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How long to cook 20lb tukey in smoker and what temp???

Hi, I'd like to smoke a 20-25lb turkey in an offset smoker this year. Can anyone provide their advise on what temperture to smoke it, as well as tell me how to estimate the amount of time required to smoke a big bird like this? Really appeciate your inputs here.

Rick, San Jose CA.

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  1. When I've done this in the past, I've thought of the smoker as an outdoor oven, and cooked at similar temps as I would indoors. I'd shoot for about 375 F, allowing for fluctuations that would get it to 425 or thereabouts. Time? +/- 3 hours, prolly, but that's rollin' the dice on alot of variables.

    My thinking is that too high a heat is better than too low when cooking whole turkey (different approach if I'm smoking cut up parts)

    I'd opt not to truss the bird for this type of cooking. I'd use a drip pan filled with water to the catch the grease. My $.02

    1 Reply
    1. re: Professor Salt

      Thanks Professor Salt, appreciate your inputs. I think your right, I'll probably need to keep the heat high to get the turkey done in a reasonable amount of time.

    2. The biggest issue with smoking any bird is drying it out, especially at typical, low and slow temps (250 or less). I would consider brining it - I'm typically an anti-brine person, but smoking a bird may be a good time to make an exception.

      I can't really help with specifics - I don't regularly smoke Turkeys or any bird in my offset/gas smoker - just not one of my favorite things or favorite ways to have Turkey. But I did one years ago - with amazing results - when I had the Little Chief electric. It's obviously a very small unit so the bird was a small one. I put it in the smoker and proceeded to completely forget about it. When I remembered, several hours later, I ran out and pulled the bird out and brought it inside. It was completely dried out - a tough, dehydrated carcass - the hard skin had shrunken onto the bones with almost no sign of meat - you couldn't get a knife into the skin anywhere.

      I was going to toss it, but I somehow decided to try an experiment. I took out the lobster pot, and put the steamer rack in, and put the dried turkey in to steam. I don't remember any particular time. When I took it out, it was the exact opposite of before. It had puffed up so much that it was now splitting the moist skin in several places.

      I remember that it was indeed a very, very smokey Turkey - and it was smokey all the way through, not just on the skin, like typical smoked turkey breast from the store. It was also nice and moist - not dry at all.

      I've never replicated this feat, and I don't have any real data on how long I did anything, so I can't give you any specifics. I do intend to try it again someday - maybe this time I will be more scientific and write everything down. But the method does allow you to not worry about drying up the bird through smoking.

      1 Reply
      1. re: applehome

        Thank you Applehome, this was a very interesting reading, and sounds like if the turkey gets too dry, I can try your experiment. Have a great Thanksgiving and let me know how the turkey comes out this year.

      2. Are you smoking or bbqing. Smoking is cooking at 225 and under for hours, bbq is 225-450 for a whole lot less hours. At that weight you run a very high risk of a very dryed out bird if you are truly smoking. Are you brining- that weight would take a minimum of 48 hours plus 12 hours dry time so you should be in brine now!!!

        A 20-25 pound bird cannot be safely smoked, it will stay in the danger zone way too long and may get contaminated. That means you are just substituting a smoker for an oven, probably at the same temperature, and then adding a little smoke flavor to the outside. Assuming you are bbqing at over 350 and have not brined the bird, it will probably cook faster in a bbq than in the oven. Go look at http://www.thesmokering.com/forum/ind... for a lot of information if you really plan on smoking a bird.

        I have a 14 pound turkey, that has already been apple brined for 24 hours. It will go in the smoker Tuesday am with charcoal and apple wood. Temp will be in the 200 to 225 range for the entire time. I expect it to take 8-9 hours. It will then be served cold Thursday. I may do a second Turkey Thursday that will be served warm, but will do half smoke (under 225 degrees) and then finish it at about 300 degrees depending on its internal temp. It will also be about 14-16 pounds and will take at least 7 hours if I crank it up at the end to 300. I use a offset smoker that has no direct heat. Did two chickens Sunday of 4 pounds each that took 4 1/2 hours, but as I say they were smoked not bbq'd.

        1 Reply
        1. re: skikt22

          Hi Skikt22, thank you for sharing your knowledge and experiences.

          I was originally planning to cook the turkey at 275.

          Yes, I was planning to brine, but not until tomorrow. Do you think 1 day is better that not brining at all? Do you have a favorite brine recipe that has worked well for you that you don't mind sharing?

          Given the feedback I've gotton back on this post, I think you are correct, I need to cook high, probably at 350 or higher to get the bird fully cooked by Thanksgiving afternoon. I check the site out that you recommend.

