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Southern Culinary Arts: The Best Smoked Turkey Ever!

Updated on August 30, 2013

How to Smoke a Turkey

Welcome to my online cooking school about how to smoke a turkey! Today's version of my online cooking classes is about cooking a turkey that your guests will rave about. It'll turn out moist, juicy, and tasty, with a beautiful brown color. It's a favorite Southern food - I don't know about the rest of the country, but they probably like it, too!

Mmmm…it’s almost that time of year again – Turkey Day! This is certainly an appropriate nickname for Thanksgiving since many, many families across the U.S. will be cooking and enjoying a big bird. After all, they graced the table at the first Thanksgiving!

If you bake or roast your turkey in the oven every year…why? A smoked turkey is much juicier and more flavorful. And besides, it leaves your oven free for casseroles, cakes, pies, and rolls. Once you learn how to smoke a turkey, you'll never turn back to the oven. We smoke a turkey every Thanksgiving, along with frying one or two. Some family members prefer the fried, while others prefer the smoked. Everyone in my family, however, prefers either of these cooking methods to baked turkey cooked in the oven.

Why an electric smoker for smoked turkey?

We use an electric smoker. When it comes to BBQ cooking and how to smoke a turkey, this type of smoker is the best. The heat is more consistent than that provided by a charcoal smoker, and it’s just a lot easier all the way around. Also, smokers include a water pan, so the heat used to smoke the turkey is a moist heat - not a dry heat. The water pan can be filled with water, of course, but for extra flavor you can use apple juice, wine, or beer, and you can add fresh herbs, too.

Here’s how to smoke a turkey that your Thanksgiving guests will absolutely love:

The day before you plan to smoke the turkey, you need to gather a little wood. Pecan twigs give the fowl the best flavor, in my opinion. If you don’t have access to pecan wood, use applewood or peach wood. If you don’t have or can’t get either of these, purchase some hickory chips. Soak the twigs or chips in water overnight.

You can use any size turkey, just make sure it’s completely thawed. Remove the package of giblets and the neck. Rinse the turkey well with cool water – especially the cavity. Sprinkle the cavity with garlic salt – Lowry’s is best. Make a paste of sage, garlic salt, black pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. To give the seasoning a little bite, add red pepper and/or tabasco sauce. Rub the turkey all over with the paste. Inside the cavity, place an onion and an apple that have both been cut in half.

Fill the smoker’s water pan with apple juice. Place the twigs or chips on the burner.

Place the turkey on the bottom rack of the smoker. For the best results, place a fattier piece of meat on the top rack. A smoked ham or fresh pork roast works great. As the meat cooks, the fat that cooks out of the pork will drip onto the turkey, constantly basting it. When we smoke a ham or other meats with high fat on the top rack over the turkey, we place the turkey on the bottom rack breast-side-up. If you're smoking the turkey alone, place the bird breast-side-down.

Put the lid on the smoker and begin smoking. After about six hours, add more apple juice to the water pan, if needed. You’ll also need to add more wood occasionally – the more wood, the more smoke. The more smoke, the more flavor.

We usually smoke out turkeys for about twelve hours. You don’t have to worry about the turkey getting too dry because the heat in the smoker is moist due to the water pan. Electric smokers are very forgiving, so exact timing is not crucial to success.

We place our turkey on the smoker before we go to bed on Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve, and we take it off about thirty minutes before serving the next day. This is also a great turkey to serve for Easter dinner - or anytime! Sometimes hubby and I smoke a turkey breast on the weekends, just for the two of us.

Now that you know how to smoke a turkey, you’ll need some great Southern cornbread dressing to go with that smoked turkey! Click the appropriate article below the smokers to learn how to make it. You'll also find links below to more culinary arts, online cooking classes, and my online cooking school!


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