What’s the best way to smoke a turkey? That’s easy. Using the tools you already have — like a gas grill. This simple smoked whole turkey recipe is easy to follow and answers all your questions like “How long does it take to smoke a turkey” and “What temp to smoke turkey.” Plus, I’ve got the best turkey brine for smoking, so the meat will be moist and juicy every time.
Before I met my husband, I was strictly a “roast your turkey in the oven” kinda gal. Then we got a gas grill, and he spent years learning all the aspects of grilling and smoking. There’s nothing he can’t do.
I credit him because he jumped in with both feet and is my grill master. I still help with prep and offer my two cents, but he enjoys this bit of cooking autonomy, and I don’t mind the break sometimes.
This smoked whole turkey was one of our first forays into smoking meat on the gas grill, and since this one, we’ve gone on to smoke everything from pork shoulder, ribs, fish, and veggies like artichokes. It’s easier than you might think, and you don’t need a fancy pellet smoker.
Table of Contents
- 1 Why you’ll love this recipe:
- 2 Ingredients you’ll need for apple cider turkey brine for smoking:
- 3 How to wet brine a turkey
- 4 Pro-Tips:
- 5 Best wood chips for smoking turkey on a gas grill
- 6 How to use a smoke box on a gas grill:
- 7 Monitor the smoke:
- 8 What should the smoked turkey temperature be when done?
- 9 Variations:
- 10 FAQ’s
- 11 More ways to cook turkey:
- 12 Brined Smoked Turkey
Why you’ll love this recipe:
- You’ll look like a GRILL BOSS.
- This makes a moist and tender brined smoked turkey perfect for any occasion.
- The step by step smoked turkey recipe is easy to follow.
- The apple cider turkey brine for smoking keeps the bird juicy and moist.
- Even though we’re not using a pellet grill, a charcoal or gas grill does a good job of moderating the temp to smoke the turkey.
- You can play with different woods to subtly change the flavors.
- Apple cider makes the best turkey brine for smoking and we add a bit of maple syrup and bourbon for extra oomph.
- The apple turkey brine can be doubled for larger birds (this one is meant for a 10-12 pound turkey).
Why Brine A Turkey?
We’ve all experienced a bone-dry turkey. They tend to be stringy and flavorless…and we don’t want that happening on our watch!
The key to keeping it moist is making a wet brined turkey. It’s the essential first step.
At its most basic level, a brine is simply a concentration of salt dissolved in water.
When you soak a turkey (or any other protein) in a brining solution, the brine permeates the flesh, plumping the cells of the meat and tenderizing it, resulting in a juicy, tender, delicious bird.
Think of it as a fail-safe — and do it no matter how you cook your turkey.
All brine recipes include a combination of salt and water; their essential function is to tenderize the meat and keep it moist.
Other ingredients, like apple cider, brown sugar, bourbon and maple syrup enhance the flavors and keep it interesting. To me, this is the best turkey brine for smoking, though I’ve also used it for other types of meats and cooking methods as well.
Ingredients you’ll need for apple cider turkey brine for smoking:
- Brown Sugar
- Maple Syrup
- Kosher Salt
- Bay Leaves
- Unsweetened Apple Juice
If using a frozen turkey, before you begin the brine, thaw it completely.
How to wet brine a turkey
- Combine the brown sugar, kosher salt, maple syrup, cloves, peppercorn, bay leaves and thyme in a large saucepan.
- Add the apple juice and simmer over medium heat, occasionally stirring until the sugar and salt dissolve.
- Stir in the bourbon, cold water and ice. (The ice will help cool the brine to room temperature so you don’t inadvertently poach or cook the meat.)
- Remove the giblet package from the turkey and place it in a large receptacle to hold it covered in brine.
- Add the apple cider brine to the receptacle, cover and brine it in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
Before making the apple turkey brine, please ensure you have a large enough receptacle to submerge the poultry in the brine.
Brine bags are a simple solution. However, it would be best to have a receptacle to hold the bird and brine solution.
Why? Brining bags are large, and when filled with a liquid, the bag will naturally spread out flat — making it unlikely that you’ll COVER the turkey with the brine.
You want something slightly larger and taller than your bird that will fit in your refrigerator.
I recommend a large stock pot or commercial-grade storage receptacle with a lid. I bought a restaurant-grade storage container specifically for this purpose. (It also is fabulous for brining my St. Patrick’s Day corned beef.)
Note: If you live in a colder environment, around 35° – 40° Fahrenheit, you can also use a 5-gallon bucket for brining the turkey. Cover it and store it on a patio or in a garage (just be sure it’s well covered and in a cold, but not freezing, spot).
