How to Smoke a Turkey on a Pellet Grill

Whether it’s Thanksgiving or a regular family gathering – smoked turkey is an appetizing addition to the occasion. This is why if you’re planning to have it on the menu, then this post will walk you through everything you need to know about how to smoke on a pellet grill.

Scroll down to learn the smoking requisites, the right way of brining and seasoning your turkey, and some useful tips to integrate smoky, sweet and aromatic flavors throughout the bird. 

How to Smoke a Turkey on a Pellet Grill – Detailed Tutorial 

What You Will Need 

Turkey: Buy brined or unbrined turkey, weighing not more than 15 pounds and defrost it before starting to prepare. 

Fuel: To pellet smoke a turkey, you will require a large supply of wood pellets. They are available in a variety of flavors including apple, hickory, cherry etc. Buy any of your favorite ones or you can also mix and match two different flavors to get a unique taste profile.    

Digital thermometer: Since smoking requires maintaining less heat for long hours, you will need to control the grill temperature attentively. This isn’t possible if you aren’t timely informed of the temperature fall or rise. An instant-read thermometer is what you will need to get temperature readings rapidly. 

Drip pan:  The turkey will be dripping a lot of juices while smoking. To avoid mess, arrange a drip pan to collect drippings. You can also fill the pan with water to keep the meat moist. Most grills and smokers include a drip pan, so all you need to do is ensure it’s placed right.

Dry rub: Adding some extra herbs and spices to your turkey is never a bad idea. By seasoning, you give a distinctive flavor profile to your bird; that is nearly impossible to forget. 

Time and Patience: From bringing the turkey to waiting until the smoke tenders the meat, everything calls for your time and patience. So, don’t take it as something as rapid as grilling, and plan ahead of time to fetch the desired results.  

Step 1: Buy the Right Size of Bird 

Decide the size of meat as per the number of guests you are hosting. We recommend buying a turkey weighing no more than 15 pounds as a bird of larger size takes longer to cook and hence, increases the chances of bacterial growth. 

Besides, 15 pounds of turkey is enough to serve 10-12 people. Also, keep in mind the capacity of your pellet smoker and choose the meat accordingly. 

Step 2: Defrost the Meat and Remove Unnecessary Parts 

Try finding a defrosted turkey in the market. If you can’t find it, defrost the frozen meat by placing it in the refrigerator. This can take around 2-3 days. But don’t make the mistake of defrosting turkey on the countertop, you may be providing the ideal condition for the bacteria to grow. 

While some people prefer smoking turkey along with giblets and neck, we suggest taking them out of the cavity and using them later to prepare gravy or stock. 

Step 3: Start Brining! 

If you have bought pre-brined turkey, there’s no need to treat it with additional brine. You can start up by lighting the pellet smoker and cooking. However, a turkey already injected with a brine mixture may fail to give you the expected flavors. Plus, the high salt content in it is not good for health. 

So, it is better to incorporate your effort in every step and add the flavors of your choice. To do this, buy a raw turkey and treat it with a mixture of some basic ingredients. 

Clueless about brining? Worry not here’s a simple method: 

  1. Dissolve 1/2 cup of salt in a gallon of water. 
  2. Dissolve 1/2 cup of brown sugar in the salt-water mixture. 
  3. Make sure there are no undissolved particles at the bottom. 
  4. Submerge the turkey in the brine and cover the container.
  5. Leave for around 12 to 14 hours in the refrigerator.

*You can also brine the turkey in a brine bag. 

Step 4: Take the Bird Out of the Brine 

After the brining time has passed, take the turkey out of the refrigerator. Until now, the salt and sugar would have been penetrated evenly throughout the meat. Wash your bird under cold water and dry it completely using paper towels. 

*Drying both pre-brined meat and meat brined at home is necessary before smoking.  

Step 5: Season Turkey 

After you have dried the bird, coat it with any turkey seasoning available at the store. Again, you can show creativity and prepare a special rub at home. If planning to do so, here’s a simple dry rub idea for you: 

Ingredients 

  • Kosher salt (6 teaspoons)
  • Grounded black pepper (4 teaspoons) 
  • Smoked paprika (4 teaspoons)
  • Dried oregano (4 teaspoons) 
  • Brown sugar (6 tablespoons)
  • Garlic powder (4 tablespoons) 
  • Dried thyme (2 tablespoons)
  • Dried rosemary (2 tablespoons)
  • Chili powder (2 tablespoons)
  1. Toss all the ingredients in a large jar and cover it with a lid. 
  2. Shake the jar to mix the ingredients. 
  3. Store the rub in a sealed jar or use instantly for seasoning 15 lbs. of turkey. 

*If smoking less than 15 lbs. of bird, calculate the amount of seasoning required following the key that for every pound of meat, 1.5 tablespoons of the rub is required. 

Step 6: Preheat Your Pellet Smoker

Light up the smoker and leave it to heat for 15 minutes or until a temperature of 225°F is reached. Check using the digital thermometer. 

Step 7: Place the Turkey on The Pellet Grill 

Season the meat with the dry rub and coat it with canola oil. Transfer it to the indirect heating zone of the pellet grill. You will be placing the turkey with the breast side up directly on the grill. 

Step 8: Continue Smoking 

Maintain the temperature of 225°F and allow the turkey to smoke for 2.5-3 hours. Now, raise the temperature of your pellet grill to 300°F and cook for 3.5-4 hours. Keep an active eye on the grill temperature. Stop smoking when the thermometer reads 165°F-170°F for the thickest parts of the bird. 

Step 9: Take the Turkey Out of the Grill 

Once the required temperature is attained, pull out your bird and tent it loosely with aluminum foil. Wait for 15-30 minutes before serving. This rest period will reintegrate the flavors in the meat while it is attaining the final temperature. 

Finally, your turkey has been smoked. Serve and enjoy! 

How to Smoke a Turkey on a Pellet Grill – Useful Tips

  • You can calculate the cooking time following the grill temperature. If smoking at 225°F, the cooking time will be 30 minutes per pound. For 250°F, the time will be 25 minutes per pound of meat. 
  • To lock the best flavor and moisture in your bird, spray a mixture of apple cider vinegar and apple juice after the meat has attained a temperature of 125°F. Spray the mixture after 30 minutes intervals. 

How to Smoke a Turkey on a Pellet Grill – Frequently Asked Questions

When Should I Start Checking the Meat for Doneness? 

Ideally, it is best to start a frequent check on your bird’s temperature when 1 hour of cooking time is left. As soon as every part of the meat reaches 165°F, it’s time to take it out of the grill. 

What is the Utility of a Drip Pan in Smoking? 

It helps to keep the meat moist as well as to catch drippings. You can use an aluminum pan to place in the grill right below the turkey. Try filling it with some water to keep the bird from drying out. 

How Much Quantity of Turkey is Sufficient per Person? 

If you are confused about the size of a turkey, plan to buy 1.5 lbs of meat per person. Remember, your bird comes with wings, bones, tips etc., which too have a weight, and they are not always consumed. 

So, an estimated 1 1/2 pounds of bird would be sufficient for a single guest. However, don’t worry about the leftovers, you can reheat them the next day. 

The Bottom Line 

Smoking a turkey can take a while, but the wait is ultimately worth it, given that you do it right. Just keep an eye on the temperature and set a timer and you shouldn’t face any problems. So If you had any questions regarding how to smoke a turkey on a pellet grill, then we hope it’s all clear now. Don’t forget pairing your smoked turkey with side dishes like sweet potato stacks or bacon-wrapped carrots.