Do you want to learn how to smoke a turkey on a pellet grill? Yes?
Ok, let me ask you a few questions:
- Would you like to smoke turkey like a chef?
- How would you feel if your smoked turkey came out with a “wow” taste?
- Would you love a shout for smoking it with the same flavor and tenderness every time you grill it in a pellet grill?
If you wish for all things to happen well, you’re at the right place. I understand how challenging and delicate it is to get an evenly cooked turkey with excellent flavor out of your pellet grill for your entire gathering without a single mistake. Nobody will care whether you’re a beginner with smoking or were only hoping to cook a better turkey this time, provided you consume this article to the end.
It’s pertinent to mention there’s no “one way & the only way” to smoke a turkey on a pellet smoker. Following a single recipe doesn’t guarantee everyone will like it, including you, especially if you repeat it often. However, there are some generic techniques that you can use to achieve the best-smoked turkey regardless of which recipe you follow.
So, we’ll share some pro tips & techniques to help you smoke the perfect turkey without caring about its weight, size, or recipe.
All you need to do is read this article thoroughly without missing a single thought from us so you can relish an insanely delicious smoked turkey every time, any time.
Essential Tips for Smoking Turkey on a Pellet Grill
Turkey is always delectable, but smoked turkey offers a taste you don’t get from a traditionally cooked turkey. And besides, what’s the point of stuffing your oven with an entire turkey of 14 to 22 lbs?
Smoking turkey slowly over wood chips or smoker pellets in a pellet grill has more to do with a refined taste than a mere addiction, which does not come through a simple recipe.
Therefore, before we go into the exact method and recipe of smoking turkey on a pellet grill, it’s best to share with you some pro tips & tricks about smoking a turkey well on a pellet grill.
1. Don’t stuff the turkey.
I have found some folks obsessed with, nay bent on smoking stuffed turkeys these days! It looks like a captivating idea, but you should never smoke a stuffed turkey due to the following reasons:
- When you stuff the turkey, the inside of the bird never reaches the minimum safe internal temperature, that is, 165°F. Consequently, you’re exposing yourself to various dangers, such as food-borne illnesses. When smoke doesn’t circulate freely inside the cavity, the taste will vary and remain suboptimal.
- Airflow, and thus convectional heat, is restricted inside the cavity when you stuff the bird’s belly, though you can open it by pillaring a few wooden sticks inside.
- Last but not least, your turkey cooks and smokes only slowly when stuffed. And resultantly, if you want to justify your idea of stuffing it, you’ve to smoke it for a prolonged time, and thus, you get nothing but a dried-out bird.
Stuffing turkey when roasting in the oven is a great thing. Instead, when smoking, you should rub the turkey with herbs and spices and inject it with some “classic” seasoning like butter. Hold on, and we’ll help you prepare it yourself.
2. Don’t Truss the turkey.
Contrary to popular belief, avoid trussing your turkey. Dark meat’s safe minimum internal temperature is 175°F, unlike light meat, which has a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F.
Trussing a bird exposes its light breast meat and dark drumstick meat to the same temperature. As a result, you’ll end up either undercooking dark meat or overcooking light breast meat. When not trussed, the bird will lie naturally on the grates, and both parts will cook at their optimal temperatures.
3. Whether to brine or not?
Brining a turkey for an entire night before smoking it on a pellet grill brings you excellent results. Brining overnight helps the bird lock in moisture and meat juices as it smokes on a pellet grill.
Most people don’t brine the bird. Instead, they baste it or dry brine it. Basting works best on the skin level but can’t go deeper.
On the other hand, dry brining reaches deeper into the bird and helps the meat keep its taste as it grills. The outcome is not watery like wet burning, nor thoroughly dried, but SPRINGY.
What about traditional brining?
Well, it’s a debate. Those who don’t brine turkey think of it as unnecessary because they love the original taste of the bird with injected seasoning—BTW, I’m one of them.
