How to Smoke a Turkey on a Pellet Grill – Perfect Recipe

Do you want to know 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 taste 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 you just want a better turkey this time. 

There isn’t a “one & only” way to smoke a turkey on a pellet smoker. Following a single recipe can’t give “fantabulous” results. 

To help you smoke your best turkey without caring about its weight and size, we’ll also let you know various techniques and clear confusion, which will ultimately help the BBQ experts to make their best meal out of this gobbler.

All you need to do is read this article thoroughly without missing a single thought from us and enjoy the pleasure of a wonderful smoked turkey with your dear ones. 

Essential Tips for Smoking Turkey on a Pellet Grill: Know First

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.

  • Don’t stuff the turkey.
  • OMG, I’ve found folks talking about stuffed turkey! It seems a captivating idea, but you should never smoke a stuffed turkey because of the following reasons:

    1.  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 a whole range of dangers, such as food-borne illnesses. When smoke doesn’t circulate freely inside the cavity. So the taste will vary and remain suboptimal.
    2. 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 it.
    3. Last but not least, your turkey cooks and smokes 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.

  • 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.

  • Whether to Brine or not?
  • Brining a turkey for an entire night before smoking it on a pellet grill brings about great 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 completely dried, but SPRINGY.

    What about traditional brining?

    Well, it’s a debate. Those who don’t brine don’t think it necessary, love the actual taste of the turkey with injected seasoning — BTW, I’m among them. 

    Those who do, they’ll 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 — you’ll get both options here as it all depends on your taste and experience. You should brine/dry brine your turkey with care as over-salting can ruin the taste and cause medical complications.

    Carefully read the labels if you’re buying a frozen turkey. If it reads as kosher or pre-salted, you don’t need to brine it anymore.

  • Choose the best probe thermometer for smoking.
  • Smoking or BBQing turkey or any other meat isn’t about time. The estimated time only gives you an idea for time management purposes. 

    It’s the meat’s internal temperature that’ll let you smoke the turkey perfectly. The smokers and grills come with an inbuilt thermometer that lets you know the internal temperature of your smoker or grill but not of the meat. 

    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 with much ease.

  • 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, except you already know what it’ll taste like, and you prefer it as well.

  • 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. 
    • Turkey’s dark meat should be cooked to a minimum safe internal temperature of 175 °F.

    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 much time it can take. Yet, remember, reaching the internal temperature of 165 for white meat and 175 °F for dark meat is only the rule of thumb.

    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.

    You should always buy a highly accurate food thermometer. If it’s not accurate, it’s of no use to you regardless of how feature-rich or easy-to-use it is.

    If you insist on getting the estimated cooking time, keep in mind that the actual cooking time depends on the following:

    1. Bird’s size
    2. The internal temperature of the bird after thawing or when you put it on the grill
    3. Outdoor weather conditions
    4. The quality of your fuel (in this case, smoker pellets)

    For these reasons, estimated cooking time is always based on grill temperature. If you read a recipe without mentioning grill temperature, you may just overlook it and find another accurate one. In short, cooking time and temperature relate to and affect each other.

    For the reasons mentioned above, it’s wise to periodically check your turkey’s internal temperature before you remove it from the grill grates.

    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 lid, 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.

    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 that it cooks to perfection and reaches its desired delectability. If you cover it with aluminum foil during this period, it will remain moist.

    Recipe: Brined or Not Brined, Smoked Turkey on a Pellet Grill

    This recipe is perfect for achieving the most delicious, flavorful, tender, and juicy turkey. Even though it takes time, you always come up with significant results. 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 how much time you have; you can also leave it for 24 hours)

    Cooking time: 4-8 hours depending on bird’s size and treatment given before cooking, i.e., spatchcocking

    Total time: 12 hours 20 minutes

    Step #1 Brining

    Traditionally Brine Turkey (Optional)

    Note: you can also skip this step if you’re running out of time, or don’t like any of the 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 as to completely submerge it 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
    • Ice
    • Cooler box or bucket

    How to 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 a brine container and ensure that 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 cooler 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.  

    To check this temperature, you can use a BlueTooth thermometer and set the alarm if the temperature drops to check this temperature. You can also occasionally check the cooler for temperature. 

    Ingredients and Equipment for Traditional 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. 24 hours of dry brining will bring you fantastic results. If you want to go for longer, then cover the turkey loosely.

    Note: It’s not essential to shower the entire mixture on the meat. 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 the 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, you need to prepare the dry seasoning that you’ll sprinkle on the turkey.

    Ingredients and Equipment for Seasoning

    How do I apply?

    Take a baking tray, cover it with aluminum foil, and set your bird inside it. 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. Only apply so that 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 truly 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 enough 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 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 quite 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.
    • At that point, 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 go for attaining a minimum of 165 or 175 °F internal temperature of meat, 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 steps mentioned above in the recipe and aim for attaining the max internal temperatures we’ve mentioned in this guide on “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 when it’s 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, there are no restrictions on buying a frozen or fresh turkey. 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 size, like a 20-22 lb turkey, seems captivating. You think,” it’s a big challenge. What if I can do it?” Honestly, a large 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 truly for the first time, please don’t pick a big 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?

    To attain the internal meat temperature of 165 or 175 F (for dark meat), your Pit Boss grill can take approximately 30 minutes per pound if operated at 225 °F. 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

    BUT?

    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. So, the key is to aim at reaching the internal meat temperature of your bird at 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 indeed 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 key standard. The 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, you need 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 a period of 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 a longer 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 includes a heat-resistant wire that is 43 inches long. Temperatures between 33°F-572°F can be measured using this device. The precision is within 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 following a single recipe on how to smoke a turkey on a pellet grill smoker, you can hardly dream of getting a pellet grill smoked turkey that makes everyone grateful to you for your amazing smoking skills. 

    You need a well-thought plan and complete guide about all A to Z techniques and methods of smoking a 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. 

    GOOD LUCK!

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