Hickory-Smoked Turkey


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes



Appears in

Thanksgiving: Recipes for a Holiday Meal


By Lou Seibert Pappas

Published 2011

  • About

Expect the meat of this turkey to have a pinkish color, as is typical for home-smoked birds. Cooked mainly on the grill, this turkey leaves the oven free for pies, gratins, and other baked dishes.


  • Hickory wood, six 3-inch chunks
  • Fresh whole turkey, 1, about 12 pounds
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper Lady apples for garnish (optional)
  • Whole nuts for garnish (optional)
  • Horseradish-Apple Sauce (; optional)


The day before you plan to prepare the turkey, place the hickory wood pieces in a bowl and add enough water to cover them completely. The hickory wood must be soaked for 24 hours so it will smolder, and not ignite, in the grill, creating a lot of smoke to infuse the turkey. Do not drain the hickory wood until just before grilling.

About 2 hours before grilling, remove the turkey from the refrigerator. Remove the giblets and neck from the turkey cavity. Reserve the liver for another use or discard. If you like, refrigerate the neck, gizzard, and heart to make stock or Giblet Gravy or discard. Pull out the pale yellow pads of fat in the body cavity on both sides of the tail and discard.

Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Fold the wings underneath the back of the turkey to prevent their over-browning in the oven. Season the cavity and skin of the turkey lightly with salt and pepper. Truss the turkey, if desired, for a compact shape.

Light a fire in a large charcoal grill with a cover. When the coals are white, bank them on two sides of the fire bed to create a cool zone in the center. Drain the hickory wood and place 3 chunks atop each bank of coals. Put the grill rack in place and cover the grill. Heat the grill until a built-in grill thermometer or oven thermometer placed inside the grill registers 250°F.

Put the turkey in a flameproof roasting pan and place on the grill rack over the cool zone. Cover the grill and cook the turkey, rotating the pan occasionally to expose the bird evenly to the smoke, for 3 hours. During this time, uncover the grill no more than is necessary (to avoid heat loss) and maintain its temperature at about 250°F, regulating the level by adjusting the upper and lower vents. Light more charcoal briquettes in a chimney starter and add them to the grill as needed to maintain the heat.

Near the end of the 3-hour period, preheat the oven to 325°F. Transfer the turkey from the grill to the oven without allowing it to cool. Roast the turkey, rotating the pan’s position on the oven rack from front to back several times for more even cooking, until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the turkey thigh away from the bone registers 175°F and into the thickest part of the turkey breast away from the bone, several inches above the wings, registers 165°F, 30–40 minutes. Do not overcook.

Remove the turkey from the oven. Insert a sturdy, large, metal spoon into the body cavity, and, supporting the turkey at the neck cavity with a carving fork, tilt it so that the juices in the cavity flow into the roasting pan. Transfer the turkey, breast side up, to a carving board (a cutting board with a groove to capture poultry juices). Let the bird rest for at least 20 minutes and up to 45 minutes, tenting with aluminum foil if needed to keep it warm. This resting period, which allows the juices to redistribute evenly throughout the flesh, is a key element in achieving a juicy turkey.

Have ready a heated platter to hold the carved turkey. If you have used string to truss the bird, snip it with kitchen scissors and discard it. Carve the turkey and arrange it on the platter, garnishing with the lady apples and whole nuts if desired. Serve the turkey with the Horseradish-Apple Sauce (opposite) alongside, asking your guests whether they prefer dark meat (from the leg and thigh), white meat (from the breast), or a combination.

Selecting a Turkey

Fresh turkeys are easy to find during the holidays and taste much better than frozen turkeys. If possible, choose a free-range, organic turkey. When calculating what size turkey you’ll need, figure on ¾-pound per person, and twice that for leftovers. Pick up a fresh turkey the day before it is to be prepared, and store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Thaw frozen turkeys in the refrigerator to prevent bacteria from multiplying. Plan on 3–4 hours per pound for turkey to thaw. (It may take 2–3 days for a frozen turkey to thaw.) Roast thawed turkey within 2 days and do not refreeze it.