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How to Smoke a Turkey on a Traeger

Traeger Smoked Turkey is one of my favorite ways to cook turkey for Thanksgiving. Check out my tried and true method on how to smoke a turkey, along with my 8 pro tips for the best smoked turkey!

Slices of Traeger turkey on a plate with Thanksgiving sides.

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Creating This Smoked Whole Turkey Tutorial

The Traeger has seriously been one of our best purchases during the last couple of years. Or, at least one of our favorite purchases. We use it so much and everything we cook on it tastes great! I honestly can’t believe it took us so long to get one.

One of my favorite ways to cook turkey these days is to smoke it on our Traeger Pellet Grill.

With Thanksgiving ONLY ABOUT A WEEK AWAY, I thought that I’d write a post about How to Smoke a Turkey on a Traeger and share my 8 Pro Tips for the Best Smoked Turkey.

I even consulted with Kevin on this one just to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything from our method! Though, you should know, that I do plenty of the cooking on the Traeger myself.

The turkey is the center piece of the Thanksgiving meal and is arguably the trickiest part of the meal. Learn all about turkey brining, turkey smoking times, and turkey smoking temperatures.

What Do You Need to Smoke a Turkey?

Before you begin preparing your Traeger smoked turkey, you’ll need to make sure you have some of the required equipment. If you aren’t new to smoking, none of this should be new to you.

In order to smoke a turkey, you need a few things:

For the complete ingredient list and detailed instructions, scroll to the bottom of this post for the FREE printable recipe card.

Slices of Traeger turkey on a plate with Thanksgiving sides.

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What’s the Best Wood for Smoking a Turkey?

It really depends on your personal preferences, so it is important to experiment to find out what you like best.

We have tried all different types of wood pellets for our Traeger Smoked Turkey. Our favorite wood pellet flavors are: apple, pecan, oak, and hickory.

  • Apple – mild and sweet flavor
  • Pecan – rich, sweet, nutty flavor.
  • Oak – medium flavor, not overpowering, quintessential smoking wood
  • Hickory – mellow smoky flavor, not over powering, savory, hearty, one of the most versatile

Don’t be afraid to mix different wood pellet flavors together. Using blends of different type of wood pellets can give the turkey extra flavor depth. We often use a combination of apple and hickory blended together.

8 PRO TIPS for the Best Traeger Turkey

Here’s a quick overview of the tips I’ve shared in the post below. I’ve gone into much more detail about each tip in the following sections.

  1. Smoke two small turkeys instead of one large one.
  2. Brine your smoked turkey.
  3. Don’t stuff your turkey.
  4. Cook by internal meat temperature, not time.
  5. Don’t lift the lid on the Traeger.
  6. Don’t make panic induced adjustments.
  7. Finish the smoked turkey in the oven.
  8. Let the turkey rest!

Read on for more details and explanations on all of the tips!

In our house, we have a running joke where we frequently say things like “hey, pro tip here…” when we’re giving one of the kids advice or something. I thought I’d give you some of MY “pro tips” to make the best smoked turkey.

These tips are all personally tried be us and have yielded great success for us when it comes to smoking a turkey.

A plate of sliced smoked turkey breasts, with more Thanksgiving sides in the background.

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Pro Tip #1: Smoke 2 Small Turkeys Instead of 1 Large One

Larger turkeys have a tendency to dry out on a smoker since they take so much longer to reach the appropriate temperature.

If you need a lot of meat, it is better to use 2 small turkeys than 1 large turkey when you are smoking a turkey.

Multiple smaller birds will allow you to cook faster, have plenty of meat, AND have meat is still juicy. A 12-14 pound turkeys is the ideal maximum size.

Another option is to smoke several turkey breasts rather than whole turkeys. We do this quite often as most of our family prefers the white meat to the dark meat.

How Much Turkey Should I Plan Per Person?

Plan to purchase 1 lb. per person attending. If you like to have plenty of leftovers for the freezer or cooking up a big batch of soup, plan on double that, about 2 lbs of turkey per person.

What if you don’t want a lot of meat? Try smoking a turkey breast, or Easy Smoked Chicken instead of a whole turkey. You can follow the same tips and methods described in this post.

