Brined Smoked Turkey Recipe

smoked turkey on a bed of greens with fresh fruit garnish.

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.

A whole raw turkey in a roasting pan.

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.

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).
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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.

Ingredients for apple cider turkey brine.

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
  • Cloves
  • Peppercorns
  • Thyme
  • Bay Leaves
  • Unsweetened Apple Juice
  • Bourbon
  • Water
  • Ice
Mixing the brine in a large stock pot.

If using a frozen turkey, before you begin the brine, thaw it completely.

How to wet brine a turkey

  1. Combine the brown sugar, kosher salt, maple syrup, cloves, peppercorn, bay leaves and thyme in a large saucepan.
  2. Add the apple juice and simmer over medium heat, occasionally stirring until the sugar and salt dissolve.
  3. 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.)
  4. Remove the giblet package from the turkey and place it in a large receptacle to hold it covered in brine.
  5. Add the apple cider brine to the receptacle, cover and brine it in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
Wet brining the turkey.


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.

  1. Heat the gas grill to about 350° F.
  2. Fill your smoker boxes with wood chips thoroughly soaked and submerged in water for at least two hours.
  3. Place the smoker box directly over the heating elements where the fire is burning (not on the grill grates) to start smoking.
  4. Close the lid and wait for 10-15 minutes. White smoke will begin seeping from the grill.
  5. Remove the turkey from the brine and pat the inside and outside dry with paper towels.
  6. 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).
  7. 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.
  8. The gas grill will smoke and simultaneously cook the turkey.
  9. Maintain the temperature between 225° and 275° throughout the cooking process.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Pull the smoked turkey off the grill when the breast temperature reaches 155°-160°F.
  14. 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:

  1. Tear off a piece of aluminum foil and fill it with a few handfuls of drained wood chips.
  2. Seal up the pouch and poke holes all over the foil.
  3. 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.

I was checking the turkey after 1 1/2 hours on the smoker.

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).
An instant-read thermometer.

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.

I was checking the internal temperature of the meat using an instant-read thermometer.

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.

The smoked turkey on the grill when it's almost done.


  • 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.
Resting the poultry for 20 minutes before carving.


How long does it take to smoke a turkey?

Depending on the size of your bird, it can be anywhere from 3-6 hours.

What’s the best temp to smoke turkey?

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.

What should the smoked turkey temperature be internally?

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.

Can I use another turkey brine for smoking?

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.

A white platter laden with greenery, fruits, and the whole smoked turkey as the centerpiece.

 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.

A platter with slices of smoked turkey breast.

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A whole smoked turkey on a serving platter.
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5 from 19 votes

Brined Smoked Turkey

This brined, smoked turkey is tender, moist and delicious with a lovely smoke flavor.
Author: Lisa Lotts
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword smoked turkey, thanksgiving, turkey
Dietary Restrictions Low-Carb, Paleo
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 4 hours
Total Time 5 hours
Servings 12



  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • 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


  • 1 10-12 pound turkey




  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


YouTube video


Store leftovers well-wrapped in the refrigerator for up to five days.  You can also freeze turkey meat for up to two months.


Calories: 186kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 0.3g | Saturated Fat: 0.1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.03g | Cholesterol: 0.5mg | Sodium: 4808mg | Potassium: 253mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 33g | Vitamin A: 28IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 54mg | Iron: 1mg

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  1. 5 stars
    I have only begun experimenting with smoked turkeys. I love the moist, tender results from smoking but I’m not a big fan of the smoked flavor. The first turkey I smoked, from a different recipe, was way too spicy, so I looked for something milder.

    I was pleasantly surprised with this recipe. The turkey came out perfectly moist, tender, and browned, with a lightly smoked flavor. At first, I missed the traditional flavor of turkey and gravy, but everyone liked it, and the leftovers went quickly too. Will definitely try again.

  2. 5 stars
    I must admit to never have brined a turkey. This method made such a difference at our Friendsgiving. The turkey was so golden brown and really super juicy. The cider gravy was the perfect finishing touch, I could have just eaten it like soup, so good!

