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How to: smoke a Thanksgiving turkey

Here’s how to prepare, smoke, season and serve turkey for the holidays!

  • 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

The holidays are here, and grillers across the country are wondering how to smoke a turkey on the grill. Here are seven steps for taking that big bird to new smoky heights, courtesy of Kingsford® Charcoal.

Brine your turkey

First, here’s how to prepare a turkey for smoking.

Brining your turkey is an optional step, but it’s one we highly recommend to ensure that every bite is juicy and packed with flavor. Just soak the bird for 12 hours or more in a solution of salt and spices. We recommend using a cooler filled with enough brining liquid to completely cover the turkey, and enough ice to keep it safely chilled.

  1. kfd_howtoturkey_triptych_season_whole_turkey_001

    How to season a smoked turkey.

    Once brined, it’s time to season, inside and out. Place chopped aromatics—onions, garlic, even apple or lemon slices—inside the cavity. On the outside, a light coat of olive oil and spices will ramp up flavor and help to form that crispy mahogany skin we all love. Season the bird with a simple blend of salt and pepper, fresh or dried herbs (sage and thyme are great) or even a BBQ rub. Remember to back off on salt if you’ve brined your turkey.

  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.

    Now 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.

    Even after the turkey reaches the target temperature, you’ll need to exercise a little patience. Here’s how to serve smoke turkey like a pro: Take the cooked bird off the grill, and let it 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. Enjoy!

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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