Those who do will fight over it. The truth is, brined turkey isn’t juicier but watery and steamy. However, if you’re a big fan of brined turkey, you can opt for the option we’ve discussed in the recipe section. Be aware that if the turkey comes pre-brined, don’t load it with salt bombs.
A juicy turkey is more flavorful than a dull and dry one, but it comes through dry brining, not wet brining—but it all depends on your taste and experience. Whether you brine or dry brine your turkey, do it carefully, as over-salting can ruin the bird’s taste and lead to medical complications.
Carefully read the labels if you’re buying a frozen turkey. You don’t need to brine it if it reads as kosher or pre-salted.
4. Choose the best probe thermometer for smoking.
Smoking or BBQing turkey or any other meat isn’t only about time. The estimated time only gives you an idea for time management purposes.
Monitoring the meat’s internal temperature is essential for smoking a turkey. Pellet smokers and grills often come with an inbuilt thermometer that lets you know your smoker’s internal temperature. Remember that the meat’s internal temperature differs from the grill’s. In addition, most built-in temperature gauges are inaccurate.
Just as getting a turkey is essential to smoking a turkey, so is the meat probe thermometer, preferably Bluetooth, for it’ll help you check the temperature quickly.
5. Choose the best wood chips or pellets.
Wood pellets with sweet or fruity notes are ideal for smoking turkey. Apple, maple, oak, pecan, cherry, and hickory flavors usually work best with turkey. Also, remember that over-smoking turkey can deprive it of its distinct natural flavor and taste, so don’t do this unless you already know what it tastes like and prefer it.
6. Rely on the turkey’s internal temperature, not time.
Many people cook by time instead of cooking by temperature. Instead of smoking your turkey for X number of hours, smoke it until it reaches its safe minimum temperature, i.e.,
- 165 °F for turkey and most fowls.
- 175 °F for turkey’s dark meat.
You might have seen some instructors telling you to follow specific hours of smoking. COME ON….! They’ve smoked so many times that they know how long it can take. Yet, remember, reaching the internal temperature of 165 for white meat and 175 °F for dark meat is a rule of thumb and the only way to go.
You can use an instant-read or digital wireless meat probe thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of your food and the ambient temperature of your pellet grill.
Ensure that your thermometer probe goes straight into the central, innermost, or thickest part of the meat but doesn’t touch the pan or cooking grates.
Remember to buy an acutely accurate food thermometer. What’s the point of all the bells and whistles if the thermometer is tens of degrees off?
If you insist on getting the estimated cooking time, keep in mind that the actual cooking time depends on the following:
- The bird’s size
- The internal temperature of the bird after thawing or when you put it on the grill
- Outdoor weather conditions
- The grill’s power and the quality of the fuel (in this case, smoker pellets)
However, by and large, the estimated cooking time depends on your grill’s temperature.
That said, it’s always wise to periodically check your turkey’s internal temperature before you remove it from the grill grates, regardless of the estimated cooking time.
7. Cook the turkey with your grill’s lid closed.
Heat and smoke escape every time you lift the lid. If your grill has a built-in thermometer on its top, it will also become useless when you lift the lid. Perfectly smoking turkey requires that you close the lid once the bird is on the cooking grates and don’t lift it often to check your turkey’s state.
8. Let the turkey rest for a while.
Your turkey continues to cook even after removing it from the heat. It’s referred to as carry-over cooking. Carry-over heat continues to cook your turkey for about 15-20 minutes.
Allow your turkey a break of about 20-40 minutes before carving, eating, or serving, so it cooks to perfection and reaches its desired delectability. It will remain moist if you cover it with aluminum foil during this period.
Brined and Not Brined Smoked Turkey on a Pellet Grill Recipe
Hi, there are some Amazon affiliate links below. If you buy through these links, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. We greatly appreciate your support. You may read our full affiliate disclosure here. Please note that we don’t have any affiliate relationship with Costco. Opinions are our own.
This recipe is perfect for achieving the most delicious, flavorful, tender, and juicy turkey. Even though it takes time, the outcome is invariably marvelous. Smoke your turkey low and slow over maple or pecan on your pellet smoker to serve the most addictive dish to your family and friends.