Best wood chips for smoking turkey on a gas grill
- Choose a light wood chip for smoking. We prefer fruit wood chips, like apple, cherry or pecan, but you can also use hickory wood. These softer woods will add a smoke flavor that doesn’t overpower the poultry.
How to use a smoke box on a gas grill:
- Soak your wood chips (in water or beer) for at least 2 hours. You want the chips to smolder and smoke. If they haven’t been submerged for long enough, you risk them burning instead of smoking.
- In the photo (above right), the wood chips are set inside a smoker box and placed directly on the heating element to begin smoking.
How to smoke on a gas grill
To smoke on a gas grill, you’ll need to set it up for indirect cooking, which means one side of the grill is on and the other isn’t. Depending on your gas grill, you may have 2-4 heating elements. Ensure that one side of the grill is lit and the other is off.
You’ll rest the turkey to smoke on the side that is OFF.
- Heat the gas grill to about 350° F.
- Fill your smoker boxes with wood chips thoroughly soaked and submerged in water for at least two hours.
- Place the smoker box directly over the heating elements where the fire is burning (not on the grill grates) to start smoking.
- Close the lid and wait for 10-15 minutes. White smoke will begin seeping from the grill.
- Remove the turkey from the brine and pat the inside and outside dry with paper towels.
- Place the meat on the cool side of the grill (where the burners aren’t lit) and close the lid. (You can put the bird directly on the grill grates or set it in a turkey rack inside a disposable aluminum pan to catch turkey drippings. The rack helps elevate the turkey and allows the smoke to penetrate everywhere).
- Reduce the heat to a medium-low. The smoking temp for turkey should hover between 225° and 275° F. (There should be a thermometer that you can monitor for the actual temperature inside the grill.
- The gas grill will smoke and simultaneously cook the turkey.
- Maintain the temperature between 225° and 275° throughout the cooking process.
- After smoking the turkey for about 1½ to 2 hours, begin basting it every half hour but be quick so you don’t lose heat and smoke.
- Start checking the internal temperature of the meat with an instant-read thermometer at about the 2-hour mark. Insert the probe into the breast or thigh without touching the bone to get an accurate reading.
- The total turkey smoking time will vary, depending on the size of the bird and can take anywhere from 4-5 hours. The best way to determine the turkey smoking time is by monitoring the internal temperature of the meat with a reliable instant-read thermometer.
- Pull the smoked turkey off the grill when the breast temperature reaches 155°-160°F.
- Transfer the smoked turkey to a wooden cutting board and let it rest for 20 minutes before carving so the juices can redistribute throughout the meat.
Jury-rigging a smoker box:
If you don’t have smoker boxes that fit your gas grill, you can create your own with aluminum foil. Here’s how:
- Tear off a piece of aluminum foil and fill it with a few handfuls of drained wood chips.
- Seal up the pouch and poke holes all over the foil.
- Place the pouches directly on the heating element (below the grate) on the lit side of the grill.
(Note: As a failsafe, I place the turkey on a poultry rack inside a disposable roasting pan. It helps catch drips and protects the bird from any errant flare-ups.) You can also smoke the bird directly on the grill grates, not directly over the heat.
Importance of instant read thermometers
If you don’t already have an Instant Read thermometer, I urge you to get one. It’s the only way to positively determine if your brined smoked turkey is done cooking besides hacking off a leg and checking for pinkness near the bone.
My recommendation is the Thermapen One. I like this product so much, I’m an affiliate for them and I’m giving you an affiliate link! I love it because:
- It’s well calibrated.
- It has a comfortable design with large, easy-to-read numbers.
- There is a built-in light feature that senses when you’re grilling at night and lights the screen so you can read the temperature in the dark.
- Gives accurate readings within a few seconds.
- To turn it on, you unfold the probe from the body of the Thermapen; to turn it off, close it.
- The fold-up design is genius (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stabbed myself with a pointy tip while trying to fish out a probe thermometer from our kitchen drawer).
The Thermapen isn’t a cheap item, but IMO, it’s worth every dime and is essential for knowing the smoked turkey’s internal temperature and when to pull it off the grill. Click this affiliate link to take advantage of special deals!
Monitor the smoke:
The smoke coming from the grill should be white — not black. Black indicates fire – that’s the WRONG kind of smoke. It should waft in a steady stream from the closed gas grill.
After a few hours, the wood chips will stop smoking (they’ve burned off), and the turkey will continue to cook on the grill. Just keep basting it and monitoring the temperature every half hour until you reach the “safe zone” for internal temperature.
What should the smoked turkey temperature be when done?
Poultry is considered safe to eat when the internal temperature reaches 165° F.
