Smoked turkey is a bona fide classic to have for Christmas or Thanksgiving. Yet, there’s a lot of love that goes into cooking this delicious bird before it reaches the serving platter.
A favorite of many, smoked turkey has its own charm and irresistible taste. There’s nothing better than the flavor of smoked wood that works together with all the rich spices and turkey meat.
To get this mouthwatering combination, you’ll want to pay some extra attention to the type of wood you’re using. This is why we’ve put together this guide with our suggestions for you of the best wood for smoking turkey.
Let’s dive in!
Which Types of Wood Should I Use for Smoking Turkey?
You’ll want to look for a type of wood that complements the natural flavor of your turkey without being overpowering. While some hardwoods can provide you with a distinctive taste, they might overpower the unique flavor of the meat, which you probably don’t want.
The following list includes 5 kinds of wood that have the right balance you’re in search of.
Cherry is our top choice for the best wood for smoking turkey. It’s flavorful without being overwhelming and should go perfectly with whatever brine you’ve prepared for your turkey.
Let’s not forget that cherrywood smoke will add a unique deep color to your turkey. You can enjoy the admiring looks of your dinner guests as they ask you for the secret behind this beautiful hue.
We suggest that you consider adding a hint of hickory to the cherrywood if you’re the type who really enjoys that traditional smokey flavor.
Our second candidate has a fruity flavor that, when fused with turkey, can give you great results. It doesn’t produce powerfully-scented smoke like other types of wood like hickory or oak.
However, the thing with applewood is that its aroma is so subtle that it might take you a long time before it’s ingrained in the meat. You’ll just need to pay attention that you don’t over do it and dry out your turkey.
Of course, you can still balance the scales by lowering the temperature. Or, you can also spritz your bird or include a water pan inside of your smoker to ensure the cooking environment remains warm.
Don’t let that scare you though – even if you’re a beginner at smoking turkey, apple is definitely one of the easier woods for smoking turkey to use.
If you’re looking for an even lighter flavor than the one you’d get with the previous two, you can try alder wood instead. It can be the perfect choice for beginners because it burns slowly, offering you minimal chances for mistakes.
While it’s mostly used for smoking seafood because of its mild flavor, you can use it for poultry as well. It can be hard to resist its delicious aroma and complimentary taste.
Plus, it gives you the opportunity to focus on all the spices and herbs that you’ve seasoned your turkey with. Not to mention that it adds an earthy aftertaste to your turkey.
Here’s another wood type that should grant you a unique sweet flavor. Pecan is an awesome choice if you want something a little bit sharper than cherry or apple. It also brings a mild nutty overlay to your turkey.
However, it’s best that you test it with some turkey meat before using it for smoking the whole bird. This is because you might find its flavor too strong or earthy for your liking.
Due to its richness, you can refrain from adding touches of hickory or oak as we suggested you do with cherrywood.
Last but not least, you may want to give maple a shot if you’re getting ready to smoke your turkey. Yes, its smoke might be a bit aromatic, but its honey-like notes are even milder than those you’ll encounter with pecan or cherry.
Maple can be your best bet if you’re looking for a thin layer of earthy flavor to bring out the natural taste of your turkey. Combined with the right mix of fragrant herbs and spices, the scents that will come out of your smoker should make everyone’s mouth water.
Other Wood Types for a Stronger Smoke Flavor
Even though we think our previous picks should work best with turkey, some people might be looking for more pronounced smoke aromas. After all, it all depends on your preference. These are also great options if you’re smoking a turkey for a backyard BBQ instead of a holiday meal.
I would also add that Mesquite, while a popular and tasty wood to use, does not pair well with turkey. Mesquite is so strong that it will simply overpower the flavor of your turkey meat.
Remember how we’ve mentioned adding hints of hickory wood to cherry for a more powerful effect? Well, here, it’s just hickory in all its earthy glory.
It has a distinctive, heavy flavor and is considered a classic for smoking.
Still, if you’re a beginner at this, you should reconsider starting your turkey smoking journey with hickory. It can be a little tricky trying to figure out the amount of wood to use to create an acceptable balance in flavor. It might require trial and error to find that perfect point.
