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Cider Brined Smoked Turkey

Level with me, y’all. Are you #teamturkey or #teamham? Historically speaking, this gal has been all about the ham. But after making this Cider Brined Smoked Turkey, the tides have turned. Bird IS the word. This turkey excites me! Yes, I’m all in Oprah-mode. “You get a turkey. You get a turkey. Everybody gets a turkey!” In this post you will learn about how to brine and smoke a turkey in time for your Thanksgiving feast.

Cider Brined Smoked Turkey is a hit at your holiday table. Succulent, smoky, and juicy turkey every time.

Why Would I Want to Smoke a Turkey?

  • Why wouldn’t you?
  • Delicious, smoky flavor all the way through the turkey.
  • Zero-guessing of when it is done. Trust the thermometer.
  • Juicy, tender turkey that goes great with your holiday side dishes.
  • Fun to cook.

Guys…put on your stretchy pants, because Turkey Day just got real. This easy to follow method turns out perfectly. No more bland, boring, blah bird. We’ve turned up the flavor for perfectly tender, juicy, and savory turkey.

The great thing is you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment or experience for this Cider Brined Smoked Turkey. Keep reading to get step-by-step instructions.

brown sguar, sea salt, bay leaves, garlic, peppercorns, and allspice on a vintage metal plate

Equipment + Supplies Needed to Smoke a Turkey:

  • A large cooking pot – to make the brine
  • 5 gallon bucket
  • Ice
  • Smoker – electric, gas, charcoal, whatever kind you have
  • Drip pan
  • Digital meat thermometer – instant read is best
  • Hickory wood chips
  • Aluminum foil
  • Utensils + Mitts – sharp knife, tongs, oven mitts, cutting board, etc.

Of course, you need a turkey, too. This method for smoking is great for small to large turkeys. All you have to do is adjust the smoking time. We will get to that later in this post.

Ingredients Needed to Make Cider Brined Smoked Turkey:

  • A turkey – thawed, giblets removed
  • Sea salt or kosher salt
  • Brown sugar
  • Apple cider
  • Water + ice
  • Garlic
  • Peppercorns
  • Allspice berries and / or whole cloves
  • Bay leaves
  • Onion
  • Lemon
  • Butter
  • Poultry seasoning – optional

How Big of a Turkey Can I Smoke?

Technically speaking, you can smoke any sized bird. As long as you maintain proper temperature and cook to correct internal temperature, there are no problems.

HOWEVER, and this is a big however, do you have room? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have a big enough container to brine my turkey in?
  • Will my turkey fit inside my smoker and leave plenty of air space around?
  • Do I have the extra time needed to thaw / brine / smoke a larger turkey?

More than likely, you will want to smoke a turkey between 10 – 16 pounds. For this recipe, we used a 12 pound young turkey.

TIP: Start the process 6 days in advance. Why? The turkey will thaw in the fridge for 4 days. The brining process takes 1 day. You will smoke the turkey on Day 6.

a stock pot of turkey brine made with cider, garlic, spices and more

For our brine, we really focused on seasonal, warm flavors. Our base was sweet apple cider. To this we added sea salt, brown sugar, whole heads of garlic, peppercorns, whole allspice berries, whole cloves, and bay leaves.

Don’t worry, the turkey does not turn out “sweet”. It has a nice, smoky-savory flavor with a hint of sweet-spice.

a green 5 gallon bucket

How to Make Apple Cider Brine:

  1. First, pour the apple cider into a large stock pot. Stir in the sea salt, brown sugar, garlic, peppercorns, allspice, clove, and bay leaves.
  2. Heat the brine over medium hit, stirring frequently until the salt and sugar have dissolved.
  3. Next, bring the cider brine to a low boil, stirring occasionally.
  4. Remove the cider from heat. Let it cool completely, then chill.

It is very important that you let the brine chill completely. This helps you maintain a cold temperature for the turkey and keeps you in the bacterial “safe zone”.

TIP: Make your brine a day or two ahead while you are waiting for the turkey to thaw. Keep it in the fridge until it is time to throw the turkey in the pool.

I highly recommend using sea salt for this brine recipe. If you substitute regular table salt, you will have to use a lot more for the same saltiness. Also, iodized salt can add a weird taste to the meat.

Any other ingredient, feel free to swap out as you see fit. For example, if you don’t have brown sugar, white sugar is fine. Not a fan of garlic? Swap with onions. No cloves? No problem.

turkey in a bucket of brine

How to Brine a Turkey before Smoking:

  1. In a 5 gallon bucket (or other large container), combine the prepared cider brine (above) with 1 gallon of heavily iced water.
  2. Once your turkey has thawed, remove the giblets and make sure the cavity is empty. Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water.
  3. Lower the turkey into the brine, submerging completely. Position the turkey BREAST SIDE DOWN.
  4. About halfway through brining, turn the turkey BREAST SIDE UP.
  5. Cover the bucket and keep it in the fridge or very cool area. Brine the turkey for at least 8 hours up to overnight.

