BBQ Smoked Whole Turkey with video

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If you’re looking for a slightly unconventional way to roast a whole turkey this Thanksgiving and have a Traeger pellet smoker, be sure to give this BBQ Smoked Whole Turkey a try! This sweet fall BBQ rub might just give Pumpkin Spice a run for it’s money! Filled with traditional BBQ flavors and the extra scents and seasonings the holidays are known for. Juicy meat and crispy skin, you’ll be aching all day to sink your teeth into this meal.

Best served with creamy cheesy mashed potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts, and finished with pecan pie!

How to Smoke a Turkey for Thanksgiving - Featured Image

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For the Love of all that is Smoked!

This summer we got a Traeger pellet smoker thanks to a client. Since we got it, we’ve been smoking everything we can think of, have you seen the Smoked Peach Pie? And while everything has been delicious, not everything has needed cast iron in the process. I love my cast iron but I am not about to use it, JUST to use it. And there are some recipes, like this one, that I simply do not have a cast iron piece big enough for it. I didn’t want to leave you without a Thanksgiving Turkey recipe though, so this is the best compromise!

Whole Roasted Smoked Turkey

Ingredients for BBQ Smoked Whole Turkey

  • Turkey: Grab a whole frozen turkey at the store and be sure to thaw it first. Keep in mind that a turkey needs roughly one day to thaw for each 4-5 pounds of weight, so plan accordingly!
  • Seasonings: This sweet and spicy spice rub is the key to perfect smoked turkey. I use a combination of black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cinnamon powder, chili powder, cumin, sea salt, Italian herb seasoning, paprika, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, and brown sugar.
  • Butter: Butter adds moisture and flavor to the entire bird! We’re using it between the skin and the meat to help keep the whole bird moist and juicy, and prohibit splitting of the skin.
  • Spritz: Throughout the cooking process, you’ll spritz your turkey with water, apple juice, or chicken stock to keep it nice and moist.

How to thaw a turkey in the sink

The best way to dethaw a turkey quickly and safely is in a large tub with cold water. If you can fit that in your refrigerator, great! But to do so in the sink, use enough cold water to cover the wrapped turkey, and rotate every 30 minutes with a water change. This will keep the turkey at the right temperature and prohibit bacteria growth. Allot 30 minutes per pound.

how to serve smoked turkey

How much turkey do you need per person?

While this depends on portion sizes and the number of sides you’re serving with your turkey, you can usually plan on about 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person. An average turkey at the store will be between 11-24 pounds.

Now, if you want leftovers, plan to make extra! You can use it in my Turkey Butternut Squash Chili!

turkey breast served for thanksgiving on a white platter with cranberries and fresh herbs.

How to smoke a whole turkey with video!

Smoking a whole turkey is so much simpler than it sounds! The most time consuming part of the recipe is just waiting around for it to be done cooking.

  1. Start by removing the thawed turkey from the packaging. Prep it by removing the giblets, neck, and any extra parts, then set aside or discard. Pat the turkey dry.
  2. Next, combine the seasonings and brown sugar in a bowl, then store in a mason jar. Add half of the prepared spice rub into a bowl with room temperature butter. Mix together, then spread all over between the skin and the meat.
  3. Use the rest of the dry rub to cover the outside of the turkey. Do this twice, if needed.
  4. Stuff the turkey with the aromatics of your choice, then place into the smoker and cook. Spritz the turkey every hour during cooking to prevent dryness.
  5. When the turkey is done, pull it out of the smoker. Let it rest for 45 minutes, then slice and serve.

How long does it take to smoke a turkey on a BBQ grill?

That depends on the size of your turkey. The general rule is to allow 30-40 minutes of smoking per pound of turkey. For a turkey around 15 pounds, guesstimate about 8 hours.

The best way of measuring doneness, though, is to use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey. Once that reads 165ºF, it’s good to go!

Note: Do not go any larger than a 15-18 pound turkey for food safety reasons. If you need to feed an extra large crowd, get two turkeys and smoke both at the same time if able.

What if I don’t have a smoker?

No problem! Follow this same recipe and method, only bake it in the oven at 325F for about 3 hours or until the internal temperature reads between 165F-180F. You will not get the smokey flavor from any pellets or wood, but you could add some liquid smoke (just a Tablespoon or so) to the spice rub. It will not be exactly the same but just as delicious!

More of our favorite

Thanksgiving Recipes

While the turkey might not fit, here’s a bunch of other Thanksgiving recipes that you can easily make in your cast iron skillet or Dutch oven.

What pellets are best for smoking?

Pellets don’t add flavor to what you’re smoking, but they do change the amount of smoke that is produced. For something mild, use a Pecan. For something a bit more robust, apple or cherry work well. I personally love Traeger’s signature blend. I could honestly use just that and some salt and pepper on my poultry and be a happy New England clam!

Do I put the turkey directly on the grill when smoking?

Yes! Place the turkey directly onto the grate to get an all around cooking. Place a tin pan as large as the turkey, on the grate below to catch all the drippings you’ll then use for smoked gravy!

