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 94 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

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Wonderful results! My bird was 13 pounds and took 6 hours. The meat was juicy and tender.
    We used the recommended brine and run. I ran out of lemon and stuffed with garlic, oranges, onions, rosemary and parsley.

  2. Can the turkey cavity be stuffed with cornbread stuffing, instead of with theherbs and fruit and vegetables you recommend?

    1. I would not recommend this, it will take a really long time to heat through and cook the stuffing and it could become a food safety issue.

  3. 5 stars
    This is such a great idea and a fun way to change things up from our traditional Thanksgiving turkey! I love the idea of using Cajun seasoning too — will definitely be trying that this year!

  4. 5 stars
    Wow – what a flavorful turkey! Thanks for the tips to making this – looking forward to giving this a go!

  5. 5 stars
    This is such a unique way to prepare turkey! I love how simple and easy it is, and the extra oven space is a welcome perk, too. Thank you!

  6. 5 stars
    Your recipes are always so well-written and easy to follow and this smoked turkey recipe is no exception! Thank you for making my holiday cooking easier. YUM!!

  7. 5 stars
    This is the recipe we used for Thanksgiving last year and it turned out perfectly! Definitely making again this year.

    1. The skin is not super crispy since it’s cooked at a low heat. You could crisp up the skin in the oven broiler if you like!

  8. 5 stars
    This smoked turkey turned out amazing! The deep flavors truly enhanced the turkey meat plus it turned out super juicey. Can’t wait to make it again!

  9. 5 stars
    Smoking the turkey took it to a whole other level. Such a delicious recipe! Will make again for the holidays! Thank you.

  10. 5 stars
    Turkey turned out perfectly moist. The only downside (maybe user error) was the turkey looked black from the smoking process. 4 hours at ~110C for a 3.5kg bird.

  11. 5 stars
    Absolutely the best Turkey I have ever smoked, and so easy to prepare. I was a little worried when my Turkey stalled at 155 but all it took was patience and it took off again to the finish line! 6 Hours for an 11 lb bird. The only problem was that there were no leftovers!!

  12. 5 stars
    I have a 21 pound turkey to smoke. If I go by pound, that’s 10.5 hours. I plan to inject the bird with a cajun butter mixture instead of brine. My question is if I smoke it at 300 for the first 4 hours and then turn it down to 225 for the last 6.5 hours would that get it to the 140 mark safely or would it be better to spatchcock it? If I spatchcock it, how long do I smoke it for and at what temp? First time smoking a turkey and want it to be perfect! Thanks for any help on this!!

    1. You can start it at 300, but I’d go by the temperature rather than the amount of hours to get to 140. You can spatchcock the turkey if you prefer, but I haven’t tested this recipe with such a large spatchcocked turkey, so I can’t advise you on the exact cook time. Definitely use a thermometer, and a spatchcock turkey will cook quicker for sure.