It is VERY important that you keep the turkey cool for food safety purposes. My fridge is not large enough to hold a 5 gallon bucket. We kept our turkey in a very cool utility room in our home that does not receive heat.

If this is not an option, you can place the bucket inside a larger tub that has been iced down.

a mug filled with hickory wood chips

What Kind of Smoker Should I Use to Smoke a Turkey?

You can use any type of smoker. As long as the bird will fit, go for it. The key to a successful results is CONSISTENT COOKING TEMPERATURE.

If you know how to operate your smoker of choice to create a consistent cooking temperature and can maintain that temperature for several hours, you’ve got this!

TIP: By far the easiest smoker to use is an electric or gas smoker. It is easier to control and maintain cooking temps. However, this recipe can be prepared using wood, charcoal, or pellet smokers as well. Refer to the specific cooking directions that came with your smoker for details.

a turkey inside an electric smoker

How to Smoke a Turkey:

  1. First, remove the turkey from the brine. Pat dry.
  2. Cut an onion in half. Cut a lemon in half. insert the halves inside the turkey.
  3. Cross the turkey’s legs and secure with kitchen twine to keep the cavity closed.
  4. In a small bowl, combine melted butter and un-salted poultry seasoning. Rub generously on all sides of the turkey, coating all surfaces.
  5. Preheat your smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure there is a drip tray in place to catch turkey drippings.
  6. Prepare the smoke using hickory wood chips that have been soaked in water. This will vary based on what type of smoker you are using. (Some smokers have special places to insert chips. Others you have to place in a pan. Some you simply place in foil.)
  7. Once the smoker has reached temperature, place the prepared turkey BREAST SIDE UP inside. Shut the door / lid.
  8. Adjust the smoker so that it resumes the cooking temperature of 250 degrees.
  9. Add more wood chips about once an hour.
  10. Smoke at this same temperature until an instant read meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the turkey reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  11. Once the turkey has reached temperature. carefully transfer it to a cutting board or platter. Cover with foil and let it rest for 30 minutes before carving.

I know this sounds like a lot, but it really is a matter of proper preparation, set up, and timing.

TIP: I cannot stress this part enough. Buy an instant read digital meat thermometer. You can get one for about $15 at Walmart and they are so handy. Just insert into the thickest part of the turkey for an instant temperature check.

Looking for More Holiday Inspo?

Holiday Inspired Stovetop Fragrances

The Best Sweet Potato Casserole Ever

Cinnamon + Orange Cranberry Sauce

a turkey on a wooden cutting board

Q+A: More Turkey Talk

Do I have to brine my turkey before I smoke it?

Short Answer: No. But the turkey is so much tastier if you do.

Should I add more seasoning to the outside of my turkey after I brine it?

Since there is enough salt content in the brine, it is normally a good idea to skip any salt-based seasonings. You can simply rub it all over with butter or oil. If you do want to add seasoning, keep it salt-free. We used a sage-heavy poultry seasoning in our melted butter.

What if my turkey says “ready to cook”?

Many grocers carry turkeys that are labeled “ready to cook”. This may be the only ones you can find. This means they have been injected with a solution and likely have one of those plastic pop-out things. Yes, you can brine this type of turkey. It will not absorv the homemade brine as readily, but it will still taste delicious. Just pull out that plastic thing before you smoke it.

What if I don’t have sea salt?

Go to the store. Seriously, it is worth the trip and worth the expense. Kosher salt is the next best substitution. Use table salt ONLY as a last resort, and check out this conversion guide.

Can I use this brine recipe for a wild turkey?

Yes! Please do. Wild turkey is typically more dry than a store bought turkey, and will benefit from the brining process. Keep it cool and let it brine for 24 hours.

Do I need to rinse the turkey after brining?

Personal preference. Some sites suggest that you should to remove any excess salt or spices. Some say go straight from brine to smoker. For reference, we removed our turkey from the brine, knocked off the large pieces of spice, pattied it dry, then coated it with butter. No rinse.

Why do you put an onion and lemon inside the turkey?

I find that this helps keep the turkey juicy while cooking. I also do this for my roasted chicken. Plus, that extra “flavor steam” certainly can’t hurt.You can also stuff it with garlic, oranges, etc.

Can I smoke a big turkey this way?

Yes. You may have to double the brine to submerge the turkey, use a larger container for brining, leave the turkey 12 – 16 hours, and pray to Sweet Jesus that your smoker can hold it. But sure, go for it!

What kind of wood chips should I use?

The small, hickory wood chips are the recommended wood chip for this recipe. The woodsy flavor really pairs with the sweet, savory and spice elements in the brine. If you are using a large smoker, go for the bigger hickory chunks.

a turkey on a platter

How long will it take my turkey to cook?

At 250 degrees Fahrenheit, you will smoke the turkey for about 25 minutes per pound. Our turkey weighed about 12 pounds, so our total cook time was about 5 hours.

There are a lot of variables here: type of turkey, weather, elevation, type of smoker, and most importantly, consistency of temperature.

Here is a quick chart if you need it, but remember, it is done when the digital thermometer says so (below).


