top of page

Gobble Gobble - How to Cook a Turkey the Right Way


It’s almost turkey time!  

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday. I absolutely love getting together with loved ones and having a meal. We do that more often than once a year around here, but there’s just something special about Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s the food. Maybe it’s the company. For me, I think it’s getting to serve other people by doing something that I absolutely love:  COOKING!!!

    For Thanksgiving one year, I remember my mom thought it would be a great idea to do a “tofu turkey.” It was about as great as it sounds. Mom isn’t allowed to run Thanksgiving anymore. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a great cook, when it’s not tofu. However, it’s a family effort now, and I usually handle the bird. 

Several years ago I got into doing Competition BBQ. I got myself a big smoker on which I can fit a lot of turkeys. I usually wind up making about eighteen, then selling the majority to have a little extra cash for Christmas. It might sound intimidating to make that many birds for other families, but believe it or not turkeys are fairly easy to smoke. 

You might be thinking, “Yeah, but you have the proper equipment”.  

While that’s true, I also started out smoking on a homemade rig. It was two oil drums that were given to me by a local farming family. I went to Rural King and bought a double wood stove kit for less than $100 at the time. It was a cheap way to get started, and it made just as good BBQ as you could find at any given BBQ competition. 

Therefore, if you’re down about what you have to cook on I would encourage you to do a little research and improvise. Some of the greatest pitmasters in the world started out with nothing more than a hole in their yard. Smoking food isn’t really as much of a science as it is an art. You can do it with pretty much anything. I’ve even seen guys use clay pots to smoke meat.

At any rate, back to turkey. If you want to impress your relatives this year, pay attention.  The secret to making a good turkey is common sense and simplicity. A lot of people want to get caught up in the latest seasoning, or some super secret recipe that’s been passed down for generations. You don’t need any of that. A good rub is going to compliment the natural flavor of the meat without overpowering anything. When I bite into any cut of meat I want to taste the meat, not seasoning. 

I use a rub that I call 3-2-1-1. The name is the ratio of the rub’s recipe:  3 salt, 2 pepper, 1 garlic, 1 onion; 3-2-1-1. It doesn’t matter the measurements as long as the ratio is the same.

You’re going to open your turkey up, remove all the innards and the neck, but save the neck!!! Put the neck in a pot of water with a stick of butter and some of your rub which you just made. Bring it to a boil and let it roll for about 10-15 minutes. After the neck is cooked you’re going to remove the pot from the heat and strain the liquid into another container. You’re going to use this liquid as the injection for your bird. Give the neck to your dog, unless you’re like cousin Eddie and prefer to eat the neck, Clark.

Next, put your bird in an aluminum pan and when your injection cools, start injecting.  Heavily inject the legs, thighs, and breast. I put the injection in until I begin to see it come back out. Now rub your bird down with some olive oil and season with your rub, then sprinkle some paprika over it as well. The paprika doesn’t really add any flavor as much as it adds color to your bird during the smoking process. In order to get the right color on your bird you will want to wrap your bird BEFORE you see the color you want. If you wait until you see the color you want then you will overcook your bird and it will come out black. I shoot for a nice reddish brown color.

Get your smoker up to temperature. I run mine at about 275°. Now, a lot of people will tell you that this is too hot and that you should run your smoker at 225°.  Let me enlighten you as to where the term “low and slow” comes from. When pitmasters of old would cook their stuff “low and slow,” they were actually cooking on a pit that was fired by coals in the bottom. They would place the meat directly over the coals and run their pits at 225-degrees in order to get that nice, crisp skin on their meats. Well, on a newer smoker your meat is not even going to see a flame, so there is no reason to run it that low. You won’t achieve that crispness unless you are using a legitimate pit and coals. 

Throw your bird on the smoker in the pan and leave it unwrapped until it starts getting color. Check on it every so often to see how the color is coming along, and while you’re checking on it, spray it down with a spritz that is 50/50 apple cider vinegar and apple juice. Add just a splash of Worcestershire sauce to the spritz for a little added flavor. Once the bird starts getting some color on it, spritz it down heavily and wrap it with aluminum foil. Now you’re at the easy part.

Feed the fire. You’re done messing with the bird until it’s finished cooking.  

At 250-275 degrees, a 12-15 pound bird is going to take roughly five hours on the smoker, or at least that’s what it takes on my particular smoker. Once it’s wrapped you’re just waiting on it to finish cooking. I recommend checking it periodically to prevent overcooking.  You can probe it with a meat thermometer through the foil, or just check to see if the leg would pull off. Personally, I just check the leg. If it acts as if it would pull easily from the bird, your bird is done.

    Take the bird off the smoker and place it in a cooler to rest until you’re ready to eat it. Be careful not to spill the juice. It might not have had any liquid in the pan when you put it on the smoker, but I promise you, your pan is now almost full of juice. That’s the liquid you would have lost during the cook had you not had your bird in a pan and covered. By the way, this juice makes great gravy!

    When you go to carve your turkey, forgo the knife. Another common mistake made by people is cutting into a bird. When you go slicing into that bird you’re going to lose all of your juices. What I like to do is pull the meat right off the bones. If you like the drumsticks, pull those off and put them on a plate, then pull the rest of the meat and put it into a pan. Throw some of the juices leftover from the cook into the pan with the meat and mix it all up. Your bird is now ready to serve.

    From start to finish you’ll have about seven (7) hours in the whole process. It’s pretty easy to do and super delicious. Above all else, just remember to have fun with it. I hope you give it a try and be sure to let us know how your cook goes!  

22 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page