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Smoking a Turkey on a Pellet Grill: The Definitive Guide & 6 Essential Considerations

By Jayme Muller

June 8, 2023

If you’re looking to impress your family this Thanksgiving… You might be thinking about smoking a turkey!

That’s an excellent (and delicious) idea!

But before you start cooking your bird… There’s a lot you need to know!

Especially when it comes to smoking a turkey on a pellet grill.

But there’s no need to worry! You’re in good hands.

In this recipe article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the process. That includes the supplies, preparation, smoking, and more!

We’ll also cover the process for both a whole turkey, and just the breast. So you’re really getting two smoked turkey recipes in one!

Turkey day is coming up quickly… So let’s get started!

Quick Links:

smoking a turkey on a pellet grill

Total Time for Preparation & Cooking of a Smoked Turkey

Prep and cook time depends very much on the type of turkey you’re cooking.

If you’re smoking a breast… It’s going to be far quicker than a whole turkey!

But overall, there is a ballpark estimate.

For a whole turkey… The process will take 5-7 days between thawing, preparation, and cooking.

For a turkey breast… The whole process will take 2-4 days between thawing, preparation, and cooking. (If you get a fresh turkey, it won’t need to be thawed at all!)

All good so far?

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

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Considerations Before You Begin

Since our aim is to provide you with a complete guide on how to smoke a turkey on a pellet grill… There are a lot of options you could pursue!

Here’s everything you need to know before you start.

Size of Your Turkey

graphic showing amount of turkey per person

Wondering what size of turkey you should buy?

Ultimately, you’ll have to consider two things:

  1. Think about how many people you’re serving
  2. Do you want leftovers? (Think of the potential of leftover smoked turkey soup!)

The more people you have… The more turkey you’ll need. And same goes if you want leftovers!

Many people have different recommendations on how much turkey you should serve per person.

The lowest recommended amount we’ve seen is 1 lb per person… And the highest recommendation comes from Martha Stewart herself! She recommends having 1.5lb of turkey per person.

If you’re working with a turkey that’s 12lbs or less… They have a smaller meat-to-bone ratio. Therefore, Martha recommends setting aside 2 lb per person instead for smaller turkeys.

As Martha says, “It’s always best to have more turkey than not enough in case unexpected guests show up or if someone is particularly hungry. Best of all, you’ll be able to save the rest for leftovers!”

Who are we to disagree?

Whole Turkey vs Turkey Breast

turkey after it has rested

Should you smoke a whole turkey, or just the breast?

You may think it’s a given to always smoke a whole turkey… But that’s not always the case!

If there’s only two of you at the Thanksgiving table… Just smoking the breast will be far more manageable.

There are a couple other things to consider as well.

For one, do you prefer white meat or dark meat?

If white meat is your preference… The argument for smoking just the breast is a lot easier.

Additionally, how much time do you have?

Of course, a whole turkey will take far longer than a turkey breast. So if you’re strapped for time… A turkey breast will be your best bet.

Bone-In Turkey vs Boneless

When it comes to bone-in vs boneless… The actual cooking process is the same!

There’s only a difference in the final result.

Bone insulates the meat directly adjacent to it… Which makes the surrounding meat heat up at a slower rate.

As an end result, bone-in meats tend to be juicier… And are more flavorful!

So if you’re looking for a more forgiving option… You might be better served with bone-in turkey!

Should You Spatchcock Your Whole Turkey?


Spatchcock is a cooking technique to split open a bird! Essentially, you remove the backbone to ensure the meat lays flat.

There are a few potential benefits to using this technique:

  1. Spatchcocking increases the surface area, which cooks your turkey quicker.
  2. It may smoke more evenly compared to a whole bird.
  3. A spatchcock turkey is easier to carve.

Smoking a spatchcock turkey on a pellet grill isn’t the most common choice… But it can be done!

Injecting Flavors?

injecting flavors into turkey

Many home cooks like to inject flavors into your smoked turkey.

Should you do the same thing?

The concept purely comes down to your preference!

Injecting meat with spices, broth, or juice allows you to marinate the meat from the inside.

This creates a deeper flavor penetration compared to simply seasoning from the outside.

So if you’d like to take the extra step, go for it!

Otherwise… It won’t make or break your turkey.

Should You Sauce?

brushing sauce on turkey

Just like injecting… Slathering your turkey with sauce is completely optional!

In most cases, you’d be opting for a BBQ sauce… But there are many other flavors to consider, like an herb sauce with melted butter.

