Turkey not only makes a special meal for Thanksgiving but is also a go-to bird when you are craving large nutrient-filled meat that’s capable of feeding a sizable crowd.
You can buy freshly slaughtered farm birds or packaged pre-brined chunky turkey. The catch is that the first one gives you a chance to experiment with different injection and brining recipes.
Whichever you go for, you are still guaranteed to have a fun-filled day of backyard turkey-smoking. This article provides a thorough guide on how to smoke your turkey on a pellet grill.
Everything You’ll Need
For a successful turkey-smoking experience, here is a list of items to procure in advance:
- Whole turkey (without the giblet or neck)- You can go for large, small, or multiple turkeys, depending on the number of people present. You also have a choice between prepackaged meat and a fresh one from the farm.
- Kosher salt, water, and seasoning- The first two items are distinct seasoning ingredients. Depending on how you like it, you can incorporate more herbs and spices into the mixture and create a thick brine for injection and a dry rub for the outer surface. These add to the flavor, texture, and juiciness of the final cooked meal.
- Pellets ( cherry, pecan, apple, or maple)- A pellet smoker or grill functions properly with the use of wood pellets. Choose non-dominant wood types to prevent the smoky flavor from empowering the original flavor of the turkey.
- Thermometer- This gadget helps in the measurements of internal temperature, to keep you updated on your smoked turkey’s progress without having to open the grill top all the time.
- Pellet smoker or grill– This is the most important equipment. It provides a source of heat and a cooking surface for an undisturbed smoking session.
- Drip pan- Due to the turkey’s juicy nature, you need a drip pan to hold the excess juice that drips off the meat. The smoking turkey later uses up the juices through re-absorption. This keeps it moisturized and improves its texture.
Before You Start
The most important thing to do before setting off to smoke your turkey on the pellet grill is first choosing the bird.
Go for a size that feeds all the people present satisfactorily. You’ll also need to consider if your grill is big enough for the whole turkey to fit in its cooking space.
Food safety guidelines recommend a turkey that is 15 pounds at most. If you need more than this, you can purchase several smaller ones and weigh them concurrently, till you achieve the desired combined weight.
Remember to thaw your turkey before smoking it to avoid health complications. Another thing to remember is to get rid of the giblets and neck.
Do You Have to Brine It?
Brining the turkey is an important exercise to consider before smoking it. Some people rely on basting the bird or briefly seasoning its outer surface. However, the most suitable way to maintain its internal moisture is by brining and overnight refrigeration.
Seasoning can either be done using a paste of mixed herbs or a mixture of dry ingredients to create a dry rub, suitable for the outer layer of the turkey. The ingredients you choose will be guided by your tastes and preferences. This helps complement the injected brine, in the internal parts of the turkey, as the seasoning takes care of the external flavors. It is also responsible for a crunchy crust on the meat’s exterior.
Pellet Grill Cooking Time
The first smoking phase should last about 150 to 180 minutes. From there, increase your smoker’s heat range to 300°F. Leave it to smoke for approximately 4 more hours. An internal temperature of 165 to 170° F alerts you on the turkey’s readiness.
The total smoking time should be around 6 to 8 hours, depending on the size of your bird and the internal temperature at the time.
After taking it out of the smoker, let it rest and baste in its juices for 20 to 30 minutes before serving.
Don’t Stuff the Turkey
One of the major mistakes to avoid when pellet smoking your turkey is stuffing it. Most people confuse this process with the one that requires the use of an oven, also known as roasting.
Stuffed turkey has a minimal allowance for smoke penetration. This might result in undercooked meat which is contrary to what a perfectly smoked big bird means. You can opt for seasoning, brining, dry rubbing, or two of these.
Choose the Right Wood Pellets
With turkey, go for pellets from mild woods. This prevents the domination of smoke over the turkey’s flavors. You can go for a mixture of two types of woods or a single type. Among the recommended wood pellets are pecan, cherry, apple, and maple.
A cross between the mentioned wood types and hickory or oak strikes a balance in the woody flavors and enhances the taste. When used singularly, these two can overpower the turkey’s natural flavors.
Related: 4 Best Woods For Smoking Turkey (And 3 To Avoid)
Unlike what most people believe, you don’t have to carve your turkey or prepare it in detached parts.
The most suitable method of preparation is by smoking the whole beheaded carcass, without the giblets and the internal organs.
Get a Meat Thermometer
This is a major requirement. Some of the inbuilt smoker thermometer gauges are faulty and may end up recording the wrong temperature.
A probe thermometer is required for the correct internal temperature which you can monitor without having to open the smoker top constantly.
As mentioned earlier, the right temperature to determine your food’s readiness ranges between 165°F to 170°F, internally.
Also, check our ultimate guide for reheating smoked turkey