Best Wood for Smoking Turkey
Grillpro Alder Chips
Weber Apple Wood
Best Overall wood for smoking turkey
Western Premium Cherry
Weber Pecan Chips
Introduction – Best wood for smoking turkey
It doesn’t need to be Thanksgiving or Christmas to smoke a delicious and juicy turkey. Turkey is a meat that can be served all year ‘round with a wide variety of sides and drinks that can make it the perfect centerpiece of any dinner table. It works well with savory as well as sweet accents, and can smoke better than almost any game on the planet.
The traditional way to cook a turkey is by roasting it in the oven. This is the old ‘tried and true’ method that many families and poultry lovers swear by. Contrasting that, a more modern method is by deep frying the turkey to shock the skin into hardening and trapping the juices inside. But, here at Sky Liners, we believe that smoking your turkey might just be the best way to cook the bird.
When it comes to smoking a turkey, you have quite a few different options for wood. These different woods can actually change the overall flavor profile of the meat in very unique and exotic ways. They can add bitter notes, sweet notes, and everything in between. That’s why it’s important to not only know what brand of wood chips you are using, but what wood type itself.
So, if you stick around, we are going to use this time to break down exactly what you should be looking for in a great turkey smoking wood, as well as what specific brands and products to buy. Let’s dive into Sky Liner’s official guide to turkey smoking wood.
Contrary to popular belief, not all woods are created equal. When burned, each different species will have varying smoke levels and different flavor profiles (as we mentioned in our intro). But, this variance goes a bit deeper into the actual brand purchased and product. Brands such as Traeger, Camerons and Weber are all well known for their high-quality wood chips for smoking. But each one produces differing qualities and it’s helpful to know which one to buy for your desired flavor.
Best wood for smoking turkey - Mesquite
Mesquite is one of the more popular wood flavors to use for smoking virtually any meat, from poultry to red meats. This versatility makes it a favorite among southern style barbecues and ‘smokers’. However, it does come with the strongest smoke flavor that you are likely to come across. This is a wood that is not for the faint of heart. You are going to get the full richness of the smoke and earthy flavors with mesquite.
With these mesquite pellets you are also getting the benefit of pellets, which give a much more controlled burn than chips (more on this later). These mesquite pellets are going to give your bird a robust and vibrant smoke flavor that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Just be careful, as overdoing it with mesquite is easy to do for a newcomer.
Mesquite – Standout features
- Extremely robust flavor.
- Slow burning pellets.
- Mixes well with milder woods.
- Great for almost any meat.
Overall Rating - 89%
Weber Apple Wood
Applewood is a very sweet and fruity wood that adds a lot of charm to any smoked turkey. Being that it is a fruit bearing tee, you are going to get a lot of those fruit tones when you smoke your turkey with it. This is perfect for summer cookouts and holiday dinners alike. Here you get the chance to enjoy a more light flavoring to your smoked turkey.
Apple is very popular because it is not too overwhelmingly smokey–although some do like this. But for newcomers to the smoked flavor, applewood is ideal. However, one drawback to applewood is that it does oftentimes take a while for the flavor to seep into the meat. This is because it’s such a mild flavor to begin with. You may want to keep this in mind if you are planning on doing a faster smoked turkey cook.
Weber Apple Wood – Standout Features
- Very subtle taste.
- Slow burn.
- Great fruity flavor.
Overall Rating - 92%
Traeger Signature Blend - Best Overall Wood for Smoking Turkey
Sometimes the best wood to use for smoking a turkey is a blend of different woods to create a more complex and exciting flavor profile. That’s what you get with the Traeger Signature Blend of hardwoods. This pellet blend mixes maple, hickory and cherry to get a sweet and smoky flavor that will make any bird taste delicious. The blend will also give your turkey that gorgeous wine red color that experts look for!
Mixing various woods can help to bring out the best in your meat without dedicating the flavor to a single structure. You can get subtle smokey tones mixed with fruity and nutty flavors. It’s a fun way to get a new and exciting experience out of smoking turkey. With a pre-mixed blend you don’t have to worry about going overboard or mixing opposing flavors by accident. You get a perfect flavor and mixture every time.
