So, you want to learn how to smoke turkey on a pellet grill? I’ve got ya covered! Smoking turkey on any type of barbecue is definitely an art form, but it can be mastered with the right tips and techniques. Outlined below are some very useful suggestions that will help ensure your next holiday (or random Sunday) gets off to a great start.
What are the benefits of smoking a turkey on a pellet grill?
The benefits of smoking turkey on a pellet grill are that it can be done with less active monitoring than traditional barbecue. This means that feeding coals or pellets, basting, and other typically required tasks while cooking can all be done while your attention is elsewhere. There are also some pros to the various flavors you can get out of this type of smoking over standard smokers or grills.
Things You Will Need To Remember
Before getting started here are two big pieces of advice
1) Get yourself a good digital thermometer – You’ll need this bad boy for multiple purposes during the cook. The first thing you’ll use it for is determining whether or not your meat is done cooking. If you try inserting into the thickest part of your turkey without one, you’re likely going to have a product that is either undercooked in the center or overcooked around the outside. The second thing you’ll use it for is ensuring your meat rests properly. Regardless of what type of meat you’re cooking, low and slow simply means a more tender and juicy piece of meat in my book.
2) Use a great all-natural rub – This is my go-to recipe for turkey. It’s simple to make with items you probably already have in your pantry, and will add amazing flavor to your bird.
With those two tips out of the way, let’s get down to business…
5 Steps to Smoke Turkey On A Pellet Grill
1) Choose Your Wood Wisely
To achieve full smoke flavor, I would recommend using hickory chips because they pair well with turkey. Other great options are apple, mesquite, maple, pecan and a blend of any of these woods. I would avoid using wood chunks or chips made from resinous woods such as pine because the flavor they add may be too strong for your taste buds.
2) Preparing The Smoker & Grill
If you have a pellet grill, you’re going to want to heat it up to high temperature (about 400 degrees) before throwing it in your turkey. If you have a charcoal grill, build a single layer of coals on one side of your cooking area, leaving the other side void. Place some soaked wood chips directly on top of the hot coals right before putting in your turkey for added and flavor!
3) Adding Smoke Flavor
Now that we have the temperature and wood chips all taken care of, it’s time to add some smoke! Place your turkey on the grill by carefully sliding it on with a pair of tongs. Close the lid for at least 30 minutes before checking internal temp to allow the smoke flavor to saturate the meat. Once you’re ready check internal temp, about 2/3 way through cooking use a basting brush or spray bottle to apply a flavorful glaze over your bird. This will typically consist of an oil-based jam combined with spices but is totally up to you.
4) Take It Easy On The Glazes
With anything you cook over indirect heat, going overboard on sugar-based glazes can be a recipe for disaster. You always want to make sure you keep the temperature on your cooker between 250 – 275 degrees. This will help ensure that glaze doesn’t burn before it has a chance to be fully set. If this does happen, no biggie! Just brush off any blackened sugars once the meat is done cooking and eat as usual.
5) Monitor Your TEMPS
I can’t stress how important it is to have an accurate digital thermometer for this cook. Not all ovens are created equal so having one on hand will help ensure things go smoothly without too much guesswork involved. The only meat more scary than undercooked turkey is overcooked turkey, so don’t take any chances with this crucial final step in preparation!
Tips for How To Smoke Turkey On A Pellet Grill
1) Brining Turkey
Did you know that brining actually makes your meat even more moist? Brining your bird overnight will give it an added level of flavor you wouldn’t otherwise get! I suggest doing 16 ounces (1 quart) water to ½ cup kosher salt (for 2 average sized turkeys). Take salt and about 4 tablespoons of your favorite bbq rub and mix it with the water to dissolve. If you can, refrigerate this mixture overnight so that all ingredients are able to marry perfectly.
The turkey should be kept in a large (2-5 gallon) zipper bag for safe keeping throughout the night.
If you want to brine your turkey then keep it in your fridge overnight. Place the turkey into a large food storage bag or container that is 2-5 gallons and make sure there’s enough room for the juices and such . Pour the brine solution over the top of it and close tightly, making sure there is negligible air left inside before sealing completely. You need to turn it once or twice for even brining.
2) Tying The Legs Together And The Tail Underneath
This is to help keep the legs from moving around during barbecuing, which prevents overcooking in some parts and undercooking in other parts. This also helps to lock in juices so that your turkey doesn’t dry out while cooking.
3) Using A Meat Thermometer
It’s very important to use an accurate meat thermometer . To make sure your bird gets done properly, you should always check the internal temperature with a quality meat thermometer. So make sure you get one of those! You don’t want anyone getting sick or anything like that and it can ruin the whole day if that happens!
4) For Smoked Turkey
The thickest part of the breast should be 170 degrees F and the dark meat (thighs and drumsticks) should be 180 degrees F. To check for doneness, you want to insert a three-pronged instant read digital thermometer into the thickest part of the bird. If it’s not done, you will need to close all vents more tightly or reduce cooker temperature by 5 degrees for every 10 minutes it is off target.
Other Useful Tips for The Perfect Smokey Bird
1) Don’t baste too often or spray liquid onto the meat with a spray bottle, as this will greatly increase the chances of flare-ups , which can cause burnt spots on the thighs and drumsticks. Instead, use a natural oil . Some people prefer to use melted butter mixed with some spices or other ingredients to make something similar to an earthy version of Pam Spray . You can also place water pans near directly over heat sources to catch the drippings to produce smoke.
TIP: You can also use a butter or non-stick cooking spray if you prefer to have an easier clean-up. Just rub some oil onto the turkey skin before applying your favorite bbq rub seasoning for added flavor. This will ensure that it comes off just as easily as well! I don’t use much of anything because I like my bbq poultry to have crispy skin, mostly because it tastes excellent with barbecue sauce!
2) Use only fresh turkeys . If there is any chance that your bird has been frozen , you must thaw it in the refrigerator (not on the kitchen counter) prior to putting it on the grill OR smoker . Do NOT thaw in warm water or in the microwave. If you thaw outside of the refrigerator, bacteria can form quickly and be destroyed by cooking to recommended temperatures.
TIP: For smoking turkey that has already been brined or injected with flavor (like Butterball turkeys ), use half of your normal bbq rub recipe because they are already seasoned in some cases.
3) After brining , rinsing is important—do so before seasoning, cooking, or serving! Otherwise, your turkey will be too salty . Rinse for five minutes under cold running water after removing it from the brine solution. When finished rinsing, pat dry with paper towels. Do not rinse until just prior to putting on grill/smoker because wet skin won’t brown well .
TIP: It is very common for people to inject their turkey. I recommend that you inject with a solution of water and olive oil. This helps keep the bird moist throughout the entire cooking process. I also like to add in some other ingredients such as apple juice, worcestershire sauce, seasoning salt, etc.
No matter what kind of poultry you are smoking (turkey, chicken , duck , or goose ), make sure your grill/smoker temperature is at least 325 degrees F because low and slow cooks meats slowly and results in tender meat. Be sure to check out our article called How To Use A Smoker Box. It has everything that you need to know in order to get started!
If you follow these simple steps to smoke turkey on a pellet grill, you’re guaranteed to get rave reviews from all your guests this holiday season. I hope these couple of tips help get the tastiest meal possible on your table.