Smoking is a delicious way to prepare a whole turkey. All you need is the turkey, seasonings, time, and patience. You also need the right equipment. For me, that is an electric smoker, such as the Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker.
My first attempt at smoking a whole turkey was an epic fail. I neglected to measure the height of my charcoal smoker from the grill surface to the underside of the dome lid before purchasing my giant turkey. The bird was too tall for the lid to close snuggly.
I did channel my inner MacGyver and came up with a smaller grill rack that was perched on rocks inside the smoker so the top would close tightly. Unfortunately, the turkey was too close to the heat source and was cooking unevenly. Needless to say, I ended up finishing the main attraction in the oven after 3 hours of trying to adjust the smoker.
Whatever type of smoker you use, buy a bird that will fit into it. I am a big fan of staying between 12 to 14 pounds. With a tall electric smoker box you could fit 2 smaller birds on upper and lower shelves, and maybe rotate them half way through the cooking.
Preparing the Turkey before Smoking
There are a few steps to take before the turkey is ready for the smoker. Follow these tips and you should get great results.
1. Size Matters. Buy a turkey that fits inside the smoker.
2. Thaw the turkey completely and slowly. If you purchase a frozen turkey, place it in a large pan in the refrigerator with the wrapping still on it. It will take approximately 2 to 3 days to completely thaw. Do not leave it out on the countertop to thaw more quickly.
3. Remove the neck and giblets. Yes, this is one of those “duh” moments. I know many a home cook who has served a turkey with the bag of giblets still in the cavity. Save them for making stock or gravy.
4. Should you brine? I have to be totally honest that I cannot tell much difference between a smoked turkey that has been brined or just really well seasoned. I have tried brining several times and am just not into all the effort that takes.
Don’t buy a pre-brined or already seasoned bird. You never know how long it has been sitting in the brine. My experience is that you may end up with a salt bomb or a waterlogged fowl.
If you do brine, use a 1/2 cup of salt and 1/2 cup sugar to every gallon of water and completely submerge the bird. A cooler with a plastic bag to line it works pretty well. Allow the turkey to sit in this for 12 to 14 hours.
5. Rinse and dry. Whether you brine or not, thoroughly rinse the bird under cool running water. With plenty of paper towels, pat the inside and outside of the turkey until it is completely dry.
Now you can move on to the recipe for smoking a turkey in a Masterbuilt Electric Smoker. Recipe below is a herb rubbed smoked turkey recipe. We also have a different page if you’re looking for how to make a perfect, smoked Thanksgiving Turkey. Many home cooks love to season a turkey with Cajun spices before smoking. I am a little old school in that I like turkey to smell and taste like Thanksgiving. My recipe uses more traditional poultry seasonings that seem to appeal to all tastes. Feel free to change it up and use Cajun spices or just salt and pepper.
Herb Rubbed Smoked Turkey Recipe
Herb Rubbed Smoked Turkey
Smoking is a delicious way to prepare a whole turkey. All you need is the turkey, seasonings, time, and patience.
- 12 to 14 pound turkey, prepared as directed above.
- 2 TBS dried thyme
- 1 TBS powdered sage
- 2 tsps dried oregano
- 2 tsps paprika
- 2 tsps sea salt
- 1-1/2 tsps cracked black pepper
- 1 tsp dried rosemary
- 1 tsp onion or garlic powder (optional)
- Zest of 1/2 an orange
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- 1/2 cup apple cider
- 1/2 cup water
- Apple or pecan wood chips
- Preheat the smoker to 225˚F.
- In a small bowl, mix together all the dry herbs and spices. Rub the interior cavity of the turkey with 1/3 of the dry seasonings.
- Add the EVOO and orange zest to the rest of the seasonings and rub all over the outside of the turkey.
- Place the water and apple cider in the water pan in the bottom of the smoker, filling it only half way. Place a drip pan on the next shelf above the water pan to collect drippings from the turkey. Fill the side drawer with the wood chips.
- Tuck the wing tips tightly beneath the turkey. Place the seasoned turkey on the middle rack of the smoker, close the door, and set a timer for approximately 6.5 hours. The turkey should smoke for 30 to 40 minutes per pound, until the inside temperature reaches 165˚F.
