Thanksgiving is a time for family, togetherness and delicious food. If you want to elevate your Thanksgiving feast this year, try brined and smoked turkey. Brining and smoking is the best way to make a succulent turkey that your family will enjoy. In this post, I will guide you through the steps of preparing a brined and smoked turkey that is sure to become a new Thanksgiving turkey tradition.
This recipe incorporates two special techniques for making a very tender and juicy smoked turkey that is full of flavor. The first technique is brining. A wet brine is a solution of water, salt, sugar and spices. It tenderizes and changes the meat at a cellular level, allowing the cells to retain moisture. The result is a very juicy turkey. I always brine my turkeys even when cooking in a conventional oven. It's not hard and it makes a huge difference. No special tools are required, except a clean bucket. There is no dry brine in this recipe.
The second technique is cooking the turkey in a smoker. In this case, it was a Kamado Joe setup for indirect heat over lump charcoal. Add a little pecan smoke and watch the temperature closely and you will be rewarded with a wonderful roasted turkey that everyone will love.
- Kosher salt
- Brown sugar
- Fresh rosemary
- Bay leaves
- Vegetable stock
- 1.5 gallons of water (cold water with ice)
- Fresh or frozen whole turkey
- Olive oil
- Fresh rosemary
- Fresh thyme
- Fresh sage
See recipe card for quantities.
If the turkey is frozen, place it in the refrigerator three days prior to cooking to allow it to thaw. You cannot brine a frozen turkey. A defrosted or fresh turkey is fine.
Remove the turkey from its packaging and pat it dry with paper towels. Also remove the neck, gizzard and whatever else they stuff in that little bag. You will not need it for this recipe.
Prepare the Brine
When it comes to additional seasoning options for your brine, be creative and try to infuse the specific flavors that you want. For a BBQ smoked turkey, you can enhance the brine with a BBQ Rub, which will add some smoky notes. If you prefer a Cajun-style bird, using creole seasoning in the brine will give it a spicy kick. If you prefer to keep the flavors simple and versatile, the brine used in this recipe works well. This brine also works well for whole chickens that are brined then cooked beer-can style or on a rotisserie. The choice of additional seasoning is up to you, and it depends on the specific flavor profile you wish to achieve for your brined turkey.
Mix all of wet brine ingredients, except for the ice water, in a large pot and bring it to a boil. Cook for two minutes then remove it from the heat and allow it to cool. When cool, transfer the solution to a large stock pot or a brand new, clean five gallon bucket. Add the ice water and stir. A bucket or stock pot works better than a brining bag for a large turkey.
Be sure to use good quality kosher salt because not all kosher salt is created equal. The particle size can vary between brands which can affect the amount of salt being used. I prefer Diamond Crystal brand which can be easily found online. If you have to use table salt, use only ½ cup.
Place the raw turkey in the stock pot with the brine, breast side down. Make sure that the brine covers the turkey. Add more water if needed.
Cover the turkey with additional ice and store it in a cool place for 6 - 8 hours, preferably the refrigerator if you have room.
Cook the Turkey
The actual cooking process is simple. For this smoked turkey, I choose to use my Kamado Joe rather than my offset smoker. The offset smoker burns kiln dried post oak and produces a lot of smoke. That works for a brisket or pork shoulder, but not for a turkey. It's too much smoke. Instead, I cooked this turkey on a Kamado Joe setup for indirect heat. A Big Green Egg would work well too. I used lump charcoal with about a cup of pecan chips that I soaked for 20 minutes. The chips were spread evenly over the coals, even the parts that were not hot, to maximize the smoke. Pecan is great for turkeys, chicken, game hens and even duck. It provides a rich bronze color that is much more pronounced than any other wood. It also adds a mild smoky flavor that does not overpower the turkey.
Setup the smoker for 325°F, indirect heat. Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse it off and pat it dry with paper towels. Discard the brine. Place the turkey in a roasting pan. Rub olive oil over the skin and place the onion, apple and fresh herbs in the turkey cavity and around the turkey. Add water to the pan.
