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Pellet grills are a type of smoker grills that have exploded in popularity over the past few years, and for good reason. These do-it-all cookers are easy to operate, relatively affordable, and most importantly – they will cook some delicious food. They make the perfect pellet grill turkey.
It shouldn’t surprise you when I share that pellet grills are one of the absolute cookers to smoke a turkey. Do it right and the flavor will come out perfectly, the bird tender, and the meat will have the perfect amount of smokey taste in every bite.
Maybe it’s Thanksgiving and you’re trying to make sure you deliver the goods to family and friends. Or maybe turkey just sounded like a great addition to your weekend BBQ spread. Either way, we’ve got you covered.
In this article, we’ve created a complete guide to pellet grill turkey. We’ll share our recipe along with some pellet grill knowledge and tips to help you get the absolute most out of your turkey.
A Quick Note on Pellet Grills – And Why They’re Perfect for Turkey
If you’ve made it to this pellet grill turkey recipe, I probably don’t need to sell you what makes pellet grills so great. But it’s worth pointing out a few specific attributes of the pellet grill that make them the perfect vessel to prepare a turkey in.
First and foremost, these cookers have a temperature range that can steadily hold low heat for extended periods – which is exactly why you want to smoke meat low and slow. Most pellet grills can easily hold temperatures as low as 200°F.
Second, pellet grills are set and forget it style of smokers. All you have to do to get your grill fired up is turn a dial on your control panel. It’s as simple as that to get your cook started! There’s no need to mess around with building and babysitting a fire.
Pellet grills also work as convection style cookers with an indirect heating method – which ultimately leads to evenly cooked results without having to rotate your bird throughout the cook.
Last, but certainly not least, is that these grills will deliver some pretty incredible flavor to your food. Wood pellets are the fuel source for these grills, and they impart delicious smokey flavor onto your turkey.
Our top recommendation for turkey is cherry pellets – but if you’re stuck deciding which type of wood pellets to use with your turkey smoke, check out our resource on the best wood for smoking turkey to help you decide.
Things You’ll Need for Smoked Turkey
Here is everything you’ll need to get started on your pellet grill turkey:
- A turkey – ideally 12-15 pounds and fully thawed.
- Wood pellets – if you own a pellet grill, odds are you have plenty of pellets around. Just make sure you have enough to get you through a 6-8 hour smoke.
- Probe meat thermometer – the only way you’ll know for sure when your bird is done is by measuring the meat’s internal temperature.
- Foil drip pan – this will help catch the turkey’s juicy drippings and also ensure that your cooking chamber remains moist during the smoke. A water pan isn’t 100% necessary but it will add extra moisture to your cook.
- Butcher twine – this is optional, but it will allow for you to tie up the legs for better presentation and to minimize the risk of burning the edge parts of your turkey.
Preparing the Turkey
To make things easier, I’d recommend buying a pre-brined turkey. Most store-bought turkeys are pre-brined as this helps to keep the bird moist while it cooks.
If you prefer to brine the turkey yourself, that’s no problem! Just be sure to allow extra time for the turkey to properly soak in a brine.
From there, I like to apply a rub to the turkey to add extra flavor. The rub in our recipe later in this article is a fairly traditional Thanksgiving turkey rub, but I’d also recommend sweet rubs. These work particularly well with a smoked turkey recipe that will result in some pretty tasty sweet and smokey results.
Here is a step-by-step look at what you need to do before placing your bird on the pellet grill:
- Defrost your turkey. The only way to safely defrost a turkey is to put it in the fridge well before cooking day. As a rule of thumb, you should plan to thaw it in the fridge for 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of bird.
- After the turkey has thawed, remove it from any packaging and remove the giblets and the neck from the inside cavity. If you brine your turkey, be sure to wash the outside of the bird with cold water.
- Pat down the outside of the turkey with paper towels.
- Tie the legs together, then tuck the wings behind the bird’s shoulder joints.
- Rub the outside of the turkey with an olive oil or melted butter base, followed by your rub.
From here, your turkey is ready to go on the pellet grill!
To Stuff or Not to Stuff?
I personally don’t think a pellet grill turkey needs stuffing, but you certainly can if you want to.
The key is to make sure you don’t overdo it. If you pack the stuffing in too tight, you might run into a bad situation where the stuffing doesn’t reach a safe temperature to consume by the time your turkey has finished cooking.
Less is more when stuffing a pellet grill turkey – place a small enough amount in the cavity that plenty of air can still circulate while it cooks.
Getting the Bird on the Grill
Preheat your pellet grill to 225°F. If your grill has a smoke setting, I like to set the smoke intensity to somewhere in between high and low for turkey.
After it’s nice and rubbed down and your grill has come to temperature, you can proceed with placing the bird on the grill grates. If your grill has two tiers of grates, place the turkey on the top grate and an aluminum drip pan underneath it on the bottom grate. You can fill the pan with 2-3 cups of water or apple cider vinegar to help keep the chamber extra moist.
If your grill only has one grate level, no worries! Place your turkey on the grill and your aluminum pan alongside the bird – this will still help with moisture levels as the cook goes on.
From there, insert a probe meat thermometer into the centermost point of the turkey breast so you can monitor the internal temperature as the cook progresses.
When Is Turkey Ready to Come Off Of the Pellet Grill?
As a general rule of thumb, you can plan on smoking your turkey for about 30 minutes per each pound it weighs. So for example, a 12-pound bird will spend approximately 6 hours cooking.
But really, the turkey is ready to come off of the grates once it’s reached a safe internal temperature. Turkey is done once it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. It should measure at least this temperature at all of the deepest sections of meat before it’s ready to come off.
I like to start measuring the internal temperature about an hour before I expect the turkey to be finished – from there, I check every 15 minutes or so to make sure I take it off the grill at the optimal time.
Final Touches for Your Pellet Grill Turkey
After your bird comes off of the grill, you’ll want to let it rest for about 15-20 minutes before you carve into it. When meat cooks, the juices all concentrate to the centermost sections of the meat, so this rest time allows for the fibers to relax and redistribute moisture evenly throughout the meat.
Once it’s rested, it’s time to carve it up! Carve into slices and serve on a serving platter alongside your Thanksgiving or BBQ cookout fixins!
Pellet Grill Turkey
- Aluminum foil drip pan
- Probe meat thermometer
- Butcher twine (optional)
- 1 14-16 lb turkey defrosted
- 1/2 lb butter softened
- 8 sprigs thyme chopped
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 2 sprigs rosemary chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh sage chopped
- 1 tbsp ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- In a bowl, combine butter with thyme, minced garlic, rosemary, sage, pepper, and salt.
- Separate the skin from the defrosted turkey breast and insert butter mixture into the pocket, covering the entire breast and outside of the bird generously.
- Rub the exterior of the turkey with kosher salt and fresh black pepper.
- Preheat pellet grill to 225°F
- Place your turkey on the pellet grill and close the lid. Place an aluminum foil drip pan underneath the turkey and fill with 2-3 cups of water to help keep the environment moist.
- Smoke the turkey for 6-7 hours. The turkey is ready to come off of the pellet grill when the centermost point of the breast reads an internal temperature of 165°F on your probe thermometer.
- Remove turkey from grill grates and let it rest on a dish or serving platter for about 20 minutes.
- Carve, serve, and enjoy!