Smoking vs. Roasting: A Thanksgiving Turkey Throwdown
Are you on turkey duty this Thanksgiving? No pressure, we have two of the best turkey recipes in the game that’ll have your guests thankful you’re in charge.
But first, let’s brush up on the fundamentals. No matter which turkey recipe you choose, there are a few steps you’ll have to take every time.
The Fundamentals of Thanksgiving Turkey
First comes the brine. Brining is the sure-fire way to make sure your turkey is tender and juicy. Once you’ve got the brine mixed, all you’ll have to do is place the turkey in a clean bucket and pour enough of the cooled brine over the turkey to cover it. But you’ll need to plan ahead – the rule for turkey is that it should be thawed 24 hours for every 5 pounds of bird. Also, it has to be fully thawed before it can be brined or seasoned.
Next, you’ll need to truss your turkey. Trussing keeps the bird together so the whole thing cooks evenly and you don’t end up with burnt wings or legs. Get started with the instructions below to get that turkey looking sharp.
- Cut a 4-foot length of butcher’s twine.
- Tuck the wing tips under the turkey. With the legs facing away, center the twine under the legs of the turkey.
- Wrap the twine around the legs, crisscrossing the ends, then pull the twine tightly to secure the legs.
- Run the twine the length of the turkey, securing the wingtips.
- Finally, tie the ends of the twine together over the neck skin and cut off any excess twine.
Boom. You’re brined, trussed and ready to rock. But you’ve got one more decision to make: How will you choose to cook that turkey this year? Let’s turn up the heat and get that bird cooked.
Smoking Your Turkey
This may seem obvious, but the turkey is a big bird. That means that when it’s smoked, there’s plenty of surface area to be infused with a smoky flavor. Not to mention, smoking your turkey low and slow is a great way to keep it tender and juicy.
When all is said and done, smoking really doesn’t take much more time than your typical Thanksgiving turkey might in the oven. Get your smoker up to 250° to 300°F, then place the turkey in an aluminum roasting pan on the top grill grate over the pan of water. For an added burst of flavor, use apple juice in the pan instead.
Close the smoker, and smoke the turkey for 5 to 6 hours. To maintain the temperature of the smoker between 250° and 300°F, carefully add additional coals periodically.
The turkey should smoke until juices run clear and the internal temperature reads 160°F. Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving, and then dig in.
Try Your Turkey Roasted
It’s an old-school way to do it, but sometimes things are classic for a reason. Cooking the turkey in your oven certainly has its advantages, like the ease of temperature regulation.
However, with no extra flavor coming from the smoke, you’ll have to get a little bit more creative with your seasoning. A rub like our Sweet Mesquite Chicken Rub has a complex flavor profile that’ll bring out the best in any bird. This rub was created by our pitmaster partners Chad and Nicole Backerman, who set out to make a balanced rub with just the right brown sugar sweetness and smoky mesquite flavor.
Just remember, if you’re starting with a frozen turkey, it’ll need to be fully thawed before immersing it in brine or adding seasoning.
If you’re ready to cook, it’s time to do a little math. For a conventional oven, calculate 20 minutes of roasting time per pound of meat. The oven should be preheated to 325ºF.
When the center of the turkey breast reaches 155ºF, remove the turkey from the oven and set it on the counter to halt the roasting process. Its internal heat will allow it to continue to cook as it rests, and it should reach your final temperature goal of 160ºF in about 15 or 20 minutes.