As far as applying the sauce… This can be done before, during, or even after the smoking process.

But again, applying a sauce is completely up to you!

Are we clear so far?

Let’s bring our attention to preparing your turkey.

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Preparing Your Turkey & Supplies

We’ve got the “versus” and “should you or shouldn’t you” out of the way…

So let’s get down to brass tacks!

Suggested Supplies

  • Wood pellets of choice (Apple, hickory, pecan, etc.)
  • Brine of choice (If not already brined, but we’ll get to that)
  • Food safe container
  • Rubs or sauces (if using)
  • Disposable gloves (for handling raw turkey)
  • Large tongs
  • Large pan (for applying rub or sauce)
  • Cleaning products to disinfect after prepping your turkey
  • Meat thermometer and/or instant-read thermometer
  • Roasting pan
  • Oven mitts
  • Aluminum foil
  • Insulated cooler

Thawing Your Frozen Turkey

To keep things safe, the USDA recommends thawing your turkey in the fridge.

So, how long will it take?

It takes approximately 1 day to thaw out 4-5 lbs worth of protein. So if you have a 20 lb turkey… It will take around 4-5 days to thaw in the fridge.

Once thawed, if you have a whole turkey… Remove the giblets and set them aside. (Then make some turkey gravy!)

Usually, a turkey breast won’t come with the giblets. But sometimes they’ll come with the neck or wings that could be removed, if desired.

Next step?

Brining your turkey.

Brining Your Turkey

brining a turkey

Just to be clear… Many people like smoking a turkey on a pellet grill without brine. This step is completely optional.

However, we’ve found that brining does result in a more juicy turkey. So if you’re up for it… Definitely give brining a try!

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. What is brining, anyway?

Simply put… Brine is a solution of water, salt, and spices that meat is soaked in. (Some turkeys come pre-brined, so be sure to check the label!)

You can often purchase a turkey brine from the store. But if you want to give your own a try… Consider these recipes from Alton Brown and The Pioneer Woman.

Either way…

You’ll either need a large ziploc bag, or a food-safe container large enough for your turkey to soak in. Either way, your turkey must be fully submerged in the brine.

As far as time goes… ButterBall recommends brining your turkey for 45-60 minutes per pound.

So for a 20 lb turkey… You’ll brine anywhere from 15-20 hours.

What about a turkey breast?

Most weigh 4-8 lbs. So depending on weight… Expect to brine for 3-8 hours.

Once the soak is over, rinse your turkey under cold water. Then, pat it dry with paper towels.

Pro Tip: Brine your turkey in an insulated cooler with a couple bags of ice. This will free up your fridge space! Just make sure the temperature of your water remains below 40°F.

Next step is applying the rub!

Applying a Turkey Rub

This step is also optional! However, if you want a more flavorful bird… Applying a rub is going to be your best bet!

There are plenty of pre-mixed rubs on the market you could choose for your smoked turkey! (Kosher salt and black pepper are a minimum!)

But if you also want to DIY this… Try one of the options from The Spruce Eats or Martha Stewart.

Once you have your rub, it’s time to apply!

While you can apply your rub directly to the skin… It’s nice to first coat your turkey with either olive oil or mustard.

This will make it easier for the rub to stick to your bird… And it will add a little more moisture to your turkey!

Either way, apply your rub liberally. Also pat it in well to ensure a good stick.

After application, allow the rub to sit for 15 minutes to 2 hours. This simply allows the flavors to begin to penetrate before smoking.

Now we get to the fun part. Yes, smoking turkey on a pellet grill!

seasoning a turkey

Smoking Your Turkey

Alright. Prep time is over… Now, you’re ready to get smoking!

Let’s get to the steps.

Preheat Your Pellet Grill

rta outdoor kitchen with weathered wood finish and pellet grill

Before you actually begin smoking a turkey on pellet grill… You’ll need to preheat your grill!

What temperature is optimal?

There’s some debate out there. You’ll find arguments for temperatures of 225°F – 350°F.

Lower temps will take longer and result in a smokier bird… Whereas higher temperatures will be faster, but result in a lighter smoke flavor.

We’ve found a good middle ground is setting your grill to a consistent temperature of 240°F.

It’s still low enough of a temperature to allow the smoke flavor to deeply penetrate your turkey… But also won’t take too long!

Once heated… It’s time to get your bird on the smoker!

Get Your Turkey on the Pellet Smoker

This step is pretty self-explanatory!

