Cooking a turkey isn’t easy. Turkey doesn’t need to be dry and covered in gravy to be enjoyable. In fact, turkey can be juicy and delicious if cooked properly. Learning how to smoke a turkey in a propane smoker could help make things easier.
You can learn how to smoke a turkey in a propane smoker and get the perfect turkey filled with a delicious smoky flavor. Everyone likes to think they cook the best turkey recipe on their own.
Some people are right, and their entire turkey comes out perfectly cooked. But most people are enjoying dry turkey on Thanksgiving or Christmas. For example, basting a turkey is common; there are even devices specifically for it, turkey basters.
But did you know that basting a turkey doesn’t help keep the meat moist? It is more for your peace of mind than for the turkey. Basting a turkey doesn’t do anything except prevent the skin from crisping up to perfection.
In fact, basting the turkey just leads to uneven cooking because we’re constantly opening the oven, which leads to cooking the turkey at different temperatures. This is your notice to stop basting turkeys in the oven for Thanksgiving dinner.
We could dive into why basting is essential when cooking a turkey. But simply ditching the oven and switching to a smoker might make all the difference. Chefs will always tell you that cooking meat with nothing more than salt and pepper allows the flavor of the meat to stand out.
But you want to add flavor, leading us to smoke a turkey. You can smoke an entire turkey and get the best results you’ve ever had with turkey. A perfectly smoked turkey is juicy and flavorful, and the skin is crispy and golden brown.
But you can’t just drop a 12-pound turkey into the smoker and call it a day. We must learn how to smoke a turkey in a propane smoker to get the best results.
How to Smoke a Turkey in a Propane Smoker
We first have to figure out what type of smoker to use. You can use the traditional method to cook a whole turkey. That would require wood chips like cherry, apple wood, cherry wood, or any flavorful wood chunks.
These woods will give the turkey a unique flavor profile. Finding the best wood may depend on what you prefer. But you can also use a gas smoker to smoke a turkey. The most significant factor here is the size of the turkey.
You will need a smoker that can fit your turkey. Of course, the size of your turkey will also help us decide the cooking time. But fitting into the smoker is the most important part.
Using a gas grill or gas smoker is simple, but you can also use a charcoal grill or electric smoker. Propane smokers add portability, temperature control, and efficiency to the equation.
You may lose out on those unique flavors from wood chips. But the ease of use makes up for that significantly.
Smoked Turkey Cooking Times and Temps
The next step is to figure out how long you need to cook your turkey. There are many factors here, like fresh turkey vs frozen turkey, larger turkey vs smaller turkeys, etc. To start, you cannot smoke a frozen turkey.
Smoking means cooking at a low temperature, which means long cooking times. A frozen turkey will take far too long to cook and give bacteria ample time to grow. The best way to start smoking a turkey is with a room temperature bird.
This can be done by taking your turkey out of the fridge about an hour before putting it in the smoker. You also want to keep an eye on the smoker’s temp because that will make a difference.
The best temp to smoke a turkey is at 240 degrees. Keeping the smoker at that temp will mean 30-40 minutes per pound. We don’t have to worry about the weight after the decimal; just focus on the pounds.
An 8.7-pound turkey will take about 4 hours; a 12.3-pound turkey will take about 6 hours. The goal is always to get the internal temperature of the turkey to at least 175 degrees.
However, remember that the turkey will continue to cook when you remove it from the smoker to rest before carving. This means you want to take it out between 165 to 170 degrees.
How to Prepare a Turkey for Smoking
Learning how to smoke a turkey in a propane smoker is all about the prep. A smoked turkey will retain a lot of its natural juices. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do a little to help it. First, the turkey needs to be thawed.
You can thaw a turkey of any size by simply placing it in the fridge for a few days; aim for one day for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. We have some decisions to make once thawed.
Brining the turkey is important, but do you want to do a dry rub or a wet brine? A dry rub means rubbing the turkey down with Diamond Kosher Salt and pepper. The trick here is remembering that even if it feels like too much salt, it probably isn’t enough.
Another option is to wet-brine the turkey. A wet brine is simply soaking the thawed turkey in salt water with veggies and herbs. We prefer the dry rub, but you can choose whichever feels better.
