Pellet Grill Smoked Turkey is amazingly delicious and a great alternative to oven-baked Thanksgiving turkey! Our comprehensive guide will walk you through choosing the right turkey, using the best woods, optimal time and temperature for smoking, plus Pitmaster techniques for the perfect smoked turkey.
Choosing the right turkey
Before we get into the specifics of preparing a pellet grill smoked turkey, we must first choose the right turkey. This means determining how much turkey meat you’ll need or whether to brine or marinate. There are other things to consider, like choosing between a fresh or frozen turkey.
Is it better to get a fresh versus a frozen turkey?
- Fresh Turkey: The truth is that purchasing a fresh, unfrozen turkey will streamline the preparation and cooking process. But, sourcing a fresh turkey requires access to a farmer or a butcher who sources its turkeys directly from a local farm. If you have this option, I recommend purchasing a fresh turkey.
- Frozen Turkey: This is the more widely available option, and you can choose between natural, commercial, free-range, self-basted, Heritage, and organic turkeys. The only problem with frozen turkeys is that you’ll need to begin the thawing process several days before cooking it.
- Please note: If you are planning to brine the turkey, check to make sure that the turkey is not already pre-brined.
How do you thaw a frozen turkey?
Thawing: What is the safest method for thawing a turkey? The USDA recommends thawing a turkey is in your refrigerator. Plan on 1 day per 4-5 pounds of meat. That means if your turkey weighs 20 pounds, you might be looking at 5 or even 6 days of thawing time. Factor in a 24-36 hour dry brine, and you’re looking at nearly 7 days. I recommend purchasing your turkey frozen turkey at least 9-10 days before cooking. If you are ordering through an online butcher, plan on 3-4 weeks.
How much turkey do I need?
We’ve all been there. Wondering just how big of a turkey you’ll need and still have the right amount of leftovers. Plan on 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person or 2 1/2 pounds per person of pellet grill smoked turkey for the big eaters in the group. With this in mind, it’s time to choose the right size turkey for your gathering. Let’s look at what size turkey you’ll need based on the number of people you plan to feed.
- 12-14 pound turkey = 8-9 people
- 15-17 pound turkey = 10-11 people
- 18-20 pound turkey = 12-13 people
- 21-24 pound turkey = 14-16 people
How long to smoke a turkey on a pellet grill?
For this pellet grill smoked turkey, plan on a cooking time of 30 minutes per pound of turkey. For example, a 15-pound turkey will take roughly 7 hours to cook. Keep in mind that each turkey is different. You might need to factor in the weather, the turkey’s internal temperature before it goes on the grill, and your pellet grill’s ability to maintain an even cooking temperature. Plan ahead! Have enough fuel to get you through a lengthy cook, and keep a roasting pan nearby if you need to finish the turkey in the oven.
Dry Brine vs. Wet Brine
Brining is the perfect way to ensure that your pellet grill smoked turkey stays moist and flavorful as it cooks. Brining was once used as a form of preservation before the invention of the refrigerator. Since then, people discovered that the salt penetrates the meat, plumping and tenderizing it and yielding a juicy, tender result. For this recipe we recommend purchasing a turkey that is NOT pre-brined, or packaged in a brine solution! Look for a natural turkey or one with little added ingredients listed on the package.
Two methods are commonly used, wet brining and dry brining.
- Dry brining is the application of salt, spices, and herbs directly onto the bird, then placing it into the refrigerator for 24-36 hours before cooking.
- Wet brining refers to placing the bird into a brine solution comprised of water, salt, and something sweet like sugar or honey. Additional items like sliced fruit, fresh herbs, and savories like garlic and onion are placed into the brine solution. Both techniques work well, and the choice is a matter of preference and convenience. Wet brining requires a large stockpot or cooler to hold the liquid, while dry brining requires a large food-safe plastic bag.
Injection marinade for turkey
This type of marinade is injected straight into the turkey meat with a kitchen-safe syringe. Turkey injections improve the flavor of the meat from the inside out. With turkey, it’s best to target the breast and thigh regions. Inject small amounts of the marinade into several places, and the additional flavor will cook right into the meat. Please note that if you are using a dry brine, omitting the salt in the injection marinade recipe is a good idea!
What is the best wood to use for turkey?
- We recommend using apple, alder, pecan, or cherry wood with turkey. However, some folks like their smoked turkeys on the smokier side. If that is the case, use either oak or hickory wood. If you are somewhere in between, feel free to combine them. For example, use half apple wood and half hickory.
Pellet grill smoked turkey ingredients
- 1 Whole Turkey, about 15-18 pounds, or larger if preferred.
- Savory Herb Turkey Dry Brine (or the alternative linked below)
- Turkey Injection Marinade (optional, do not add salt to marinade)
- Poultry Basting Sauce
How to prepare the turkey
- Thaw turkey as instructed above.
- Remove from packaging, and take out the giblets and neck piece from the turkey.
- Blot turkey with paper towels to remove excess moisture.
- Optional step: If you plan to use a turkey injection, omit the salt in the marinade. The dry brine will provide all the salt the turkey needs.
- Inject the marinade into the breast and thigh regions. Blot away any spillage.
- Combine the dry brine ingredients.
- Carefully place the turkey into an extra-large food-safe plastic bag. Apply the dry brine all over the turkey, getting some of it under the breast skin and turkey cavity.
- Remove all the air from the plastic bag to lay snug against the turkey, seal the bag, and place it into the refrigerator for 24-36 hours. Turn the turkey over every 12 hours.
Grill set-up and cooking temperature
- Plan on a cooking temperature of 275 degrees F. for this Pellet Grill Smoked Turkey recipe. Use one or a combination of the following wood selections: apple, cherry, pecan, oak, or hickory.
