Complete guide for smoking a turkey


Thinking about smoking a turkey for the holiday season or another special occasion? Here's your complete guide.

Purchase a fresh turkey that has been minimally processed. If necessary defrost the bird thoroughly a day in-advance of starting these steps. Remove the giblets and neck from the cavities (save these for making gravy if you wish). Wash the turkey inside and out with cold water.
Preparation time:  1 day for brining, 1 hour for advance preparations, 6 hours for actual smoking.

This turkey smoking guide features the BIG GREEN EGG®.  While The Egg is the World's best smoker, you can easily adapt these instructions to another type of smoker if you know how to adjust and hold its temperature.

The day before cooking prepare a brine solution in a large stock pot or a 5 gallon paint bucket available at Ace Hardware:
1 cup sea salt
1 cup brown sugar
4-6 sprigs of thyme
6 leaves of sage
10 peppercorns
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 lemons quartered
2 oranges quartered
2 gallons of water
Place the thawed turkey in the brine solution and let sit for 8-24 hours in the refrigerator.

In-advance, prepare a compound butter as follows:
1/2 pound unsalted butter
1-2 tablespoons of sage
1-2 tablespoons of thyme
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 tablespoons parsley
Combine all ingredients and form into a 6 inch long log then wrap in wax paper.  (Hint:  prepare a little extra as a seasoned butter for the table at dinner.)

Remove the brined turkey from the solution 1 hour prior to smoking and pat dry.

Soak your wood chips in water for approximately 1 hour prior to smoking. We selected Vintage Barrel Chips for this recipe. A wide selection of different smoking chips are available at our store. Try different chips for different flavors or ask about our favorites.
Slice the compound butter into 12 slices and stuff into the turkey cavity and under the skin.

Set-up your smoker and bring it to temperature.  For this recipe, we used Big Green Egg Natural Lump Charcoal and Big Green Egg Firelights. Leave the lower vent wide open and leave the lid open for approximately 10 minutes while the fire gets going. Add your wood chips spreading them evenly throughout the coals. Then, shut the lid but leave the vented top open wide. Let the temperature rise to between 350° and 400° because you will lose heat when putting the turkey in.

For this recipe, we configured the large Egg with a Plate Setter inverted above the coals and we removed the cooking grid. We placed the turkey in a foil pan directly on the Plate Setter. The Plate Setter provides indirect heating while allowing the smoke to circulate freely within the Egg.

After putting the turkey in the smoker, close-down the lower vent and the vented top to adjust the temperature to approximately 250°.

The Egg is excellent at maintaining temperature due to its thick ceramic shell. On this date the outside temperature was about 30° and the Egg only required periodic adjustment (perhaps once per hour) to hold 250°. To raise the temperature, open the lower vent and vented top providing more oxygen to the coals. To lower the temperature, close the vents providing less oxygen. Make all adjustments just a little bit at a time (perhaps 1/16" to 1/8" at a time).

Plan on about 6 hours to smoke a 10-12 pound turkey at 250°. Times may vary depending on the ambient temperature, temperature maintained within the smoker, and the weight of the turkey.
After the first 2-3 hours, baste the turkey regularly with the juices that collect in the foil pan below.

The turkey at left is nearly finished. You can see the beautiful golden color of the skin and the reddish interior of the cavity.
The turkey is done when the internal temperature reads at least 165° on an instant read thermometer.  Bring the bird inside at let it "rest" for 15-25 minutes so the juices will distribute evenly through the meat. If you're making gravy, you can pick-up the drippings with a baster and add them to the gravy at this time.


Carve and serve the best-tasting turkey you'll ever have!  The breast meat will be juicy and flavorful.  Meat on the wings and legs will literally fall off the bone.

This recipe yields a very traditional turkey with a delicious yet mild smoky flavor.  You can experiment with different injected marinades and surface rubs to spice things up if you wish.

Other Hints:
Coat the skin of the turkey with mayonnaise or Miracle Whip if you like crispy skin at the end.
Place quartered apples, onions or carrots into the cavity while smoking to add extra flavor (do not stuff the turkey when smoking as the low temperature causes a health hazard).