Prep time: 20 minutes for Spatch cooking
- 8-12 hours for burning (traditional or dry)
- Seasoning injection time: half an hour
Brining time: 8-12 hours (it depends on how much time you have; you can also leave it for 24 hours.)
Cooking time: 4-8 hours, depending on the bird’s size and the treatment before cooking, i.e., spatchcocking.
Total time: 12 hours 20 minutes
Step #1 Brining
Traditionally Brine Turkey (Optional)
Note: you can skip this step if you’re running out of time or don’t like brining. You might come across many flavoring ingredients for brining the turkey. But, I’ll advise you to:
KEEP IT SIMPLE!
ENJOY IT THE BEST!
Ingredients and Equipment for Traditional Brining
- One large thawed turkey with neck and giblets removed and not pre-brined
- Water (number of gallons based on the size of your bird so that it completely submerges into the water. For instance, an 18-pound turkey will go in 2 gallons of water)
- Sea salt ( 1lb per gallon)
- Bbq bag or bucket
- Cooler box or bucket
How to traditionally brine the turkey
- Mix the salt in the water in a large container and ensure that the salt has properly dissolved. The brine container should be large enough to submerge the whole turkey completely.
- Remove giblets from the turkey cavity.
- Place the turkey in the brine container and ensure it’s completely underwater.
- Leave the brine container in the refrigerator for an entire night.
If it can’t go in the refrigerator, you can also use a brine bag, put your brine and turkey into this bag, put them into a cool box, fill that cooler with ice, and leave it for 8-12 hours. Make sure the temperature of the cooler is between 35-40 °F.
Ingredients and Equipment for Brining
- Half cup Kosher Salt
- Two tablespoons baking powder
How to Brine?
- Pat dry your bird with a paper towel.
- Mix the ingredients in a bowl.
- Sprinkle evenly on the turkey, holding in a pinch ( thumb and two fingers).
- Let the bird rest in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours uncovered. Twenty-four hours of dry brining will bring you fantastic results. If you want to go for longer, then cover the turkey loosely.
Note: Showering the entire mixture on the meat is not essential. What matters is the size of your turkey.
Step #2 Spatchcock Turkey
It’s time to spatchcock the turkey; it’ll ensure the turkey attains its temperature soon without losing moisture during smoking on the pellet grill. This is especially of great help if you’re aiming at smoking a big turkey of 20-22 lbs.
How do I do it?
Don’t worry. Butterflying a turkey is easy. Just get your heavy-duty poultry shear and do the job as shown in the video; the result will be a nice spread turkey.
Step #3 Dry Rub the Seasoning
Now, prepare the dry seasoning you’ll sprinkle on the turkey.
Ingredients and Equipment for Seasoning
- 1/3 cup smoked salt
- I/3 cups coarse ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup chicken BQ seasoning
How do I apply?
Cover a baking tray with aluminum foil, and set your bird inside. Mix all the ingredients and sprinkle and rub all over the inside and outside of the bird. You don’t need to apply all the mixture to the turkey. Just ensure the meat is fully seasoned.
Step #4 Inject Seasoning into Turkey
Now, you’ve to inject the seasoning into the turkey. It’ll not only enrich your turkey with flavor but also help it become genuinely JUICIER, ultimately.
Ingredients and Equipment for Seasoning
- 2-3 cups of unsalted butter (the quantity depends on your bird’s size.)
- 4-5 cloves of garlic without crushing
- A 2-inch piece of garlic
- A few stalks of rosemary
- 3-4 cloves
- 4 tablespoons Chicken BBQ seasoning
- Meat Tenderizer Injection
How do I prepare?
- Add the unsalted butter to the pan and allow it to melt.
- Add garlic cloves, rosemary, and cloves into it.
- Let the garlic soften.
- Remove the pan from the burner and let it cool for 30 seconds.
- Add the BBQ seasoning into it and mix well with a spoon.
- Strain the butter mixture into a cup and let it cool to fill the syringe.