- For those who do not own a pellet grill (Camp Chef, Traeger, etc.), you’ll need to set up a two-zone fire on either your charcoal or gas grill. Set up your smoker according to the manufacturer’s directions.
- I recommend keeping a reliable instant-read meat thermometer or temperature probe nearby. You will need it for this recipe!
Cooking a turkey in a pellet grill
- Remove the brined turkey from the bag and lightly blot away excess moisture from the surface. There is no need to truss the bird or fill the cavity. However, you can add a peeled onion, fresh herbs, or halved orange to the cavity if you wish.
- If there is room, set an aluminum drip pan to catch the juices, directly underneath the grates where the turkey will go. Place the turkey directly onto the grill grates of your smoker. Close the lid and let it cook for 2 1/2 hours.
- Combine the poultry baste ingredients. I recommend heating it in a saucepan before applying. If you’d rather use a spritz, I recommend apple cider vinegar or apple juice.
- Brush the poultry baste onto the turkey. You might need to move the turkey to gain access to the other half.
- Close the lid and let the turkey cook for another 2 hours, then baste once more. Reheat the baste as needed.
- Close lid once more and cook for another 3 hours, or until the thigh and legs read 175 degrees F, and the thickest part of the breast reaches 165 degrees. Don’t panic if the breast meat reaches 175 degrees. It will be moist and delicious!
Your pellet grill smoked turkey is cooked!
Congratulations! Your smoked turkey is fully cooked and nearly ready to serve, but here are a few things you need to do first.
- Place the smoked turkey on a large clean cutting board. Loosely tent with foil, and let it rest for 20-30 minutes. Some folks actually rest the turkey upside down so that the breast meat becomes juicier. I have not tried this, but I will tell you that the breast meat was perfectly juicy when rested in the upright position. Use this time to gather your side dishes and make a turkey gravy.
- How to carve a turkey: Carve the turkey by removing the thigh and leg portion from one side, then separate this section into two pieces. Next, remove the wing and breast from the same half of the turkey. Slice the breast and thigh pieces. Repeat the process on the other side. Arrange it all on a large platter, and take it to the table!
Pair your pellet grill turkey with some of the recipes found below.
- Smoked Hasselback Potatoes
- Pellet Grill Funeral Potatoes
- Smoked Butternut Squash
- Pellet Grill Baked Potatoes
- Smoked Pumpkin Pie
- Twice Baked Potato Casserole
- Smoked Cream Cheese Dessert
Other Dry Brine Recipes
Want a different flavor profile for your pellet grill smoked turkey? Try our amazing turkey dry brine alternatives:
Citrus-Herb Turkey Dry Brine
Add a bright, citrus flavor with this Citrus-Herb Turkey Dry Brine. This recipe is easy to make and even easier to use!
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons orange zest
- 3 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1 teaspoon lemon pepper
- Combine orange zest with kosher salt and brown sugar. Add in remaining ingredients and stir through.
- Apply dry brine all over the turkey. Make sure to get under the skin of the breast as well.
- Place the turkey into a large plastic cooking bag and remove excess air. Secure the bag and place it into the refrigerator for 24 hours or more. Turn every 12 hours. Cook as directed above
Brown Sugar and Garlic Turkey Dry Brine
Another turkey dry brine recipe that works wonders on smoked, baked, or rotisserie turkey!
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Combine kosher salt with brown sugar. If you do not have access to kosher salt, you can use 3 tablespoons of table salt instead. Mix in granulated garlic, onion powder, and black pepper to salt and sugar mixture.
- Evenly apply the mixture all over the turkey, making sure to get under the breast skin.
- Secure turkey into a large plastic bag; a large turkey cooking bag should work. Remove as much air as possible before sealing or tying the bag shut.
- Place turkey in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours, turning every 8-12 hours or so.
- Cook as directed.
Storing leftover pellet grill smoked turkey
Store the leftover turkey in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Freeze in vacuum-sealed bags for up to 2 months—Thaw frozen turkey in the refrigerator. Reheat leftover turkey in a 350-degree oven until it reaches 165 degrees F.
Pellet Grill Smoked Turkey
- Remove turkey from packing, and take out the giblets and neck piece. Blot turkey dry with paper towels
- Optional step: prepare turkey injection without salt. Inject into the thigh and breast regions. Blot away any spillage.
- Combine turkey brine ingredients and apply to the entire turkey, including under the breast skin and into the bird’s cavity.
- Place into a large food-safe plastic bag, remove air, seal bag, and place into the refrigerator for 24-36 hours. Turn turkey over every 12 hours.
- Preheat your grill for 275 degrees F. Wood recommendations: cherry, pecan, apple, hickory, or oak.
- Remove turkey from the bag, and lightly wipe away any excess moisture with paper towels. Do not truss the turkey.
- Place the turkey into the pellet grill, close the lid and cook for 2 1/2 hours.
- Prepare poultry baste. Warm on the stovetop before using.
- Baste turkey, close the lid of your grill and let the turkey cook for another 2 hours. Baste once more after that time.
- After the second round of basting, let the turkey cook for another 3 hours until the thigh, and leg meat reach an internal temperature of 175 degrees and the breast is 165 degrees F.
- Remove turkey from the grill and place it onto a clean cutting board. Tent with foil and let it rest for 20-30 minutes.
- Carve, plate, and serve.
- Store the leftover turkey in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Freeze in vacuum-sealed bags for up to 2 months—Thaw frozen turkey in the refrigerator. Reheat leftover turkey in a 350-degree oven until it reaches 165 degrees F.