          PS....you are making me hungry thinking of the smoked chickens you cooked Sundaym YUM! I just bought my offset smoker over the weekent, and I can't wait to try the slow smoking method soon, but I guess it won't be for Thanksgiving turkey afterall.

          Rick

        2. We smoke our 18 - 22lb heritage TG turkey every year in our electric smoker (SmokinTex). This is our procedure:

          Brine the turkey for 24 hours. Concentration of brine is 1 cup kosher salt to 1 gallon water. I usually add 1/2 cup sugar per 1 cup salt, and aromatics - bay, juniper, peppercorns, various herbs, onion, cloves. This year I'm thinking of trying citrus and 5-star anise.

          Pat turkey dry, air dry in refrigerator overnight. I don't use a rub or anything else on the turkey. The brine and smoke flavor are enough.

          Smoke at 225F for about 2 hours. I like to use oak for the smoking wood, but if you have fruit woods they should be good too.

          Remove from smoker, place in oven and roast at 350F until probe thermometer reads about 150F (new recommendation from USDA is 160F). This generally takes a couple of hours. I use a reading in the thigh. There is some increase in temperature after removal from the oven. You really need a good thermometer for this.

          Total cooking time from start to finish is 4-5 hours. I have the turkey ready to smoke in the morning and it's done by early afternoon. Last year we started about 10am and took this to our dinner with family at 3pm. We actually ate at 4 or so and the turkey was absolutely fabulous. We got solid raves even from people who don't like turkey.

          We've tried smoking the turkey completely. For a 20+lb turkey it took around 6-8 hours and produced a bird that was very tasty but the breast was way too dry. The turkey skin also turns to shoe leather. The combination of smoking and roasting gives you plenty of smoke flavor, nicely moist meat throughout and skin that is browned and crispy.

          8 Replies
          1. re: cheryl_h

            Hi Cheryl_h,

            Thank you for the information this is very helpful.

            Rick

            1. re: cheryl_h

              Cheryl - Curious why you move it to the oven and don't turn up the heat on the smoker to 350?

              rarmenda - FWIW, I follow a very similar brine that Cheryl suggests, as well as the air dry in the fridge. That's key, I think. I do usually add a bit of pepper and dried/rubbed thyme or rosemary to the skin, and throw in a quarter onion, few cloves of garlic and a sprig of herb into the cavity. Not really sure how much that does, but habits die hard, I guess.

              I do, however, smoke it at a high temp the whole time - 350+ (similar to professor salt's recommendations above) until it reaches about 160 in the breast. Gets plenty of smoke flavor, and is very moist.

              1. re: adamclyde

                Adamclyde - the smoker won't go that high. I think 275 is the maximum.

                1. re: adamclyde

                  Thanks Adamclyde! Hope the turkey comes out great.

                  1. re: rarmenda

                    I agree with Mr. Salt and all the others who say smoke a large bird on a high temp 325 to 350. This is the recommended cooking temp for a large bird in your oven! I have a upright smoker with a large firebox, I use pecan logs (from a cut down tree on my property). and start at 325-350 from the get-go. Halfway through I cover the bird with foil and poke holes so the turkey does not get over smoked. The bird can also be finished in your kitchen oven. you can also split the bird in two and smoke half & half at a time!! Brining is not always needed because a lot of frozen birds are injected with a brine solution to tenderize the bird!! May the smoke ring be with you, Live long and smoke more!!

                2. re: cheryl_h

                  I use a method very close to this. To answer the question about why the oven: it is more efficient than my smoker. I could keep it in the smoker and just turn off the smoke, but the oven is easier to monitor and there is no adverse weather in the kitchen :)

                  For help on all sorts of smoking issues, the folks on the Bradley Smoker forums have great advice and are very willing to help. There is already a good body of info on turkey smoking and the search tool is good.

                  1. re: cheryl_h

                    Sounds sensible, I'm going to try it

                    1. re: cheryl_h

                      One question (IF you're still around on this site (7 yrs later).. when you Roast in the oven, do you wrap the bird in Foil, a Baking bag, or uncovered?

                    2. A couple of tips for you rar if you plan on doing this again next year.

                      I've always though (and have seen plenty of confirmation) that 12 lb birds are better than 1 24 lb bird.

                      Secondly, with a bird that size a long cooking time can be an issue safety wise. You can always cut the back bone out and butterfly it. It cuts WAY down on cook time
                      You won't get the big bulbous turkey on the table to WOW everyone but it works great.

                      DT