One of the best meats you can smoke is a whole turkey. A beautifully smoked turkey is a great dish and can be served all year around. And to cook that big bird just right, you need to match it with the perfect type of wood chips.
But with flavors ranging from hickory to maple and apple to pecan, how can you decide which wood you should use to make your turkey mouthwatering?
In this guide, you will learn about the best wood for smoking turkey, along with some helpful tips for your cooking.
Top 5 Best Wood For Smoking Turkey
Cherry wood gives your turkey a touch of sweetness while not overpowering it. If you cook your bird over cherry for several hours, it will develop a nice deep color, making your turkey stand out from the crowd.
And if you want to make an addition of a little bit of complexity to the smoke flavor, then you can consider adding a touch of hickory as well. This will complement the cherry, as well as help add a little bit of extra smoke to it.
Recommended Cherry Wood Chips: Oklahoma Joe’s Cherry Wood Smoker Chips
Pecan is also a sweet-tasting wood, just like cherry. However, pecan is far richer in flavor than cherry and adds a bit nut-like layer of flavor to the turkey. Thanks to these flavor enhancements, you can say pecan is a bit more powerful than cherry. So, pecan is an amazing alternative if you don’t find cherry sweet or sharp enough.
Be careful; depending on your taste, you might find that pecan is a little too sweet. So, the best thing to do is see how the turkey meat reacts to pecan wood and taste the test first.
Also, like cherry wood, don’t mix pecan with hickory or oak for added nuanced flavor. Pecan is rich enough by itself, and any addition of ‘earthy’ woods like oak or hickory risk overpowering the meat. So, refrain yourself from adding touches of oak or hickory like you were suggested to do with cherry.
Recommended Pecan Wood Chips: Weber Stephen Products Pecan Wood
Maple is another wood that is on the sweeter side of the wood scale. And it has its merits to be on the list.
Despite what it may seem, compared to its other sweet wood counterparts, maple hardwood is far more subtle. It adds a delicate, light layer of flavor to your turkey. And it is an excellent choice if you want the natural flavors of your turkey meat and just a touch of flavor.
So, if you find cherry or pecan are too sweet or rich for your tastes and want something with a far slighter flavor profile, then you can go with maple as an alternative.
Recommended Maple Wood Chips: Western Maple BBQ Smoking Chips
Applewood is a fruity and sweet wood. However, compared to cherry or pecan, it has a much more mellow flavor. A lot of people might take apple as their first choice for smoked turkey woods, but the flavors in apple smoke are so subtle that permeating the turkey meat and infusing it with flavor can actually take a long time.
The issue with this is that turkey is quite prone to drying out, So when it comes to applewood turkey, it is really difficult to find the perfect balance between the one that hasn’t dried out and a richly flavored meat.
However, this doesn’t mean it can’t be done. You can smoke the turkey at a lower temperature, which often does the trick. But if you are new to smoking, then you should lean towards the other variants of woods on the list.
Recommended Apple Wood: Weber 17138 Apple Wood Chips
Alder wood is a great choice if you want an even lighter flavor than the previous ones. It also burns slowly, making it the ideal choice for beginners as it offers minimal chances for mistakes.
Because of its mild flavor, alder wood is mostly used for smoking seafood, but you can use it for turkey as well. The complimentary taste and delicious aroma of alder wood can be hard to resist.
In addition, this permits you to focus on all the herbs and spices that you have seasoned your turkey with. Moreover, it adds an earthy aftertaste to the turkey as well.
Recommended Alder Wood: Smokehouse Alder Flavored Chunks
Other Wood Types For A Stronger Smoke Flavor
While the previous choices should work perfectly with turkey, there are other options if you are looking for something with more pronounced aromas. Because in the end, it all depends on your preference. These options are also great when you are smoking a turkey in a backyard BBQ.
For their strong flavors, most people pair the following woods with brisket, steak, or ribs. Nevertheless, if you want, you can still use them for turkey.
Mesquite is also an option, but while it is a tasty and popular wood to use, it doesn’t go well with turkey. Mesquite is very strong, and it can simply overpower the flavor of the turkey meat.
Previously we have mentioned how you can add hints of hickory wood to cherry to get a more powerful effect. However, here, we are just going to talk about hickory and all its earthy glory.
It is a classic consideration for smoking and gives a heavy, distinctive flavor. Still, if you are new at smoking turkey, you should reconsider being your journey with hickory. It can be a bit difficult to figure out the amount of wood you should use to get an acceptable balance in flavor. Finding the perfect point might require some trial and error.
Hickory is a versatile wood as well. Its flavor spectrum is broad, from sweet to savory. However, how you like your turkey is the main key to finding the right taste.
Oak boasts rick and deep flavor, which makes it another classic wood choice for smoking re meat. However, it is less-scented than hickory, which is why it is preferred by many people.
It can also be mixed with cherry and apple to create a flavor combination of earthy notes and sweetness. Even though it is not often that oak is paired with poultry, you can surely do some experiments with it if you want. You never know, it may taste good to you.
Chunks, Chips, Or Pellets?
