Roasted or smoked turkey is usually associated with Thanksgiving and with other holidays and special occasions. But the truth is that if you learn how to smoke a turkey in a charcoal smoker, you will most probably be tempted to enjoy it more often throughout the year.
When prepared properly in a charcoal smoker, the turkey will taste better than ever and will easily turn any turkey hater into a turkey lover.
Here is the best way to prepare smoked turkey using a charcoal smoker.
What is the right smoker to use?
Technically, you can prepare smoked turkey using any type of grill you have – gas, electric, charcoal, pellet, or using any type of smoker. But we have prepared a recipe for you that is specifically designed for smoking the bird using a charcoal grill, such as the Weber Smokey Mountain or similar.
The most important thing is to be able to set the smoker and maintain it at a consistent temperature, set up a two-zone cooking area, and then use the right wood for the perfect smoky flavor.
Start with brining the turkey
Firstly, you will need to choose the right turkey which can fit in your charcoal grill or smoker.
If you are using a Weber Smokey Mountain grill, you can expect to be able to fit an average whole turkey on the 18 or 22-inch grills. If you have the smallest 14-inch option, you can opt for smoking a turkey breast instead.
Make sure that the turkey is completely and safely defrosted, and it is a maximum of 15 lbs. to keep the cooking safe.
In case the turkey is not pre-brined, then you should brine it for about 12 to 24 hours prior to smoking it.
While you can buy a ready-made brine and dry rub for your smoked turkey, you can also prepare the brine, which you will use for brining it yourself.
Ingredients for the smoked turkey brine:
- Water – 4 gallons
- Kosher salt – 4 cups
- White sugar – 4 cups
Additional seasoning – you can add minced garlic, ground black pepper, or Worcestershire sauce to the brine, as well as any other seasoning and herbs you prefer
Ice – at least 4 bags of ice (this is to keep the turkey in the brine at a safe temperature out of the danger zone, which will prevent the growth of harmful bacteria while it is being submerged into the brine)
Pour the ingredients for the brine in a food-grade bucket or another large container that can fit the whole turkey.
Submerge the turkey completely in the solution, and let it soak and brine in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours prior to smoking it.
After brining it, make sure that you pat the bird down with paper towels and tie its legs together using butcher’s twine behind the shoulder joint.
At this point, you may want to add some seasoning, which includes oil, butter, and a dry rub of your choice.
When you are placing it in the smoker, make sure that you place it with the breast side up in the cooler cooking zone over indirect heat.
You will need to turn it over during the smoking several times to ensure that the turkey is cooked and smoked evenly.
How to use the smoker
When you have the bird prepped for smoking, you should proceed to set up the charcoal smoker.
If using a Weber Smokey Mountain or similar, you should place your chimney starter in the middle section, fill it with charcoal to up to ¾ of its height and light them up.
You can use wood chips of your choice and cover them with the hot coals (we recommend hickory and cherry wood chips for smoked turkey).
The target temperature of the smoker should be around 230 degrees Fahrenheit and no higher than 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
This can be achieved by opening the bottom vents to about 1/4 and the top vents ½ of the way.
You should also add 2-3 liters of warm water to the water pan above the hot coals.
Then you can place the cooking racks in the smoker and use a dripping pan to capture any grease and juices from the bird, which you can use for making gravy later.
After the desired temperature and smoke have been reached, place the turkey on the top cooking rack with the breasts up.
Close the lid or door of the smoker and let the turkey cook.
On average, a turkey will need about 20 minutes of smoking per pound. You should add about 15 minutes to each time you open the lid of the grill. Of course, it is best to open the lid as little as possible.
When the turkey’s internal temperature reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit, you can use a meat thermometer to make sure that you keep a close eye on the doneness.
The recommended safe doneness of turkey by the USDA is 165 degrees Fahrenheit at the thickest part of the bird’s thigh.
Let the turkey rest for about 15 minutes before slicing and serving it.
We hope that you have found our recipe for smoked turkey in a charcoal grill easy to prepare and even more that you will love the results after you try it.
We can assure you that you will definitely consider eating turkey more often once you prepare it like this using your charcoal smoker!