This year, try indirectly cooking your turkey on your outdoor smoker – yes, this may mean your guests and family will expect double the side dishes now that you have so much extra room in your oven, but once they taste the unique smokiness of the turkey, they won’t be filling up on anything else. Smoking was made for big portions of meat, so don’t be discouraged by your bird. Most smoking rules can easily be applied to turkey and even better, turkey meat is fairly forgiving and quick, even with the low and slow method.
Get the Pit Ready: Temperature, Charcoal and Venting
First thing you want to do when smoking a turkey is filling up just enough charcoal (and maple wood if you choose to use the homemade brine recipe below, loaned to us by our very own veteran smoker, Ken) to achieve a temperature between 235-275°F. For an approximate 4 hour cook we suggest about 10lbs of Buffalo Charcoal or Jealous Devil Brand. If you haven’t smoked before than this may seem low; however, since turkey is a leaner meat with less fat content, this is significantly higher than other types of meat and it is the sweet spot for an even heat. Additionally, a good rule of thumb is, when in doubt, aim lower and smoke longer. A low and slow cook is what we are going for here, as it retains much more of the moisture in the meat and permeates the fat, providing your table with a beautifully juicy bird.
Don’t forget to work your top and bottom vents on your pit throughout the cook and especially at the beginning when bringing the smoker up to the desired temperature. Opening the vents will allow for more airflow and will increase the heat. Closing the vents will shut off the airflow and decrease the heat. If you see the temperature of the smoker falling, open the vents to increase air flow. If the temperature starts to creep up, close the vents to choke the oxygen from the coals until the temperature settles where you need it.
Preparing the Bird
First things first, thaw your turkey – go back in time about 4-5 years and leave your turkey on the counter and then you should be good to start! We're kidding, of course, but be prepared to wait a while for that bird to thaw out.
Be sure to store it below 41°F (5°C) until you’re ready to cook after your turkey has thawed. Once you’re ready to smoke, double check it is completely thawed with your thermometer (see below). The thermometer should read between 37-41°F if it's fully thawed. Be sure to clean your probe before using it for further cooking.
How Long Does It Take?
You can use the approximate measurement of 30-40 minutes per pound of turkey. Therefore, an eight-pound turkey will take approximately 4 hours at the 235°F mark. So, make sure you plan ahead accordingly if you don't want to see your loved ones become not-so-lovely out of hunger. Another option is to cook your turkey a day or two in advance and vacuum seal it up until serving time! (Don’t own a vacuum seal? Throw that turkey into a ziplock, bag then dip the ziplock into a tub of boiling hot water and you’re ready to go.)
Two big factors to consider when measuring the time of smoking a turkey: The weight of the turkey and the weather. We know Canadian weather unpredictable, but we don’t decide the weather, we just provide the tips on how to deal with it.
But the biggest factor to be mindful of: Not opening the cookers lid! Do. Not. Open. Regularly.
By doing so you’re only making the cooking process longer. As our man Ken would say, "If you're lookin', you ain't cookin'!"
For an Even Cook…
You’re going to have to resist the urge to open that lid and instead opt for a remote thermometer with probes or a Bluetooth connection. If you don’t already have one that is - no judgement here, we have plenty for you to pick from, just click here.
Check on your bird about 2-3 hours into cooking time. By this time your pit should be around the 165°F mark.
Make sure you are placing your thermometer deep into the Turkey breast, avoid bones, and then place a secondary probe into the thigh of the bird for an accurate and fast temperature reading. The probe should be inserted near the neck cavity, parallel to the cutting board.
Thermoworks Tip: The Probe’s very tip should be about 1/2 to 1 inch away from the internal cavity of the bird to avoid touching the bone.
Here’s the most important step: Do not open the lid until the internal temperature (shown on your thermometer) has reached 160°F.
Spot check before you removing from the heat by probing around the thickest parts of the breast wings and thighs.
According to Thermoworks, a trusted thermometer maker and smoking expert:
“The thighs (dark meat) are safe to eat at 165°F, but will be better at temperatures closer to 175°F, or higher. Dark meat has more connective tissue and will break down better at higher temps. Our guess is that when the breast hits 160°F your thighs will probably be closer to 175°F.”
“When your temperatures have been verified, pull the turkey off of the heat and move it inside. Let it rest for 25-30 minutes before carving. As you carve the bird you’ll notice a delicious smoke band directly beneath the skin and close to the meat bordering the cavity; don’t let your guests mistake this band of smoky flavour for under cooked meat! Remember, you’ve tracked the cook from beginning to end so have faith in your temperature instruments. Enjoy!”
Photo Referenced From: Furious Grill
If you have any more questions regarding our recipes, barbecue accessories, or anything else, just ask a question in our chat feature. You can also visit any of our 5 locations across Canada to talk to our experts. We have two locations in Alberta with our Calgary North and Calgary South locations, as well as 3 across the GTA: Burlington, Oakville & Etobicoke, Ontario.