- Fill in the injection and start injecting the seasoning into the turkey.
Note: Injected seasoning usually creates pockets if you don’t do it thoroughly. So, do it a bit deeper and at skin level evenly to ensure there aren’t any balk spots. The more even it’s, the more flavorful turkey will be.
Squirting is normal, so don’t worry; the tray underneath will gather it. Yet, you can control it by injecting slowly.
Step #4 Smoke Turkey
- Prepare your pellet grill by starting up your favorite wood chips or smoker pellets and letting it preheat until the grill’s thermometer registers 180 °F.
- Take the turkey with the dish and place it on the pellet grill.
- Place the dish 4-6 inches below the grate, over the bars
- Transfer the turkey to the grill grates and let it cook for two hours straight at 180 °F.
- After two hours of smoking, raise the grill temperature to 325 °F. Keep on checking the meat’s internal temperature with a probe thermometer.
- After every 30-0 minutes, check the bird and brush it with the leftover seasoning using a seasoning brush. Occasionally, you can brush it with browning sauce to get a classic darker color with less smoky flavors.
- When the turkey’s internal temperature reaches 150 °F inside the breast, the bird will begin losing its moisture. So, wrap it with aluminum foil loosely. Don’t do it too early, as it can make the skin soggy.
- Using your food thermometer, check the turkey’s internal temperature. Continue cooking until the thermometer registers 165 for light meat and 175 for dark meat.
- Remove the turkey from the grates and transfer it to the countertop. Seal the whole turkey in foil and let it rest for 15-20 minutes. Carry-over heat will continue to cook the turkey for some time, and the foil will seal the juices inside the meat.
Cut it, and serve it. You’ll enjoy the feast with the best-smoked turkey under the sun!
What to Do If You Want Smoked Turkey on Traeger? No Brine Option
Dry brining requires you to disperse a layer of salt on your turkey instead of wet brining. So, I’ll recommend you do it after following the next step of butterflying the turkey by removing its backbone.
How hot should my pellet grill be for smoking a turkey?
The pellet grill’s temperature should be 225-275 °F for smoking a turkey. Since I recommend you attain a minimum of 165 or 175 °F internal meat temperature, you need not bother about per pound time.
How do you smoke a 22 lb Turkey on a pellet grill?
Smoking a 22-lb turkey won’t come as a nightmare. You’ve got an enormous bird to feed the crowd, so don’t worry. Follow the recipe and aim for the safe minimum internal temperature mentioned in “how to smoke a turkey on a pellet grill?”
How long does it take to smoke a turkey in a pellet grill at 350?
Depending on the size of your turkey, it can take between 3-5 hours. But remember, time is not the standard to check the doneness of your turkey; it’s always the temperature. The dark meat of the turkey should reach 175 °F while the white part should be 165 °F.
Should you cover a turkey with aluminum foil when smoking it?
No. You don’t need to cover the turkey inside the pellet grill. Only when you’ve removed it from the smoker you’ll tent foil it for 15 minutes before cutting it.
Should you buy a frozen turkey or a fresh one?
According to the USDA guidelines, buying a frozen or fresh turkey doesn’t posit any threat, provided it’s not gone bad, and you cook it to its safe minimum internal temperature. Yet, you can check that the turkey shouldn’t come brined.
If you get a brined turkey, it’ll come with water weight.
With a non-brined turkey, you can add your favorite flavors to it.
Why is getting a big-sized turkey for smoking not a good idea?
The turkey’s size is a big concern when you want to smoke it. The bigger sizes seem captivating, like a 20-22 lb. turkey. You think,” it’s a big challenge. What if I can do it?” Honestly, a large-sized turkey isn’t a good option for two reasons:
The bigger the bird is, it’s aged, so it’s not tender. Thus, it’ll require more cooking time, though the solution is always there. That’s why, if you’re going to smoke for the first time, please don’t pick a large bird.
To cut a long story short, you can scale pick a 12-15 pound turkey for smoking, especially if you’re a beginner with smoking.
