How Long You Actually Need To Smoke A Whole Turkey

No matter how delicious and enticing a smoked turkey can be, there aren't many meals that cause as much second-guessing. Thanksgiving turkeys are a source of constant stress and confusion, not just because of the pressure of a big family meal but also because of the difficulty of turning what can be a dry, bland bird into something celebration-worthy. Smoking a turkey is one of the best solutions to the first problem, infusing your dinner with the wonderfully deep and savory taste of hickory or applewood.

The second problem, however — getting your turkey perfectly cooked through while still keeping it juicy — remains just as difficult. Smoking any meat is a matter of precise timing and temperature, and anything as big as a turkey just adds to that difficulty. Just how long it's going to take you to smoke a turkey is going to change a lot based on a number of different variables, but if you are planning on doing it, you should set aside at least five hours for cooking.

In order for your smoked turkey to cook properly, you need to bring the thighs up to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and the breasts up to 150. You'll also need to keep the temperature low enough to slow-cook your bird and prevent it from drying out, which happens at around 250 degrees. With a normal-sized turkey of 10 to 12 pounds, that can take from four-and-a-half to five hours.

Smoking time depends on weight, preparation, and temperature

While four to five hours is the standard amount of time you should expect to smoke a turkey, changes to your recipe can add a lot of time. Some recipes call for smoking turkey at a lower temperature, such as between 200 and 225 degrees Fahrenheit, which can push the cooking time to the six-hour mark. An extra hour or two can also be expected if your turkey is on the larger side — around 15 pounds — which is not uncommon for big Thanksgiving birds. If you want to stuff your turkey, that will also add to the cook time. As a safe general rule, you can estimate that an unstuffed turkey will need 30 minutes per pound to cook at lower temperatures near 225, and around 25 minutes per pound at 250.

No estimation is perfect, of course, which is why you should invest in a good digital thermometer and check in regularly to make sure your turkey is cooking at a good pace. You can also speed up the cooking of your dinner and help it come to temperature more evenly by cutting out the backbone and spatchcocking your turkey; at 250 degrees, the higher surface area and flatter turkey can bring a 10-pounder's cooking time down to around three hours. Whichever method you choose, smoking a turkey can mean a lot of math and babysitting — but the incredible flavor and juicy results are still worth it.