Smoked Turkey on Traeger pellet smoker

How to rest a turkey and keep the skin crispy

One of the worst things you can do on Thanksgiving is promise a perfectly juicy turkey with crispy skin, and end up serving a rubbery mess! Some people really love the skin and others couldn’t care less about it. Which team are you? Let me know in the comments below. Here’s the pro tip from America’s Test Kitchen: About 45 minutes or so gives it time to reabsorb the juices; otherwise they’ll dribble out when you slice, and the meat will be dry. Don’t tent the turkey with foil to keep it warm while it’s resting; it’s unnecessary and will make the skin soggy.

platter with smoked turkey legs and thanksgiving turkey white meat

Tips and notes

Save the extra parts. When you’re prepping the turkey, hang on to the parts you remove. You can use them to make gravy!

Pat the turkey dry. Before you season and cook, pat the outside of the turkey dry gently with paper towels. Removing the extra moisture allows the skin to crisp up as the bird cooks.

Wear gloves. As always, you should wear gloves while handling raw meat to prevent bacteria from spreading. Additionally, be sure to clean any utensils or cutting boards you use thoroughly before using them for anything else.

thickly sliced smoked turkey breast - traeger thanksgiving

Back out of the danger zone. Your turkey needs to go from 40F to 140F in under 3 1/2 hours. If at 3 hours you still are not at 140F on the inner thigh, crank the smoker up in temperature if able, or transfer to the oven. We don’t need anyone getting sick!

Save the stuffing for the oven. Because we’re cooking this at such a low temperature, it’s best to save the stuffing for a casserole dish in the oven to avoid any foodborne illnesses.

Don’t forget to spritz. Adding moisture throughout the cooking process is key to preventing the turkey from drying out as it cooks. The extra moisture also helps the seasonings adhere to the meat.

Let it rest. A whole turkey needs around 45 minutes to rest after cooking before you slice into it. During this time, the moisture and flavor is able to redistribute throughout the meat. If you cut into your meat (any kind) and see juices running, it’s like throwing lottery money out the window.

Thanksgiving smoked turkey breast sliced for serving

How to store leftover Smoked Turkey

Smoked turkey, as opposed to roast turkey, lasts quite a bit longer since smoking it helps preserve the meat. That’s great news for when you have lots of leftovers!

I find it easiest to first carve the turkey into smaller pieces. From there you can store it in an airtight container and keep it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

When you’re ready to serve it again, thaw it overnight in the fridge if frozen, then warm in the oven at 300ºF, covered with foil, until heated through.

smoked turkey breast

What to serve with BBQ Smoked Turkey

Smoked turkey is perfect for the holidays since it frees up all the oven and stove space for other holiday dishes. With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite side dishes to serve with this turkey!

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BBQ Smoked Turkey

Course Dinner
Cuisine American
Servings 16 people
BBQ Smoked Turkey has crispy skin that's slightly sweet and carries a touch of heat, balanced by a juicy, tender meat. This is the perfect way to celebrate the holidays and pairs well with any traditional side dish!


  • disposable gloves
  • scissors
  • sheet pan
  • large mixing bowl
  • Whisk
  • Measuring Cups
  • measuring spoons
  • instant-read thermometer
  • Traeger pellet smoker or other smoker


  • 18 pound turkey thawed

Thanksgiving BBQ Rub

  • 2 Tablespoons Black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons Garlic powder
  • 2 Tablespoons Onion powder
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons Cinnamon powder
  • 3 Tablespoons Chili powder
  • 2 Tablespoons Cumin
  • 2 Tablespoons Sea salt fine
  • 2 Tablespoons Italian Herb Seasoning
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons Paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper more or less depending on heat preference
  • ¾ Tablespoon Ground Nutmeg
  • ½ – 1 cup Brown Sugar packed (depending on how sweet you like it)

Other Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter room temperature
  • 2 cups apple juice
  • 4 carrots
  • 2 celery stocks
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 handful fresh herbs


  • Remove the thawed turkey from the packaging. Remove the giblets, neck and any extra parts. Set aside to make gravy or discard. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels.
  • In a large bowl combine the spice rub ingredients. Store in a tall mason jar with a lid. Add about half to a bowl with room temperature butter and mix.
  • Use gloved hands and fingers to delicately separate the skin from the meat of the turkey breasts. Spread the butter between the skin and the meat. Massage the outside of the turkey to spread it evenly.
  • Use the remaining dry rub to cover the outside of the bird, twice if needed. The first time coating the turkey in the dry rub will likely coax our remaining liquid from the turkey, so another application will be needed.
  • Stuff the turkey with carrots, celery, onions, garlic, sage, and any other herbs or aromatics you prefer.
  • Place the turkey in a smoker at 225F with a tin pan under the turkey to catch drippings.
  • Use a spray bottle with water, apple juice, or stock to spray the entire turkey every hour. This will help the seasoning adhere to the turkey.
  • Once the turkey has reached 165F, remove from the smoker and allow to rest for about 45 minutes, without tenting, before slicing to let the liquid redistribute.



Serving: 1lb | Calories: 722kcal | Carbohydrates: 25g | Protein: 116g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 0.3g | Cholesterol: 357mg | Sodium: 1508mg | Potassium: 1318mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 21g | Vitamin A: 881IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 113mg | Iron: 6mg

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