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This recipe for how to make a brined & smoked turkey makes the juiciest, most succulent smoked turkey ever! Brining your bird helps it stay extra moist, while the applewood smoke creates the most flavorful Thanksgiving turkey you will ever try!
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How to Make a Brined & Smoked Turkey
Make your brined & smoked turkey using an electric smoker which makes it super easy! Which means you have more time to relax or work on the rest of your Thanksgiving dinner or holiday meal!
But first, a little disclaimer: I don't mean to come down on any of the other methods of turkey preparation with this post. Turkey is the centerpiece of most every Thanksgiving meal and I have had some incredibly delicious oven-roasted and deep-fried versions over the years, so I'm definitely not knocking on those.
But in terms of flavor and texture, none of them hold a candle to a properly smoked turkey. And as far as ease of preparation goes, cooking your turkey on a smoker is definitely less fraught with potential danger than using a deep fryer and much more convenient than roasting it in an oven in your kitchen! A few years ago, I got Paul an electric smoker for Father's Day and it has turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving. As in giving us meal after meal of incredible, delectable smoked meat like bbq smoked chicken thighs, salmon, tri tip, beef brisket, ribs, and of course, smoked turkey.
If you don't have a smoker, you really, really, REALLY should consider getting one. It could make a perfect Christmas present for someone you love. Just saying. Here's an affiliate link for the one that we have, which works great! Cooking your Thanksgiving turkey on a smoker is the ultimate for so many reasons.
Smoked Turkey tastes AMAZING.
I've already said that in this post, right? But seriously, a smoked turkey is so, so ridiculously good. We have had side-by-side turkey comparisons with a smoked turkey and a roast turkey, and even the best roast turkey just can't get the same flavor that builds from hours of exposing your bird to applewood smoke. It's unreal.
It frees up valuable oven space.
This way you have oven real estate for pies, rolls, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, baked macaroni & cheese, stuffing, and all the other fixings that go with a Thanksgiving meal! The kitchen is a hectic enough place on Thanksgiving so it’s nice to move the star attraction outside.
I basically think of a smoker like a giant, outdoor and more masculine version of a slow cooker.
You set your turkey out there and just make sure your temperature is set and then you just leave it alone while it smokes. When using an electric smoked, your smoked turkey cooking time will be around 3 ½ to 4 ½ hours for a 12-15 pound bird.
Process for Preparing a Brined & Smoked Turkey
To cook an amazing smoked turkey, you want to start the day before by brining the turkey overnight in a brine made of water, salt, sugar, peppercorns, allspice, fresh herbs, and orange peel. Brining keeps the turkey from drying out during the smoking process. For a more in-depth description of the brine recipe, and why brining is important, take a look at my Turkey Brine Recipe post.
We just use a large, 5-gallon plastic bucket and cover the brining bird with ice to keep the temperature cold and safe overnight.
Then the next day, you will want to pull your turkey out of the brine, pat it off well so that the skin is dry, and rub it with oil. Then the bird gets stuffed with aromatics like fresh herbs, apple and onion before you truss it and take it out to your smoker.
It can take 4-5 hours to smoke a 12-15 pound turkey once you get it on the smoker, so you will want to plan accordingly.
The first 1 ½-2 hours the turkey gets smoked on the lowest "smoke" setting on your electric smoker before basting the bird with a rosemary butter mixture and increasing the heat to actually cook it all the way through.
2 ½ hours later the thickest part of the thigh should read 170-180 degrees on an instant-red meat thermometer and everybody will be absolutely drooling over the unbelievable smells coming from the smoker. It's almost painful to wait 20 minutes before carving into it.
And it will be impossible to carve your smoked turkey without snitching tastes of the perfectly juicy, moist, unbelievably flavorful meat or crispy skin before transferring it to a serving platter.