Brining only takes one day and should not be done for longer. In fact, you should brine the turkey the evening before you plan to cook it. Then, simply put the turkey in a roasting pan and cover it loosely with foil.
Covering the turkey does not speed up the process or slow it down. Instead, covering the turkey is meant to protect the skin from getting burnt before the inside has fully cooked.
You may want to remove the aluminum foil towards the end to ensure the skin gets golden brown. Put the entire roasting pan into the smoker and let the smoke do its job.
Resting a Turkey
Resting a turkey is the most important thing you do. Turkey will absorb all of the juices into the meat during rest. But it will also let the turkey cool so you can easily carve it, though some rubber gloves will make all the difference during the carving stage.
Either way, resting a turkey is essential. Remove the turkey from the smoker and let it sit at room temp, loosely covered, for around 30 to 40 minutes. This is the perfect time to drain the juices in the drip pan and make that gravy.
The smoking process kept a lot of the juices in the bird, so you may want to add some chicken broth to the gravy if you don’t feel like you have enough drippings to get the job done.
The indirect heat from the turkey trapped in the foil will further cook the turkey. We cook it to 165 degrees f at the thickest part of the meat for that reason. You will get the best smoked turkey with these simple cooking steps.
But there is still the carving that needs to be done.
Carving a Smoked Turkey
We have learned how to smoke a turkey in a propane smoker, but now we must carve it. Carving a turkey is easier than you may think. First, cut a slit in the neck cavity to reach the wishbone and remove it.
Then, find the bone in the center of the chest and carve downward on either side of that bone; this will give you beautifully cooked breast meat that can be sliced. Then, break the legs off and cut them so that the thighs are separated.
People don’t usually keep the wing tips, but you can remove those if you’d like. Lastly, two small pockets of meat are on the back of the turkey. These are called oysters, and they belong to the turkey cook.
This meat is tender, juicy, and filled with flavor. Treat yourself to these little nuggets before serving the rest of the Thanksgiving turkey. You now have a great turkey that will go down in family history as the best smoked turkey ever made.
Leftover Turkey Tips
Learning how to smoke a turkey in a propane smoker is simple. Learning what to do with the leftovers isn’t as simple. The leftovers will last in the fridge for up to 4 days and not a minute later.
You can freeze leftovers for up to four months, but only four days if left in the fridge. You can make plenty of leftover turkey sandwiches in those four days. But a better option would be to make a leftover turkey casserole or use the meat in another recipe like enchiladas, shepherd’s pie, or even soup.
Using the turkey in another recipe will not extend the life of the leftovers. But these recipes will make it less boring to eat turkey for the third night in a row. Unfortunately, turkey should be thrown out and considered rotten after sitting in the fridge for four days.
So be sure to eat as much of it as possible to avoid wasting all that hard work. You may not be able to save the whole bird, depending on the size of it and your appetite. But enjoy what you can.
Last Minute Smoked Turkey Tips
The basics of smoking a turkey are easy. But there are some tips you can use that will make learning how to smoke a turkey in a propane smoker even better. First, use a digital thermometer.
The best thermometer for turkey will always be a dual-probe thermometer. Never rely on the smoker’s thermometer; it will often let you down. Another tip is to get smaller turkeys.
Smaller turkeys will cook more efficiently and thoroughly in less time. It is better to cook multiple smaller turkeys to perfection than undercooking one large turkey. Salt and pepper are all you need to make a delicious turkey.
But you can experiment with other seasonings like paprika, brown sugar, cumin, mustard powder, garlic powder, and onion powder if you’d like. These seasonings will flavor the skin more than the meat, so salt and pepper are acceptable.
But you could always experiment however you’d like. Just remember that any seasonings on the outside of the bird will make it into the juices in the roasting pan. You will want to factor that into your gravy recipe.
Another very important tip is to not stuff your bird. Stuffing a turkey adds cooking time that is unaccounted for when smoking. This results in a drier turkey that may be undercooked in some spots. Cook the stuffing separately on the stove.
You can always add liquid smoke to your stuffing to keep that flavor profile going. Not opening your smoker too often and keeping work areas clean are given. But did you know that smoked turkey is usually pink in some spots?
The USDA says, “Turkey can remain pink even after cooking to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. The meat of smoked turkey is always pink.” A slight pinkness does not mean it is undercooked. Trust in your dual probe thermometer.
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