This smoked turkey recipe is a whole turkey that’s coated in homemade spice rub then slow smoked to tender and juicy perfection. A super easy and impressive holiday main course that won’t take up any oven space!

Looking for something a little different than your standard roasted turkey? This smoked turkey is a unique and show stopping Thanksgiving meal, but it’s simple enough that even a novice cook can produce a beautiful and delicious end result. Serve your turkey with homemade cranberry sauce and watch the rave reviews come in!

Smoked turkey on a platter garnished with herbs and apples.

I love to make a turkey for the holidays, but I don’t love how it takes up all my oven space for hours and hours on the big day. Instead of roasting my turkey, I’ve started making a smoked turkey and the end result is nothing short of fabulous.

Smoked Turkey Ingredients

Ingredients including turkey, turkey brine, chicken broth, herbs, spice rub and lemon.
  • Turkey Brine: While you don’t have to brine your turkey, I do recommend taking this extra step if you have the time available. Brining adds a lot of flavor and moisture to the turkey, and will help protect it from drying out in the smoker. My homemade turkey brine is super easy to prepare.
  • Whole Turkey: It’s best to use a smaller turkey for smoking, around 12-14 pounds. This is because a turkey must pass through the temperature range from 40-140 degrees F within 4 hours of being in the smoker, otherwise it could start to spoil before it cooks through.
  • BBQ Rub: You can use my homemade BBQ rub, or choose your favorite seasoning blend from the grocery store.
  • Onion: Adding a quartered onion to the cavity of the turkey is a great way to infuse flavor into the bird as it smokes.
  • Lemon: The lemon adds a nice citrus flavor to the finished bird.
  • Herbs: Turkey and herbs are a perfect flavor combination! I typically use a blend of parsley, rosemary and thyme.
  • Chicken Broth: If you choose not to brine your turkey, you’ll want to baste it with chicken broth as it cooks.

How do you smoke a turkey?

If you’re brining your turkey, place it in the brine solution 24 hours before you plan to cook it. Preheat your smoker with the wood of your choice. Place the turkey in a disposable aluminum pan, and tuck the wings under the bird. Fill the cavity of the turkey with the onion, lemon and herbs, then tie the legs together with twine. Place the BBQ rub all over the outside of the turkey. Transfer the turkey in the pan to the smoker, then cook, basting occasionally, until a thermometer registers 165 degrees F. Let the turkey rest, then carve it and serve.

Step by step process shots showing how to smoke a turkey.

Tips for the best smoked turkey

  • I find that clean up is a lot easier if you leave the turkey in the disposable pan while it smokes rather than transferring it directly onto the rack.
  • A probe thermometer is a must-have when making smoked turkey. Smokers can sometimes be variable in temperature which affects the cooking time, so always go by the temperature rather than the time.
  • I typically use an electric smoker as I find that they regulate heat well, and are easy to use, even for total beginners.
A whole smoked turkey garnished with herbs.

Recipe FAQs

How long does it take to smoke a turkey?

Smoking a turkey can be a long process, so be sure to start early in the day so that the turkey will be done by dinner time. Typically, it takes at least 5 hours to smoke an average sized turkey at 250 degrees F. Plan on having your turkey cook for about 25-30 minutes per pound. This timing can vary somewhat depending on the type of smoker you’re using and how well it holds the temperature steady. It’s imperative to use a thermometer rather than a clock to gauge when the turkey is ready.

What type of wood is best for smoking a turkey?

I like to use apple wood to smoke poultry, as it imparts a mild and sweet flavor. Apple wood is readily available in most stores. Other great choices are cherry wood or hickory.

When is a smoked turkey done?

A turkey is done when a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees F. I use a digital thermometer that I leave in the turkey while it smokes so I can monitor the progress with a temperature remote from the house.

Do you have to baste a turkey?

I prefer to baste my smoked turkey because no one wants a dry turkey! I occasionally baste the turkey with a little chicken broth as it cooks to ensure a moist end result. If you’ve brined your turkey before hand, you can skip the basting step.

How much turkey per person?

You can estimate the size of turkey that you need by planning on one pound of turkey per person. If you want a lot of turkey left over, plan on 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person.

Sliced smoked turkey breast on a plate.

Flavor Variations

This recipe is delicious as-is, but you can also customize the flavors to your tastes if you prefer.