- Check every hour for smoke. Add wood chips if you don’t see any smoke. Start checking the internal temperature of the bird after 3 hours and every 45 minutes with an accurate meat thermometer. Alternatively, use the digital probe thermometer that came with your smoker.
- Remove the cooked turkey to a cutting board and allow it to rest for a minimum of 20 minutes to 2 hours before carving.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 806Total Fat: 34gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 22gCholesterol: 433mgSodium: 710mgCarbohydrates: 5gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 114g
Smoked Sweet Potatoes
If you are looking for a convenient side dish to go with your turkey, try smoking some whole sweet potatoes. You can do these on the top rack above the turkey during the last 2 to 3 hours of smoking. Do not place them below the turkey that is not fully cooked.
- 6 sweet potatoes
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt
1. Wash the potatoes very well, removing the eyes. No need to peel them. Poke a couple of holes in them with a fork. Brush them with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
2. After 3 hours of smoking your turkey, place the whole potatoes on the top rack above the turkey. Smoke them until they begin to ooze a little and feel soft. This will take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours.
Serve these whole with butter, salt, and pepper as a savory dish. Or, mash them with a little butter, cream, maple syrup, and nutmeg for a sweeter side dish.
A Bit about Turkey’s Nutrition
Turkey is a lean source of protein. It is very low in fat. Turkey is an excellent source of B vitamins, potassium, and the minerals iron, zinc, and phosphorus.
Turkey also contains L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid. Our bodies use L-tryptophan to make niacin, serotonin, and melatonin. Serotonin is necessary for mood regulation, and melatonin promotes restful sleep.
Thank you, for this. this will be my first time smoking anything, so I will be using this recipe for my trial Smoker.
Hello, Daren my name is also Daren. I have never seen anyone spell it the same way mine is spelled. Cool! Have a great thanksgiving and good luck with your bird!
Daren, we are on like our second or third Masterbuilt Electric Soker – and you got this dude – there won’t be much that’ll come out of that y’all can’t eat – yummmmmmmmmmmmm I am a strong believer in brining though – so this year will be a first not to as the Mr. had a heart attack so having to change up cooking processes – do have to say I prefer Mesquite or apple vs hickory (hickory has a tart/bitter taste to me) each to his own with taste buds – no basting and NO PEEkING – just keep the smoke on it I learned from my Mr as his dad was a BBQ business owner, and people still talk about his Q – so learned from the best I reckon It’ll be fine, jump in with both feet you’ll do great!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! BEER BUTT Chicken is amazing and mega simple too
What size drip pan should be used? Are we talking about a pan separate from the smokers drip pan? I remember ready that we should never use a pan in the smoke…
yes Jeff this is my 1st year using a separate small drip pan just the length of the turkey.
I bought a masterbuilt electrical smoker some years back and never used it. My daughter suggest I use it this year. My dinner is at 2:00 p.m. Can I start the smoking process the day before then restart the smoking process the next morning? I have a 20 lbs turkey
If using your smoker for the 1st time you should season your smoker per the manual (like seasoning a cast iron pan) as for smoking it in parts for a bird that large? That would be the same as baking it partway and it would dry out the outer part of the bird. No expert here but would probably be best just do it all at once if at all possible. As you are not only smoking it you are cooking it. Best of luck and Happy Christmas!
I will be trying this the day after Thanksgiving with my family…I hope it is as good as it sounds 😊
Well, the bird has been in the smoker for an hour now. Anxious to try it. Really easy instructions to follow and well written. Thanks for the recipe and Merry Christmas.
I am going to give this a try on my Traeger smoker tomorrow and see how it turns out seem like an easy recipe to follow
Thank you. Loved the bird, Very good , and easy recipe. made over the Christmas holidays, (I’am the only fan of smoked Turkey…Santa Brought me a Smoker last year..)
Thanks for the recipe. I stuffed it with fruit and used a lemon based Olive Oil. 6 hours cannot go fast enough. Thank you for the receipe.
Smoking my first turkey for the big game.
Thanks for a great recipe.
Cut rub by half and still horribly strong. I would not recommend. Next time stiv
Caking to garlic salt and pepper.