Wood chunks, chips, and pellets are the same thing in different forms. They are hardwood used for cooking and flavoring food. And which form of wood would be best for you depends on which type of smoker you have at your home.
If you have a pellet smoker, then you should use wood pellets for smoking your turkey. These pellets are specially designed to be used in a pellet smoker.
Typically, electric smokers use wood chips for flavoring. Nevertheless, many electric smokers have wood trays that can easily take enough wood pellets.
At last, logs or wood chunks are ideal for charcoal smokers and traditional offset smokers.
Tips You’ll Want to Follow to Make the Perfect Smoked Turkey
Finding and choosing the best wood for smoking turkey is just the first step of the quest. Here are some of the tips that will help you cook the most delicious turkey.
Try To Buy A Fresh Turkey
Compared to frozen poultry, fresh ones always taste better. This is why it is recommended to go to the butcher and get your bird.
Nonetheless, it is okay if you are too busy to head to the market on the day you are going to smoke the turkey. You can still purchase it one or two days before and keep it in the fridge until the smoking time is here.
If you get your turkey more than 48 hours in advance, then it would be better to freeze it to stay on the safe side. And move the turkey to the fridge 24 hours prior to your plan on cooking it.
Prepare Your Turkey
Preparing a turkey for smoking can be done in many ways. Here we will mention one of those good ways. First, you may want to spatchcock your turkey with a pair of sharp shears.
Simply cut along the spine of your turkey using the shears and then remove it and the breastbone. This will permit you to spread the turkey open on top of your dish or pan.
Many favors this technique because it helps the meat cook faster. This is because the heat travels better through a thin layer of meat. Plus, this method should make your meat absorb all the juices and spices released in the smoking chamber.
The next step is seasoning. This step is based on your preference of spices or the recipe you are following. You can also brine the turkey on the previous night of the smoking. This will give it an enhanced flavor as well as a tender texture.
Don’t Forget To Buy A Reliable Thermometer
Oftentimes, the built-in thermometer in a smoker might trick you. So, you should get a probe thermometer that is made especially for BBQ purposes.
When you are smoking a turkey, you should never do guesswork. In order to make sure it is ready, remember to check the temperature of the thickest section of the turkey. And for the best results, it should always be at 165 °F.
Between 275 – 350°F should be the ideal temperature of your smoker. It is not a big deal, even if it gets a bit lower or higher, as long as it doesn’t stay that way for an extended amount of time.
Place A Pan Under The Turkey
If the turkey is all set inside the electric smoker, then first, put down a pan under it and then turn the machine on. The turkey should produce juice, and a drip pan will gather all of it. This will also make your cleaning easy after you are done smoking. And this juice should also be great for gravy.
You can even add chopped onions, potatoes, carrots, and herbs to this tray to up your smoking game.
Let The Turkey Rest For A While Before Serving
Before you carve your turkey, it is recommended to leave it on your kitchen counter for some time, like between 15-20 minutes. This will enable the meat to reabsorb its juice as well as keep its moisture intact.
However, if your weather is chilly, then it is best not to expose your turkey to the air for too long. Because this will make it lose its crispiness, and it could dry out.
Question: Is Cherry Wood Good to Smoke Turkey With?
Answer: When you are deciding about which wood to choose to smoke your turkey, then yes, cherry wood is a great choice. It gives a smoky, sweet flavor that is capable of enhancing your turkey without becoming too overpowering.
Make sure the hardwood chips you are getting are 100% natural to get the most authentic cherry wood flavor and the best results.
Besides the taste, cherry wood can give your turkey a deep color that will make it stand out. It is also a great choice if you like the hickory-smoked flavor but wants something a little milder.
Question: Is Pecan Wood Good for Smoking Turkey?
Answer: Yes! Pecan wood is an excellent choice for smoking turkey. The reason is because it gives a unique flavor to the meat.
Like cherry wood, pecan can also give your turkey a slightly sweet taste. However, it provides the added nutty flavor. Everyone may not prefer this taste, but it is a great touch for the ones who like it. It is also a great choice if you find the cherry wood taste to be too sharp.
Keep in mind that pecan wood is fairly rich, so you don’t need to use oak or hickory wood with it. It can deliver enough smoke on its own.
Question: How Much Wood Do I Need to Smoke a Turkey?
Answer: The amount of wood you will need for smoking your turkey will depend on the turkey itself. This goes for all meat. Whenever you are smoking meat, the amount of wood will be determined based on the weight of the meat.
So, in order to accurately measure the amount of wood you will need, you need to know the weight of the turkey. For instance, a turkey with a weight of 12 to 14 lbs can be started with around 2 cups of wood chips. And as time goes on, you will need more.
Another way to look at it is by using the rule of how much you can fit into the smoker box. An average smoker can fit around 5 ounces of wood chips. While it is not a hard and fast rule, it is something to keep in mind as a guide.
A delicious recipe, patience, and the right type of wood to put inside your smoker are the things that you need to make a perfectly smoked turkey.
Maple, apple, or even oak, any of the choices can be the best wood for smoking turkey as long as you find it to be tasty. Just remember to try and find the perfect balance between the richness of the wood chunks you are using and the natural flavor of the turkey.