  • Spice Rub: Not in a BBQ kind of mood? This recipe also works well with blackened seasoning, Creole seasoning or Cajun seasoning.
  • Brine: Feel free to switch up some of the flavors in the brine recipe by using different herbs, honey as a sweetener, or add other types of fruit such as apples or pears.
  • Stuffing: Rather than stuffing the bird with onion and lemon, you can try other ingredients such as apples, a halved head of garlic, carrots, orange slices or leeks.

The end result is a beautifully browned turkey that’s tender, juicy and full of flavor. You can never go wrong with a smoked turkey, and I love that it frees up my oven space to bake the sides and desserts for the big meal.

More recipes for your holiday meal

4.98 from 89 votes

Smoked Turkey Recipe

AuthorSara Welch
Smoked turkey on a platter garnished with herbs and apples.
This smoked turkey recipe is a whole turkey that’s coated in homemade spice rub then slow smoked to tender and juicy perfection. A super easy and impressive holiday main course that won’t take up any oven space!
Time
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time6 hours
Total Time6 hours 10 minutes
Course Main
Cuisine American
Serves 12

Ingredients 

  • 1 recipe turkey brine optional, if you choose to brine your turkey, you can skip the chicken broth basting
  • 12 lb whole turkey giblets and neck removed
  • 1/2 cup BBQ rub
  • 1 onion quartered
  • 1 lemon quartered
  • 4 sprigs fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary or parsley
  • 3 cups chicken broth use if not brining your turkey
  • fresh herbs for garnish
  • cooking spray

Instructions 

  • Prepare the brine according to recipe directions if you decide to brine your turkey. Let the turkey soak in the brine for 18-24 hours before cooking.
  • Preheat the smoker to 250 degrees F. Load the smoker with apple wood.
  • Coat a large disposable aluminum pan with cooking spray. Place the turkey in the pan and tuck the wings under the body.
  • Stuff the cavity of the turkey with the onion, lemon and herbs, then use kitchen twine to tie the legs together.
  • Sprinkle the BBQ rub all over the surface of the turkey.
  • Place the turkey in the smoker. Cook for 5-6 hours, basting with chicken broth every 30-45 minutes, until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees F.  If you brine your turkey, you don't need to baste it. Refill the wood chips as needed.
  • If the turkey starts to get too dark, cover it with foil.
  • Let the turkey rest for 10-15 minutes then transfer to a serving plate. Garnish with herbs if desired, then serve.

Notes

  1. This recipe works best with a turkey that is about 12-14 pounds in size. This is because a turkey must pass through the temperature range from 40-140 degrees F within 4 hours of being in the smoker, otherwise it could start to spoil before it cooks through.
  2. A probe thermometer is a must-have when making smoked turkey. Smokers can sometimes be variable in temperature which affects the cooking time, so always go by the temperature rather than the time.
  3. I typically use an electric smoker as I find that they regulate heat well, and are easy to use, even for total beginners.

Nutrition

Calories: 363kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 70g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 231mg | Sodium: 576mg | Potassium: 794mg | Vitamin A: 210IU | Vitamin C: 10mg | Calcium: 43mg | Iron: 3mg

Hello! I’m Sara!

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Comments

  1. We are thinking of using this recipe for Thanksgiving this year. What type of wood do you recommend for smoking it? We were kind of thinking apple or hickory. Have you used either of these and is one better? The only wood we do not care for is mesquite.

    1. I always use apple wood for this recipe. You can use hickory too, it will just have a stronger smoky flavor. I like the apple because it’s not overwhelmingly smoky with a touch of sweetness from the apple.

  2. Hi! I have a large Friendsgiving im going to and planning on using your recipe. I was thinking of smoking 2 turkeys at the same time, and my question is does that double the smoking time? So if I’m smoking two 10 lb birds does that mean 30 mins x 20 lbs = 10 hours? Thank you!

    1. It really depends on your setup, I recommend putting the turkeys in separate pans and placing them as far away from each other as possible to allow all the hot air to circulate evenly. If you take these measures, the cook time should be the same as one bird.

  3. Hello! My first time smoking a turkey! I’ve got a 17 pounder and wondering if it’ll have crispy skin? Some articles say it will be rubbery if cooked entirely low and slow. Thoughts?

    1. The skin is not crispy for a smoked turkey because it cooks at such a low temperature. The best way to get crispy skin would be to broil the turkey after smoking it for just a few minutes.

