How to Smoke a Turkey – A Simple Step by Step Guide

by matt on November 25, 2011

Smoked and Roasted Turkey

If you’ve ever eaten smoked turkey on Thanksgiving you know how good it is.  But you might be wondering how difficult it is to smoke and whether you can do it at home without an expensive smoker.  The good news is you can and I’ll show you how.

This Thanksgiving I’m smoking a 22 pound young turkey.  I’m using mesquite wood chips that are specific for smoking.  I purchased mine at a local store called BiMart but I’m sure you can find them at any multipurpose home goods store.  Here are the things you will need to smoke your own turkey (or any meat) at home.

  • Large roasting pan (get an old one you don’t care much about as the chips may burn the bottom)
  • Metal roasting rack to fit on top of the roasting pan
  • Wood chips (they come in bags of different varieties; get the small smoking size)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Stove top burner
  • Turkey (or other meat)


Take a large roasting pan, line it with wood chips and put a wire rack on topStep 1: Prep the chips – You’ll want to soak the wood chips in water first as they will smoke and last longer.  There are lots of different types depending on your preference.  I’m using mesquite chips this year but there are oak, maple, black cherry, hickory, maple etc. You can even be a little adventuresome and mix them together for interesting flavors. I like the chips that are small and fine (about ¼ to 1/2 inch in size) because they heat up and smoke better on the stove top as they have a greater surface area.  I generally soak the chips for 20-30 minutes.  How much you use depends on the size of your roasting pan.  For my pan I use between 3-5 cups.

Step 2: Place the chips in the bottom of the roasting pan – Next put the soaked chips (minus the water) into the bottom of the roasting pan and spread them out to evenly coat the pan.  I generally use enough chips to cover the base to a depth of about ½ inch.

Put the turkey on the wire rack so it sits above the smoking wood chipsStep 3: Place the wire rack over the top of the roasting pan –Nnow you’ll want to make the base for your turkey.  I use a small wire rack that fits over the lips of the pan and rides up several inches above the wood chips.  This keeps the turkey further away from the heat source and makes sure it doesn’t get too cooked from the smoking process.

 

Cover the turkey loosely with aluminum foil to seal in that smoky flavorStep 4: Cover the turkey loosely with aluminum foil – Now place the turkey on the metal roasting rack above the wood chips.  Next cover the entire turkey very loosely with foil.  You want to create a bubble or dome around the whole turkey so the smoke can infiltrate the entire bird.  The first time I did this I wrapped the foil really tight and only the bottom of the bird had a really smoky flavor.  I’ll generally flip the bird about half-way through the smoking process.  So wrap it lightly so you get that smoky flavor throughout the entire bird.

Step 5: Apply so heat – I often do this before wrapping the bird in foil so I can see how much the wood chips are smoking.  How much heat to apply really depends on your stove top.  We have an electric burner stove top and I generally keep the heat at a 4-5 setting, which is about medium heat.  You want the chips to smoke but not burn too much so your settings may vary.  Adjust the heat and then wrap the turkey in foil if you have any concerns.  When I first tried this I burned the chips in the bottom of the roasting pan and it never did clean up very well so use a pan that you don’t care too much about.  Unless you like the house smelling like smoke, MAKE SURE AND TURN ON YOUR OVERHEAD VENT.  If you keep the overhead vent on you will be fine.  We’ve never had any problems with the house filling up with smoke.  You’ll smell a little but it won’t be like you are walking through clouds inside your house.  I also move the chips around a bit during the smoking process.  Since I’m using a stove top burner parts of the roasting pan don’t heat as much so I rotate the chips around so they all get used.

Step 6: Smoke to your heart’s content – With my first attempt at smoking a turkey I didn’t let it smoke long enough.  I think I smoked it for an hour or less and it just didn’t provide a strong smoky flavor in the meat.  The skin was nice tasting but the meat was not smoky flavored.  So now I generally smoke for 2-3 hours.  It’s really up to you and what your taste/preference is.

Young Turkey Massaged with Herb ButterStep 7: Roast the turkey normally – After you’ve smoked the turkey to your preference, put it in a roasting pan and roast it as normally.  Due to being over heat during the smoking process it may take less time to roast so always check the temperature of the meat as you are cooking.  Last thing you want to do is overcook your turkey that you have so lovingly smoked.  We’re smoking and roasting a 22lb bird this year so I anticipate at least 4-5 hours of oven roasting on top of the 2-3 hours of smoking.  After taking it out of the smoker I then massaged herb butter all over the skin.

Step 8: Amaze and impress your family and friends with a smoked turkey – When I first attempted to smoke a turkey my family loved it.  “Best tasting turkey ever” they all said.  It really is good.  Last year we decided to deep fry a turkey which was delicious.  What I’d love to try is to smoke and then deep fry a turkey.  I imagine that might turn our quite tasty.

Some Things to Keep in Mind

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from doing this.  First, make sure you use a roasting pan you don’t care about.  The wood chips will burn and may ruin your pan.  I’m using a cheap ceramic type roasting pan that I now use every year just for this purpose.  Secondly, make sure and soak the chips.  Don’t skip this step or you risk really burning the chips.  Soaked chips smoke better and last longer.  Third, don’t be alarmed if your bird appears to be cooking on the bottom.  Mine typically start changing color and dripping a bit of fat near the end of the process.  I’ve never had any problems with this and they always come out great.  So if you happen to see that it’s normal and not a concern.  You can always rotate the turkey more frequently.  Finally as I mentioned above already, make sure and wrap the bird loosely in foil.  This allows the smoke to get to all parts of the bird.

And it’s just that easy!  It is possible and quite easy to smoke your turkey on the stove top.  And the end result is incredibly delicious.  Give it a try and let me know how it turns out.  If you have any questions feel free to ask away in the comments below.

Selamat makan!

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