In this guide, I will show you how to wet brine and smoke a holiday turkey worth remembering in a Big Green Egg using our Traditional Turkey Method. Download this recipe in a printable format to make sure you don't miss any details:
Whether you are new to smoking turkeys or wishing to improve your technique, this smoked turkey recipe will give you some proven tips and tricks for smoking a turkey that your guests will love!
So if you are ready to say goodbye to dry and boring turkey, let's dive in!
Do you need help cooking your holiday turkey? We believe amazing barbecue is not just for celebrities. Visit our store for everything you need to cook outdoors, including free and friendly advice from fellow barbecue enthusiasts. Call us at (717) 355-0779 or visit us at 140 W Main Street in New Holland, PA.
In this story, I am cooking a 16-pound heritage breed turkey from Fossil Farms. I am using my XL Big Green Egg fired with Rockwood lump charcoal. I wet brined and seasoned the turkey, then smoked it until it reached my target temperature.
I didn't make any gravy, but if you want to step things up a notch, you can collect the drippings in a pan during the cook, then strain the drippings and use what's left for a delicious gravy on mashed potatoes and turkey. Get step-by-step instructions here:
Buy a Heritage Breed Turkey
If you're cooking turkey only once a year, it only makes sense to invest a bit of extra effort into making it the best you can! The first step in cooking an incredible holiday turkey is by choosing a Nicholas turkey from Fossil Farms.
- These turkeys are raised humanely in free-roaming environment.
- They are 100% natural and were fed a vegetarian diet of farm-local corn, rye, oats, alfalfa and soybean meal.
- They are raised to the specifications of the “Never Ever Program”, where antibiotics, hormones and steroids are never used.
- They are minimally processed, which means they are perfect for brining, putting you in control of how salty you make them.
In summary, these turkeys are not only exceptionally tender and juicy, but also clean, so you can be confident about the meat you serve around your holiday table. Our customers have shared rave reviews about these turkeys, and I'm confident you'll be blown away by the quality of these if you follow the method below.
Step 1: Order a Nicholas Turkey
To place an order for Nicholas turkeys, email Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us at (717) 355-0779, or visit our store at 140 W Main Street in New Holland, PA.
What size turkey should I cook? I prefer turkeys in the 12-18 pound range for smoking. If you need more meat, cook multiple turkeys instead of getting a bigger one. 1 pound of raw weight per person is a good guide to use and will allow for some leftover turkey sandwiches over the weekend! If serving a lot of people, cook two small turkeys rather than one huge one. The smaller ones will cook faster and more consistently, and the meat will be juicier and more tender.
If you buy a frozen turkey, plan ahead so you won’t be stressed over thawing and prepping it in time. It takes approximately 6 hours per pound when thawing a turkey in the fridge.
Here is the 16-pound heritage breed turkey I am cooking for this recipe.
Trim the Turkey
Remove any packaging, including a pop-up thermometer or tie on the legs, and the giblet bag.
Cut off the wing tips.
Trim the neck skin back, being careful to leave enough there to cover the meat. Turn the breast side up for trimming because this posture pulls the skin back.
Trim the flaps of skin and fat by the rear cavity and remove the tail.
Brine the Turkey
When cooking a turkey that is minimally processed, such as from Fossil Farms, brining makes a huge difference in how juicy and tender the meat is.
For this recipe I am showing you how to wet brine a turkey. The challenge of wet brining is 1) keeping the meat submerged in the liquid and 2) finding a container big enough to hold a turkey without taking too much room in the fridge. The Briner Bucket makes it easy.
The first step is to mix the brine. Our top recommendation is Malcom's Bird Brine.
We recommend using 1 container of Bird Brine per turkey. I used ice to cool the brine so I could use it immediately, but if you have time, follow the instructions in our Traditional Turkey guide.
Pour the brine into the Briner Bucket, then put the turkey into the bucket and position the locking plate just above the turkey. Add enough water to cover the turkey completely and set the bucket into the fridge. Brine the turkey for one hour per pound of turkey.
After removing the turkey from the brine, I carefully loosened the skin covering the breast and between the rear cavity opening and the legs so that I could season the meat directly. Take your time to avoid tearing the skin.
Set the turkey on a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet and return it to the refrigerator uncovered for 12 hours to draw some of the moisture out of the skin to help it get more crispy.
Season the Turkey
To season the turkey, I used Dizzy Pig Mad Max Turkey Seasoning. This rub is a great choice and will give your holiday meals the kick they need, jazz up your gravy and stuffing, and help you celebrate in style!
I seasoned the entire bird with a moderate layer of the rub. Take your turkey to a new level by seasoning it with a butter paste as explained in the turkey guide.
Shake some seasoning into the opening under the skin against the legs. Use your fingers to spread the seasoning around and be careful not to add an excessive amount.
Gently pull back the skin covering the breast and sprinkle the meat with seasoning, then work some seasoning further underneath the skin with your fingers.