Hickory wood is pretty versatile, too. It boasts a wide spectrum of flavors, from sweet all the way to savory. However, the key to finding the right taste depends entirely on how you like your turkey.
Yes, oak is another classic choice for smoking red meat for its deep and rich flavors. Yet, its smoke isn’t as heavily-scented as hickory, which is why many people prefer it.
You can also mix it with apple or cherry to create a flavorful combination of sweet and earthy notes. Even though it’s not often paired with poultry, you can experiment with it if you’d like.
Who knows, maybe it’ll match your tastes.
Chunks, Chips, or Pellets?
Wood chunks, chips and pellets are all different forms of essentially the same thing – that is hardwood that’s used to flavor and cook food.
As to which form of wood is best for you, that comes down to which type of smoker you have at home.
Electric smokers typically use wood chips for flavoring, although many wood trays on electric smokers can also take wood pellets easily enough.
Lastly, wood chunks or logs are ideal in traditional offset smokers and charcoal smokers.
5 Tips You’ll Want to Follow to Make the Perfect Smoked Turkey
Choosing the best wood for smoking turkey is only the first step in your quest. To make the most delicious Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, you can use some tips for beginners.
Try to Buy a Fresh Turkey
Fresh poultry always tastes better than its frozen counterpart. This is why we recommend heading straight to the butcher to get your bird.
However, if you’re too busy to visit the market on the same day you’ll do your smoking, it’s okay. You can still buy it a day or two beforehand and keep it in the fridge until it’s time.
If you buy the turkey more than 48 hours in advance, it’s probably best to freeze it to stay on the safe side. Move the turkey to the fridge 24 hours before you plan to cook it to thaw.
Prepare Your Turkey
There are many ways you can prepare a whole turkey for smoking, but we’ll suggest our favorite. First of all, you may want to spatchcock your bird using a pair of sharp shears.
Simply, use the shears to cut along the spine of your turkey, then remove it as well as the breastbone. This will allow you to spread the bird open on top of your pan or dish.
This technique is favored by many because it helps the meat cook faster. See, the heat travels better through a thin layer of meat. In fact, this method should make your turkey absorb all the spices and juices released into the smoking chamber.
The step after this is seasoning. Of course, it’s all based on your choice of spices or whatever recipe you’re following. You can also brine your turkey the night before you smoke it to get a tender texture and an enhanced flavor.
Don’t Forget to Buy a Reliable Thermometer
Sometimes, the built-in thermometer that you’ll find in a smoker might trick you. In this case, you’ll definitely need a probe thermometer that’s specially made for BBQ purposes.
When it comes to smoking turkey, you can’t just leave it to guesswork. Remember to check the temperature of the thickest parts of the bird to make sure it’s ready. It should be always at 165°F for the best results.
Ideally, the temperature of your smoker should be between 275 – 350°F. If it gets slightly higher or lower than that, it’s no big deal as long as it doesn’t last for an extended amount of time.
Place a Pan Under the Turkey
If your bird is all set inside the electric smoker, don’t turn the machine on before putting a pan under it. A drip pan will gather all the juice that the turkey should produce.
This will keep you from having to clean the interior of the smoker when you’re done. Not to mention that this juice should be awesome for gravy.
You can even up your game by filling this tray with chopped onions, carrots, potatoes, and herbs.
Let the Turkey Rest for a While Before Serving
Our final advice is to leave your turkey on your kitchen counter for some time, usually between 15-20 minutes, before you carve it.
This allows the meat to reabsorb its juices and keep its moisture intact.
However, if the weather is chilly, it’s best not to leave the turkey exposed to the air for too long. This will lead to it drying out or losing its crispiness.
Best Wood for Smoking Turkey – Final Thoughts
Making the perfect smoked turkey requires patience, a delicious recipe, and, you guessed it, the right type of wood to put inside the smoker.
Whether you’d prefer to use apple, maple, or even oak, any of these choices can be the best wood for smoking turkey depending on your taste.
Just remember to look for the perfect balance between the natural flavor of turkey and the richness of the wood chunks you’re using.