Grill Master’s Guide on Preparing Your Turkey This Thanksgiving

Smoked turkey is probably the highlight of the holidays. It’s the centerpiece of the table, but before you get to enjoy this sumptuous delight, there are a lot of things to think about – from the type of wood chip to be used to the best turkey smoker. Since Thanksgiving is just around the corner, let me help you out on your menu with some turkey smoking tips and recommendations. First, check these two smokers perfect for turkey cooking:

TURKEY SMOKERPRODUCT NAMEGRILL MASTER
RATING

PRICE

Char-Broil Gourmet
Offset Smoker
Check Price
Cuisinart CPG-4000
Wood Pellet Smoker
Check Price

It’s been part of our culture to grill and smoke meat. It’s a tasty way of preparing food and it’s fun too as it can serve as a way of family bonding. And when the hearty turkey is served, the last thing you want to happen is someone discovering that it’s not done yet halfway the carving.

First things first, here’s my top pick for the best smoker for turkey:

—>Char-Broil Gourmet Offset Smoker<—-

Specs

✔️ 290 sq. in. cooking surface          ✔️ 140 sq. in cooking surface on firebox

✔️ Adjustable high grate                    ✔️ Combo of smoker, grill, BBQ

best turkey smokerI’ve been a fan of Char-Broil for so many years now and I can never recommend their gourmet offset smoker enough. It does the classic way of smoking turkey perfectly. It has an adjustable grate height which is awesome if you’re stuffing a whole turkey on it. The cover is pretty solid too which is very, very important when you’re smoking with the charcoal type of smoker. The handle has a special, spiral material that insulates it for easy opening.

Another feature that I like here is the side shelf where I can place the bowl of rub while I put the turkey on the smoker. I tend to add a little more tinge before sealing the lid so it’s a big help to me.

This Char-Broil model is a convenient choice with its ash clean up door on the side of the firebox. There’s also a built-in damper to regulate the amount of oxygen entering the smoker. By the way, there’s a temperature gauge at the lid. It’s not digitally controlled in any way, but enough to check how hot your bird is inside.

What could be done:

There’s so much space under the smoker which can be utilized with added racks. I’m not skilled with welding things so I can’t gamble on the idea of doing it myself.

—>Cuisinart CPG-4000 Wood Pellet Smoker<—

Specs

✔️450 sq. in. cooking surface          ✔️15-pound wood hopper capacity

✔️All-terrain wheels                          ✔️Digital temperature control

best turkey smokerIf you had such a disaster last year with the doneness of the turkey, I suggest that you try using a wood pellet smoker. Offset smokers are great but it’s for those who have prior experience. So if you want the easy way, nothing beats the Cuisinart CPG-4000. To be honest, I’m not a fan of Cuisinart when it comes to outdoor cooking but I’ll make an exception for this one as the best smoker for turkey.

What I love here is that you set it and leave it. Literally. Once you have the turkey inside, set the temperature and the duration of cooking. The digital controllers will take it from there and you can run errands or prepare other food for the occasion. Still, I advise that you check this from time to time since pellet smokers run through electricity. If someone pulls the plug or an outage happens, the cooking would be disastrous.

As for the performance of the Cuisinart best turkey smoker, I’d like to commend the large pellet capacity. This is very important since smoked turkey takes a long time to cook. If you run out of fuel and you didn’t refill, the bird will come out undone.

And in all fairness, there’s more room for other food. You can smoke briskets and sausages here, though opening the lid would let the smoke escape.

What could be done better:

There’s a little smoke coming off the lid on the one I bought. But I guess this is natural for most smokers. If it’s a little tighter than it is now, Cuisinart would be a perfect smoker (but nothing’s perfect just so you know).

Best wood chip to use (for pellet smoker)

So if you prefer a pellet smoker – which is probably the case if you want to make it easy – the next thing to think about is the type of wood pellet you’re going to use. Take note that pellet for smokers come in different flavors based on the tree where it’s sourced. It could be apple, cherry, oak, hickory, mesquite, pecan, or alde. This is a matter of personal preference, but if you like the blend of strong yet with a little sweetness, mix oak and cherry.

A lot of people prefer maple wood pellets for the traditional taste. Herb roasted turkey is good with maple as it offers a little sweetness and a mild aroma. The scent of maple smoke also reminds me of Thanksgiving dinners back when I was a kid.

Actually, you can use any wood pellet type that you want. We all have our own taste to smoke which is a good thing for diversity too.

But if you want to please everybody during the Thanksgiving dinner, I suggest that you avoid going overboard with the smoke flavor. My rule of thumb – which you may or may not follow –is to mix strong blends with either apple or cherry. So far, I’ve never heard any complaints.

The best turkey rub

Aside from the best smoker for turkey, each household has its own turkey rub recipe. I personally prefer the combination of the following ingredients:

My favorite turkey rub

➕One teaspoon of ground black pepper        ➕Two teaspoons of Kosher salt

➕One teaspoon dried sage                                ➕Two teaspoons of thyme

➕½ teaspoon of garlic powder                         ➕Two teaspoons of rosemary

➕½ teaspoon of cayenne powder

Mix all these and you’ll get a mildly spicy but flavor-rich smoked turkey right at your Thanksgiving table. I should say that the cayenne powder takes a break from time to time, especially if other folks would join the family. But aside from these herbs and spices: I have one special ingredient (not a secret, though, because lots of peoples do it) – a beer in can turkey.

