Smoking a turkey is a lot more effort than oven cooking. But it is one hundred percent worth the effort! There are plenty of benefits to smoking your turkey, even if it takes more time. Smoking your turkey can give you more space in the oven to prepare a larger meal and you can even customize the taste of your turkey by what wood you use to smoke it. But, which is the best wood for smoking turkey?
Whenever you smoke any poultry meat, it is important to choose your wood carefully as the poultry meat can absorb the flavours during cooking.
In this article we will be exploring the best woods to smoke turkey and what flavour each of those wood types will bring to your turkey.
What’s The Best Wood To Use When Smoking A Turkey?
Each wood brings a different flavour to the turkey when you cook it. There is not a best choice of wood as it really depends on your personal taste and what part of the turkey you are cooking.
Here is a full list of all the different types of woods you can use to smoke a turkey and what flavors they will produce:
- Hickory wood: Hickory wood is one of the most commonly used woods to smoke poultry as it is a classic hard wood. The reason many people use hickory wood to smoke turkey is because of the distinct flavor the wood can give the turkey. The hickory wood will produce a robust, deeply smoky and strong flavor to the turkey. This can be a perfect match for a bland piece of meat or it can overpower the turkey’s natural taste.
- Maple wood: Maple wood is your best bet if you would like to create a softer flavor. Maple wood will still bring that smoky flavor to the turkey but also adds a hint of sweetness.
- Oak wood: Oak wood is commonly used in European countries when smoking turkey and chicken. Oak wood can provide a rich and deep smoke flavor to the turkey. The flavor that oak wood can commonly produce can be too strong for many peoples taste and overpower the turkey. Red oak wood can color turkey by giving it a slight red tint which is why many people like to use it. This color tint can make the turkey look visually impressive.
- Cherry wood: Cherry wood is a fruit wood and can infuse the turkey with a very sweet flavor. Fruit woods like cherry wood are great for smoking lighter meats like turkey as it can provide a sweet and delicate flavor to the plain meat. Fruit woods like cherry wood will not overpower the turkey as cherry wood will give a lighter smokier flavor than oak, maple or hickory wood.
- Apple wood: Apple wood is very similar to cherry wood. This wood is again a fruit wood and will provide a sweet and delicate flavor to the plain meat. Apple wood will also not overpower the turkey.
- Mesquite wood: Mesquite wood is a wood that has the strongest flavor. This wood is a great wood to use if you are a fan of the taste hickory wood creates. Mesquite wood can be overpowering in taste but you can try mixing with a fruit wood like cherry or apple to balance out the strength.
- Alder wood: Alder wood can give your turkey an earthy and mild flavor. Alder wood is a safe bet if you dislike woods that give a very strong smoke flavor. This wood is naturally milder. It is an ideal wood to try if you are a beginner. It will not overpower your turkey if you smoke your turkey for too long.
How Long To Smoke A Turkey
Depending on if you are smoking a whole turkey or smoking a turkey breast the time you can take to smoke a turkey differs.
If you are wanting to smoke a medium sized turkey breast, it is best to smoke at 225 degree Fahrenheit for 30 minutes per pound weight of the turkey. If you want to cook your turkey at a higher heat then you can smoke the turkey at 250 degrees Fahrenheit. It will take 25 minutes per pound weight of turkey.
It is always best to work out the length of smoking time for your turkey based on the weight of your whole turkey or breast. This helps you accurately estimate enough time to make sure the whole turkey is properly cooked and safe to consume.
Here are some quick and easy tips to help you smoke your whole turkey or turkey breast to perfection:
- To add more flavor to your whole turkey or turkey breast, soak your turkey in brine for at least 24 hours before you smoke. The turkey will soak up the brine, meaning your turkey will stay moist whilst cooking.
- You can dry rub your turkey with spices and seasoning. This gives the outside of your turkey extra flavor when smoking it. The dry rub can complement the flavor your turkey achieves when you smoke it.
- Buying a smaller turkey can be more manageable and quicker to cook. Buying several small turkeys may work out better than buying one large turkey, especially when smoking it.
- Test the temperature of your turkey using a cooking probe to check if it is fully cooked and safe to consume. The turkey has completed the cooking stage when the probe reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- For convenience, use an electric smoker to cook your turkey in.
Is Pecan Wood Good For Smoking Turkey?
Pecan wood is a great wood to smoke your turkey with.
Pecan wood will produce a unique flavor, very similar to fruit wood. This wood type has a generally sweet taste. But it is still slightly sharper than the fruit woods, cherry wood and apple wood. Pecan wood can also give a slightly nutty flavor to your turkey. It is not known to overpower your turkey, making it a safe option to use.
