Unlock the Secrets on How to Smoke a Turkey on a Pellet Smoker

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How to smoke a turkey on a pellet smoker

Imagine you’re hosting a gathering with friends and family, and you want to surprise everyone with a delicious, smoky twist on a classic dish. That’s right – we’re talking about smoking a whole turkey, on a pellet smoker!

But, you might be wondering:

Don’t worry, my friend! In this article, we’ll answer all these questions and share some insider tips and tricks to help you smoke the perfect turkey. So, grab your apron, and let’s dive into the wonderful world of pellet-smoked turkey!

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How to Smoke a Turkey on a Pellet Smoker

Preparing the turkey

First things first, let’s get that turkey ready. Remove the neck and giblets from the cavity, and give your turkey a good rinse under cold water. Pat it dry with paper towels, both inside and out. If you’ve decided to brine your turkey (more on that later), do so a day ahead of time. When you’re ready to cook, take the turkey out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for about an hour to help it cook evenly.

Preheating the Traeger

While your turkey is resting, it’s time to fire up your Traeger pellet grill. Preheat the grill to 225°F (107°C) – this low and slow temperature will give the turkey that smoky, mouthwatering flavor we’re after. Make sure you’ve got enough wood pellets in the hopper, and allow the grill to preheat for about 15 minutes before putting the turkey on.

Temperature and cooking time

Once the Traeger pellet grill is preheated, place the turkey breast-side up the grill. You can also use a roasting pan if you prefer. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey’s dark meat thigh, avoiding the bone. The goal is to reach a minimum temp of 165°F on your instant read thermometer. Depending on the size of your turkey, this could take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours.

Remember to check the wood pellets occasionally, adding more if needed, and keep an eye on the turkey’s temperature. When it reaches 160°F (71°C), increase the grill temperature to 375°F and baste the skin with a some of the fat drippings or butter for a crispy skin. Once the turkey hits 165°F (74°C), it’s time to take it off the grill.

Tips and tricks

Here are a few tips to make your best smoked turkey even better:

  • For a juicier turkey, consider injecting it with a flavorful marinade before cooking.
  • Baste the turkey with melted butter or olive oil every hour to keep the skin moist and golden. This helps render any fat under the skin which will allow you to get a crispy skin at the end of the smoke.
  • Tent the turkey with aluminum foil if the skin starts to brown too much before it’s fully cooked.
  • Let the turkey rest for at least 20-30 minutes before carving to allow the juices to redistribute.

With these steps and a little patience, you’ll have a delicious, tender, and smoky turkey that’ll be the talk of your gathering.

Smoking a whole turkey with a Traeger Smoker

Why a Pellet Grill?

So, you might be asking yourself, “Why should I use a pellet grill instead of other types of grills?” Well, let me tell you, my friend, there are several great reasons to opt for a pellet grill when smoking your turkey breast.

Benefits of using a pellet grill

  • Precision temperature control: Pellet grills offer consistent and easy-to-control temperatures, making them perfect for smoking, grilling, and even baking. This means you can achieve that perfect low and slow cook for your turkey without worrying about fluctuations in temperature.
  • Flavor infusion: The wood pellets used in pellet grills impart a unique, smoky flavor to your food that’s hard to replicate with other grilling methods. Plus, you can experiment with different wood pellets to create your own signature flavor profile.
  • Versatility: Pellet grills aren’t just for smoking; they can also grill, roast, and bake, making them an all-in-one outdoor cooking solution. So, after you’ve mastered smoking a turkey, you can try your hand at a whole range of delicious dishes.
  • Easy to use: Many pellet grills come with user-friendly features like digital controls, automatic pellet feeding, and even WiFi connectivity, making the cooking process a breeze.

Comparison to other types of grills

  • Gas grills: While gas grills are convenient and provide fast heat, they don’t offer the same level of flavor infusion as pellet grills. Additionally, they can be more difficult to maintain a consistent low temperature for smoking using indirect heat.
  • Charcoal grills: Charcoal grills can produce great smoky flavor, but they require more hands-on attention and skill to control temperature, especially during long smoking sessions.
  • Electric smokers: Electric smokers are easy to use and offer precise temperature control, but they might not give you the same depth of flavor as wood-fired pellet grills.

