Smoked turkey is an item that I tend to do all year and not just on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you ever smoke a turkey in the smoker you will probably never cook one in the oven again.. it is that good!
I do not recommend a turkey over 12 pounds for the smoker since the low temperature of the smoker would keep it in the danger zone for way too long.
Danger Zone = 40 to 140 degrees – This is the area in which bacteria can freely thrive and while the smoke will inhibit the growth to some degree it is still smart to play it safe.
Try to start with a fresh, never-been-frozen turkey that is labeled “MINIMALLY PROCESSED” for best results. This will be a turkey that is not pumped full of solution and is about as fresh as you are going to get just short of raising one and killing it yourself.
I highly recommend brining the bird for 12 hours in a saltwater solution of 1 cup sugar and 1 cup kosher salt for every 1 gallon of water. Since a 12 pound bird will require about 2 gallons of water you will need:
2 gallons Water
2 cups Kosher Salt
2 cups Sugar
Mix the solution in a clean 5-gallon bucket and place the turkey in the solution for 10 to 12 hours before smoking the turkey.
The turkey must stay between 33-39 degrees while brining and the best way to accomplish this is by taking out the bottom rack in your fridge and setting the bucket right in there. If this is not an option, you can keep the brine iced down to maintain proper temperature however, just so you know, it will dilute the brine a little over time as the ice melts.
Once the turkey is done brining.. rinse it really well under cool water especially around the wings and legs where the brine will have had the greatest effect.
At this point you can rub the turkey down with butter or olive oil.. try to get some butter up under the skin where possible for great results.
Set the turkey aside and prepare the smoker for 225 degrees and whatever type of wood you plan to use for smoke. I have had my best results from mesquite, apple, and plum but any good smoking wood will taste great.
When the smoker is beginning to smoke and is maintaining 225 degrees, place the bird in the smoker breast side down and let the process begin.
I like to mop the bird with apple juice every hour or so while it is smoking. You can also use butter, vinegar, beer, olive oil, and other liquids as well for a mopping fluid.
If you are smoking with charcoal and using wood chunks/chips, just apply smoke to the bird for the first 3 hours or so and after that the heat alone will be sufficient. The only exception to this rule may be if you are using a very mild wood such as pecan in which case you may desire to apply smoke the entire time.
The turkey will require about 6.5 hours however the wings may begin to get too brown prior to this.. wrap the wings in some foil at about the 5 hour mark to keep them nice and moist while the rest of the turkey finishes up.
Use a digital probe meat thermometer to monitor the temperature of the smoker and be sure to remove the smoked turkey from the smoker when it reaches 170 in the thickest part of the thigh. You can also test temperature in the breast however, it will reach temperature sooner than the thigh and in my opinion the thigh will give you the safest readings.
Once the turkey is done smoking.. allow it to rest for 15 minutes before carving to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the bird.
Carve the smoked turkey and enjoy the praises of all those lucky souls who are fortunate enough to be present at your table.