Overhead view of dry turkey brine ingredients.

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Pro Tip #2: Brine Your Smoked Turkey

When thinking about Smoked Turkey Preparation, one of the most important things to do is brine the meat.

Should I Brine a Turkey?

YES! Brining a smoked turkey before you put it in your Traeger helps the meat to retain moisture that is often lost when poultry is exposed to long cook times.

Rather than dry turkey meat, you’ll end up with a juicy, flavorful bird that is seasoned all the way through rather than just on the surface.

You’ll want to look at the label before purchasing your turkey and avoid anything labeled as kosher, pre-salted, or salt injected. Brining any of these will result in an over salted turkey.

In order to brine and roast a turkey, you need a few things:

Overhead view of a raw turkey breast in a pan with brine ingredients.

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Brine Recipes, Tips, and Tricks

You’ll find a lot more information about how to brine, along with a variety of recipes, in the below posts. Here are my favorite Traeger turkey brine recipes to get you started:

Pro Tip #3: Don’t Stuff Your Smoked Whole Turkey

I don’t recommend stuffing a turkey if you are smoking it.

Here’s why you shouldn’t stuff a smoked turkey:

  • Lower cooking temperatures that occur in smoking can cause the turkey to stay in the danger zone (40-140 degrees F) for too long if the bird is stuffed. The stuffing will not reach a high enough temperature to kill any bacteria.
  • Besides safety reasons, the heat, and smoke, needs to circulate freely throughout the bird for optimal flavor.
  • And lastly, your turkey will cook faster without a stuffed cavity.

How to Safely Stuff a Smoked Turkey

If you really love stuffing inside your turkey, there is a way to safely stuff a smoked turkey.

  1. First, prepare and cook the stuffing separately while the turkey smokes.
  2. Then, place the stuffing into the turkey once it is done smoking.

Pro Tip #4: Cook by Temperature, Not Time

There are a few things to know about smoking your turkey, and an important keys to success is cooking by temperature.

Turkey smoking times vary depending on a variety of things, such as:

  • the size of the bird
  • internal temperature the bird when you begin
  • outdoor weather conditions (cold or windy days may cause your Traeger to run cooler)

So, it is better to have general time guidelines and specific temperature milestones to meet rather than cooking for x number of hours.

You avoid overcooked dry meat and undercooked unsafe meat when you use a digital probe meat thermometer. Place the probe in the thickest part of the breast before you begin cooking.

How Long Does it Take to Smoke a Turkey?

For general guidelines, you can plan for approximately 45-55 minutes per pound of turkey for your total cook time. But, these are just guidelines.

Times will always vary due to individual smoker (does your smoker run hot or cold?), did you start with a cold turkey or a room temperature turkey?, and what is the weather like outside?

I always let the turkey sit at room temperature for about an hour before starting the smoking process.

A platter with two smoked turkey breasts and fresh herbs.

Turkey Smoking Temperatures and Times

  • Cook on Smoke (150-160 degrees F) for 3-4 hours
  • Raise temp to 225 -250 degrees F
  • Cook until the breast meat reads 165 degrees F at the thickest portion
  • Do not remove the probe until the turkey has rested for 20 – 30 minutes.

I always purchase smaller a smaller turkey. If we need more than 12 lbs, then we purchase 2 turkeys. In my experience larger turkeys take longer for the breast meat to finish and can end up dried out.

Some recipes I have seen recommend raising the temperature to 325 degrees F after the initial smoke phase. We prefer the way the turkey turns out when we cook it at 250 degrees F.

MY TURKEY FINISHED COOKING TOO EARLY – WHAT DO I DO?

First, don’t panic! There are plenty of solutions to troubleshoot a turkey that has cooked too fast!

If you’re meal time is in 2 hours or less:

  1. Place a disposable roasting tray inside a well insulated cooler.
  2. Then, place the finished turkey on the roasting tray.
  3. Close the cooler, and store until ready to serve (within a reasonable amount of time).

The cooler will act as a warming drawer for the turkey, and the juices will have plenty of time to redistribute while it rests.

