The Food Lab’s Step-by-Step Guide to Smoking a Turkey


Juicy turkey with candy smoke taste and a spice rub. [Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Thanksgiving is a long way and away my favourite vacation, however this 12 months marks a brand new twist within the circle of relatives amusing: It is the first Thanksgiving that my spouse, Adri, and I are webhosting, and the primary Thanksgiving that my circle of relatives is celebrating clear of the East Coast. That is proper: The Alts are coming to California, and we would higher make it more particular for them.

I have been attempting to determine precisely what we are going to do with the turkey this 12 months. With a lot better get right of entry to to out of doors house than in my mother’s New York rental and its 40-square-foot kitchen, I figured one thing that took benefit of the backyard can be so as. Somewhat than make my conventional spatchcocked roast turkey, this 12 months we are going to deep-fry no less than one and slow-smoke any other. Turkey and smoke are a herbal pairing, as any person who is checked out a deli case can inform you, however there is a distinction between cold-cut smoked turkey, with its ham-like cured texture and questionable smoke taste, and actual barbecued turkey. I am speaking the type of smoked turkey you wish to have served in thick, glistening slabs which might be glossy with juice and fork-tender, with deep smoke taste.

I already had a elementary concept in my head of ways I used to be going to smoke the turkey (low and gradual, oblique warmth, a dry brine and spice rub to begin), however I determined to check out our personal printed methodology for tips. Then I had a daunting realization: In the entire years now we have been writing about Thanksgiving turkey, regardless of the entire recipes for grill-roasted turkeys cooked over reasonably excessive warmth, no longer as soon as have we introduced whole directions for true low-and-slow, barbecue-style smoked turkey.

So I did the one good factor: I introduced house 4 turkeys and began trying out, enhancing our present grilled spatchcocked turkey technique to paintings with decrease warmth, extra smoke, and a spice rub to carry out extra of the ones fish fry flavors.

Oftentimes a Meals Lab recipe will take dozens of checks and weeks of experiments to in reality nail, however this one grew to become out to be beautiful simple, requiring simplest two cast days of smoking.* There are if truth be told simply 5 keys to best possible smoked turkey:

  • Butterflying or spatchcocking the fowl to lend a hand it cook dinner extra lightly and expand crisper pores and skin.
  • Dry-brining the fowl via rubbing it with salt (or a spice rub that incorporates salt) and letting it take a seat within the refrigerator for a couple of nights as a way to permit the salt to paintings its method into the beef and relax its muscle construction, thus maintaining it juicy because it chefs.
  • Including baking powder to the dry rub, which reasons it to shape tiny micro-bubbles at the floor of the turkey because it roasts, including floor house and embellishing the crispness of the outside. It additionally fairly raises the pH of the skin, improving Maillard browning.
  • Gradual-cooking over oblique warmth, with the legs pointed towards the warmth supply (legs can deal with upper warmth than refined breast meat can), as a way to very gently and lightly cook dinner the breast meat and provides abundant time for the turkey to building up smoky taste.
  • In moderation tracking the turkey’s interior temperature to make sure that the breast meat by no means will get above 150°F. Any upper than that, and it turns into chalky and dry. (In spite of govt warnings to cook dinner turkey to 165°F, turkey is completely fit for human consumption at 150°F as long as it’s correctly checked with a thermometer and allowed to leisure for a minimum of 4 mins sooner than serving.)

Simple, proper?

* My spouse made me take my garments off outdoor in order that our bed room would not odor like hickory. We will see if she will get any meals on Thanksgiving.

Take a look at the FAQs and step by step directions under, or soar straight to the recipe.

Must I brine my fowl?



Dry-brined meat is more juicy.

