The Meals Lab’s Step-by-Step Information to Smoking a Turkey


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

Thanksgiving is much and away my favourite vacation, however this yr marks a brand new twist within the household enjoyable: It is the primary Thanksgiving that my spouse, Adri, and I are internet hosting, and the primary Thanksgiving that my household is celebrating away from the East Coast. That is proper: The Alts are coming to California, and we would higher make it further particular for them.

I have been making an attempt to determine precisely what we’ll do with the turkey this yr. With a lot better entry to out of doors house than in my mother’s New York house and its 40-square-foot kitchen, I figured one thing that took benefit of the yard could be so as. Fairly than make my conventional spatchcocked roast turkey, this yr we’ll deep-fry at the least one and slow-smoke one other. Turkey and smoke are a pure pairing, as anybody who’s checked out a deli case can let you know, 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 need served in thick, glistening slabs which can be shiny with juice and fork-tender, with deep smoke taste.

I already had a fundamental concept in my head of how I used to be going to smoke the turkey (low and sluggish, oblique warmth, a dry brine and spice rub to start out), however I made a decision to check out our personal printed approach for pointers. Then I had a daunting realization: In all of the years we have been writing about Thanksgiving turkey, regardless of all of the recipes for grill-roasted turkeys cooked over comparatively excessive warmth, not as soon as have we provided full directions for true low-and-slow, barbecue-style smoked turkey.

So I did the one smart factor: I introduced dwelling 4 turkeys and began testing, modifying our current grilled spatchcocked turkey technique to work with decrease warmth, extra smoke, and a spice rub to deliver out extra of these barbecue flavors.

Oftentimes a Meals Lab recipe will take dozens of assessments and weeks of experiments to actually nail, however this one turned out to be fairly easy, requiring solely two stable days of smoking.* There are literally simply 5 keys to good smoked turkey:

  • Butterflying or spatchcocking the chook to assist it cook dinner extra evenly and develop crisper pores and skin.
  • Dry-brining the chook by rubbing it with salt (or a spice rub that features salt) and letting it sit within the fridge for a number of nights with the intention to enable the salt to work its manner into the meat and loosen up its muscle construction, thus preserving it juicy because it cooks.
  • Including baking powder to the dry rub, which causes it to type tiny micro-bubbles on the floor of the turkey because it roasts, including floor space and enhancing the crispness of the pores and skin. It additionally barely raises the pH of the floor, enhancing Maillard browning.
  • Gradual-cooking over oblique warmth, with the legs pointed towards the warmth supply (legs can deal with larger warmth than delicate breast meat can), with the intention to very gently and evenly cook dinner the breast meat and provides ample time for the turkey to construct up smoky taste.
  • Fastidiously monitoring the turkey’s inside temperature to make sure that the breast meat by no means will get above 150°F. Any larger than that, and it turns into chalky and dry. (Regardless of authorities 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 relaxation for at the least 4 minutes earlier than serving.)

Straightforward, proper?

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

Try the FAQs and step-by-step directions under, or leap straight to the recipe.

Ought to I brine my chook?


Dry-brined meat is further juicy.

You may brine your chook, and it definitely will make your chook juicier, however it will not do something within the taste division. Actually, it’s going to dilute the flavour of your turkey. As an alternative of a standard moist brine, I like to recommend dry-brining. It is simpler, almost as efficient at serving to preserve juiciness, and much better for taste. To do it, simply rub your turkey with salt and let it sit within the fridge in a single day (or as much as three days). That is it. Within the case of a smoked turkey, I wish to rub it with a spice rub that incorporates salt, which is able to work simply as successfully whereas 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, by which solely salt and water will actually work their manner into the meat, injecting can truly introduce different fragrant compounds, which makes it a helpful option to get your turkey juicy with out danger of diluting its taste. If you wish to inject, I recommend utilizing a mixture of rooster or turkey inventory and melted butter, injected into varied factors all through the breast.

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



It is a complete turkey. See how uncovered that breast meat is, and the way comparatively protected the legs are? Whenever you’re roasting a turkey within the oven, that is a significant drawback. However what about on 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 rapidly and evenly to ensure juicy breast meat, absolutely cooked legs, and crisp pores and skin. On the grill, its advantages are usually not fairly as apparent.