- Award winning blend from a trusted name in the industry.
- Slow burning pellets for extra long smoke time.
- Rich smoke flavor accented by sweet undertones.
- Great for beginners.
Overall Rating - 95%
Western Premium Cherry
Cherry is another fruity wood that can help bring a lot of added flavor and coloration to your smoked turkey. Being a very hard wood, similar to oak, this wood will burn slowly and allow you to get a lot of bang for your buck. You can throw a handful of chips into your smoker and cook for hours on end!
The main benefit of cherry, besides the rich oaky/fruity flavor, is the coloration. Cherry smoke will bring a rich deep red color to your turkey. This makes it stand out as a beautiful centerpiece of any dining party or holiday table smorgasbord. The rich wine colored tones of the skin make a cherry smoked turkey and instant eye catcher. Cherry is a great wood for those who want a rich fruity flavor with gorgeous presentation value to boot.
Standout Features – Western Premium Cherry
- Medium flavor profile.
- Slow burning hardwood.
- Beautiful coloration.
- Mixes very well with hickory.
Overall Rating - 91%
If you are familiar at all with smoking or grilling, you have likely used or at least tasted maple flavoring. Maple smoked bacon, maple smoked ribs, even maple smoked hamburgers. This is because maple might just be the perfect wood for getting a subtly sweet flavor without going all out on the fruitiness like cherry or applewood.
Maple has a very slightly sweet flavor with a nice rich overtone to offset that sweetness so as to not become overwhelming. It’s the perfect compliment to barbecue sauces and outdoor summer cooking. Maple is easy to light, burns well, and provides the ideal middle ground for sweet and smokey flavor that everyone can enjoy. These Camerons all natural maple wood chips will be the star of the show when you smoke your turkey, guaranteed.
Standout Features – Maple Chips
- Easy to light.
- Perfect ‘middle ground’ flavor profile.
- Recognizable flavor that is versatile and complementary.
- Cheap wood compared to other varieties.
Overall Rating - 88%
Weber Pecan Chips
In keeping with the ‘sweet’ theme, we go to the extreme in sweetness. Where maple is a bit more mild, pecan is very sweet. This is a wood perfect for those who are looking for an added kick of sweetness beyond what cherry can offer. Pecan is a nut, of course, and the wood also brings a slight nutty flavor to the meat alongside the sweetness. It’s this complexity of flavor that many really enjoy.
The one drawback to pecan is that it is a pretty distinct and powerful flavor. It’s sweetness is not always appreciated by newcomers to smoking. So, proceed with caution unless you are certain that you want a very sweet bird for you and your guests. But, for those that do like that sweet and nutty flavor, pecan is the best wood to use.
Standout Features – Weber Pecan Chips
- Rich and complex flavor.
- Nice coloration for the meat.
- Perfect as a stand-alone wood without mixing
Overall Rating - 90%
Grillpro Alder Chips
Moving away from the sweet woods, we enter into more savory smoking woods to experiment with. Alder is a great entry-level wood for newcomers to smoking as it has a very subtle and mild flavor without being too harsh on the smokiness. It has an earthy flavor and will bring a nice golden coloration to your turkey. It is very forgiving as well, in the sense that it is very hard to over-do it with alder in general.
Alder is also a great wood for mixing it with more strong wood flavors. It can help bring stronger woods, like oak or cherry, down to a more mild level by balancing out their flavors with its own mildness. This makes alder a great wood for doing your own wood mixing and experimentation as well! Overall it’s hard to go wrong with alder, and should always be a safe bet for new ‘smokers’.
Standout Features – Weber Pecan Chips
- Great for beginners.
- Smooth and mild flavor.
- Great for mixing with other woods.
- Gentle earthy flavor.
Overall Rating - 90%
Buyers Guide – Best wood for smoking turkey
So, now that we’ve taken the time to go through a few of our personal favorite woods for turkey smoking, let’s dive into what you should know. There is a lot to learn about smoking, and summarizing it all into a single post like this would be impossible. But, we will try to get to the most important parts so that you can make an informed decision and avoid ruining your turkey.
Picking The Wood.