You may just brine your fowl, and it unquestionably will make your fowl juicier, but it surely may not do anything else within the taste division. Actually, it is going to dilute the flavour of your turkey. As a substitute of a standard rainy brine, I like to recommend dry-brining. It is more uncomplicated, just about as efficient at serving to care for juiciness, and a long way higher for taste. To do it, simply rub your turkey with salt and let it take a seat within the refrigerator in a single day (or as much as 3 days). That is it. When it comes to a smoked turkey, I love to rub it with a spice rub that accommodates salt, which is able to paintings simply as successfully whilst additionally including spice taste. Here’s some more information on the mechanics and science of brining.

What about injecting?


In contrast to brining or dry-brining, wherein simplest salt and water will in reality paintings their method into the beef, injecting can if truth be told introduce different fragrant compounds, which makes it an invaluable solution to get your turkey juicy with out chance of diluting its taste. If you wish to inject, I counsel the use of a mixture of rooster or turkey inventory and melted butter, injected into quite a lot of issues all the way through the breast.

Can I smoke my turkey entire, or do I’ve to butterfly it?



It is a entire turkey. See how uncovered that breast meat is, and the way reasonably secure the legs are? When you find yourself roasting a turkey within the oven, that is a significant issue. However what about at the grill?

Butterflying (or spatchcocking, if you wish to use the cheekier time period), is the best way I know of to roast a turkey extra temporarily and lightly to ensure juicy breast meat, totally cooked legs, and crisp pores and skin. At the grill, its advantages don’t seem to be rather as glaring.


In a roasting pan within the oven, the legs of the turkey are secure, and also you inevitably finally end up overcooking the breast meat by the point the legs are completed. However on a grill, the legs cook dinner rather temporarily, as they’ve extra publicity to the warmth. The primary benefits that butterflying gets you at the grill are quicker cooking (it cuts cooking time down via about 30%) and crisper pores and skin (the outside beneath the turkey will finally end up a little bit soggy if you do not butterfly). The ones components on my own make butterflying value it in my e-book.

I attempted to spatchcock my turkey ultimate 12 months, but it surely was once so darn tricky to chop via that bone! Any ideas?



Give a boost to up, younger grasshopper. No, severely. I realize it can also be exhausting to get via the ones thigh bones every so often. I’ve a couple of ideas: First, ask your butcher to do it for you. They have got higher apparatus than you do and are used to dealing with uncooked meat. Barring that, your subsequent highest guess is to name in an airstrike: Take hold of the cleaver and provides it a couple of swift, company, and exact hacks to get via the ones bones. (You’ll want to purpose away out of your thumb.)

Do I want to take away the wishbone?



No, no longer in reality. It is all only a query of comfort. Casting off it sooner than cooking the turkey will make carving it more uncomplicated down the road, particularly if you end up seeking to carve a scorching, juicy turkey. However, some persons are squeamish about uncooked poultry and would most certainly moderately no longer stick their hands into the hollow space that the turkey used to respire and devour and gobble out of. The selection is in reality yours, regardless that I most often take away mine.

I am tempted to check out butterflying my fowl, however I am frightened about how untraditional it seems to be. What will have to I do?



I am getting it. An entire spatchcocked turkey seems to be find it irresistible belongs on a pornography set moderately than in your Thanksgiving desk. However the trade-off in relation to juiciness, even cooking, and crisp pores and skin is well worth the abnormal look. But even so, if you wish to be civilized about it, you’ll be able to be carving that turkey within the kitchen and serving it on a warmed platter anyway, proper? Proper?

Must I take advantage of herbal hardwood as a substitute of briquettes?


No! Herbal hardwood burns rather unpredictably. Extra incessantly than no longer, the coal is much less dense than briquettes, and, with more uncomplicated get right of entry to to oxygen, it burns a lot quicker and warmer. It may not provide the gradual, secure, dependable burn that you want for managed low-temperature fish fry.

What sort of wooden is highest?


I like to recommend the use of hickory. It has a milder taste than, say, mesquite or applewood, which I to find can overpower the flavour of the turkey. It is best to shop for whole chunks of wood, which burn extra slowly, including candy smoke taste in your meals because it slow-cooks. Picket chips will burn temporarily, creating a extra acrid smoke.