In a roasting pan within the oven, the legs of the turkey are protected, and also you inevitably find yourself overcooking the breast meat by the point the legs are achieved. However on a grill, the legs cook dinner fairly rapidly, as they’ve extra publicity to the warmth. The principle benefits that butterflying will get you on the grill are quicker cooking (it cuts cooking time down by about 30%) and crisper pores and skin (the pores and skin beneath the turkey will find yourself a little bit soggy when you do not butterfly). These elements alone make butterflying value it in my ebook.

I attempted to spatchcock my turkey final yr, however it was so darn troublesome to chop by way of that bone! Any solutions?



Toughen up, younger grasshopper. No, critically. I do know it may be onerous to get by way of these thigh bones typically. I’ve a number of solutions: First, ask your butcher to do it for you. They’ve higher gear than you do and are used to dealing with uncooked meat. Barring that, your subsequent greatest guess is to name in an airstrike: Seize the cleaver and provides it a number of swift, agency, and exact hacks to get by way of these bones. (Make sure that to intention away out of your thumb.)

Do I must take away the wishbone?



No, not likely. It is all only a query of comfort. Eradicating it earlier than cooking the turkey will make carving it simpler down the road, particularly whenever you’re making an attempt to carve a sizzling, juicy turkey. Then once more, some individuals are squeamish about uncooked poultry and would in all probability quite not stick their fingers into the cavity that the turkey used to breathe and eat and gobble out of. The selection is basically yours, although I usually take away mine.

I am tempted to attempt butterflying my chook, however I am nervous about how untraditional it appears to be like. What ought to I do?



I get it. A complete spatchcocked turkey appears to be like prefer it belongs on a pornography set quite than in your Thanksgiving desk. However the trade-off when it comes to juiciness, even cooking, and crisp pores and skin is definitely worth the odd look. In addition to, if you wish to be civilized about it, you will be carving that turkey within the kitchen and serving it on a warmed platter anyway, proper? Proper?

Ought to I take advantage of pure hardwood as a substitute of briquettes?


No! Pure hardwood burns fairly unpredictably. As a rule, the coal is much less dense than briquettes, and, with simpler entry to oxygen, it burns a lot quicker and warmer. It will not provide the sluggish, regular, dependable burn that you just want for managed low-temperature barbecue.

What sort of wooden is greatest?


I like to recommend utilizing hickory. It has a milder taste than, say, mesquite or applewood, which I discover can overpower the flavour of the turkey. It is best to purchase whole chunks of wood, which burn extra slowly, including candy smoke taste to your meals because it slow-cooks. Wooden chips will burn rapidly, making a extra acrid smoke.

What temperature ought to I intention for on my grill?

When cooking something, the upper the temperature you cook dinner at, the bigger the temperature gradient contained in the meat. That’s, turkey cooked at 450°F may have a bigger band of overcooked meat round its edges than turkey cooked at 250°F. With a spatchcocked chook, you possibly can safely grill-roast or smoke at as much as 375°F with out burning the turkey, however at that temperature, the turkey cooks by way of 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. I favor to make use of the low and sluggish method, aiming for a spread of 225 to 275°F on my grill, give or take.

In contrast to true barbecue which requires cautious monitoring and sustaining of each inside and exterior temperature to ensure tender and moist meat, a turkey doesn’t have a lot connective tissue to interrupt down, thus the one actual variable you must fear about is inside temperature. 50°F up or down on the grill is not going to negatively have an effect on the standard of the completed chook a lot in some way (although it will probably have an effect on cooking time. Plan on constructing a cushion into the afternoon earlier than serving!).

Will my pores and skin get crisp?

Many recipes for low-and-slow smoked turkey find yourself with dry, leathery pores and skin. Why does this occur? You see, pores and skin is usually comprised of fats, water, and connective tissue. As a way to get crisp, not solely does the fats need to render and the water evaporate, however the connective tissue additionally has to interrupt down; Collagen has to transform into gelatin. This course of requires water which implies that in case your turkey pores and skin dries out too quick, it’ll by no means crisp up. The high-convection atmosphere of a smoker is sufficient to attract out the moisture quicker than the pores and skin can crisp. The result’s powerful, leathery pores and skin.