Related Article: Best Vertical Pellet Smokers for your backyard -2023

Flavor profile

Pellet grills, with their ability to use a variety of wood pellets, allow you to create different flavor profiles to suit your taste buds. Whether you prefer a mild, fruity flavor or a bold, robust taste, the options are virtually endless.

In short, pellet grills offer a fantastic combination of flavor, precision, and versatility, making them an excellent choice for smoking your turkey to perfection.

Do You Have to Brine the Turkey Before Smoking?

Brining has become a popular method for preparing turkey, and for good reason. It can help ensure a moist, flavorful bird. But is it a must-do step before smoking your turkey? Let’s explore the benefits and the process:

Benefits of brining

  • Moisture retention: Brining helps the turkey retain moisture during the cooking process, which is particularly important when smoking, as the low and slow cooking can sometimes dry out the meat.
  • Flavor enhancement: Brining infuses the fresh turkey with additional flavors, making every bite extra delicious.
  • Tenderizing effect: The process of brining can break down some of the proteins in the meat, resulting in a more tender, juicy turkey.

Brining vs. not brining

While brining has its advantages, it’s not absolutely necessary. If you’re short on time, or simply prefer not to brine your turkey, you can still smoke a delicious bird. Just be sure to keep an eye on the internal temp to prevent overcooking, and consider basting it occasionally to keep the skin moist.

Brine recipe and technique

If you do decide to make turkey brine for your turkey, here’s a simple recipe and technique to get you started:

  1. In a large pot, combine 1 gallon of water, 1 cup of kosher salt, 1 cup of brown sugar, and any additional herbs or spices you’d like (such as rosemary, thyme, garlic, or peppercorns).
  2. Stir the mixture until the salt and sugar dissolve.
  3. Place your thawed turkey in the brine, ensuring it’s fully submerged. If necessary, use a plate or other weight to keep the turkey submerged.
  4. Refrigerate the turkey in the brine for at least 12-24 hours, turning it occasionally to ensure even brining.
  5. When you’re ready to smoke, remove the turkey from the brine, rinse it thoroughly under cold water, and pat it dry with paper towels.
  6. Let the turkey rest at room temperature for about an hour before smoking, as mentioned in the previous section.

While a turkey brine can enhance the flavor and juiciness of your smoked turkey, it’s not a mandatory step. It ultimately comes down to your personal preference and the amount of time you have available for preparation. In my opinion though, it does make the best smoked turkey.

What are the Best Wood Pellets to Smoke a Turkey?

  One of the most important aspects of smoking a turkey on a pellet grill is selecting the right wood pellets. The type of wood pellets you choose will have a significant impact on the flavor of your smoked turkey. Here’s a guide to help you make the best choice:

Types of wood pellets

  • Fruitwoods: Fruitwoods, such as apple, cherry, and peach, are known for their mild, sweet flavors. They pair well with poultry, making them an excellent choice for smoking turkey.
  • Nutwoods: Nutwoods like pecan, hickory, and almond provide a stronger, more robust flavor. These woods can also be a great match for turkey, as they add a rich, smoky taste.
  • Blends: Many pellet manufacturers offer blended options that combine different types of wood for a unique, balanced flavor profile. Experimenting with blends can be a fun way to discover your preferred taste.

Flavor profiles

  • Apple: Applewood pellets provide a subtle, sweet, and fruity flavor that complements the natural taste of turkey without overpowering it.
  • Cherry: Cherrywood pellets offer a slightly stronger flavor than apple, with a sweet and tangy character. They can also impart a beautiful, mahogany color to the turkey’s skin.
  • Pecan: Pecan wood pellets have a rich, nutty flavor that works well with the savory notes of smoked turkey. They’re a great choice if you’re looking for a more intense smokiness.
  • Hickory: Hickory wood pellets are bold and robust, with a classic smoky taste. They pair well with turkey but can be overpowering if used excessively. Mixing hickory with a milder wood, like apple or cherry, can help balance the flavors.