If your turkey finished earlier than 2 hours too early, then you’ll need to follow these steps:

  1. Let the turkey rest for 30 minutes.
  2. Carve the breast meat, legs, and, thighs.
  3. Arrange the carved meat on a large serving platter.
  4. Cover the platter with foil. Transfer the platter to the refrigerator.
  5. Just prior to serving your meal, reheat the platter in the oven for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Pro Tip #5: Don’t Lift the Lid of Your Traeger

Heat and smoke escape every time you lift the lid. Just don’t do it. Your thermometer will tell you everything that you need to know.

Pro Tip #6: Don’t Make Panic Induced Adjustments

Perfect, tender, smoked turkey takes time. Don’t be impatient.

When smoking, meat can often experience a “stall.” It might seems like the thermometer is stuck at the same temperatures for hours at a time.

Don’t make the mistake of impatiently increasing the heat. Seriously, one of the worst things you can do is panic and make a bunch of rapid fire adjustments on your Traeger.

You think the turkey isn’t cooking fast enough, so you crank the temperature up. Then, you crank it down because it is cooking too fast.

Sound familiar? If the answer is yes, it is time to stop doing that.

Smoked turkey and Thanksgiving sides on a plate.

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Pro Tip #7: Finish the Smoked Turkey in the Oven

You can certainly keep the turkey on your Traeger Smoker until the breast meat reaches 165 degrees F.

I prefer another way. I’ve found that the best way to get a nice, brown, crispy skin on a smoked turkey is to pull it off the Traeger and finish the turkey in the oven.

How to Get a Crispy Skin on a Smoked Turkey

  1. When the turkey reaches 150 degrees F, preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. At the turkey temperature of 155 degrees F, remove it from the smoker.
  3. Transfer to a roasting pan and roast in the 425 degree F oven until the temperature probe reads 165 degrees F in the breast meat.

Pro Tip #8: Let The Turkey Rest

I know, the last thing you want to do after spending ALL DAY smoking a turkey is to wait even longer before slicing in to it.

Let the turkey rest for 20 – 30 minutes before slicing into it for the best results. The turkey will be easier to cut and the meat will stay juicer. It is worth the wait.

Can I Make Gravy with Smoked Turkey Drippings?

Yes, you can. Place a wire rack inside of a disposable turkey roasting pan and smoke the turkey on that. That will allow air circulation on the underside of the turkey but still allow you to catch the drippings.

Adding in some turkey or chicken stock to the drippings to augment the amount would help lessen the smokiness if you are concerned about your gravy tasting too smokey.

For example, in this How to Make Turkey Gravy with Drippings post, I say that if you have 2 cups of drippings but you want 3 cups of gravy, you would need to add 1 cup of broth. Maybe something like that? I would love to hear how it turns out if you try it! I wish I was more help on this particular question!

Reader Reviews for this Smoked Turkey

Now that you know how to smoke a turkey on a Traeger, it’s time to actually do it! Here are some recent reader reviews for this pellet grill turkey tutorial:

“This was amazing! We did a trial run yesterday and it turned out fantastic! The breast was super juicy and the four hours of smoking penetrated deep.

The meat was so flavorful. I brined it for 24 hours prior and used a roasting pan with it elevated on to allow airflow. I added some chicken stock to the bottom of the roasting pan to help keep moisture.  I didn’t account for the cold weather so it took about 40 minutes longer than I had planned.” — Chris

Questions about Smoking a Turkey?

If you haven’t answered all of your questions by the time you reached this point, you’ll find that there are even more questions and answers about smoking a turkey from readers in the comments section of this article.

Be sure to check those out if you have any other questions that aren’t covered here. You’ll find the comments below the printable recipe card. I’ve replied to as many of the questions with my answers and tips as I can.

If you are wondering how to roast a turkey, check out my Turkey Roasting Tips to learn more about the method that I like to use to roast my turkey. There are tons of hints, tips, and tricks for roasting a juicy, flavorful, and tender turkey.

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Have you smoked a turkey before?

Brining a turkey in this Rosemary Beer Brine will tenderize the meat and infuse it with a TON of flavor for Turkey Day! Check out this recipe for lots of tips on how to brine and roast a turkey.