We do a pair issues to fight that impact. First off, the dry brine you apply will truly assist the turkey pores and skin retain moisture longer because it smokes. The baking powder additionally helps set off browning reactions quicker, giving the pores and skin a jumpstart on browning. Lastly, a fast rub with oil earlier than making use of the spice combination will assist decelerate the escape of moisture from the pores and skin. The outcomes is deeply smoky pores and skin that is extra-crisp in addition.

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


The one time it is best to ever use a pop-up thermometer (or “overcooked-turkey indicator,” as I wish to name it) is in case you are actually intent on successful a struggle towards your individual style buds. Get your self a very good instant-read thermometer just like the Thermapen, or its much less expensive cousin the Thermopop, and you may by no means need to expertise overcooked or dry turkey once more.


The right way to Smoke a Turkey Step-by-Step


Step 1: Take away the Wishbone

Cutting out a turkey's wishbone

I at all times suggest utilizing turkeys which can be between 10 and 12 kilos, as they’ve the perfect taste and texture. Fairly than use a bigger turkey for extra visitors, it is higher to cook dinner a number of smaller birds (utilizing totally different strategies!). Eradicating the wishbone shouldn’t be strictly essential, however it makes carving simpler down the road. To take away the wishbone, begin by lifting the pores and skin across the turkey’s neck opening to disclose the Y-shaped bone beneath. Use the tip of a pointy paring knife to chop into the flesh above each halves of the Y.

Removing a turkey's wishbone

Minimize alongside the underside of every aspect of the Y along with your knife.

Removing a turkey's wishbone

Slide your finger behind the bone and begin pulling it ahead. The highest ought to launch fairly simply, although a little bit assist with the tip of the paring knife is perhaps essential.

Removing a turkey's wishbone

Pull the wishbone out. If it cracks or leaves behind bits of bone, you possibly can seize them with a clear 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 assist it to cook dinner extra evenly, cook dinner quicker, and ship crisper pores and skin. The simplest option to butterfly a turkey is to ask your butcher to do it for you. However to do it your self, begin by reducing alongside both aspect of the spine with a set of industrial quality poultry shears.

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

If there are any drawback spots (the thigh joints particularly can typically be fairly powerful to get by way of with scissors), use a heavy cleaver or chef’s knife to chop by way of them. Save the spine for inventory or gravy.

Step 3: Unfold ‘Em

Spatchcocking a turkey

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

Step 4: Crack the Breast

Spatchcocking a turkey

Press down firmly on the breastbone till you hear and really feel it crack, in order that the breasts will sit flat.

Step 5: Make the Spice Rub

Spice rub for a smoked turkey

You should utilize your favourite barbecue spice rub combination for the turkey, or use mine: 2 tablespoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, half teaspoon floor black pepper, half teaspoon floor yellow mustard seed, half teaspoon floor coriander seed, half teaspoon floor cumin seed, 1/Four teaspoon floor cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon granulated garlic powder, 1 teaspoon granulated onion powder, 1 teaspoon floor sage, 2 tablespoons mild brown sugar, and—here is the key ingredient—a tablespoon of baking powder.

Step 6: Rub the Fowl

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, place the turkey on a tray, cowl it loosely with plastic wrap, and let it relaxation at the least in a single day and as much as Three days within the fridge. It will enable time for the salt within the rub to slowly work its manner into the meat, which is not going to solely season it extra deeply but additionally assist the turkey retain extra juices because it roasts. Learn up on how dry-brining works for extra particulars.

Step 7: Organize the Coals

Pouring lit charcoal onto a grill grate

Whenever you’re able to cook dinner (that is about Three half hours earlier than everybody is able to eat), ignite half a chimney’s value of charcoal and dump 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 aspect of the grill. The aim is to create a cooler zone on the opposite aspect in order that the turkey slowly cooks through oblique warmth.

