Smoked turkey is super-tasty any time of year, and not so quirky that you'd scare off your Thanksgiving guests with it. Smoking meat is different from roasting, but it's pretty darn simple. Here are some cooking tips for smoking a turkey at home.
Most smokers are cylinder-shaped devices and use either electricity, gas or charcoal for heat. Follow the manufacturer's directions for gas or electric smokers.
- Charcoal smokers have two pans—one for charcoal and one for liquid. Smokers require a liquid to create the moist, hot smoke needed for cooking. When using a charcoal smoker, fill the pan for liquid with water, wine, apple juice or the liquid you desire. Fill the charcoal pan with a good quality charcoal. Light the charcoal and place the cover on the smoker. When the smoker has reached an internal temperature of 225 to 300 degrees F, quickly place the turkey on the smoker rack and replace the cover. (Some smokers have built-in temperature indicators. If yours does not, place an appliance thermometer on the smoker rack before starting your heat source.) Check the temperature every half hour or so, and add charcoal every one to two hours, as necessary, to maintain the temperature at 225 to 300 degrees F, but don't open the lid more than necessary. Replenish the liquid as necessary. Heat and liquid are critical to maintaining the hot smoke that cooks the turkey.
- When cooking with a smoker, start with clean equipment. Place the smoker in an area shielded from winds to maintain a safe cooking temperature. Try this flavorful cooking tip: Add water-soaked hardwood or fruitwood chunks or chips to add flavor to the turkey. (And here's a cooking tip to save you from cooking a turkey that tastes like Pinesol: Do not use a softwood (pine, fir, cedar or spruce) as it gives the food a turpentine flavor and coats it with a black pitch or resin!)
- Cooking times depend on many factors: the size and shape of the turkey, the distance from the heat, temperature from the coals, and temperature of the outside air. Estimate 20 to 30 minutes per pound cook time if using a smoker. Be sure to completely thaw the turkey before cooking. And don't stuff the turkey. Your stuffing won't cook thoroughly and the smoke will make it taste funky. Always use a food thermometer. The turkey is safely cooked when the food thermometer reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. When you cut into the meat, you'll see a pink "smoke ring" just inside the skin. This doesn't mean it's underdone. It means it will taste fantastic!
For additional information on cooking turkey, read Turkey: Alternative Routes to the Table on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's site.