What temperature will have to I purpose for on my grill?

When cooking anything else, the upper the temperature you cook dinner at, the bigger the temperature gradient within the meat. This is, turkey cooked at 450°F can have a bigger band of overcooked meat round its edges than turkey cooked at 250°F. With a spatchcocked fowl, you’ll safely grill-roast or smoke at as much as 375°F with out burning the turkey, however at that temperature, the turkey chefs via in simply over an hour, which does not give it a lot time to soak up smoke taste. It additionally develops a big temperature gradient inside of. I want to make use of the low and gradual means, aiming for a spread of 225 to 275°F on my grill, give or take.

In contrast to true fish fry which calls for cautious tracking and keeping up of each interior and exterior temperature to ensure smooth and wet meat, a turkey does no longer have a lot connective tissue to wreck down, thus the one actual variable it’s a must to concern about is interior temperature. 50°F up or down at the grill is not going to negatively have an effect on the standard of the completed fowl a lot in some way (regardless that it will probably have an effect on cooking time. Plan on development a cushion into the afternoon sooner than serving!).

Will my pores and skin get crisp?

Many recipes for low-and-slow smoked turkey finally end up with dry, leathery pores and skin. Why does this occur? You notice, pores and skin is most commonly made from fats, water, and connective tissue. To be able to get crisp, no longer simplest does the fats must render and the water evaporate, however the connective tissue additionally has to wreck down; Collagen has to transform into gelatin. This procedure calls for water this means that that in case your turkey pores and skin dries out too speedy, it is going to by no means crisp up. The high-convection setting of a smoker is sufficient to attract out the moisture quicker than the outside can crisp. The result’s difficult, leathery pores and skin.

We do a pair issues to struggle that impact. First off, the dry brine you observe will if truth be told lend a hand the turkey pores and skin retain moisture longer because it smokes. The baking powder additionally is helping cause browning reactions quicker, giving the outside a jumpstart on browning. In the end, a handy guide a rough rub with oil sooner than making use of the spice combination will lend a hand decelerate the get away of moisture from the outside. The effects is deeply smoky pores and skin that is extra-crisp as well.

Do I in reality want a thermometer? What if my turkey has a pop-up thermometer?


The one time you will have to ever use a pop-up thermometer (or “overcooked-turkey indicator,” as I love to name it) is if you’re in reality intent on successful a warfare in opposition to your personal style buds. Get your self a just right instant-read thermometer just like the Thermapen, or its much less dear cousin the Thermopop, and you’ll be able to by no means must enjoy overcooked or dry turkey once more.


Smoke a Turkey Step-by-Step


Step 1: Take away the Wishbone

Cutting out a turkey's wishbone

I at all times counsel the use of turkeys which might be between 10 and 12 kilos, as they’ve the most efficient taste and texture. Somewhat than use a bigger turkey for extra visitors, it is higher to cook dinner a couple of smaller birds (the use of other strategies!). Casting off the wishbone isn’t strictly essential, but it surely makes carving more uncomplicated down the road. To take away the wishbone, get started via lifting the outside across the turkey’s neck opening to expose the Y-shaped bone beneath. Use the end of a pointy paring knife to chop into the flesh above each halves of the Y.

Removing a turkey's wishbone

Lower alongside the ground of each and every facet of the Y together with your knife.

Removing a turkey's wishbone

Slide your finger in the back of the bone and get started pulling it ahead. The highest will have to liberate beautiful simply, regardless that a little bit lend a hand with the end of the paring knife could be essential.

Removing a turkey's wishbone

Pull the wishbone out. If it cracks or leaves in the back of bits of bone, you’ll take hold of them with a blank kitchen towel or paper towel and pull them out.

Step 2: Take away the Spine

Cutting out a turkey's backbone with shears

Butterflying, or spatchcocking, the turkey will lend a hand it to cook dinner extra lightly, cook dinner quicker, and ship crisper pores and skin. One of the simplest ways to butterfly a turkey is to invite your butcher to do it for you. However to do it your self, get started via slicing alongside all sides of the spine with a collection of professional quality poultry shears.