Insert a temperature probe (for the Fireboard or other device) into the thickest part of the breast meat. Cook for 12 minutes per pound of turkey until the breast reaches an internal temperature of 160°F. Loosely tent with foil if the turkey skin browns too quickly. The cooking time for a 16 pound turkey is about 3 hours and 15 minutes.
Let the Turkey Rest
The final step is to rest the turkey after removing it from the smoker for 15 minutes. If the turkey has not rested, the first cut will release all of the juice and you will be left with a beautiful but dry turkey. Let it sit for 15 minutes and all of those juices will be reabsorbed, then each slice will be nice and juicy.
If you are not sold on the idea of having smoked turkey for Thanksgiving, no problem, just skip the smoker. Preheat your oven to 325°F. Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse it off and pat it dry. Discard the brine. Place the turkey in a roasting pan. Rub oil over the skin and place the onion, apple and spices in the cavity and around the turkey. Add water to the pan and bake for 12 minutes per pound until the turkey reaches 160°F. Loosely tent with foil if the turkey browns too quickly. Remember to let it rest for 15 minutes before carving.
A smoker, pecan wood chips and temperature control device are all used in this recipe. There are a couple of other things needed for this recipe that I never seem to have on hand, like a clean bucket for brining. I used to own a large stock pot (as seen in the photos and video) but it was a pain to store, so I donated it. Now I buy a brand new bucket at my local hardware store every year. It's just easier.
The other thing that I never seem to have is a pan large enough for roasting a turkey. If you buy a disposable pan, make sure to get one that is sturdy and can handle a heavy turkey. I once had a pan bend in half as I was removing it from the oven. The turkey hit the floor and the juice from the pan went everywhere. What a mess.
Store cooked turkey in airtight sealed containers in your refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Whether cooking in a smoker or a conventional oven, make sure to let your turkey rest for 15 minutes to for the juices to reabsorb. A turkey that is cut right out of the oven or smoker will be dry.
Brine and smoke your turkey and you will be rewarded with every juicy and flavorful bite. This Thanksgiving dinner, give your turkey a smoky twist that will make the holiday feast memorable. Happy Thanksgiving!
Looking for other great poultry recipes? Try these:
These are my favorite dishes to serve with this recipe.
Tender and Juicy Brined and Smoked Turkey
- Large stock pot or bucket
- Roasting pan
- 1 cup kosher salt
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 onion quartered
- 1 tbs peppercorns
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 cloves garlic smashed
- 2 qts vegetable stock
- 6 qts water iced
- 1 16 lb turkey discard neck and organs
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 onion quartered
- 1 apple sliced
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 sprigs fresh sage
- 2 cups water
- If the turkey is frozen, place it in the refrigerator three days prior to cooking to thaw. Mix all brine ingredients, except for the ice water, in a stock pot and bring to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes and remove from heat and allow to cool. When cool, transfer the solution to a large stock pot or brand new and clean five gallon bucket. Add the ice water and stir.
- Remove the turkey from its packaging and pat dry. Place the turkey in the stock pot with the brine neck down. Make sure that the brine covers the turkey. Add more water if needed. Cover the turkey with additional ice and store in a cool place for 6 - 8 hours (preferably the refrigerator).
- Setup the smoker for 325 degrees F, indirect heat. Remove the turkey from the brine. Rinse and pat dry. Discard the brine. Place the turkey in a roasting pan. Rub oil over the skin and place the onion, apple and spices in the cavity and around the turkey. Add water to the pan.
- Insert a temperature probe (for the Fireboard or other device) into the thickest part of the breast. Cook for 12 minutes per pound until the turkey reaches 160°F. Loosely tent with foil if the turkey browns too quickly.
- Remove the turkey from the smoker and let it rest for 15 minutes. Carve and serve.