I pull the bird off the grill when the breast meat registers about 155°-160°F. The meat will continue to cook even when resting due to the residual heat and reach the 165° safe zone without going much beyond. This helps ensure that the brined smoked turkey is juicy and moist.
- Fill the bird’s cavity with aromatics like onion, celery, carrots or fresh herbs before smoking it.
- For extra flavor, coat the poultry with a smoked turkey rub made from ¼ cup paprika, ¼ cup brown sugar, two tablespoons onion powder, one tablespoon garlic powder, one tablespoon salt and two teaspoons black pepper before smoking.
- You can also make this smoked turkey using a traditional charcoal grill or water smoker. For these methods, you might need additional wood chips or use well-soaked wood chunks (larger at about 3″ to 5″ wide and must soak for at least 4 hours before smoking).
- A pellet grill is an easy way to maintain a steady temperature. Use your favorite wood pellets and the temperature probe that comes with your grill to determine when the brined smoked turkey is done.
Depending on the size of your bird, it can be anywhere from 3-6 hours.
Keep the temperature under 300° F, preferably in the 225° to 275° range. On some grills, it may be more challenging to maintain that range. Do your best, but don’t throw your hands in the air if it goes above. It happens. The most important part is to ensure that the poultry has at least 1½ -2 hours of smoking time to penetrate the flesh.
165° F is considered a safe internal temperature to eat poultry. I usually remove the turkey between 155°-160° to let the residual heat continue cooking into the safe zone.
Yes. If you have a favorite brine recipe, you can use it; make sure that the turkey is completely submerged in the brine for 12-24 hours before smoking it.
What goes with a brined smoked turkey?
Whether you’re making this recipe for a summer cookout or a smoked Thanksgiving turkey, you’ll want some tasty sides to serve with it. Here are a few ideas.
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Brined Smoked Turkey
FOR THE BRINE:
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup kosher salt
- ⅓ cup maple syrup
- 10 whole cloves
- 20 whole black peppercorns
- 1 bunch fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 8 cups unsweetened apple juice preferably organic, unfiltered)
- ½ cup bourbon
- 6 cups cold water
- 8 cups ice
FOR SMOKING THE TURKEY:
- 1 10-12 pound turkey
FOR THE BASTING LIQUID:
- 1 cup chicken stock from rotisserie chicken or low-sodium broth
- ½ cup apple juice
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
MAKE THE BRINE:
- In a large stock pot, combine the brown sugar, kosher salt, maple syrup, cloves, peppercorn, bay leaves and thyme. Add the apple juice and simmer over medium heat until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Stir in the bourbon, cold water and ice until the ice is melted.
- Check temperature of the brine before brining the turkey — it should be at room temperature or cooler <70°.
- Find a receptacle large enough to hold the turkey and the brine — could be a cooler, or I go to the restaurant supply store to get one of their large plastic food storage containers or brining bags.
- Place the turkey in the receptacle and pour in the cool brine. The brine should cover the bird, but if it doesn’t quite, add a few more cups of water and/or apple juice. Alternately, if your container just isn’t big enough for more liquid. Let the turkey brine for half the time, then flip it over to brine with the other half fully submerged. Brine the bird for 12-24 hours.
- Several hours or the night before smoking, add 3-4 cups of wood chips to a large bowl and cover with water.
FOR SMOKING THE TURKEY
- Remove the turkey from the brine and transfer to a baking pan. Pat completely dry with paper towels and discard the brine. Place the turkey on a rack set over a baking pan (to catch drippings and prevent flares). Use kitchen twine to tie the drumsticks together. Tuck the wing tips behind the bird — this will prevent them from getting dried out — it also gives a nicer presentation.
HOW TO SMOKE A TURKEY ON A GAS GRILL:
- Set up the gas grill for indirect heat. (The heating elements are on for one half of the grill while the turkey sits on the opposite side.) Heat that side to about 350°.
- Fill 2-3 smoking boxes with the drained wood chips (or set up smoking pouches by filling aluminum foil with wood chips, sealing the pouches up by crimping the edges together and poking holes all over the pouch. Place the smoking boxes or pouches directly over the grill grates and heat until they start smoking.
- Reduce the heat so that you just maintain a steady smoke with the grill temperature hovering between 225°-275°.
- Place the turkey on the opposite side of the grill and close the lid. After 1 1/2 to 2 hours, begin basting the turkey every 20-30 minutes with the basting solution.
- Start checking the turkey with an instant read thermometer at about the 2-hour mark. You want to achieve a breast temperature around 155°-160° for perfect doneness — the turkey will continue to cook after you take if off the heat. Depending on the size of your turkey, this could take anywhere from 4-5 hours.
- When the breast meat has achieved 155°-160°F, remove it from the heat and let it rest for 20 minutes before carving.
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