The most important aspect of smoking a turkey is always going to be the wood. It may sound simple, but you cannot overlook how crucial your wood choice is going to be for your overall flavor and appearance when the turkey is done. This means that you should carefully consider what wood you are choosing.
In general poultry does not pair well with overly powerful smoke flavor. This is because the light nature of turkey flavor can become overpowered very easily. You might end up eating a slice of turkey that just tastes like pure smoke. That is why lighter and sweeter wood flavors go very well with turkey.
Above we carefully curated a small selection of woods that specifically pair well with poultry. That’s why you see applewood, cherry, alder, maple, cedar, mesquite, etc,. These woods do bring a nice smokey flavor but won’t overwhelm the delicate nature of the meat. It can be a big mistake to choose something like oak or hickory right out. These woods pack a serious ‘smoke’ punch and will not taste great.
Now, that being said you can mix in smokier flavored woods with lighter woods if you want. Oak and hickory will taste nice paired with a cherry or a maple. But use them sparingly and with caution. In general if you want something fruity you should go with a fruit wood like cherry or applewood. If you want smokey flavor you should go with an alder or mesquite.
Chips Vs. Pellets
Once you’ve settled on a wood, you are going to have to make the next crucial choice. That is, chips or pellets? You will find that most manufacturers offer both options for you to choose from. This is because chips and pellets both offer different advantages and drawbacks.
Wood chips are exactly what they sound like. They are simply pieces of wood that have been chipped by a machine into varying degrees of size and coarseness. This allows you to have some variety ranging from near sawdust to huge chunks. Chips are great because they can double as grill fuel if you want to avoid gas or charcoal.
One thing to note about wood chips is that they tend to burn very quickly. Being smaller pieces of wood they will get consumed by the flame faster and will require you to renew them more often throughout the process. However, they are generally a more ‘organic’ experience and for that they are very popular.
Pellets are made by grinding the wood to a fine dust and pressing them into small pill shaped pellets mechanically. This allows them to be more dense, which leads to a much slower burn. You can get a lot more bang for your buck with pellets as you generally don’t need to use very many to smoke your turkey for hours on end.
One drawback of pellets is that they are a more ‘processed’ product. They are manufactured by a machine and as such can often come with additives or binding agents. These should be avoided at all cost. While they may be safe for consumption, they won’t add a good flavor to your turkey. You have to be more diligent with pellets to ensure that you are getting an organic product only containing wood and nothing else.
Which to Use?
Overall it will come down to your own preferences and what kind of smoker you have. Not all smokers are set up to use pellets and that goes for chips as well. But, in general pellets are often recommended because they can be controlled more easily and they will burn a lot longer than chips.
One thing to note is that most pellets can only be used in pellet smokers. In contrast to this chips are generally adaptable to all different types of smokers. So you do get more versatility with chips. However, you should always check what type of wood your smoker is designed for before making the choice. In the end, you will get excellent results either way.
Top tips for Smoking a Turkey
So, now that you have your wood selected, you are ready to begin smoking your turkey! This is a pretty exciting time, and you should do your best to get the most out of the experience! Afterall, smoking is a labor intensive process so you want the results to be both visually appealing as well as tasty! So, here are a few little tips to keep in mind when you begin:
Go Fresh (when possible)
We understand that not everyone has access to fresh poultry. However, if possible, a fresh turkey is almost always going to yield a better result than frozen. Fresh turkey will smoke more evenly, absorb the flavors better, and come out juicer than their frozen counterparts. This should always be your choice if the option is available. However, don’t let the lack of fresh turkey stop you! Frozen will do well in any case.
Buy a Meat Probe Thermometer
Some smokers come with thermometers that will tell you when the turkey is done. However, these are not going to yield the most accurate results in most cases. You want the thickest part of the turkey to reach 165 degrees fahrenheit internally. This can only be 100% verified with a meat probe thermometer. They are cheap, and a great long term investment for your future smoking adventures.
Prepare the Turkey
The best way to smoke a turkey is going to be with as flat of a surface area as possible. This means getting the turkey itself as flat as you can. While smoking a whole turkey might see like the obvious choice, it’s not the best one.