To get started, try using apple or cherry wood pellets for a milder, sweeter flavor, or opt for pecan or hickory pellets if you prefer a bolder, smokier taste. Experimenting with different wood pellets or blends will help you find the perfect flavor profile for your smoked turkey.

Remember, the choice of wood pellets will have a significant impact on the final flavor of your smoked turkey. Don’t be afraid to mix and match different types of wood pellets to create your own signature taste!

Traeger Turkey Blend Pellets for Perfect Smoked Turkey

What is the Best Size Turkey for Smoking?

  Selecting the right size turkey for smoking is crucial for achieving the best results. Here are some factors to consider when choosing your bird:

Factors to consider

  • Cooking time: Larger turkeys take longer to smoke, which can increase the risk of drying out the meat. Smaller turkeys, on the other hand, cook faster and are often easier to manage.
  • Grill size: Make sure the turkey you choose will fit comfortably on your pellet grill, with enough space for proper heat circulation.
  • Number of guests: Consider how many people you’ll be serving and the amount of leftovers you’d like to have.

Ideal size range

Typically, a turkey weighing between 12 and 15 pounds (5.4 to 6.8 kg) is ideal for smoking on a pellet grill. This size range offers a good balance between cooking time and meat yield, ensuring a tender, juicy result. If you’re cooking for a larger crowd, you can opt for a bigger turkey, but keep in mind that it will require a longer cooking time and may be more challenging to keep moist.

Cooking time adjustments

When smoking a turkey, aim for an internal temperature of 175°F in the thickest part of the thigh. This is because the dark meat needs more time to become tender and juicy than the turkey breast meat.

For a 12 to 15-pound turkey, this can take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours at 225°F (107°C). If you’re smoking a larger turkey, adjust the cooking time accordingly, keeping a close eye on the internal temp to avoid overcooking.

To sum it up, selecting a turkey weighing between 12 and 15 pounds is generally a good choice for smoking on a pellet grill. However, you can adjust the size based on your specific needs, keeping in mind the factors mentioned above. Always prioritize the internal temp of your whole turkey during the smoking process to ensure a perfectly cooked, succulent bird.

How Much Turkey Do I Need Per Person?

When planning your smoked turkey feast, it’s important to estimate how much turkey you’ll need to feed your guests. Here are some tips to help you determine the right amount:

Bone-in vs. Boneless Turkey Breast

Keep in mind that turkeys come in two forms: bone-in and boneless. A bone-in turkey will yield less meat per pound, as the bones account for a portion of the total weight. Boneless turkeys, on the other hand, are usually rolled and tied, with a higher meat-to-weight ratio.

General rule of thumb

As a general rule of thumb, for a bone-in turkey, allot approximately 1 to 1.5 pounds per person. This estimate accounts for the weight of the bones and ensures that there will be enough meat for everyone, plus some leftovers.

For a boneless turkey, you can reduce the estimate to about 0.5 to .75 pound of turkey breast meat per person, as there will be more meat per pound.

Factors to consider

  • Appetite: Consider the appetite of your guests. If you’re hosting a group of hearty eaters or you want to ensure ample leftovers, you might want to increase the amount of turkey per person.
  • Side dishes: The number of side dishes you plan to serve can also influence the amount of turkey needed. If you’re offering a wide variety of sides, your guests may eat smaller portions of turkey.
  • Second servings and leftovers: Take into account whether you’d like to have leftovers or offer second helpings to your guests. If so, consider increasing the amount of turkey per person.

By keeping these factors in mind and using the general rule of thumb, you can easily estimate how much turkey you’ll need to feed your guests at your next smoked turkey gathering.

Will I Be Able to Get Gravy from a Smoked Turkey?

One common question when smoking a turkey is whether you’ll be able to make gravy from the drippings. The answer is yes, you can make gravy from a smoked turkey drippings, but it might taste a bit different from the traditional roast turkey gravy you’re used to.

Here’s a simple process for making gravy from your smoked turkey:

Collecting the drippings

To collect the drippings from your smoked turkey, place a drip pan or an aluminum foil roasting pan under the turkey on the pellet grill. The pan will catch the juices as they render during the smoking process. You can also add some water or broth to the pan to help prevent the drippings from evaporating or burning.

Making the gravy

Once your turkey is cooked and resting, it’s time to make the gravy:

  1. Pour the drippings from the pan into a fat separator, or let them sit in a bowl for a few minutes so that the fat rises to the top.
  2. Skim off the fat, reserving about 1/4 cup (60 mL) for the roux.
  3. In a saucepan, heat the reserved fat over medium heat. Add an equal amount of all-purpose flour, whisking constantly to create a roux. Cook the roux for a couple of minutes, until it’s lightly golden.
  4. Gradually whisk in the separated drippings, along with additional chicken or turkey broth as needed to reach your desired consistency. You can also add some white wine for an extra layer of flavor.
  5. Continue to cook the gravy over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens to your desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper, and any additional herbs or spices, to taste.
  6. Strain the gravy through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any lumps or solids, and serve it alongside your smoked turkey.

While the flavor of smoked turkey gravy may be a bit different from traditional roast turkey gravy, it’s still a delicious accompaniment to your meal. The smoky flavor from the drippings adds a unique twist that pairs perfectly with the smoked turkey.

Smoking the Turkey: Step-by-Step Guide

Now that you have all the information you need, it’s time to dive into the actual process of smoking your turkey on a pellet grill. Follow this step-by-step guide to achieve a mouthwatering, perfectly smoked turkey:

  1. Preparing the turkey
    • If you’ve decided to brine your turkey, follow the brining process mentioned in section 4.
    • Remove the turkey from the refrigerator, and let it sit at room temperature for about an hour before smoking.
    • Pat the turkey dry with paper towels, both inside and out.
    • Apply a thin coat of olive oil or melted butter to the skin of the turkey, and season it with your preferred spices or rub. I prefer a more aggressive turkey rub for a whole turkey. This is due to the simple ratio of skin to turkey meat. For a smoked turkey breast you can use a toned down turkey rub.
    • Do NOT stuff the turkey cavity with a traditional stuffing. Anything you add in to the turkey cavity during smoking retains moisture and keeps that area from cooking at the same rate as the rest of the whole bird. You will end up with uncooked portions of the bird that can possibly can get someone sick. At most some fresh herbs is the only item you want to add.
  2. Preparing the pellet grill
    • Preheat your traeger smoker to 225°F (107°C) using your chosen wood pellets (see section 5 for recommendations).
    • Make sure the grill grates are clean and well-oiled to prevent sticking when you place the turkey directly onto the grates.
    • Place an aluminum pan, or roasting pan filled a quarter of the way with water or turkey broth under the grates to catch the drippings and keep the turkey moist during the smoking process. (This is not always possible, depending on your type of pellet smoker. Traeger smokers, not likley… Vertical pellet smokers, very likely. If it isn’t then I would smoke your whole turkey 1/2 of the way before transferring it to a aluminum roasting pan to catch the drippings to use for a gravy.)
  3. Smoking the turkey
    • Place the turkey breast side up on your traeger grill grates, directly above the drip pan.
    • Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, being careful not to touch the bone.
    • Close the grill lid and let the turkey smoke at 225°F (107°C), maintaining a consistent temperature throughout the cooking process.
  4. Monitoring and basting
    • Monitor the internal temperature of the turkey using the meat thermometer, aiming for a final temperature of 165°F (74°C) in the thigh.
    • Baste the turkey with melted butter, olive oil, or a mixture of both every hour or so to help keep the skin moist and promote even browning.
  5. Finishing and resting
    • Once the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C), remove the finished turkey from the pellet grill.
    • Tent the turkey loosely with aluminum foil and let it rest for at least 20-30 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to redistribute, ensuring a moist and tender bird. Rest smoked turkey for about 45 minutes if you can.
  6. Carving and serving
    • After the turkey has rested, carve it into your desired portions, and serve it with your favorite side dishes and smoked turkey gravy (see section 8 for gravy instructions).

By following this step-by-step guide, you’ll be able to impress your friends and family with a perfectly smoked turkey, cooked to perfection on your pellet grill. Enjoy the flavorful, tender, and juicy results of your efforts!