Using a clever to cut through a turkey's thigh joint

If there are any downside spots (the thigh joints particularly can every so often be rather difficult to get via with scissors), use a heavy cleaver or chef’s knife to chop via them. Save the spine for inventory or gravy.

Step 3: Unfold ‘Em

Spatchcocking a turkey

Turn the turkey over and splay its legs outward as suggestively as you please.

Step 4: Crack the Breast

Spatchcocking a turkey

Press down firmly at the breastbone till you pay attention and really feel it crack, in order that the breasts will take a seat flat.

Step 5: Make the Spice Rub

Spice rub for a smoked turkey

You’ll use your favourite fish fry spice rub combination for the turkey, or use mine: 2 tablespoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, half teaspoon flooring black pepper, half teaspoon flooring yellow mustard seed, half teaspoon flooring coriander seed, half teaspoon flooring cumin seed, 1/Four teaspoon flooring cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon granulated garlic powder, 1 teaspoon granulated onion powder, 1 teaspoon flooring sage, 2 tablespoons mild brown sugar, and—this is the name of the game element—a tablespoon of baking powder.

Step 6: Rub the Hen

Rubbing spice rub into a turkey

Rub the turkey with a tablespoon of oil on all surfaces, then rub it with the salt and spice combination. At this level, position the turkey on a tray, duvet it loosely with plastic wrap, and let it leisure no less than in a single day and as much as Three days within the fridge. This will likely permit time for the salt within the rub to slowly paintings its method into the beef, which is not going to simplest season it extra deeply but additionally lend a hand the turkey retain extra juices because it roasts. Learn up on how dry-brining works for extra main points.

Step 7: Organize the Coals

Pouring lit charcoal onto a grill grate

When you find yourself able to cook dinner (that is about Three half hours sooner than everybody is able to devour), ignite part a chimney’s value of charcoal and unload it out right into a kettle grill.

Arranging lit coals on one side of a grill grate for a two-zone fire

Pile the coals alongside one facet of the grill. The objective is to create a cooler zone at the different facet in order that the turkey slowly chefs by means of oblique warmth.

Step 8: Upload the Turkey and Picket

Adding wood to grill to smoke a turkey

Position the cooking grate over the coals, duvet the grill, let it preheat for approximately 10 mins, then scrub it blank with a grill brush. Position the turkey on most sensible of the cooler facet of the grill with the legs going through the coals. As leg meat can safely face up to a better cooking temperature, the objective this is to stay the breast cooking as gently as conceivable in order that it keeps juiciness whilst gaining smoke taste.

Step 9: Insert the Probe

Inserting thermometer probe into smoked turkey

You probably have a leave-in probe thermometer, insert it into the private a part of the turkey breast and set the alarm for 145°F. Remember: A leave-in probe turns out to be useful simplest as an early-warning device to mean you can know when the turkey is with reference to completed. You will want to test it manually because it approaches doneness for whole keep an eye on over its texture.

Step 10: Shut the Grill and Modify the Vents

Adjusting vents on a Weber grill

Shut the grill with the lid vent without delay over the turkey. Modify the vents within the most sensible and the ground in order that they’re part open. This will likely prohibit oxygen waft in order that the coals burn gently, whilst additionally trapping in smoke to present the fowl higher taste.

Step 11: Observe Temperatures!

Checking temperatures on a meat thermometer

Stay a lazy eye at the thermometer in order that you do not omit the alarm when it is going off. We are aiming for a last temperature of 150°F right here—that is 15°F less than the USDA’s beneficial temperature of 165°F, however the turkey you get shall be a lot juicier, and as long as it is rested for a minimum of Four mins, it is going to be simply as protected as a turkey cooked to 165°F—however I love to set my alarm at 145°F, as a result of the previous few mins of cooking require nearer tracking.