How to Smoke a Turkey on a Traeger

Yield: 1 -12 lb. turkey
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 9 hours
Additional Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 9 hours 30 minutes

Turkey Smoked on a Traeger is one of my favorite ways to cook turkey for Thanksgiving. Come check out my tried and true method along with my 8 pro tips for the best smoked turkey!

Ingredients

  • 12 pound Brined , Unstuffed Turkey (no more than 14 pounds)

Instructions

  1. Prepare the turkey brine according to your chosen recipe instructions.
  2. For a liquid brine, rinse and pat the turkey dry after the brine time. For a dry brine, there is no need to rinse (unless your recipe specifically tells you to). Simply pat it dry afterwards.
  3. Prepare your smoker to a low heat setting. On our Traeger, we use the "smoke" setting (around 150-160 degrees F) and we either use Oak, Hickory, Apple, Pecan or a blend of pellets for our wood.
  4. Transfer the turkey to the smoker, insert the probe of a digital meat thermometer that is safe for BBQing into the thickest part of the breast, and smoke on 150-160 degrees F for 3 - 4 hours.
  5. After 3 - 4 hours, Increase the temperature to 225 degrees F and continue to cook until the the meat thermometer registers 150 degrees F in the thickest portion of the breast.
  6. When the turkey reaches 150 degrees F, preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.
  7. At the turkey temperature of 155 degrees F, transfer your turkey to an oven safe roasting pan and transfer it to the oven.
  8. Roast at 425 on the lower rack to crisp and brown the skin until the temperature probe inserted turkey breast reaches 165 degrees F.
  9. Remove the turkey from the smoker and let rest, loosely tented with foil, on a platter for 20-30 minutes before slicing.

Notes

This method can also be used with a whole chicken or a skin on turkey breast.

If you need more turkey than 14 pounds, it is best to use 2 smaller birds rather than going larger than 14 pounds.

General time guidelines:

45 minutes per pound for a starting timeline for planning purposes only. I really recommend using a probe thermometer, and if possible doing a test run before Thanksgiving.

Oops! Did the turkey finish too early?

  1. Place a disposable roasting tray inside a well insulated cooler.
  2. Then, place the finished turkey on the roasting tray.
  3. Close the cooler, and store until ready to serve (within a reasonable amount of time).

The cooler will act as a warming drawer for the turkey, and the juices will have plenty of time to redistribute while it rests.

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Nutrition Information
Yield 16 Serving Size 3/4 pound turkey
Amount Per Serving Calories 643Total Fat 25gSaturated Fat 7gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 16gCholesterol 371mgSodium 350mgCarbohydrates 0gFiber 0gSugar 0gProtein 97g

GoodLifeEats.com offers recipe nutritional information as a courtesy and is an estimate only. This information comes from online calculators. Although GoodLifeEats.com makes every effort to provide accurate information, these figures are only estimates.

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Jet

Sunday 28th of November 2021

Great recipe! I just made this today with an 11 pound turkey, and your dry brine recipe.

Best Turkey I've had, with a small caveat that I really dislike dry meat (of any kind), preferring tender, 'juicy' meat and smoke flavor.

For me, the thigh is the best but the breast is the test. Even on a chicken that is cooked very well I often won't eat the breast, and I will almost never eat turkey breast. HOWEVER, the breast on this was super moist and tender!

Followed your directions exactly, except the part where you put it in the oven. I couldn't be bothered, and it probably would have finished the turkey faster than I needed it to be ready i.e. got it to 165 sooner. Plus, the skin was looking plenty crisp already.

Your time guidelines are spot on; it took roughly 9 hours. I think if folks are having trouble it's probably because they don't let the bird get to room temp before cooking, or they don't adjust the dial to get the right Traeger temp that the recipe calls for, accounting for external changes.

Early this morning when it was crisp, the display was reading about 185 while on smoke. As the day warmed up I set it to 180, but the display was reading about 210. As evening chill set in, I set it to 225, and then 250 to keep the internal temp and display from dropping much below 225.

I'm boiling up the bones and a few other bits and pieces now to make soup. Not finished yet, but I just tasted the broth and it's great. I was worried the smoke flavor would be yuck in broth. It's actually a lot like the broth my grandmother used to make with the ham bones from Christmas for a classic NZ 'boil up' -- salty and smokey with a nice depth.