Temperature
Approximate Smoke Time
235 F30 Minutes per Pouond
250 F25 Minutes per Pound
275 F20 Minutes per Pound

How do I check to see if the turkey is done?

Using an instant read digital thermometer, poke the sensor into the thickest part of the turkey (the breast). Once it has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit, it is time to take it out of the smoker.

Do I need to baste my turkey while cooking?

I find that opening the smoker to baste a turkey affects the temperature and cooking time. Every time you open that lid, you lose heat and have to adjust to reach consistency again. So, no, you don’t need to. (But you do you.)

Why do I need to let the turkey rest before carving?

After you remove the bird from the smoker, cover it with foil and let it rest for an hour (if you can). This allows the turkey to finish cooking and results in a juicer turkey.

Holiday Side Dish Recipes:

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Bacon + Green Bean Casserole

Cheddar Ranch Hashbrown Casserole

a close up shot of a girl eating a smoked turkey leg

Timeline / Recap:

  • DAY 1: Move turkey from the freezer to the fridge to start thawing.
  • DAY 2: Twiddle your thumbs.
  • DAY 3: Work on your “honey do list”.
  • DAY 4: Make the brine ahead of time (if you want). Keep it in the fridge to chill.
  • DAY 5: If that turkey is thawed, it is time to brine.
  • DAY 6: Time to smoke that sucker and eat!
Cider Brined Smoked Turkey on a white platter next to natural elements

Are you ready to take on turkey day? We hope you try our Cider Brined Smoked Turkey. Let us know how it turns out, and feel free to leave us a comment at the bottom of this post.

Cider Brined Smoked Turkey on a white platter next to natural elements
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Cider Brined Smoked Turkey

Learn how to brine and how to smoke a turkey. Tender, juicy, and flavorful. Sure to be a hit at your holiday table.
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword smoked turkey
Prep Time 14 hours
Cook Time 4 hours 30 minutes
Resting Time 30 minutes
Total Time 19 hours
Servings 10 Servings
Calories 748kcal
Author Buy This Cook That

Ingredients

  • 12 pound turkey thawed, giblets removed, rinsed
  • 1 gallon apple cider the sweetened drinking type
  • 1 cup sea salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 heads garlic halved halved
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon allspice berries and / or whole cloves
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 1 gallon heavily iced water
  • 1 onion halved
  • 1 lemon halved
  • 1/2 cup butter melted
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning optional, salt free
  • hickory wood chips soaked in water

Instructions

  • First, pour the apple cider into a large stock pot. Stir in the sea salt, brown sugar, garlic, peppercorns, allspice, clove, and bay leaves.
  • Heat the brine over medium hit, stirring frequently until the salt and sugar have dissolved.
  • Next, bring the cider brine to a low boil, stirring occasionally.
  • Remove the cider from heat. Let it cool completely, then chill.
  • In a 5 gallon bucket (or other large container), combine the prepared cider brine (above) with 1 gallon of heavily iced water.
  • Once your turkey has thawed, remove the giblets and make sure the cavity is empty. Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water.
  • Lower the turkey into the brine, submerging completely. Position the turkey BREAST SIDE DOWN.
  • About halfway through brining, turn the turkey BREAST SIDE UP.
  • Cover the bucket and keep it in the fridge or very cool area. Brine the turkey for at least 8 hours up to overnight.
  • Remove the turkey from the brine. Pat dry.
  • Cut an onion in half. Cut a lemon in half. insert the halves inside the turkey.
  • Cross the turkey’s legs and secure with kitchen twine to keep the cavity closed.
  • In a small bowl, combine melted butter and un-salted poultry seasoning. Rub generously on all sides of the turkey, coating all surfaces.
  • Preheat your smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure there is a drip tray in place to catch turkey drippings.
  • Prepare the smoke using hickory wood chips that have been soaked in water. This will vary based on what type of smoker you are using. (Some smokers have special places to insert chips. Others you have to place in a pan. Some you simply place in foil.)
  • Once the smoker has reached temperature, place the prepared turkey BREAST SIDE UP in the smoker. Shut the door / lid.
  • Adjust the smoker so that it resumes the cooking temperature of 250 degrees.
  • Add more wood chips about once an hour.
  • Smoke the turkey at this same temperature until an instant read meat thermometer inserted in the thickecst part of the turkey reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Once the turkey has reached temperature. carefully transfer it to a cutting board or platter. Cover with foil and let it rest for 30 minutesbefore carving.

Notes

Due to the fact that the brine is not all absorbed in the turkey, the nutritional value in this recipe is estimated. I have made adjustments to reflect my best guess, but due to the overall wide range of variables in turkey size, turkey brine, etc., this is only an educated guess.
For best results, please read our full post. If you are not familiar with smoking, please do some research on your particular brand / type of smoker to get you started.

Nutrition

Calories: 748kcal | Carbohydrates: 30g | Protein: 85g | Fat: 31g | Saturated Fat: 12g | Cholesterol: 303mg | Sodium: 1094mg | Potassium: 1096mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 24g | Vitamin A: 511IU | Vitamin C: 9mg | Calcium: 101mg | Iron: 4mg

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