Step 8: Add the Turkey and Wooden

Adding wood to grill to smoke a turkey

Place the cooking grate over the coals, cowl the grill, let it preheat for about 10 minutes, then scrub it clear with a grill brush. Place the turkey on high of the cooler aspect of the grill with the legs dealing with the coals. As leg meat can safely face up to the next cooking temperature, the aim right here is to maintain the breast cooking as gently as potential in order that it retains juiciness whereas 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 deepest a part of the turkey breast and set the alarm for 145°F. Keep in mind: A leave-in probe is beneficial solely as an early-warning system to let you recognize when the turkey is near completed. You will wish to examine it manually because it approaches doneness for full management 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 straight over the turkey. Modify the vents within the high and the underside in order that they’re half open. It will restrict oxygen stream in order that the coals burn gently, whereas additionally trapping in smoke to present the chook higher taste.

Step 11: Monitor Temperatures!

Checking temperatures on a meat thermometer

Preserve a lazy eye on the thermometer in order that you do not miss the alarm when it goes off. We’re aiming for a last temperature of 150°F right here—that is 15°F decrease than the USDA’s advisable temperature of 165°F, however the turkey you get shall be a lot juicier, and as long as it is rested for at the least Four minutes, it is going to be simply as protected as a turkey cooked to 165°F—however I wish to set my alarm at 145°F, as a result of the previous few minutes of cooking require nearer monitoring.

Temperature dial on a grill lid

The within of the grill ought to hover between 225°F and 275°F for optimally light cooking. You’ll be able to management the temperature by opening and shutting the vents (the extra closed they’re, the much less oxygen the coals will get, and the cooler they’re going to smolder). Add extra wooden chunks to the coals each half hour, and, if essential, add extra coals if the unique coals begin to burn out too far. You probably have a secondary air temp thermometer, it provides you with a extra correct image of what is going on on contained in the grill than the built-in thermometer on the grill will.

Step 12: Virtually Achieved

Smoked turkey on the smoker

A 10- to 12-pound turkey will take round Three hours, give or take half an hour in both course. As soon as the turkey hits 145°F, proceed cooking it, shifting the thermometer round and taking its temperature in varied areas because it approaches its last 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 on the lookout for a most temperature of 150°F. Do not let it get any hotter. For the legs, you are on the lookout for a minimal temperature of 165°F, and you may safely go larger with out drying out the meat due to its ample connective tissue and fats. As a result of the turkey was butterflied and the legs had been positioned nearer to the coals, the breasts and legs ought to obtain their last temperatures on the similar time.

Step 13: Let It Relaxation

A smoked turkey resting after cooking

Switch the turkey to a reducing board and let it relaxation for 15 minutes. It will enable the inner juices to settle and thicken barely 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, begin by eradicating the legs. Pull gently on the leg with one hand, and it is best to be capable to 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

Discover the joint between the drumstick and the thigh by shifting the drumstick backwards and forwards, 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

Begin eradicating the thigh bones by finding the big, flattish hip bone caught to the within of the thigh. It ought to come free with a little bit prying and some well-aimed nips with the tip of your knife.

Step 17: Minimize Alongside the Thigh Bone

Removing thigh bone from smoked turkey leg

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

Step 18: Take away the Remainder of the Thigh Meat

Removing thigh bone from smoked turkey leg

Holding the bone upright, scrape the remaining 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 pores and skin aspect up.

Step 20: Take away the Wings

Removing smoked turkey wings

Take away the wings from the breasts by positioning the breast upright and holding it by one of many wings. Jiggle the wing backwards and forwards a little bit to find the joint, then lower by way of it with a pointy knife. Repeat with the opposite wing. You’ll be able to take away the drumette from the flat/wing tip in the identical method that you just separated the drumstick from the thigh.

Step 21: Take away the Breasts

Carving smoked turkey breast

Begin eradicating the breast halves from the breastbone by working your knife down one aspect of the sternum.

Carving smoked turkey breast

Proceed reducing, tracing the contour of the bones with the tip of your knife whereas making use of a little bit outward strain along with your free hand. The meat ought to very simply draw back from the bone. Repeat with the opposite aspect to take away each breast halves. Reserve all of the 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 monitoring of the turkey’s inside temperature. Here is tips on how to do it, step-by-step.

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