It's odd that I can get that result from a smoked American turkey...

Jet

Wednesday 8th of December 2021

@Katie, had to come back to let you know that I made the Gumbo as you suggested, and it was extremely good. So much so I'll likely do this every year from now on (the smoked turkey and Gumbo with stock later). Everybody loved it!

Katie

Monday 29th of November 2021

I am so happy to hear that you liked it, especially your opinion of the breasts meat! You are exactly right on your comments about the Traeger's temperature readings. I'll try to find a way to explain that in the recipe card for those who struggle. I appreciate you taking the time to give me the feedback and summing up the timing issues that others are having so succinctly! Regarding the broth, the turkey broth made from a smoked turkey carcass is amazing when used for Gumbo! I normally use chicken and andouille sausage, but smoked turkey with the homemade stock and added andouille is amazing!

JC

Thursday 25th of November 2021

Have not tasted our turkey yet because it is STILL COOKING!! I used the 45 min/lb guideline hoping to eat around 4:30pm. 2+ hours later, after pulling off the smoker at 142 deg because my family is starving and all of the other food is ready am finishing it in the oven…I sure hope it’s worth it when we eat at 7:30 on…3 hours late. My Traeger was pretty much running on track temp-wise this whole time. Pretty frustrated that your “guideline” was so poor and threw my whole dinner off by 3 hours!!! I hope it’s worth it when we taste it!

Katie

Friday 26th of November 2021

I'm sorry that the turkey didn't cook according to your timeline. Unfortunately, without knowing exactly how it was prepared, the size, etc. I can't say where that went wrong, but I'd like to help.

How large was your turkey? This recipe states that the instructions are for a 10-12 lb. turkey. Did you bring the bird to room temperature before starting? In the article I state that I let the bird sit at room temp for an hour before starting smoking. Did you raise the Traeger temperature to 250 degrees after the initial smoke period? Did you stuff your turkey? Did you open the lid a lot to check on the turkey? This releases heat and the inside temperature of the smoker doesn't stay consistent.

Again, apologies that this did't work for you. As you can see this recipe has 4.6 stars from over 100 reviews. We personally test and use all of the turkey recipes on the website and haven't had issues with them.

Pierre Baigue

Tuesday 23rd of November 2021

Can I smoke turkey on Wednesday and put it in oven on Thursday? Thanks

Katie

Tuesday 23rd of November 2021

Yes. This is how I recommend handing that scenario:

After cooking, let the turkey rest for 30 minutes. Carve the breast meat, legs, and, thighs. Arrange the carved meat on a large serving platter. Cover the platter with foil. Transfer the platter to the refrigerator. Just prior to serving your meal, reheat the covered platter in the oven for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Jules

Tuesday 23rd of November 2021

Can you smoke your turkey the day before and heat it up in the oven the next morning?

Katie

Tuesday 23rd of November 2021

Yes. This is how I recommend handing that scenario:

After cooking, let the turkey rest for 30 minutes. Carve the breast meat, legs, and, thighs. Arrange the carved meat on a large serving platter. Cover the platter with foil. Transfer the platter to the refrigerator. Just prior to serving your meal, reheat the covered platter in the oven for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F.

JOHN

Monday 22nd of November 2021

Why not just finish in the smoker? My Camp Chef Pellet grill can smoke low and then you can crank it up as high as 500°

Katie

Tuesday 23rd of November 2021

In Colorado, where we live, it can often be quite cold and/or windy this time of year. I find that preheating the Traeger up to its highest temp under the best conditions takes a good bit more than a couple minutes. If it is cold and windy it can take even longer. You either risk overcooking the turkey if you keep the bird on while it preheats, or you have to take the bird off while it heats and then put it back on. It is a hassle, and the bird's temp can start to go down and then you won't have an accurate reading after putting the bird back on for the final portion. Hope that makes sense. For us, time is maximized by preheating the oven while the turkey finishes up on the smoker and then the oven is all ready to go to crisp the skin. We also like the way the skin gets crispy in the oven. Feel free to do it however you like best, this is just what we found works best for us and gives us the results we want. Happy Thanksgiving!

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