Our absolute favorite way to make cook a Turkey for Thanksgiving or whole chicken is in the smoker. So today’s we are sharing How to Make the Best Smoked Turkey or Chicken.
A few years back, the hubs and I spend a fabulous thanksgiving at my father-in-law’s cabin in Northern Minnesota. What made this Thanksgiving in particular so memorable, aside from quality family time, was the out of this world Turkey.
And what made the turkey extra special was one simple word.
A smoked turkey cooked low and slow makes for the absolute most tender and juicy turkey meat I have ever had. And the crazy thing is that it is surprisingly easy.
On that thanksgiving, we were lucky enough to have a friend’s propane smoker which made for a nice and even cooking experience. When the turkey was served and the hubs and I each took our first bites, our life was forever changed.
Sounds dramatic but it’s true! Ever since that smoked turkey we have been on a mission to replicate it. First by purchasing a smoker, then we received the best thermometer ever as a gift. Then it was testing time!
At this point you probably noticed the bird in the photo is a chicken, not a turkey.
So here is the deal. We set out to conquer the best smoked turkey recipe ever and in the process landed on the perfect method for how to make the best smoked chicken too! Can I get a what what!!!
That’s right. Since we did not want to buy turkeys all the time, especially off thanksgiving season, we tested this recipes with chickens. And low and behold when we narrowed down the ideal method, we were also able to nail the smoked turkey and chicken.
The key to the perfect smoked bird (only referring to turkey or chicken here) is the BRINE! Brine brine brine brine brine. You absolutely positively must brine. This makes all the difference. Throughout our testing period, we smoked a chicken, a beautiful local free range bird, without doing a brine. And it turned out terrible. Noooo! Boo!!! At first we thought it was the chicken. That was dumb logic. But after trying to smoke severals chickens and turkeys shortly after, we realized it was all about the brine.
It doesn’t matter how great your chicken is or how amazing your rub is, a brine adds flavor and keeps the meat tender and juicy. And truly all a brine is is salt, a little sweetness and water. Simply soak the bird in the brine bath and that’s it.
From there it’s all about the smoke. Now this is where you will need a smoker. Electric, propane or charcoal. All would work. However for the purpose of this recipe, we are using an electric smoker. And I have to mention that having a wireless remote meat thermometert is so helpful here! It has a probe that stays in the chicken the whole time which allows you to monitor the internal temperature of the meat from 300 feet away! Or your couch 😊
Whether you smoke chicken or turkey, this is the absolutely best and simplest method to follow. We guarantee it!
Now that our quest for the perfect smoked Turkey (and chicken) is over… we have nothing left to do but sit back and eat. And I’m totally cool with that.
How to Make the Best Smoked Turkey or Chicken
Serves 4-5 people. Normally 1-2 lbs per person. Feel free to double this recipe and smoke a bigger bird. Just note, you will need to smoke it longer. Check the temperature to know if when it is done.
Notes: Meat can be kept in the fridge 3-4 days or in the freezer for 2-3 months.
- 1 whole chicken or turkey, 3-6 lbs (insides removed)
- Cherry wood chips
For the brine:
Notes: The brine proportions and ingredients are very flexible as long as there is salt and a form a sweetness.
- 3/4 cup salt
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 tablespoon pepper corns
- 1 gallon water
Start off with a fresh or completely thawed bird. To thaw a frozen bird, follow these guidelines. We normally let the bird thaw for 2-3 days in the fridge depending on the size. Wash the bird and make sure it does not have anything in the cavity. Stick your hand in and check.
Combine all the brine ingredients in a large pot. Over high heat, bring to a boil and stir. Take off the heat and allow the brine to cool to room temperature. Then either add the bird directly into the large pot with the brine (dumping some brine out if needed) or find another large container (or bag) that will fit the bird and the brine. Essentially the bird should be covered with the brine.
Allow it to brine in the refrigerator for 4-8 hours.
After the bird is finished in the brine, pat dry. Rub your favorite poultry rub all over the bird. Apply to moderately to coat the outside of the bird. We love this one from Penzeys Spice. Tip: if rubbing the spice by yourself, use one hand to pour rub and another to rub bird. Otherwise complete this step with 2 people, one pouring spices and the other rubbing.
Set the smoker to 250 degrees and allow it to reach this temperature. Place the bird in the smoker for 3-5 hours depending on how many chickens and how consistent the smoker is. Here is where the meat thermometer is really handy. The one we use stays in the bird the whole time and there is a wireless remote to show you current temp, so you don’t have to open the smoker.
If using an electric smoker, add a handful for wood chips (cherry wood is my favorite for poultry) every 2 hours or so until the bird thigh has reached 165F.
Remove from the smoker, once the bird reaches the safe 165F temperature and allow it rest for 10 minutes. Carve and enjoy 😋