  3. 5 stars
    Brining the turkey definitely makes for a succulent bird. Can we just talk about that cider gravy for a minute?! I’m drooling at the mere thought of it. I’m definitely trying that this year.

  4. 5 stars
    Oh….I’ve never brined a turkey before, but you make it look so easy. Thanks for the step by step direction with clear photos. And that cider gravy is a must no matter what. That will be my “something new” on the table this year. For Sure!!

  5. 5 stars
    Brining the turkey is so essential – I still remember the first year we did it. The meat was so juicy and delectable, we never looked back. We got a fancy new gas grill last summer, and it has a smoker component that I haven’t gotten to use yet (mostly, because I have no idea how haha). I think a smoked turkey might be the best way to inaugurate it. Will bookmark this tutorial to follow when we do!

  6. 5 stars
    Oh wow, this looks gorgeous!! I had my turkey recipe all picked out for Thanksgiving, but now I’m so, so tempted to change it. Or at least to make that cider gravy… And then drink it with a straw- LOL. It sounds SO yummy!!

  7. 5 stars
    The colour on your turkey is GORGEOUS! It looks like it was taken right out of a magazine! The cider gravy you paired it with sounds delicious as well. I never thought to smoke a turkey before so you’ve given me an idea for next year when the weather is much warmer outside to give it a try.

  8. 5 stars
    OMG, there are so many layers of flavor in this recipe! From the brine, the wood you use for smoking, the basting liquid, and the gravy-I’m hungry now after reading through the whole thing. And I’ll have to check out that thermometer. I’ve had such terrible luck with thermometers and it’s such an important tool to have in the kitchen.

  9. 5 stars
    That brine sounds like perfection! We’ve brined our turkey in a similar fashion before, but what I’ve never done is whip up an apple cider gravy. And that needs to happen. I’m such a sucker for apple cider, or anything apple-y for that matter! So I’m head over heels for this recipe. We’re hosting Friendsgiving this year, so I’ll be giving this a spin 🙂

  10. 5 stars
    Whoah! Smoked turkey is something I can honestly say I’ve not had for the holidays. I have a giant, bone-in, Kosher turkey breast in the fridge right now for Thanksgiving this week, and I think you’ve convinced us to smoke it, Lisa. Thanks for this awesome recipe! Just bookmarked and can’t wait to dive in to this deliciousness 🙂

  11. 5 stars
    This has been very helpful. I’m a big fan of brining, especially poultry and pork. Your article has so much good info, I’m going to save this for later. Your cider gravy sounds amazing and much different than what I usually make. I’m going to save this and try it. Thanks for this article, I will using this on TG day.

  12. 5 stars
    What a lovely turkey recipe perfect for Thanksgiving! Looks so tasty and flavorful!

  13. 5 stars
    Wow…I bet no one turns down an invitation to your house for Thanksgiving. That turkey almost looks too pretty to eat but I would be the first to help myself to the turkey platter on Thanksgiving. That’s a winner of a recipe.

  14. 5 stars
    Wow, this turkey looks absolutely perfect! My mother swears by brining a turkey, too but we’ve never smoked one! I’ll have to pass it along to my t-day hostess 🙂

  15. 5 stars
    That is one gorgeous turkey Lisa!!! I’d almost (ALMOST) hate to cut into it lol!! I love all your brining tips here- I’ve never cooked a whole turkey and would have zero idea where to start. And here it is, too early for lunch, and I AM STARVING now!! I want it!

  16. 5 stars
    How gorgeous! This would totally blow people away served at Christmas dinner and that gravy sounds divine!

  17. 5 stars
    I have always wanted to smoke a turkey, you just can’t beat the flavor. I absolutely LOVE the cider brine, on my list to make for sure!

  18. 5 stars
    YES!!!! Smoked turkey is THE BEST!!! I live in Canada, and sometimes for the holiday dinners (especially Christmas), it can be really cold outside. Last year I wanted hubby to smoke the turkey. The weather was like -30, so I did not have the heart to make him go outside. Hopefully this year it will be warmer. Smoked turkey is the best. Your gravy sounds like the perfect addition, and I would love it on mashed potatoes for sure.