You open the lid using a can opener and then shove the can into the turkey’s opening. Avoid spilling the beer which means you’ll use the can as a stand inside the best turkey smoker.

Avoid flavored beers unless it will blend smoothly with your rub. I prefer Foster’s Premium Ale for this. Never ruins the taste but adds a little sweetness and moisture to the poultry. The beer will maintain the juiciness of the meat.

The perfect temperature

The temperature of the smoker will make or break the doneness of your turkey. If you’re using a wood pellet smoker, there wouldn’t be a big problem. As for the charcoal smoker, you have to be mindful of a few things.

First, the air temperature can affect how hot the inside of the smoker will be once the lid is closed. Temperature fluctuations may cause the firebox to cool or become too much hot. Remember that when it comes to smoking turkey, it has to be low and slow. That translates to approximately 235F and 30 minutes for each pound. So if you have a 14-pounder, it would take about seven hours to cook.

If your bird is heavier than 19 pounds, cook it at 250F. Bacteria buildup may spoil your turkey due to the very long time of cooking. Raising the temperature will prevent this from happening. Just make sure that whatever the weight of the turkey is, you’ll stick between 225F to 250F temp.

Your turkey may come out a little less done on the outside even while using the best smoker for turkey. This is completely normal and you just have to let it crisp on the oven for a while.

And how will you know that the temperature is at the cooking level already? Use a temperature probe on the turkey’s breast. The bird will be cooked once it reaches an internal temperature of 165F. If you can, use multiple probes on the thigh, wing, and other thick parts.

Placing the turkey on the smoker

After setting the temperature and the smoker, it’s time to set the turkey inside the pit. Make sure that it’s placed in a way that the smoke can penetrate all of the sides. When using canned beer, you surely have to place it upward to prevent the beer from spilling. Make sure that the drip pan is placed right in place. You wouldn’t want any mess in there.

If you happen to use an offset smoker, the chance is that one side experiences more heat. This means you have to flip the chicken every two hours to cook it evenly.

Before closing the lid, I suggest that you cover the breast area with a sheet of foil. You wouldn’t want to burn or dry this part too much. Aside from ruining the presentation, a burnt turkey breast doesn’t taste as good as the other parts. Also, you’d have to crisp this in the oven and having it overdone is a recipe for disaster.

best turkey smoker

Additional tips:

Aside from the key points I gave for the best turkey smoker, here are some of the other tips I’d like you to know:

➕Catch the drippings

Catching the dripping isn’t just for the sake of skipping the mess. The tasty and savory sauce oozing out of the bird is the main ingredient for gravy. If you want to make this dip, use a clean foil pan and ensure that the turkey is placed right on top of it.

Pour about 3-4 cups of drinking water into the pan so the dripping won’t dry out. The water will soon evaporate, so when you check the bird, make sure that you peek on the pan if it’s starting to dry and you have to refill it with more water.

A 1/4 cup of pan drippings can make a nice serving of gravy. Mix it with two cups of water or one if you want a thicker consistency. Add ¼ cup of all-purpose flour, a pinch of Kosher salt, and black pepper. Voila! You have sumptuous gravy to pair with your turkey.

➕Remember: fresh, not frozen

The worst thing you can do before the Thanksgiving dinner is smoking a freezing turkey. It’s either you force it into high heat or you cross your fingers that it will cook properly no matter what. So instead of getting your turkey on the grocery store, head to a butcher to get a fresh piece. If you’re not cooking it yet, put it on the fridge, but not on the freezer.

If you happen to forget, just thaw it slowly with hot water. This should do the trick together with the best smoker for turkey.

➕A little pink won’t hurt

When you observe a little pink color on the meat during carving, don’t freak out. It’s normal to have this little pinkish color inside. As long as the bird reached an internal temperature of 165F, this shouldn’t be a big issue.

➕Don’t check it all the time

It’s okay to open the lid every two hours to flip the turkey. However, don’t be too paranoid that you keep checking it every 30 minutes. The temperature will fail to be consistent, causing the bird to be less cooked.

➕Don’t stuff the turkey

There’s actually no problem about stuffing your bird with sausages or seafood. But if you want to speed up cooking time, you may want to cook those separately.

➕Let it sit

Once you’re done cooking the turkey, let it sit on the serving plate for 30 minutes. This will allow the juices to settle inside the meat. So when you carve, there wouldn’t be splashes everywhere. Also, it would make every slice juicy.

Aside from the best turkey smoker, you should also keep in mind these helpful tips. Feel free to add your own touch to this holiday favorite. And most all, don’t forget to enjoy!

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Grill Master’s Guide on Preparing Your Turkey This Thanksgiving

by George Miller time to read: 9 min
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