Once your grill is preheated… Bring your turkey outside and put it on your pellet smoker grill grates!

But before you walk away… Don’t forget to insert your temperature probes!

Your grill might have a temperature probe already attached. Otherwise, you’ll want to use a standalone temperature probe.

For best results… Put the temperature probe into the deepest, thickest part of the breast.

If you’re smoking a whole turkey on a pellet grill rather than just the breast… You’ll want to use two temperature probes. One in the breast, and one in the deepest part of the thigh!

Once your probes are set… It’s time to let that bird cook!

You’ll also have to consider if you want to sauce or baste your turkey.

Considerations if You Sauce or Baste

basting a turkey

Should you sauce or baste?

Again… Either technique is completely optional.

But if you want to keep your bird extra juicy… Basting can be worth the extra effort! (Especially if your turkey is looking dry.)

Or if you want even more flavor, saucing is worth considering!

If you choose to baste… You’ll only be able to do this if you have multiple racks in your grill. One will have to accommodate your turkey… And the rack beneath it will hold a drip pan to capture the juices.

Allow your turkey to smoke without basting for the first 2-3 hours… Then baste every 1-2 hours after that.

What about saucing?

It’s a similar concept. Allow your turkey to smoke by itself for the first 2 hours. Then, slather your turkey in sauce for every hour after that!

So far so good… But how long is this actually going to take?

What’s the Cook Time?

Of course, the total cook time depends on the weight of your bird!

At 240°F with indirect heat, it takes about 30-40 minutes per pound.

So if you’re just smoking a turkey breast on a pellet grill… It will take 2-5 hours to cook.

Or if you’re smoking a 20lb turkey on a pellet grill… It will take 10-13 hours in total.

While this is a great ballpark estimate… How do you know when your bird is actually done?

How do I know my Turkey is Cooked?

rec tec grill showing temperature

Your turkey’s been smoking for a while and you’ve been tracking the temperature.

What’s the target you’re looking for?

It’s actually not totally cut and dry for a whole bird. So let’s start with the breast!

Generally speaking, the target temperature to aim for the breast is 165°F.

This ensures the breast is fully cooked… Without being dry!

Now, this same target temperature applies to a whole turkey.

However… There’s also the dark meat to consider.

While it’s true that the dark meat will be cooked at 165°F… Many recommend cooking it to 175°F for optimal tenderness.

Yet, cooking your turkey to 175° is likely to dry out the breast!

So it’s a bit of a balancing act. Most people prefer the white meat… So keeping the temperature of the breast is usually preferred.

Either way, it’s up to you! But for most purposes… It’s best to let your turkey smoke to 165°F.

When it comes to your target temperature… There are two ways to finish your bird after smoking.

Options to Finish Your Bird After Smoking

keeping a turkey in a cooler wrapped in foil

This section will be easy. We’ve already discussed the first option!

If you’ve smoked your turkey to an internal temperature of 165°F… You’ll remove it from the smoker and wrap your bird in aluminum foil.

Allow it to rest for 20-45 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to be fully absorbed!

So what’s the other option?

If you want an even juicier turkey… Consider smoking it to 160°-163°F instead.

You’ll remove it from the grill and wrap it in foil, just like before. But you will also put your turkey into an insulated cooler for a few hours (without ice).

Your turkey will continue to cook in the cooler… And that extra rest time will give you a more moist result!

There’s one more step before you can enjoy your smoked turkey!

Carving Your Turkey

If you’re cooking breast meat… This step couldn’t be easier! Just simply slice to your desired thickness.

But when you’re dealing with a whole bird… That’s where it gets tricky.

There are plenty of videos out there that show you the ropes! But we’ll give you a quick rundown here.

First, you’ll want to work on separating the legs and thighs from your turkey.

By keeping your knife running along the natural curvature of the bird… It actually is as easy as it looks!

Then, you’ll work on removing the wings. The same concept applies! By popping the wings out of the joint… It will be even easier to remove.

From there, we have the breast meat left!

You’ll cut directly down the middle of your turkey here to separate each side. Then angle your knife down one side of the turkey… Staying close to the ribcage.

Repeat the same thing on the other side.

Then you can slice out the separated pieces however you’d like!

Now that you’ve seen all the options for smoking a turkey on a pellet grill

How did we do it?

How We Did It

We ended up smoking a whole turkey breast on a pellet grill! So you won’t find the entire turkey in our examples… But many of the concepts still stand!

