How to Smoke a Turkey in a Gas Smoker

By Matt Richmond

We probably all imagine the same thing when we hear the words “Thanksgiving turkey.” A large frozen turkey thawed out and cooked in a roasting pan in the oven for a long time. If not done perfectly, the famously lean meat ends up dry. Maybe a little underwhelming.

It’s a shame that when most people think of turkey recipes, they don’t think with the same imagination as they would for other proteins like beef and chicken.

Why shouldn’t turkey be entitled to a smoky flavor?!

Whether you’re only a turkey meat enthusiast the last Thursday in November or all year round, you’ve come to the right place to cook fresh turkey to its full potential with the underused smoking process.

Read on to learn how to get the best results for your smoked turkey recipe, no matter the size of the turkey or the type of smoker you have on hand.

What to Buy to Prepare Your Turkey Cook Out

How to Smoke a Turkey in a Gas Smoker

First things first, we need to make sure you have everything you need to smoke a turkey in a gas smoker or propane smoker. Starting with… the turkey!

1 – The Best Quality Whole Turkey

Sure you can get a great deal from the supermarket. But if you’re looking for the best quality available, a good idea is to buy either organic or free-range.

There are mail order companies that specialize in shipping you a top-quality entire turkey. Your local butcher can also provide a better bird.

Why is it important to pay more for typically smaller birds? Veteran meat smokers are used to paying more for “prime” cuts of beef over the “choice” class.

Beef gets more expensive depending on the fatty marbling which results from the quality of life of the cow. It’s worth paying more for high-quality turkey, too.

Happy Turkey = Tasty Turkey

Not only is organic and/or free-range turkeys tastier, but also healthier for you. What makes a turkey organic? They’re fed organic and aren’t given antibiotics. A turkey with a happier life due to having room to roam instead of packed into tight pens translates to higher quality meat since it didn’t spend a lot of its life sick.

How Many Pounds of Turkey Should I Buy?

1.5 pounds of turkey next to 1 person

When determining the size of the bird to buy, the rule of thumb is to estimate about 1-1/2 pounds per person. If you’re serving 6 people, then buy a 9 lb turkey.

But does buying organic set you back a lot of money? A pound of turkey goes for $1.33 a pound on average, while organic is $1.12 a pound. Since organic typically means smaller turkeys, you’re looking at a difference of under two bucks if you’re cooking a turkey for six hungry folks.

2 – Wood Chips for the Smokey Flavor

Smoking as a cooking process is all about indirect heat with a consistent low temperature. And that heat comes from directly cooking a particular kind of wood chips. The type of wood you choose can give the outside of the turkey that extra flavor.

What’s the Best Wood Chips to Smoke a Turkey With?

How to Smoke a Turkey in a Gas Smoker

The best wood chips to smoke a turkey with have mild flavors. Thus, cherry wood or apple wood are great options. They’re perfect for adding flavor while not overwhelming the turkey taste when biting into that turkey skin.

3 – Smoking Box (if Using a Grill)

If you’re using a barbecue grill rather than a more typical charcoal smoker or something like a Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker, you might be wondering how you get the smoke? You need to have a smoking box on hand to emulate the process of the best smokers.

Don’t worry. They’re relatively inexpensive, anywhere from $15 to $40.

You place the wood chips in this contraption, which burn inside the grill over its heat source. This will create the smoke that heats the turkey due to the grill’s closed lid.

If you’re looking for more info on smoking with grills, check out our more in-depth article on How to Smoke a Brisket on a Grill.

4 – A Big Pot, Salt & Other Seasoning for Brining

Brining is the best way to guarantee your turkey comes out of the smoker with a crazy delicious crispy skin over juicy meat.

How do you make a brined turkey? The first step is to allow yourself enough time. This process takes a full 24 hours before you throw that turkey in the smoke-filled grill.

The most important thing is having a stove pot big enough to hold the entire turkey. Then fill it up with cold water, paying attention to roughly how many gallons you pour. Why?…

Because later on, you’ll be pouring in 1 cup of salt for about every 1 gallon of water you place in this pot. What kind of salt? Sea salt or coarse Kosher salt work best.

Be careful not to put in too much salt though as that could affect the flavor too much. So if you don’t have sea salt or Kosher salt, put in 4 tablespoons of table salt for every gallon of water.

Expect about 1 gallon of water for every 10 pounds or so.

[Note: Remember, you’re purely estimating the amount of water the pot needs to engulf the turkey. So, it’s okay to pour in a little too much water at first knowing you’ll lose some once the turkey is placed in the pot later. It’s more important to get the correct proportion of seasoning.]

