How to Smoke a Turkey on a Charcoal Grill?

How to Smoke a Turkey on a Charcoal Grill

Have you been itching to make a smoked turkey but don’t have access to a dedicated smoker? The good news is you don’t need a smoker to get that unique smoky flavor and juiciness from turkey meat.

Smoking is not necessarily the commonest method of cooking turkey – that would be roasting, but it arguably results in the most flavorful meat because of the brine and wood smoke. In this article, we will show you how to smoke a turkey on a charcoal grill and get a tantalizingly delicious result.

What Do You Need?

There are different ways to prepare and season a turkey for smoking, and you can always come up with your personal twist when it comes to the ingredients, but we

  • Turkey (10 – 14 pounds)
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 pound brown sugar
  • 1 cup salt
  • Water
  • 4 large oranges (quartered)
  • 3 ounces fresh ginger (sliced thinly)
  • 5 large bay leaves
  • 5 cloves of garlic

How to Smoke a Turkey on a Charcoal Grill?

Preparing the Turkey

While you can pick up a fresh turkey just before you start cooking, it is more likely that you will be cooking a turkey that has been frozen for some time. When you have a frozen turkey, it is highly important that you defrost it properly by keeping it under 39°F during defrosting. You could help this process by moving the turkey from your freezer to the fridge a couple of days before the cooking date.

Next, remove the giblets and neck from the body cavity and neck of the turkey, while you trim off excess fats deposits on the turkey.

The next thing to do is brine the turkey. While this is optional, it makes a great difference as to how your smoked turkey comes out at the end of the day. Brining does much more than season the turkey with salt and flavors, it enables the proteins in the turkey to hold on to moisture as it cooks, so that the meat is juicier at the of the day.

Preparing a turkey brine mixture can be as simple as adding salt and sugar to water, but we’ve added other spices and ingredients into the mix to ensure a more effective brining and a tastier effect. To prepare your brine solution:

  • Add salt and brown sugar to a portion of water in a saucepan and simmer until they have dissolved.
  • Let the solution cool down
  • In another large container, add the salt and sugar solution, garlic, citrus fruits, ginger, and bay leaves, to 3 quarts of water
  • Put the turkey in the mixture, ensuring that it is totally submerged, and refrigerate for 24 hours

Preparing the Charcoal Grill

What you want to do is prepare your charcoal grill for indirect cooking. This means placing the cooking area to one side of the heat source or in between two heat sources, such that the heat is not directly under the food. Indirect smoking will cook the turkey surely and slowly so it doesn’t dry out. Maintain the temperature at around 350°F throughout the cooking process

Preparing the Charcoal Grill

To create the unique smoky effect you want, put some wood chips such as apple, pecan, hickory, or any other preferred wood chips onto the coals. You may want to soak the wood chips in cold water beforehand to prevent them from catching fire. Also, place a disposable aluminum pan under the indirect cooking zone to catch drippings from the turkey.

Smoking the Turkey

  • Upon bringing the turkey out of the brine, pat dry with paper towels
  • Next, brush the turkey lightly with vegetable oil. This will help the skin get crispy and brown.
  • Next, sprinkle on your seasoning. You can use store-bought seasoning or you can make your homemade seasoning with a simple mix of spices and seasonings.
  • Place the turkey on the indirect zone of your grill, breast-side up. Some recipes may require you to place the turkey breast-side down, but the breast-side up position works perfectly for our recipe.
  • Cook for 1 hour and check if the charcoal has depleted. Add more charcoal as required.
  • You can also add more wood chips, but 1 round of smoking chips is usually enough to infuse sufficient smoky flavor. You don’t want the turkey to get too smoky as that will ruin the taste
  • When the lid is open, you can optionally hit the turkey breast with some apple cider vinegar and water spray to keep it from drying out and getting too crispy
  • Monitor the internal temperature of the turkey every hour with a temperature probe and continue to refresh the charcoal as needed
  • What you want is for the turkey to reach an internal temperature of 160°F to 165°F. Take the turkey off the grill when the internal temperature hits that range.
  • Rest the turkey for 15 – 30 minutes to complete the cooking process and retain moisture in the meat
  • The turkey is now ready. Carve and serve as you prefer.

Should You Baste a Turkey When You Smoke It?

Basting simply means moistening the surface of meat, poultry, or any other food with butter, stock, or some other liquid when grilling. This technique adds flavor and moisture to the food, and also helps the seasoning to better stick to the food.

Basting is sometimes necessary when smoking or grilling meat, as it prevents the meat from drying out and helps the seasoning adhere well to the meat. However, if you follow the exact steps we’ve discussed when smoking your turkey, you really don’t have to baste. As our recipe includes brining the turkey for 24 hours, you can skip basting the turkey. Brining infuses sufficient flavor into the meat and ensures that the smoked turkey comes out juicy.

What Are the Differences Between Roasted and Smoked Turkey?

Differences Between Roasted and Smoked Turkey

Roasting and smoking are two similar cooking methods, with roasting arguably being the traditional way to cook a turkey. However, a resurgence of the smoking cooking method in recent times has led to the smoked turkey gaining more popularity.

The most significant difference between roasted and smoked turkey is in the flavor. Smoked turkey is characterized by a much stronger flavor and a more tender texture, compared to roasted turkey. The infusion of smoke during the smoking process is responsible for the strong flavor, while the extended cooking period makes the meat considerably tenderer than roasted turkey.

Roasted turkey has an aesthetically pleasing characteristic that’s hard to miss. It also tends to have a more crispy and savory outside, which is probably why it is preferred by a lot of people. Furthermore, brining is a recommended step when smoking a turkey, but not so much when you’re roasting.


Roasted turkey may be more popular, but smoked turkey can be just as delectable when cooked the right way. What’s really interesting about smoking a turkey is that you don’t necessarily need a smoker.

If you have access to a charcoal grill, all you need is some wood chunks/chips/pellets to create smoke and infuse your turkey with a gentle smoky flavor. Brining is important, although not compulsory. Smoking is a slow and long cooking process, and as such, your meat can dry out easily if not properly brined. Good luck and remember to follow our blog.

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