Backyard barbecues turn amateur cooks into culinary experts who argue about the best barbecue styles and whether dry or wet rubs are better. You can carve your own culinary niche by becoming renowned for your smoked turkey recipe using an electric smoker. You can choose from different spices and rubs and whether or not to brine the bird before smoking.
The Benefits of Using an Electric Smoker to Make a Smoked Turkey
Using an electric smoker to cook your turkey produces the moistest, most tender bird you’ve ever tasted. Turkeys cook in a smoker faster than other meats, and the delicate smoked flavor comes through without overpowering the senses. You don’t have to heat the kitchen for hours to smoke your bird; it’s the perfect time to showcase your brand of culinary magic with an outdoor barbecue.
You can show off your barbecue skills on charcoal grills, but that’s a highly competitive niche with endless comparisons. The benefits of using an electric smoker include:
- An excellent way to showcase major barbecuing skills
- Lower energy cost
- Ease of maintaining a steady temperature
- A user-friendly operation that delivers great results
- Safer to use and easier to clean than other smokers
- Greater control of the smoking process
- Ability to smoke foods in areas that ban outdoor fires
- Ability to smoke foods at lower temperatures than other smokers
Another benefit is not having to light a fire and determine how much starter to use. It’s easy to end up transferring the flavor of the starter to the delicate flavor of turkey. Of course, if your heart is set on authentically smoked food, you’ll want to know how to light a fire pit to make a big splash.
Best Smoked Turkey Recipe Using an Electric Smoker
The basic recipe for smoking at turkey consists of these steps:
- Preheat your electric smoker to 350-degrees Fahrenheit or as high as it will go if it doesn’t go to 350 degrees.
- When the smoker reaches 350 degrees and starts producing smoke, place your prepared turkey in the smoker.
- Smoke for 30-40 minutes per pound.
- Times vary, so check your meat thermometer to determine when the turkey is done at 165-degrees Fahrenheit.
- If the skin isn’t crispy, place the turkey into a hot oven — 450 degrees — for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Remove the turkey, and let it rest for 10 minutes or so to let the juices redistribute before carving the bird.
That’s a simple recipe with no muss and no fuss, but the details are a little more complex. This is the part where you can earn accolades for your unique recipe and smoking skills. There are several options for seasoning the bird, but brining your turkey is a great way to season the meat and make sure that your turkey breast stays moist, tender, and flavorful.
How to Brine a Turkey
When you brine a turkey, that means soaking it in salt, water, and flavoring solution. Usually, you let the turkey soak in the brine for an hour for each pound. During the brining process, the salt permeates the turkey, seasons the meat, and breaks down proteins, which tenderizes the bird. Your turkey will amaze your friends and neighbors for its falling-off-the-bone tenderness
The basic recipe for brine is 1 cup of kosher salt per gallon of water. Boil the salt in 2 cups of water, and add the rest of the water cold to bring down the temperature quickly. Add flavorings, and put the turkey and cold brine in a container big enough to hold your bird and the brine. Cover the container, and place it in the refrigerator to soak for the specified time.
Common flavorings for brine include peppercorns, sugar, vinegar, garlic cloves, paprika, and your choice of herbs. Use as many herbs as you like, but remember not to use a heavy hand because the bird will absorb all the flavors during the long soaking process.
You also want to season the bird before smoking it. Don’t add any salt since the brining process distributes salt to every bite. However, you can add your own flavor touches based on your preferences. You can use a wet or dry rub on the bird, season it with just a favorite spice or two or relax and count on the brining and smoking processes to produce a bird that’s bursting with flavor.
You might prefer a smoked Cajun turkey, turkey with a Jamaican jerk flavor, or a simple mix of granulated garlic and pepper. The sky’s the limit, bound only by your creativity and culinary flair.
A basic dry rub for smoked turkey consists of the following ingredients:
- Brown sugar
- Cracked or coarsely ground black pepper
- Smoked paprika
- Onion powder
- Granulated garlic
- Cayenne pepper
- Thyme, rosemary, and other herbs
If using any of the above rubs without bringing your turkey, you should add 2 tablespoons of sugar to the dry rub and salt to taste all over the bird as the wet rub.
Use granulated or fresh garlic instead of garlic powder, which is too salty. You can find your perfect rub over time, making adjustments to your taste. The recommended quantities are 6 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of the other ingredients except for Cayenne, which should start at ½ teaspoon or more to your taste. Depending on the size of the turkey, you might need to double the recipe. Rub the spice mixture into the skin of the bird all over.
Wet Rub or Barbecue Sauce
If you choose a wet rub for barbecued smoked turkey, you can choose from a lightly moistened rub of spices and a full-on barbecue sauce. You can mix ½ cup of vegetable oil, 4 tablespoons of onion powder, and 2 tablespoons each of paprika, granulated or fresh garlic, and canning salt. Add 4 teaspoons each of white pepper, ground cumin, rubbed sage, and powdered ginger. Rub the mixture all over the bird for a light wet rub, or use a traditional barbecue sauce as your wet rub.