Turkey Preparation

Turkey being prepared with mustard and seasonings

Our uncooked turkey breast included portions of the wing meat, neck skin, ribs, and the back. (These portions were separated from the breast.)

In total, it weighed about 7.5 lbs.

Our turkey was pre-brined… So we didn’t have to do it ourselves!

We did choose to apply a rub on our turkey. After slathering the breast in a coat of mustard first… We applied Kinder’s Woodfired Garlic seasoning on top.

Now, it’s off to smoking a boneless turkey breast on a pellet grill!

Turkey Cook Time

rec tec grill showing temperature

While you could use just about any pellet grill(Traeger, Green Mountain, Camp Chef, Pit Boss, etc.) In our example, we’re smoking a turkey on a Rec Tec pellet grill.

As suggested, we set the grill temperature to 240°F.

We did not sauce or baste during cooking. It took about 3 hours and 20 minutes to reach an internal temperature of 160°F… At which point, we wrapped and removed it from the grill to rest in a cooler.

Pro Tip: At first, you can check the temperature of your bird every hour. But once the temperature starts getting close to your target, check at least every 30 minutes. You don’t want to overshoot and end up with a dry turkey!

Resting the Turkey & Results

As stated earlier… We took the turkey off a little early to allow it to rest in a cooler.

We allowed the turkey breast to rest for 2 1/2 hours before opening the foil and slicing into it.

And as you can see… It came out beautifully!

There’s a dark, crispy skin… Beautiful, pink smoke ring on the outside edge… And a tender interior!

All in all, it’s a perfectly smoked turkey breast in our book.

Now that you’re armed with all the knowledge you need to tackle your own smoked turkey…

Allow us to share a way to make the whole process a little easier.

Smoking a Turkey on a Pellet Grill Just Got Easier

linear moks grill island with pellet grill and refrigerator

More than likely… You want a recipe for smoking a turkey on a pellet grill for one reason.


It’s the perfect time of year to show off your cooking chops… And end up with an incredibly delicious meal!

But of course… You know how hectic the kitchen gets at Thanksgiving.

And while you will be smoking the turkey outside… You still have to do all the prep work, resting, and carving indoors.

What if you could take the entire operation outside?

That’s the convenience an outdoor kitchen can provide.

You’ve got ample counter space to work on prepping and carving… To rest your tools on… And all the storage you need to keep necessities on hand.

You could even opt to have an outdoor sink for hand washing at a moment’s notice!

And thinking ahead… You might incorporate a built-in gas grill or charcoal grill for summertime favorites! (Smoked brisket, anyone?)

There’s no running in and out of the house… Which is especially risky when Thanksgiving side dishes are circulating around the kitchen!

No one wants an accidental collision where mashed potatoes and broken glass end up on the floor… It’s best to stay out of the danger zone entirely!

An outdoor kitchen with a smoker allows you to do just that.

Whether you’re smoking a turkey on a Traeger pellet grill, Rec Tec, or Pit Boss… Incorporating your smoker into a BBQ island takes the experience to the next level.

So… Are you ready to take some stress out of Thanksgiving dinner?

We’re here to help!

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There are methods for smoking a stuffed turkey on a pellet grill. The process is nearly identical! The only extra thing you’ll want to consider is having a third temperature probe for the stuffing itself. You’ll also want the stuffing to reach 165°F before pulling the bird off.

It’s not necessary to truss your turkey with twine. However, in some cases it can make the turkey smoke more evenly.

The best wood pellets to use are always hardwood. But beyond that, the type does not matter. Hickory, maple, apple, cherry, and pecan wood chips are all viable options!

When smoking a 15 lb turkey on a pellet grill at 240 degrees F… It should take 7.5-11 hours to smoke your turkey to an internal temperature of 165°F.

When smoking a 12 lb turkey on a pellet grill at 225 degrees F… It should take 6 hours to smoke your turkey to an internal temperature of 165°F.

The total time it takes to smoke a turkey varies widely depending on the size of your bird. At 240°F, it takes about 30-40 minutes per pound to cook. So for 12 pounds of turkey… It will take around 6-8 hours. For a 20 lb turkey, it’s more like 10-13 hours.

There’s a lot of debate as to which temperature is optimal for smoking a turkey on a pellet grill. You’ll see ranges of anywhere from 225°-350°F. Our preference is to smoke at 240°F. This provides a nice balance between a deep, smoke flavor… Without taking an excessive amount of time.

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