To get the best flavor absorption, you should remove the spine and breast bones of the turkey. This is a method known as ‘spatchcocking’ and is very popular with all forms of poultry cooking. This method will allow you to spread the meat out over a flatter surface for maximum coverage in smoke as well as spice and marinade. The proper preparation may take a bit longer, but will always taste a whole lot better. You will thank us later!
Let it Rest!
While it may seem tempting to immediately serve and dig into your newly smoked turkey–don’t! Serving a turkey fresh off the smoker is going to yield a very dry bird and an overall underwhelming experience. You should always allow your turkey to rest at least 20 minutes prior to serving it once you remove it from the smoker.
Letting the turkey rest allows the juices to circulate throughout the meat. This helps continue to cook the meat off the heat, as well as saturate the meat. This will leave your turkey far more juicy and flavorful. Resting the bird is the most crucial step to having a mouthwatering experience for you and your friends.
Conclusion – Best wood for smoking turkey
So, as you can see, our team at Sky Liners is pretty passionate about the art of ‘smoking’ meats. We love taking every chance we can get to go outside and smoke a delicious and juicy turkey. So, what do we ultimately believe is the best wood for smoking turkey?
Well, that is really going to depend on your tastes and expectations. When it comes to choosing the right wood for your turkey, it’s going to be your personal preference. But here is a quick rundown of what we believe you will find helpful:
- Fruity and Sweet: Use applewood or cherry.
- Sweet: Use maple or pecan.
- Smokey and Earthy: Use alder or mesquite.
That being said, we do believe we have found what we believe to be the best wood for smoking turkey for general use with beginners. If you are just starting out and this is your first time smoking a turkey, we advise you to use the Traeger Signature Blend. This pellet blend offers an amazing flavor, steady burn, and versatile use that will not disappoint. It is a simple ‘pour and use’ product that will give you a delicious bird every time.
However, in the end, you are always free to mix, match, and experiment with whatever woods you would like in order to get the best flavor and coloration for you.
Our team at Sky Liners are proud to be our resident outdoor living experts. We pride ourselves on searching for the answers that you need, so you don’t have to. We believe that the perfectly smoked turkey is just around the corner, now all you have to do is go out and cook it!
Sky-Liners Choice - Best wood for smoking turkey
FAQ's - Best wood for smoking turkey
This is always going to be a matter of taste and preference. Of course we believe that smoking gives you the most complex flavor as well as the best chance at a juicy bird. But, that does not mean that other methods of cooking are not great as well. In the end it is the chef, and not necessarily the method, that will produce a tasty turkey. Smoking meat is just a whole lot of fun!
This is a very common question for newcomers. It’s not always intuitive which way to place the turkey when smoking it. You should always smoke your turkey with the breast facing up, and your meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast.
Both charcoal grills and propane grills can produce a wonderfully smoked turkey. However, it’s generally advised to go for organic fuel for a smoked bird. Charcoal produces a lot more smoke and won’t interrupt the wood flavors with any hint of natural gas like propane might. In addition, propane powered smokers are a bit more difficult to use and work with and can take some time to learn. But, either will work!
Brining a turkey is generally done to help lock in the moisture when you deep fry or roast it. However, you do not have to follow this process when you are smoking a turkey. This is because smoking is done for a very long time over a low heat. The nature of smoking allows you to lock in the juices without the need of a brine.
Dark meats generally pair well with sweeter flavors. This is why we recommend using a pecan or maple for the turkey legs themselves. However, if you are using fresh non-cured turkey legs, go with an applewood.
This is a very good question. For many, simply roasting a turkey is all they need to enjoy their bird. But, smoking a turkey adds quite a bit more depth to the flavor of the meat. You can experiment with different woods and get a far more complex flavor profile than you would with roasting or deep frying.
There is no strict answer for how long you should smoke your turkey. You need to smoke it until the internal temperature is 165 degrees F (74 degrees C). This generally takes about 30 minutes per pound of turkey that you are smoking. So if you have a 14lbs bird, you will need to smoke it for 7 hours.
You should have your smoker burning at around 240 degrees F (115 degrees C). This will allow the bird to cook evenly without creating imbalances in the cooked areas.