How long does it take to smoke a turkey on a pellet grill: Pit Boss or Traeger?
At 225° F, your Pit Boss grill can take approximately 30 minutes per pound to attain the internal meat temperature of 165 or 175 F (for dark meat). Hence, the time can be:
- 4 hours for an 8 lb turkey
- 5 hours for a 10 lb turkey
- 6 hours for a 12 lb turkey
- 8 hours for a 14 lb turkey
- 10 hours for a 16 lb turkey
- 12 hours for an 18 lb turkey
- 14 hours for a 20 lb turkey
- 16 hours for a 22 lb turkey
Do you recall us talking about spatchcocking your turkey? It’ll directly reduce the cooking time you expect by 1/3. Thus, you save not only time but also energy.
How long does it take to smoke a turkey at 275?
It can take about 15 minutes or a little more to smoke turkey per pound. So, it’ll smoke.
- 12 lb turkey in 3 hours
- 15 lb turkey in 4 hours
- 18-20 lb turkey in 5 hours
- 22 lb turkey in 6 hours
Yet, this is the estimated time your bird can take to get an internal temperature in the breast and thighs of 165-175 F, respectively. However, the idea of time can help you manage your time for your Thanksgiving dinner.
How long does it take to smoke a 20-22 lb turkey?
A 20 lb turkey will take 10 -12 hours at 225 or 275 °F. However, it’ll take 30% less time if it’s spatchcocked. The key is to reach your bird’s internal meat temperature, i.e., 165 for the white part and 175 for the dark meat, which you can check through a meat probe thermometer for smoking.
How long does it take to smoke a turkey at 300 or 330?
The temperature of 300-330 F is pretty high for smoking. It’ll speed up cooking and take about 12-15 minutes per pound. So for an 18lb bird, it can take about 4-5 hours to attain that advisable temperature of 165-175 °F in the meatiest part of the breast or thigh.
Yet, as said earlier, the internal temperature of the meat is the golden yardstick. The estimated time only helps you hope and make your preparations for the event.
Will achieving the 175-180 °F temperature for dark meat of thighs overcook or dry out the turkey breast, which only aims at 165 F?
Yes, it happens. So it would help if you had a creative solution. When the breast temperature reaches 165 °F, remove the leg and thighs and let them cook on the pellet grill. Keep the rest under the foil tent for 45 minutes after removing it from the grill. OR, partially cover the turkey, i.e., the breast and wings, with foil so that they don’t fry out, and let the rest of the turkey smoke until the legs and thighs get to an internal temperature of 170 °F.
What is the most accurate meat probe thermometer for smoking?
BFOUR Dual Probe Thermometer is best for smoking a turkey. Bluetooth 5.0 technology is used by the BFOUR Bluetooth meat thermometer, which implies faster speeds and an extended range. Outdoors, the BFOUR thermometer can send signals up to 200 feet away. It can still connect to a phone 100 feet away indoors. Thus, it’ll be significantly easier to monitor your meat without looking at it.
The box includes two probes, two spools for rolling wires, a grill clip, and a transmitter. Each stainless steel probe consists of a 43-inch heat-resistant wire. It can measure temperatures between 33°F-572°F with a precision of 1°C/1.8°F. It’s also simple to set up and connect to.
What type of sauce would go best with my pellet grill smoked turkey?
This recipe doesn’t have any complex flavoring. You can serve the turkey with customized bbq sauce on fruity notes. For this purpose, you can mix your favorite Barbeque sauce with an equal quantity of cranberry, pomegranate, or orange juice (reduced to 1/3rd on a flame) and serve with the carved turkey.
Final Thoughts On Smoking Whole Turkey
By remembering one or two recipes, you can hardly dream of getting a pellet grill smoked turkey that makes everyone grateful to you for your smoking skills.
All you need is a well-thought plan and a complete guide with A to Z techniques and methods of smoking turkey on a pellet grill, especially when you’re going to smoke it for the first time.
I hope this guide will help you smoke your gigantic bird like a pro.
How did it come out? Let us know by using the comment section below.