Did you use ground thyme? I have done that before and knew I screwed up when I tasted whatever it was I made. I haven’t made this recipe yet, but, I would look there for the problem. Also, I don’t care for oregano in rubs like this so I leave it out.
I’m going to smoke my turkey this Thanksgiving. We have a Masterbuilt smoker that we regularly use. My oven will be available to cook other dishes. This process will cut half of my time in the kitchen.
Can you smoke 2 turkeys at the same time
Yes, as long as they will fit. You might switch their positions about halfway through. Also, having an instant read thermometer will allow you to check the bird that does not have the digital probe in it.
yes… I am presently smoking 2-12 lb. turkeys right now… as long as you get them up to 165 degrees you will be ok.
We do a turkey, ham and turkey thighs in our masterbuilt gas smoker. I cut the turkey in half to make everything fit.
How long takes smoke a 20 pound whole turkey What seasoning or Audi repair a turkey for smoking in a master built 30 inch
30mins for each lb. 20lb turkey would be 10 hours.
Smoke an hour per pound at 225º. Hope it turns out well for you! I have an 18.5lbs monster I am starting tomorrow.
I’m doing my 20.9 pound bird for 10-14 hours. I Brined. I’m hoping it’s not water logged.( first timer- 10 hours 2 cups to 2 gallons- Dad’s recipe) Right now I’m about 139 in internal temp on the outside drumstick. Fingers crossed! Happy Thanksgiving!
Like he said, make sure it will fit in the smoker. A 14 lb turkey is kind of a tighter fit. 20 lb will be squished in against the back and the door. I would not go much more than 15 lb max. I have smoked two 13lb in my 30 inch masterbuilt before. It was a bit tight top to bottom for both but it worked
It took me 12 hours last year to smoke a whole 20lbs turkey. I just use butter brown sugar salt pepper. Best turkey I have ever had.
Can you give me some instructions for the butter. brown sugar salt pepper. This is my first time and your way sounds more what I’d like. Thanks
Hey, I’m seeing turkey recipes for cooking at 300° my master built only goes to 275° in that case what do you recommend?
Just add a little more time to the smoking process … pay real gd attention to your internal thermo that you insert into Mr.Tom the Turkey and you’ll be totes a ok!!!
Relating to your comments on brining–to me it is essential to brine a turkey prior to smoking or roasting. Just depends on whether you like your white meat more flavorful and moist as opposed to less flavorful and dry. Brining DOES make a huge difference. I’ve been brining my turkeys since long before brining was “cool”.
I’m with David, I always brine (18 years at it). The salt helps to retain moisture, cook the bird more evenly and the added flavor is a plus. The white meat will be nicely moist, moreso than any turkey you ever had. I buy a fresh 20lb free range turkey with no added salt.
Get a 5 gallon food grade bucket w/lid. You need to have about 2-1/2 gal of brine. I use a gallon of natural pressed apple juice, half gallon water, 4 light beers, 1-1/2 cup to 1-3/4 kosher salt, 1 cup brown sugar. Add hot sauce, Worcestershire, garlic powder and onion powder to liking. I start in the brine on Sunday night and remove Wednesday night in the mini fridge. Make sure you get a bird with no added salt. If you do have one, reduce to 1 cup salt and lightly rinse after brine.
Tip. I use a bowl to hold the bird down, sandwiched between the lid and the bird. Also, might not want to brine the giblets, definitely not as long if you do.
Thanks for your brine recipe. After the bribe what do you do typically? Rinse with cold water and pat dry with paper towels? Allow to air dry? How long? Rub? Thanks in advance
What is your suggestion for the vent? Wide open? Half way?
20 lb Turkey is too large to smoke. The internal temp of the breast will not reach 165 quick enough and you run the risk of having dangerous levels of bacteria.
I never use any larger than 16 lbs.
I also cook mine @ 200 f for 10 hours after injecting with seasoned butter and is always amazing.
Be sure and coat outside with oil and season heavily.
My Thanksgiving is in in your hands Sir… we shall see… only diff is we are using a Bradley Smoker, but I think we will do fine. Thank you in advance
I have a 17lb Butterball that I want to cook at 260 degrees, approx how long will that take?
I found that our 20 pound bird at 255 degrees only took around 6 1/2 hours so about 20 minutes per pound.