Temperature dial on a grill lid

The interior of the grill will have to hover between 225°F and 275°F for optimally mild cooking. You’ll keep an eye on the temperature via opening and shutting the vents (the extra closed they’re, the fewer oxygen the coals gets, and the cooler they are going to smolder). Upload extra wooden chunks to the coals each part hour, and, if essential, upload extra coals if the unique coals begin to burn out too a long way. You probably have a secondary air temp thermometer, it is going to provide you with a extra correct image of what is going on within the grill than the integrated thermometer at the grill will.

Step 12: Nearly Performed

Smoked turkey on the smoker

A 10- to 12-pound turkey will take round Three hours, give or take part an hour in both path. As soon as the turkey hits 145°F, proceed cooking it, transferring the thermometer round and taking its temperature in quite a lot of places because it approaches its ultimate temperature of 150°F within the breasts.

Taking the temperature on a smoked turkey's breast and thigh

For optimally juicy breast meat, you are searching for a most temperature of 150°F. Do not let it get any warmer. For the legs, you are searching for a minimal temperature of 165°F, and you’ll safely move upper with out drying out the beef as a result of its abundant connective tissue and fats. Since the turkey was once butterflied and the legs had been positioned nearer to the coals, the breasts and legs will have to reach their ultimate temperatures on the similar time.

Step 13: Let It Leisure

A smoked turkey resting after cooking

Switch the turkey to a slicing board and let it leisure for 15 mins. This will likely permit the interior juices to settle and thicken fairly in order that they do not run across the board as you carve.

Step 14: Take away the Legs

Carving the legs off a smoked turkey

To carve, get started via taking away the legs. Pull gently on the leg with one hand, and also you will have to be capable of simply slip a knife into the joint between the leg and the breast.

Step 15: Cut up the Legs

Splitting drumstick from thigh of a smoked turkey

To find the joint between the drumstick and the thigh via transferring the drumstick from side to side, then slice down in between the ball and socket to separate the drumstick from the thigh.

Step 16: Take away the Hip Bone

Remove hipbone from a smoked turkey though

Get started taking away the thigh bones via finding the huge, flattish hip bone caught to the interior of the thigh. It will have to come unfastened with a little bit prying and a couple of well-aimed nips with the end of your knife.

Step 17: Lower Alongside the Thigh Bone

Removing thigh bone from smoked turkey leg

Use a pointy knife to chop alongside the facet of the thigh bone with the bigger items of meat on it to fully take away the beef.

Step 18: Take away the Remainder of the Thigh Meat

Removing thigh bone from smoked turkey leg

Preserving the bone upright, scrape the rest meat off the thigh bone.

Step 19: Slice the Thigh Meat

Slicing smoked turkey thigh meat

Slice the thigh meat into 1/2-inch slices, with the outside facet up.

Step 20: Take away the Wings

Removing smoked turkey wings

Take away the wings from the breasts via positioning the breast upright and keeping it via some of the wings. Jiggle the wing from side to side a little bit to find the joint, then minimize via it with a pointy knife. Repeat with the opposite wing. You’ll take away the drumette from the flat/wing tip in the similar approach that you just separated the drumstick from the thigh.

Step 21: Take away the Breasts

Carving smoked turkey breast

Get started taking away the breast halves from the breastbone via operating your knife down one facet of the sternum.

Carving smoked turkey breast

Proceed slicing, tracing the contour of the bones with the end of your knife whilst making use of a little bit outward force together with your loose hand. The beef will have to very simply pull clear of the bone. Repeat with the opposite facet to take away each breast halves. Reserve the entire bones to make a inventory.

Step 22: Slice the Breast

Slicing a smoked turkey breast

Slice the breast meat into 1/2-inch serving slices.

Step 23: Plate It Up!

A platter of smoked turkey meat

The secrets and techniques to completely smoked turkey are: butterflying, dry-brining, including baking powder to the dry rub, slow-cooking over oblique warmth, and cautious tracking of the turkey’s interior temperature. Here is easy methods to do it, step-by-step.

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