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How to: smoke a turkey

Juicy charcoal-grilled turkey for the holidays.
Or any day.

  • turkeywhole
  • Cut:Whole Turkey
  • When it's Done:165°F breast
    175°F drumstick or thigh
  • Ingredients:
  • 1 12–14 lb turkey
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Lemon slices
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Prep time: Varies, depending on technique
Cook time: 3 hours
Servings: 8

When it comes to special gatherings, nothing impresses like a perfectly cooked turkey. These seven steps can take that big beloved bird to new smoky heights, courtesy of a little grilling knowledge, and Kingsford® Charcoal.

Brine your turkey

Before you begin, a note on brining.

Brining your turkey is an extra step, but one we recommend. Brining keeps the turkey from drying out during cooking and ensures that every slice is juicy and delicious. When you brine, you simply soak the bird for 12 hours or more in a solution of salt and spices. A simple way to brine is to use a cooler filled with enough brining liquid to completely cover the turkey, along with enough ice to keep the bird safely chilled.

  1. kfd_howtoturkey_triptych_season_whole_turkey_001

    Season your turkey.

    Once brined, it’s time to season the bird, inside and out. Place some chopped aromatics—onions, garlic, even apple or lemon slices—inside the cavity. On the outside, a light coat of olive oil and some spices help ramp up flavor and get that coveted crispy, mahogany skin. Season the bird with a simple salt and pepper, some fresh or dried herbs (sage and thyme are excellent) or even a BBQ rub. Use salt sparingly if you have brined your turkey since most brines already contain salt.

  2. kfd_howtoturkey_parallel_fire_whole_turkey_0048

    Set up a parallel fire and add water pan.

    Arrange coals in a parallel configuration. . Pile coals along both sides of the grill, with a water pan in the center to provide a moist environment and more consistent temperature. Kingsford Long Burning, with its longer burning time and low ash formula, is an ideal fuel for grilling whole turkey.

  3. kfd_howtoturkey_smoking_7_0140

    Add smoke wood for flavor.

    Turkey meat loves smoke flavor. Add about two cups of Kingsford® Wood Chips with Hickory or large wood chunks. Be sure to soak the chips for at least 30 minutes in water before spreading onto the coals. Milder fruitwoods like apple or cherry wood also work well. Replenish the smoke wood as needed, but be careful not to oversmoke your bird.

  4. 4

    Place turkey directly over water pan.

    Grill your turkey with the lid on at about 350ºF. Use the vents to regulate temperature. Open vents wide to increase temperature. Close the vents to decrease temperature. Monitor the temperature regularly, adding more coals or wood chips as needed.

  5. check temp

    Check for doneness.

    A meat thermometer is essential for turkey. It’s done when the temperature reaches 165°F inside the thickest part of the breast or about 175°F at the thigh. In general, it will take roughly three hours to cook your turkey, depending on size.

  6. carving breasts

    Rest, carve, and serve.

    Once the turkey reaches the target temperature, take it off the grill, and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving. This allows juices to redistribute throughout the bird. We recommend removing each side of the breast in one piece, then slicing across the grain.

While it’s cooking, you may want to show off your turkey masterpiece. Resist the temptation. Lift the lid only when you are adding coals. Every time you lift the lid, you lose valuable heat, which means a longer cooking time, more coals, a greater chance of overcooking, and impatient guests at dinnertime.
A good instant-read meat thermometer is essential to monitoring internal temperatures for your turkey. It’s an investment well worth the money for both ensuring food safety and to keep your bird from overcooking.

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