How long would it take to smoke a 21 pound whole turkey in a master built 30 inch?
Can you put stuffing in the turkey while it smokes?
No. Do not put stuffing in a bird to be smoked.
Does times differ I’m using a propane smoker
Seems easy! I was thinking about injecting it. Thoughts??
I typically inject it with creole butter
Hi Daren, I thank you for your tips on smoked turkey and sweet potatoes. I stuffed my turkey with celery, onions and apples after salting the cavities. I liked your idea of adding Apple Cider to Water. I will try that. As for the outside, I use butter and salt. Period. Simple. I am allergic to black pepper. My family loves my smoked turkey and we’ve done it since 1992! Thanks again!
Next time I’ll try a different rub. But it was good. Had to crank up the temp of the smoker at the end because the rise of the internal temp slowed down to a crawl and we all wanted to eat.
Used this recipe to smoke a 22lb whole bird. It worked perfectly. Insane how moist this bird is. I had to allow a little extra time because of a bigger bird. But thank you so much for sharing this with us all.
Can you tell me if I can smoke a 14 pound turkey and a 71/2 pound ham in the same masterbuilt smoker and the appropriate cooking times please
I have a 11lbs turkey. It’s my first try at smoking it in my masterbuilt smoker. I read it’s a 6.5 hour cook. Should I cook longer?
This is a great recipe, but it took my small 11lb bird about 10 hours to cook on my master built electric smoker. After about 7 hours, the turkey plateaued at 143 degrees (measured in the breast), and stayed there for about an hour. At around the 8 hour mark, I turned the heat up to 275. It turned out juicy and flavorful, but man… it took forever. Maybe it was the altitude here, maybe it was the cold weather (unlikely since the temp stayed steady), but those extra 4 hours of cooking cost my family Christmas turkey. The turkey didn’t finish until after our two youngest were in bed (luckily we had plenty of leftovers from our Christmas Eve party to feed them). It’s probably my fault, but I seriously didn’t think I’d need to put the bird in at 7am to be ready at 5pm for dinner. Oh, well. Merry Christmas, everyone!
Mr. X, to be safe you can start the bird 2 hours earlier than expected. If you find the extra 2 hours are not needed when done, you can put the bird in a cooler with towels on top to allow for a resting period. It will improve the bird and will still be piping hot for the table.
To all : max size should be a 12lb turkey for safety to cook all internal meat. Otherwise white gets dry . You can use two birds at 12 lbs each.
Hello! Thank you so much for such a great recipe! I am very new to using my electric smoker and needed to cook a turkey that I had. I read the reviews and proceeded with your instructions exactly as written. I did not have any apple cider vinegar and was out of rosemary. I followed your instructions and the turkey is incredible! My husband is still raving about it as is our 13 year old daughter. Absolutely delicious!!
I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, just used the herbs, zest, a little chicken stock in the drippings pan and smoked a 21 pound turkey for 7 hours at 300 degrees. It was still amazing, especially for my first smoked turkey (unstuffed). I basted every hour after four hours and for 30 continual minutes after removing the bird from the smoker and bringing it to the kitchen. Really moist, great flavor.
How would you recommend getting a crispy skin after smoking?
you can put under broiler in oven and crisp up the skin, once you have smoked it. my electric smoker never gets the skin crispy.. when I make ckicken wings on the smoker we finish them under the broiler or on the grill to crisp up the skin.
I just got my first fresh killed Turkey from my son this morning. It is 29 lbs. Right now it is in my refrigerator. It will not fit in my smoker whole. if I spatchcock the turkey, can I smoke it on two racks, and if so how much time in the smoker will it take?
In order to get a crisper skin finish the Turkey in a blazing hot grill or oven for just a few minutes then cover and rest.
If I spatchcock a 21 pounder is it really as if I’m smoking 2 10 pounders and I can go as if I’m smoking 10 pounders?
what did you find out about cooking your turkey as a spatchcock ? what were your cooking times?
Read about the person who took a lot longer to cook than expected so I cooked mine at 250 and it was done in 4 hours. It is 13.6 pounds. Looks like we’ll be having Turkey for breakfast!
