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Smoked Turkey On A Pellet Smoker

Smoked Turkey On A Pellet Smoker

How to Smoke Turkey On A Pellet Smoker - What you need to know

Smoked turkey is something that you might associate a thousand different things with - it has a potent, rich flavor that’s utterly beloved the world over. Now might be a really great time for you to experiment with turkey yourself, and see if you can’t create one of the most delicious things you’ve ever eaten.

In this article, we’re going to talk about everything that you might need to know about smoked turkey, from the history of processing and storing the meat for a long, difficult winter, to the step-by-step process of making it yourself in your kitchen.


smoked turkey

What is smoked turkey?

Smoked turkey is, as it sounds pieces of turkey meat that have been cured and smoked. This smoking process, whether hot or cold, typically serves to cook the turkey and allows you to ensure that it’s safe and delicious to eat.

It’s something of a more modern invention, with a number of cultures enjoying the flavors and practices used to cure ham and bacon, but unable to eat pork for a number of dietary or religious reasons.

Since turkey is a fairly universal meat, it can be cured and smoked in much the same way that different forms of pork are, leading to a delicious final ingredient that can be sued in similar ways.

In this format, as well as being more accessible to a number of people with dietary requirements, it’s also considered to be quite a lot healthier. The science around this is quite complex, but red meat, generally speaking, is quite bad for you in a number of ways that poultry isn’t. Therefore, eating a form of poultry that replicates the flavor of red meat is quite delicious and convenient for most people.

Where is smoked turkey from?

Smoking is something that has long been done to preserve meat for long winters, to ensure that there is plenty of food to go around, even on particularly cold and dark days. Turkeys themselves, as animals, evolved relatively independently of other things, in the Americas.

As such, it was only Native American peoples that had the chance to smoke these meats - they were the only people with access to them for a very long time. There is a lot of historical evidence that a number of Native American tribes did smoke and dry meat to preserve it long into the winter, so it’s most likely these people who were the first to smoke turkey.


turkey in smoker

How is smoked turkey traditionally made?

There are a number of ways that meat is typically smoked, but in most cultures, the meat is most commonly held over a small vire for a very long period of time. Typically, the wood may be dampened or soaked to ensure that it produces as much smoke as possible.

After it is lit, the fire is kept small and routinely stoked and prodded - the meat is then essentially cooked at a very low temperature for a very long period of time, in a very smoky environment. This results in small pieces of meat that are quite dry, and can have a richly smoky flavor.

Smoked turkey is an interesting example of smoked meat, in that it is not brined or rubbed down with a spice blend before it is smoked. This is usually because the meat is already quite flavorful, and the smoking process really imparts a lot of flavor.

Some recipes, however, including the one that we’ll be outlining below, rely on a fairly regular basting process throughout the smoking of the turkey. This process allows for the meat to remain as moist as possible, and prevents it from burning.

It also functions as something of a go-between for the smoky flavor that you’re putting into the food. The smoke molecules can dissolve into the basting liquid that you’re working with, which can then be tossed over the turkey, where it will absorb into the meat, leading to a rich, potent flavor.

What is smoked turkey typically used for?

Smoked turkey is typically sold as a deli meat in a number of different places around the world, with it seeing a recent boost in popularity as a substitute for bacon. It can serve much the same function as bacon with a lower amount of fat and other ingredients, leading to an overall healthier meat. The science on this is quite complex, so it’s hard to verify any health claims one way or the other, but people will often select turkey over red meat for health reasons.

Smoked and processed turkey is also sometimes seen in the place of fast food. A number of trucks and stands at fairs and carnivals will typically sell turkey burgers, turkey bacon, and other, similar fried items.

A great example of this is the turkey twizzler - this is a piece of British fast food - two pieces of turkey meat arranged around a stick in a double-helix shape. This is designed to be fried and then served on the stick for convenience of eating. This turkey is processed to make it easier to store and tastier to eat, with smoking often being a part of that process.

How to make smoked turkey on a pellet smoker

What type of turkey to use

There isn’t really a hard-and-fast rule for this one. In truth, you can use any kind of turkey that you might like. However, we would recommend not opting for a more premium bird.

The reason for this is that the seasoning and smoky flavor will overpower and delicate notes that a locally-reared bird might have. Instead, a supermarket turkey will be just fine, in terms of flavor.

What type of pellets to use

This is entirely up to your personal preference. Personally, we might suggest opting for applewood pellets, as they will impart a slightly lighter flavor on the bird, which might then pair well with things that you’ll be eating the bird with, such as cranberry sauce or roast potatoes.

cut turkey

The Recipe


  • 13lb whole turkey (or thereabouts)

  • Lemon pepper seasoning

  • 1 lemon

  • 1 sweet onion

  • Fresh basil

  • 1 stick of butter (around 110g)

  • Broth for basting - either chicken or vegetable will impart a delicious flavor.


  1. Start by heating the pellet smoker to 225˚F/107˚C, by burning soaked applewood pellets.
  2. While the smoker is slowly warming up, stuff the cavity of the turkey. Do this with the lemon, onion, basil, and butter - it will create a rich and flavorsome base for the smoke to mingle with.
  3. Rub the outside of the turkey down with the lemon pepper seasoning, ensuring that you get a good coating. This will allow the flavor to penetrate well into the turkey, seasoning it effectively.
  4. Place the turkey into the pellet smoker, and smoke for around thirty minutes per pound of turkey. We chose a 13lb turkey so that we could give a flat time of 6 hours, but adjust according to the size of bird that you have. Alternatively, continue to check on the bird for a long time, cooking until the internal temperature of the meat is at least 165˚F/74˚C.
  5. Every hour during the smoking process, baste the chicken all-over with the broth that you might be using. We would recommend chicken or vegetables, but you use whatever you prefer.
    1. If you do plan to baste your turkey, place it into a roasting dish, and then place that whole dish into the smoker. This will keep it with the broth well.
  6. Once it is fully cooked, it’s ready to serve.
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