The ingredients for barbecue sauce can be your treasured family recipe, a commercial product, or a homemade barbecue sauce in one of the popular styles: Kansas City, North Carolina, Texas, and Memphis. The following is a recipe for traditional Kansas City barbecue sauce:
- 1 and ½ cups of tomato sauce
- ½ cup of honey
- ½ cup tomato paste
- ½ cup red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup molasses
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon granulated garlic
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried or 1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
Mix all the above ingredients in a saucepan, bring the mixture to a boil and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes. Cool the mixture before slathering it on your bird. This thick sauce is tangy, sweet, and acidic — a balanced flavor — that will make your turkey incredibly flavorful. The sauce can be used on any foods cooked on infrared grills, regular charcoal grills, smokers, or indoor ovens.
Birds Ready for the Smoker
You can play around with any of the spices. Some people prefer a turkey with a dry rub inside the bird and a wet rub on the outside. Some like their turkey simple and bring is enough to ensure great flavor.
If you want to ensure a crispy skin after brining, rinse and dry your brined turkey, place it on a rack over parchment paper and let the turkey dry out overnight in the refrigerator. You now have a prepared bird that’s ready for the smoker.
Alternative Way to Smoke Your Turkey
Some chefs prefer to smoke their turkeys for a longer time at a lower temperature. The first step is making sure that your electric smoker is big enough to accommodate a whole turkey. If you need to upgrade your equipment, check out these electric smoker reviews.
Once you’ve chosen a turkey and a smoker, you might want to consider this alternative recipe for the brine:
- 3 quarts of water
- 1 quart of apple cider
- 3 tablespoons of brown sugar
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon of peppercorns
- 1 onion, coarsely chopped
- 4-5 cloves of crushed garlic
- 1 teaspoon each of your preferred spices
Bring all the ingredients to a boil, stir to dissolve the salt, and chill the mixture in the refrigerator. Add the cleaned turkey, and use plates to hold it down under the brine. Soak overnight until ready to cook. Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse and pat it dry with a kitchen towel or paper towel.
This recipe is fairly typical of smoker recipes for whole turkeys. Make sure that the turkey has no frozen spots, but that’s usually not a problem after bringing. Add any dry or wet rub you prefer.
Preheat your electric smoker to 225-degrees Fahrenheit. Place the turkey in the smoker with a drip pan for the juices. Smoke the bird for 30 minutes per pound. If you prefer to cook your bird at 250 degrees, you can shorten the cooking time to 25 minutes per pound.
Frequently Asked Questions About Smoking a Turkey
The following questions and answers should give you a good blueprint for determining how long to smoke your bird, but you should always check the temperature on an instant-read thermometer to make sure the temperature is at least 165-degrees Fahrenheit, the FDA-recommended safe temperature for turkey.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke a Turkey in an Electric Smoker?
The time it takes to smoke your turkey depends on two factors: the turkey’s weight and the cooking temperature. Some smoked turkey recipes say that roasting the bird faster results in a moister meat, but almost any smoked turkey tends to be moist and tender. You’ll probably get a crisper crust by roasting at 350 degrees. Allow between 20 to 30 minutes per pound at this temperature, but always confirm your doneness with an instant-read thermometer so that you don’t overcook or undercook the bird.
How Long Will it Take to Smoke a Turkey at 225 Degrees?
Most experts recommend smoking a turkey for 30 minutes per pound at 225 degrees. In that case, you can plan on cooking a 15-pound turkey for 7 and ½ hours. Allow yourself an extra 30-60 minutes to be on the safe side.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke a 13-pound Turkey in an Electric Smoker?
At 225 degrees, you should smoke your turkey for 6 and ½ hours. At 350- degrees, it should take about 5 and ½ hours.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke a 20-pound Turkey?
At 20 pounds, a turkey will take an average of 10 hours to cook at 225 degrees. Check to ensure the turkey’s internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. You should take two readings by inserting an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and thigh.
Can I Add Inject Spices into a Turkey for Smoking?
Common injectable ingredients include melted butter, honey, cognac, olive oil, duck fat, maple syrup, brown sugar, and spices usually found in spice rubs. This alternative method of seasoning your turkey is recommended by many people. You should inject the turkey in both sides of the breast, thighs, and back.
Refrigerate the turkey overnight to allow the flavors to marinate throughout the meat, and smoke the turkey breast side up. The injectables serve as an automatic basting mechanism that keeps the turkey moist and succulent.
Smoking a turkey in an electric smoker is a foolproof way to cook a dish that most people have trouble mastering. Electric smokers are user-friendly even for cooking beginners, and you can jump in the deep water by preparing the meal for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any time you want real turkey instead of formed and pressed turkey sandwich meat.