Best Wood For Smoking Turkey Legs
Maple is a great wood for smoking turkey legs. The smoke can create a sweet flavor similar to honey, which complements the meat on the turkey legs perfectly. Maple wood will produce an overall milder taste with earthy tones.
Maple wood is the best wood to choose if you’re still wanting the natural flavors of the turkey to come through strongly.
Best Wood Pellets For Smoking Turkey
The best wood pellets for smoking turkey are the ones that will not overpower the turkey too strongly. They should also allow the turkey’s natural flavors to be tasted.
It is best to avoid hard woods when choosing wood pellets to smoke your turkey. They can easily be overpowering in taste, meaning you will lose the natural flavors of the turkey itself.
Here is a list of the recommended wood pellets that are the best for smoking a turkey:
- Apple wood: Apple wood is a fruit wood, meaning that it will not be too smoky or overpowering. The apple wood will provide a mild flavor with slight sweetness. The apple will also allow the turkey’s natural flavors to come forward.
- Cherry wood: Many people believe that cherry wood is the best choice. Cherry wood is also a fruit wood, meaning that it will not be too smoky or overpowering. Even though cherry wood brings a similar sweet taste to a turkey, it will also bring a light smokiness, similar to hard woods.
- Pecan wood: Pecan wood is slightly different from all the other woods as it can also provide a nutty flavor. Pecan is a mix between a hard wood like hickory and a sweet fruit wood like cherry or apple. This wood will provide a sweet, mild taste whilst also being able to bring some smokiness and nuttiness.
- Oak wood: Oak wood is a very safe bet. It is not overpowering to the natural taste of the turkey. It also provides a medium flavor, both having sweet and smoky notes.
Apple Or Cherry For Smoking Turkey
Apple and cherry wood are both fruit wood meaning they do have very similar taste and price very similar results.
Cherry is a favorite amongst many people and is the people’s champion out of the two. This is due to the cherry wood being able to naturally blend with the turkeys own flavor while providing a smoky but sweet taste.
Apple wood is considered one of the best woods out of all the fruit wood options. Apple wood provides a sweeter taste, while the smoky taste is milder and less forward compared to the cherry wood.
Neither of the two fruit woods will overpower your turkey. If you are a beginner at smoking turkey then we suggest either of these will be safe to use.
Best Wood To Smoke Cajun Turkey
If you are wanting to smoke cook Cajun turkey, which is naturally slightly spicy, then we would recommend using hickory wood.
Hickory wood is a classic and commonly used option when smoking turkey as it can create quite a strong taste. Hickory wood is a harder wood and will produce a turkey that has a robust and deep smoky flavor. Another great option is to use maple wood which can provide a slightly sweeter smoke taste to the turkey.
Maple wood can also produce a golden glow to the turkey when smoked cooked.
Another popular poultry option other than turkey is chicken. We would recommend using woods like apple, cherry, pecan or oak when smoking a chicken. These would have a fruity flavor to them and can give a slight sweet taste to the chicken. You can use woods that are stronger when smoking your chicken, such as hickory. But you do run the risk of overpowering the chicken’s natural flavor. Stronger woods can leave smoked chicken tasting slightly bitter which may ruin the chicken’s overall taste.
In our opinion, we would recommend smoking a turkey breast with cherry wood. Cherry wood is great when smoking large parts of meat, especially blander and leaner parts of the turkey.. Cherry wood will give the turkey a smoky and rich flavor. This will perfectly compliment the blander parts of turkey, such as a turkey breast.
The best temperature to cook a whole turkey when smoking is between 275-300 degrees F. If you smoke your turkey between these temperatures or even at a higher temperature, then your turkey will not take as long to cook. Wanting to cook your turkey slowly? You can cook at 225 degrees F. If you do smoke your turkey at a slower rate but for longer, your turkey could end up being more rich in flavor and taste smokier.
If You Do Not Know What You Want When Smoking Your Turkey, Go With A Milder Wood
New to smoking turkey or just not sure what kind of flavor you are after? We believe it is wiser to choose a milder wood that can do less flavor damage to your turkey.
Hard woods tend to bring more of a smoky, powerful taste to your turkey. Meanwhile, fruit woods tend to give a sweeter flavor. Choosing a wood that sits within the middle – such as oak or pecan – may be your best bet. These middle ground woods can provide a slightly smoky flavor while still delivering a sweeter taste.
Which is the best wood for smoking a turkey? Have you tried the wood listed on our best woods for smoking a turkey list?
Related articles on the blog: