, 1 lemon, 1 head of garlic
  • Tie the legs securely together over the cavity with butchers twine.
  • Prep your smoker for an even heat of 225 degrees F.
  • Add a pan with water to the smoker to create humidity.
  • Place the turkey in the aluminum tray on the smoker and close the lid.
  • Allow the bird to smoke until it reaches 170F interal in the thighs and 165 in the breast with a digital meat thermometer, rotating the pan once halfway through cooktime 180 degrees.

Rest and Serve

  • Carefully remove the turkey from the smoker by sliding a heavy duty half sheet under the aluminum tray and lifting with pot holders or heat resitant gloves.
  • Add a couple pats of butter to the top of the bird and tent with foil.
    4 tbsp butter
  • Rest for 20 minutes.
  • Carve the turkey and serve.

Notes

For a 15 lb turkey, with the smoker set to 225, the bird took 6 hours to cook completely. 
If the breast has finished cooking but the legs still need time, add a few tablespoons of butter over the breast and tent with foil while the legs continue to smoke. 
Alternatively, you could remove the entire bird from the smoker, let it rest and then slice the legs off, wrap them in foil and return them to the smoker to cook them to 170F. This helps make them tender and doesn’t overcook the rest of the turkey. 
We recommend apple, maple, and pecan wood chunks, pellets, or chips when smoking this turkey. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1g | Calories: 665kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 84g | Fat: 34g | Saturated Fat: 12g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 6g | Monounsaturated Fat: 11g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 302mg | Sodium: 1206mg | Potassium: 944mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 784IU | Vitamin C: 11mg | Calcium: 83mg | Iron: 4mg
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Author: Kita Roberts
Keyword: dinner, main course, smoked turkey, thanksgiving, turkey

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Comments

  1. Smoked turkey is the BEST – no need to fry! I make it every year for Thanksgiving and everyone loves it! I brine mine overnight in a honey brine, then treat it similarly to what you describe. The trick is to watch the bird’s temp – 160 in the breast/165 thigh and it’s guaranteed juicy!

  2. Oooh man this sounds so delicious. I love (and I really do mean LOVE) smoked meats. I have yet to smoke a turkey. Maybe I can talk my other half into letting me smoke it this year? Or I may go get my own.

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