When it's Thanksgiving, I think it's fun to go all out and garnish your serving platter with extra herbs or fresh cranberries, just to make things look fancy. But this turkey is so good that you won't want to wait for Thanksgiving to come around each year to cook a turkey. We certainly don't. And the leftovers are perfect for pot pie, sandwiches, or just reheated along with all your other sides the next day for a repeat meal that often tastes even better than the first one (cuz, you know, all the work and clean-up has been done already and you just have to reheat everything!).
I realize that not everyone has a smoker, but could not possibly help sharing our favorite Thanksgiving turkey recipe this year in case anybody has been on the fence about getting a smoker or has one but has never tried smoking a whole turkey on it before. It really is so, so easy!
And oh baby, the resulting bird just cannot be beat. I also intend to post some of our other favorite smoker recipes on here in the future like my Uncle Richard's amazing smoked baby back ribs.
Dishes to Serve with A Smoked Turkey
Some of my favorite sides to serve with smoked turkey are these Green Beans with Bacon & Pine Nuts and this Winter Pear, Pomegranate & Swiss Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing.
Also, if you are still contemplating your pie menu for Thanksgiving Day dessert, check out my Homemade Blackberry Pie or Paul's favorite Old-Fashioned Banana Cream Pie. Or change things up this year with a Salted Caramel Apple Pie instead of a traditional plain one!
More Thanksgiving Recipes to Complete Your Thanksgiving Menu
- Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows and Pecans
- Fresh Green Bean Casserole
- Homemade Turkey Gravy
- Slow Cooker Creamed Corn
- Perfect Cornbread
- Homemade Cranberry Sauce
- Lion House Dinner Rolls
- Cranberry Jello Salad
- Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Apples
- Pumpkin Chiffon Pie
Applewood Smoked Turkey
Smoked Turkey Brine
- 1 ½ cups coarse Kosher salt
- 1 ¼ cups packed dark brown sugar
- 2 Tablespoons whole black peppercorns
- 2 Tablespoons allspice berries
- 3-5 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 5 cloves garlic smashed
- 1-2 oranges rind peeled off in ribbons
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 gallons cold water
- 1 bag ice
- 1 clean 5-gallon bucket
- 1 12-15 lb. fresh young turkey or a frozen one, defrosted in the fridge for 3 days
- ⅓ cup oil
- 1 Granny Smith apple quartered
- 1 medium yellow onion quartered
- 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- ½ cup butter melted
- 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
- Butcher's twine
- Applewood pellets
- In a 5-gallon food-grade bucket, combine the water, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice, fresh herbs, garlic, orange and bay leaves.
- Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey and discard or set aside for later use. Remove any plastic or wire holding the turkey legs together and discard. Gently lower the turkey into the bucket of brine, making sure it is fully immersed. Place the bag of ice on top of the turkey to keep it submerged fully in the bucket. Cover the bucket a lid or a thick, tight layer of aluminum foil and set aside to brine overnight.
- When ready to smoke the turkey, remove the bird from the brine, drain well and pat the skin and inside cavities dry with paper towels. Fold the wingtips behind the back and tie the legs together with butcher’s twine. Rub the turkey inside and out with the oil, then stuff both the main cavity and the neck cavity with the quartered apple, onion and fresh herbs.
- Start an electric smoker on the Smoke setting with the lid open until the fire is established (4 to 5 minutes). Place the turkey directly on the grill grate, breast side up. Close lid and let the turkey smoke on the Smoke setting (between 150 and 180 degrees) for 1 ½ to 2 hours.
- Combine the melted butter and rosemary in a small bowl. After the initial Smoke, leave the turkey on the smoker and brush all over with the rosemary butter, then turn the smoker heat up to 350 degrees. Smoke the turkey for an additional 2 to 2 ½ hours, or until the internal temperature of the turkey is 170 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-red meat thermometer stuck in the thickest part of the thigh.
- Carefully remove the turkey from the smoker and let it rest for 20 minutes before carving.