Speaking of seasoning, throw in pinches of paprika, garlic powder, and brown sugar, too.

How to Brine Turkey

How to Smoke a Turkey in a Gas Smoker

To begin, boil the water without the turkey or any seasoning in it yet. Then mix in the seasoning once the water is boiling, allowing the salt and seasoning to dissolve in the water.

Then, turn off the burner and let the water cool down to room temperature. Now is the time to place the turkey in the water, since brining shouldn’t cook the turkey at all!

You’ll then place this pot with the turkey in it covered in the fridge for 24 hours. If the pot won’t fit, transfer the turkey in the brine to some other vessel that can fit in your fridge.

Don’t let it brine for longer than 24 hours, though! That’ll risk turning your turkey too salty and tough. Then take it out of the fridge to prepare for smoker. Pat it with paper towels to dry it out before cooking.

5 – A Digital Thermometer

Keep a thermometer on hand that specializes in accurately measuring cooking temperature of meat. You’ll need this during the smoking process to check your progress and make sure you don’t overcook it.

I recommend an instant-read digital meat thermometer.

How to Smoke a Turkey in a Gas Smoker

turkey in gas smoker

Now that you have everything you need and you’re done brining, it’s time to smoke your now-seasoned turkey.

First, you’ll need to choose a temperature to heat your grill or smoker. To do so, consider how much time you have and the total weight of the bird.

What is the Best Temperature to Smoke a Turkey?

comparison of cook temps and cook times

When smoking meat, the rule is “low and slow,” meaning a low temperature for a long time. So yes, if you choose 200 degrees and have all the time in the world, you’ll get a supremely moist turkey with crispy skin. However, up to 275 degrees is a happy compromise between slow and practical.

If you’re smoking a larger turkey, cooking at that low temperature is a bit unreasonable, especially since smoking at 275 degrees still gets you a similar result in far less time.

So, the “best” temperature is what cooks the turkey in the most reasonable time. You need to factor in the size of the bird and how much time you can spare to cook it.

How Long Does It Take to Smoke a Turkey in a Gas Grill?

turkey with internal temperature of 165 degrees

The goal is to heat your bird until the turkey’s internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F before removing it from your gas grill.

Here is approximately how long it will take to smoke your turkey at different temperatures:

  • 275 Degrees = 20-25 minutes per pound
  • 250 Degrees = 25-30 minutes per pound
  • 225 Degrees = 30-35 minutes per pound

Let’s take a look at a common-sized turkey…

How Long Does It Take to Smoke a 12-Pound Turkey at 225 Degrees?

At 225 degrees, your turkey will cook at about 35 minutes per pound. So, the cooking time of a 12-pound turkey is about 7 hours until it reaches that 165-degree benchmark.

This is only an estimate, though. There are a number of factors that can affect the amount of time your turkey takes to cook, such as fat content and whether the grill cooks with consistent temperatures.

Cook time is only an estimate!

You don’t want to overcook the turkey, so make sure you remove the turkey when it reaches 165 degrees. You’ll want to check it from time to time with a meat thermometer.

Since we’re estimating the total cook time to take about 7 hours, start checking around 4 hours. Be sure to stick the probe thermometer into the thickest part of the meat.

Then check every half hour after until you reach that desired temperature of 165 degrees. You don’t want to check the temperature too often because every time you open the smoker you let the smoke out and the process takes longer.

How Do You Smoke a Turkey and Keep It Moist?

moist turkey

Once the turkey is brined and ready to start smokin’, place your wood chips into the smoker and close the lid. Wait until the built-in thermometer on your gas smoker reads your desired temperature.

Place the turkey in the smoker and put a drip pan underneath the turkey. This will catch any moisture that falls during the cooking process.

[NOTE: If you’re using a gas grill, place the chip-filled smoker box over direct heat on one side of the grill. Then when the grill is preheated fully, place the whole turkey directly on the grill grate on the other side of the grill for indirect cooking and a drip pan underneath. You’re letting the smoke cook the turkey for a long time, not the fire.]

Then follow the directions above. Estimate how much time the turkey should take to cook given the weight of the bird and temperature you chose. Then check your progress with the thermometer probe.

When the turkey’s internal temperature reaches 165 degrees in the thickest part of the breast, remove the bird from the grill and let it rest uncovered for a half hour.

Now all your efforts will be rewarded. Carve into that smoked turkey breast, serve, and get to gobbling.

Related Articles