This is what the turkey should look like at this point:
Cook the Turkey
Fire your smoker at 325 degrees F. Turkey doesn’t benefit from low and slow cooking, and the higher temperature will give you a more crispy skin and cook the turkey faster, which results in a juicier turkey.
This is what the charcoal looked like when I opened the bag. Notice the large pieces at the top of the bag!
To fire the Egg I dumped in enough charcoal to fill the Kick Ash Basket and lit two wax fire starter squares. The fire was ready to go in around 30 minutes without using a BBQ Dragon. Then I threw in 3 chunks of pecan wood for some flavor.
Next, I set in the convEGGtor and the cooking grate as shown here:
Start with both vents wide open. Use the screen vent in the bottom to keep embers from dropping out the bottom of the grill.
Once the temperature is within 50 degrees of your target temperature (275 degrees), slide both vents to 3/4" open and then adjust the top vent as needed to stabilize it at 325 degrees.
It will take some time to master temperature control, but it works on this principle: Give the grill more air to raise the temperature and give it less air to lower the temperature. This is done by adjusting both the top and bottom vents.
If you understand this principle, you can figure out how to make it work in any scenario. For example, depending on how you fired the grill, you may need to adjust the vents outside the range I suggested above. Keep in mind a higher cooking temperature requires more air than a lower one. For most cooks, you'll be running with the vents between 1/4" (a pencil thickness) and 1-1/2".
Set the turkey on the grate breast side up.
Now we're cooking...
He's gonna be tasty!
How to Know When Turkey Is Done
The USDA minimum recommended temperature for turkey and chicken is 165 degrees F. You can safely cook the turkey breast until it reaches 160 degrees and let carryover cooking take it up the rest of the way. Breast meat is very lean, so if you take the breast meat higher than that, it will not become better, but start drying out instead.
We prefer cooking the dark meat (legs and thighs) to at least 175-180 degrees for a better texture and appearance. If the thighs are lagging, make sure they reach at least 175 degrees. If the breasts are running lower, cook them to at least 160.
One of the keys to cooking the ultimate turkey is to not overcook it. Yet, the white and dark meat are two different types of meat and they often don’t both reach our target temperature at the same time. So how can we hope to cook the perfect turkey?
Most articles on smoking a turkey don't address this issue, but here are some tips and tricks to help you overcome it:
- Brining widens the window of perfection, so the meat is more forgiving, whether you are cooking the turkey whole or in parts.
- To give the legs a head-start during the cook, you can take the bird out of the fridge and let it sit with a bag of ice over the breast for 30-45 minutes. The thighs will start warming up a bit, and the breasts will stay cold. This sounds odd, but it works!
In this recipe we've brined the meat, so we're aiming to get the whole thing done without overcooking any part of it. If part of the bird gets a bit higher than we wish, the brine will help keep the turkey juicy.
How long does it take to smoke a turkey? Cooking at 325 degrees F, it will take around 10 minutes per pound. My 16-pound turkey took 2 hours and 45 minutes, almost exactly 10 minutes per pound. This time estimate should hold out for different size turkeys, but remember it could take longer, so try to keep the serving time a bit flexible.
If you are cooking an unbrined turkey, add 1 or 2 minutes per pound to the cooking time.
I used my instant-read Thermapen MK4 for checking the internal temperature of the meat.
In this cook, the dark meat rose above the temperature I was looking for, but the brine helped to keep everything juicy. I could have watched it more closely and moved the upper part of the turkey toward the edge of the grill partway through the cook, but I just left it in one place and it was awesome, even though the dark meat got hotter than I was shooting for.
Serve the Turkey
Once the turkey reached the right temperature, I transferred it to a platter for carving.
Now for the best part... the finished product. The meat was tender, juicy, and flavorful!
The back (side toward the fire) looked incredible.
Slice the breast lobes off the carcass:
Slice the breast against the grain:
Carve and serve the legs and wings whole or pull the meat. If the skin is crispy enough to your liking, you can chop some of it and mix it with the pulled meat.
Are you looking forward to cooking a turkey that will get raving reviews from all around your holiday table? It’s not rocket science, and if you put some effort into planning your cook, it just could be the best turkey you've ever cooked!
Did you know we are much more than a BBQ store?
One reason we open our doors each morning is to help ordinary people discover how to cook amazing barbecue! Feel free to call us at (717) 355-0779 or visit our store at 140 W Main Street in New Holland, Pennsylvania to talk with one of our knowledgeable staff who will be happy to help you with your outdoor cooking questions.
Shopping List for Cooking This Turkey Recipe:
Check out our more in-depth supplies and equipment guide for cooking a turkey here.
Download this recipe in a printable format with step-by-step instructions to make sure you don't miss any details:
About the author: Lavern Gingerich is a writer and the digital marketing manager for Meadow Creek Barbecue Supply.