      1. Thank you!

        I may need to cook two turkeys but would probably need to spatchcock them to smoke them at the same time. I plan on brining both, but will I lose a lot of moisture spatchcocking as opposed to following this recipe with lemon and herbs inside?

    1. It should be fine, just place them as far apart as possible so the hot air can circulate, and you probably will want to rotate their positions occasionally too.

  4. 5 stars
    I’ve made this recipe 3-4 times now. Everyone who tries the turkey says that it’s the best they have ever had. It’s sooooo tender and juicy due to the low and slow cooking. I will never make my turkey in the oven again!

  5. 5 stars
    My new go to recipe! I’m making my second one since the leftovers after Thanksgiving only lasted two days and we want more. Very easy as well. Thank you for posting.

  6. 5 stars
    I brined & smoked my 14.5 lbs turkey for Thanksgiving, yesterday. Hands down the best turkey I’ve ever had! It was the star of the meal!

  7. 5 stars
    Turkey was great. But be sure to check the size of your aluminum pan vs the size of your smoker. I have the largest of the Weber smokers and the large size of the aluminum pan was too large. I took a pair of pliers to it and made it fit.

  8. I followed your recipe and used your rub with a 12.8 Lb. Turkey. I just stuffed it and put it in the fridge for overnight though, is this okay? I figured it’s just vegetables and fruit and would think that would be okay? Help, lol

    1. It takes about 30 minutes a pound, so it would be approximately 5 pounds for a 10 lb bird. Just keep in mind this is an estimate since there are so many different types of smokers!

  9. I LOVE your BBQ rub, but my daughter is a bit picky and is not a fan of anything BBQ (but loves the smoker…go figure lol)… is there something else that I can use for the outside with this recipe? Some sort of garlic rub maybe? Or is it best to stick with the BBQ rub?

  10. 5 stars
    I haven’t tried this recipe yet but it looks terrific and we are going to give it a try this year! I did have a question about making this recipe ahead of time and reheating – how would you recommend doing that?

    1. I would not recommend making this ahead of time and reheating it as you’re basically cooking the turkey twice and there’s a real possibility it could end up dry. If you absolutely have to I’d carve the turkey, then put the carved pieces in a baking dish covered with foil and bake at 325 degrees F until warmed through. You can also brush a little turkey or chicken broth over the cut turkey pieces to keep them from drying out. Hope this helps.

  11. 5 stars
    I used a 12 pound turkey, followed all of your directions and had a perfect bird! I’m so happy with this recipe!

  12. The last two years I’ve used a 11-12 ish lb turkey and it has cooked in less than three hours. I’m cooking at 225F on an electric smoker. Any ideas why this is cooking so fast? I now have to find away to keep this perfect turkey warm for 3+ hours. Any help would be much appreciated!

    1. Two thoughts. One is that your smoker is running much warmer than 225 degrees F, you may want to use an oven thermometer to see if the smoker temperature is truly accurate. You would have trouble cooking a turkey in a 350 degree oven that quickly which is why I’m suspicious! Also, where are you placing the thermometer probe to check for doneness? If I find something seems to be cooking too quickly I try placing the thermometer in another location. For example, if you’ve checked the temperature in the thigh I’d also check in the thickest part of the breast. Sometimes if the probe touches bone or pokes through the meat into the cavity it can also throw an inaccurate temperature.

  13. Is it safe to smoke a 24lb turkey whole? I am gonna smoke the same size bird but not sure on temps and cook time.

    Dan

    1. The problem with that large of a turkey is that a turkey must pass through the temperature range from 40-140 degrees F within 4 hours of being in the smoker, otherwise it could start to spoil before it cooks through. One person commented yesterday that they were going to split their large turkey in half. You could also try spatchcocking it as it will cook a lot quicker that way, here’s my method for that https://www.dinneratthezoo.com/spatchcock-turkey/

    2. Yes, I smoked a 23lb today. One thing to remember is the 40 – 140 degree with in 4 hours can be disregarded if you are using a 48 hour brine. Salts prevent the bacteria growth. A 23lb stuffed with apples took 14 hours at 225 degrees.

  14. I am smoking a 24 lb turkey tomorrow and wondering if I should divide it into 2 12 lb sections, each in its own pan to prevent the danger zone?
    Thank you so very much!
    Robert

      1. How about a 20 lb bird? Could I just smoke it a t a higher temp so it reaches temp quicker without spoiling?