Related Article: The Best Kitchen Thermometer

Troubleshooting Common Issues During the Smoking Process

While smoking a turkey on a pellet grill is generally straightforward, there can be a few issues that may arise during the process. Here are some common problems and their solutions to help you overcome any obstacles and ensure a perfectly smoked turkey:

Uneven cooking or browning

Solution: Rotate the turkey halfway through the smoking process to promote even cooking and browning. Additionally, make sure the grill grates are level and clean, and that the turkey is positioned in the center of the grill for optimal heat distribution.

Dry or overcooked meat

Solution: Keep a close eye on the internal temperature of the turkey using a instant read probe thermometer to avoid overcooking. Baste the turkey with melted butter or olive oil every hour to help keep the skin moist and tender. If you find the turkey is drying out despite these precautions, consider tenting it loosely with aluminum foil to retain moisture.

Flare-ups or excessive smoke

Solution: Ensure the pellet grill is clean and free from grease buildup, which can cause flare-ups and excessive smoke. Keep a spray bottle filled with water nearby to douse any flare-ups. If you continue to experience excessive smoke, check the quality and moisture content of your wood pellets, as low-quality or damp pellets can produce more smoke than necessary.

Temperature fluctuations in the pellet grill

Solution: Make sure the pellet hopper is adequately filled, and the pellets are flowing freely. Keep the grill lid closed as much as possible to maintain a consistent temperature throughout cook time. If your grill has a built-in temperature control system, monitor it closely to ensure it’s functioning properly.

By being aware of these common issues and their solutions, you’ll be better prepared to handle any challenges that may arise during the smoking process, ensuring a perfectly cooked, tender, and juicy smoked turkey.

Key Takeaways

Before you dive into smoking your turkey on a pellet grill, take a moment to review these key points and takeaways from the article:

  • Choose a pellet grill for consistent temperature control, ease of use, and versatility.
  • Brining the turkey is optional but can result in a more tender, flavorful bird.
  • Select the right wood pellets for your desired smoke flavor, such as fruitwoods for a milder taste or nutwoods for a stronger smokiness.
  • Aim for a turkey weighing between 12 and 15 pounds, and estimate 1 to 1.5 pounds per person for a bone-in turkey.
  • You can make a delicious gravy from your smoked turkey’s drippings, though it may have a slightly different flavor than traditional roast turkey gravy.

Wrapping It Up

With this comprehensive guide on how to smoke a turkey on a traeger, you’re now equipped with all the knowledge you need to impress your friends and family with a delicious, tender, and juicy smoked thanksgiving turkey.

From selecting the right size bird and the best wood pellets to understanding the importance of brining and making a mouthwatering gravy, you’re ready to tackle this culinary adventure. 

So fire up your pellet grill, follow the step-by-step guide, and prepare to indulge in the incredible flavors of a perfectly smoked turkey. Happy smoking!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Smoke a Frozen Turkey?

No, you should never try smoking turkey if it is still frozen. It’s essential to fully thaw your turkey before smoking to ensure even cooking and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Allow your turkey to thaw in the refrigerator for approximately 24 hours for every 5 pounds of weight.

How Should I Store Leftover Smoked Turkey?

To store leftover smoked turkey for your thanksgiving dinner, holiday meal… or whatever the occasion, wrap the meat tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, or place it in airtight containers. Refrigerate the leftovers within two hours of cooking and consume them within 3-4 days. You can also freeze leftover smoked turkey for up to 2-3 months in airtight containers or freezer bags.

Can I Smoke Other Types of Poultry on a Pellet Grill?

Yes, you can smoke other types of poultry on a pellet grill, such as chicken, duck, or even game birds like quail or pheasant. The process will be similar to smoking a turkey, but you’ll need to adjust the cooking times and temperatures according to the specific type and size of the bird. Always ensure the internal temperature of the poultry reaches a safe minimum temperature before consuming.

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Chad Kelley
Hi!! This is Chef Chad. I'm a former restaurant chef and turned stay-at-home dad. My wife Yvette and two amazing kids live in North Dallas and are Huge FC Dallas fans.