Food & Drink

How to Smoke a Turkey on Thanksgiving

Enlist These Tips from Chef Bruce Kalman

Image: Deposit Photos / golubovy

Turkey isn't the most interesting protein, maligned for being dry and bland compared to other, superior meats.

And yet, despite this universal truth, your Thanksgiving feast will probably feature a turkey at the center of the table.

So you might as well make the most of it by smoking that sucker to eke out every possible ounce of flavor you can get.

To make it happen, try these tips from chef Bruce Kalman. After many years making award-winning Italian food in Los Angeles, the Top Chef competitor headed to Las Vegas in 2021 to open SoulBelly BBQ, where he's doing compelling work with brisket, pork and, yes, turkey. Follow his advice for a better entree.

chef bruce kalman
Chef Bruce Kalman / Soulbelly BBQ

Always Brine Your Turkey

Kalman says that brining the bird overnight in a solution of salt, sugar, and seasonings is good practice, no matter how you’re going to cook a turkey. But when you're smoking it, the brine is especially helpful to keep the bird from drying out. 

Low and Slow Is Your Friend

"Give yourself four to six good hours of smoking time depending on the size of the turkey," advises Kalman. "If it’s done early, no sweat, a good smoked turkey is a win hot or warm."  

Use a Thermometer

"As a first timer, you don’t want to risk an undercooked (or dry) main dish on the big day," says Kalman. But don't rely on the pop-up thermometer to alert you when it's done. "You’re looking for 165, temped where the thigh meets the drumstick, which is where it takes the longest to cook."

Or, Think Beyond the Bird

If smoking a turkey isn't your goal on Thanksgiving Day, try a side dish instead. “I like a smoked side dish, and there’s a lot of room for creativity," says Kalman. "Smoked pasta, smoked apples before they go into that pie—it’s all good stuff." And don’t be afraid to use other meats as flavorings in your sides. "A little bacon grease or some chopped leftover brisket will add more savory notes to a dish."

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