Darren, this is your recipe, so hate to disagree with you, but I have cooked several turkeys well above 12 lbs. more like 18-20 lbs. and they all turned out beautifully moist and cooked to perfection! I believe you should either rub butter (flavored is best) all under the breast skin or/& inject with your favorite seasonings and the breast will be amazing and very moist. Everyone has their own experiences smoking & it’s all up to our own taste buds, but with having been an avid smoker for over 20 years, this has been my experience.
I place my bird in the oven for about 5-10 minutes in a 450 oven to crisp up the skin.
If you want a crispy skin, rub your bird with mayonnaise all over inside & out before applying your seasonings and your bird will not only have crispy skin, but the breast will be as juicy as you can ever imagine, as well as, the rest of the bird. Good grilling & smoking!
Nearing 50 years smoking turkey and other meats and fowl. I’ve smoked in everything from a smoke house, a 300 gal barrel with a side fire box, a Weber kettle, several vertical smokers, and settled on a commercially made charcoal smoker with a side fire box. I think the most important thing is getting the right turkey. An unbasted bird with NO water added. They cook much quicker as you don’t have to get rid of all the xtra water. I brine in an egg brine. Enough salt to barely float an in shell egg, for 8 hours. I’m not a liquid smoke fan but I will add a little to the brine and any other seasoning. I then smoke at 220 deg. turning till it has a good, even color. I then wrap it in aluminum foil tightly with a remote temperature probe inserted in the thigh to 160 on the thermometer. I remove it from the smoker and let it rest with a towel cover. The temperature will continue to rise to 163 to 165. I like 12 pound birds but have tried ones from 6 up and adjust cooking time. To me the end temperature should never be above 165 for a moist breast meat.
I tried the recipe before. It turned out great. I’m making another for some picky eaters so I put all the goodies with seasonings in the brine and will simply rub with kosher salt and pepper and stuff with cut up apples, onions, etc. Wish me luck. Haha..
General question on smoking a turkey.
This will be year 3 I’ve brined and smoked a turkey.
I usually fill the water tray with just water.
What are your thoughts about adding apple cider or juice too?
Or no water to maybe crisp the skin better.
BTW I bri e in apple cider citrus solution.
I have done this for MANY years and here is what I would recommend. First while the bird is still frozen I use a Sawzall with a new blade and cut the Turkey in half. This allows you to lay the 2 halves flat on the grill for easier and more thorough smoking. On the shelf under the turkey I make what I call Stuffing Loafs. I use 6-8 bags of Pepperidge Farm herb stuffing. In a large 10-12 quart boiling pan I place 2 Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage tubes and break it up. Add 2 quarts water as the sausage starts cooking and boil the sausage until it is all cooked. Add 1-2 sticks of butter and melt into the water and sausage mix. Add 2 more quarts of water and bring to almost boil. In VERY large mixing bowl use sausage water and butter mix to make the stuffing following the directions on the bag. Add cold water to complete total amount of water per directions on bag. Mix up thoroughly by hand. On non stick baking sheet, form stuffing into 2 loaf like mounds. Place stuffing and baking sheet under Turkey for entire time smoking turkey. The drippings will add lots of flavor to stuffing. I smoke at about 250 for 8-10 hours. I don’t put anything on the bird and I don’t brine it. Comes out AMAZING. The stuffing has been the hit of every thanksgiving I have made it for.
I just got my 20 lb turkey smoked and looks’ very good I used brown sugar and plenty of salt and olive oil rub all in hard term. 235 % it took 7 hours to get the internal Tem to 170 now the real test eating it.
Made this recipe two days ago for our Family Thanksgiving dinner – Smoked a 14.4 lbs organic, free range Native Pantry bird…. I’ve got to say this recipe was SPOT ON! I changed the rub and tuned it into life of a baste… with extra butter and then also injected it into the meat and under the skin…. plus I had to keep it on for about 40min longer than I was planning while also cranking the heat to 275° In order to get my internal final temp up to 165°… but MAN DID IT TURN OUT PERFECT !! Thank you!
-Michael in Grand Rapids
We made this today for Christmas and followed the directions exactly. It was the hit of the dinner. I don’t even care for turkey much but loved this. Thank you for the recipe!!
Think I could do this with 2 whole chickens instead of one turkey? I am using my smoker for the first time. Struggling to figure out how to use it best.