Make your next holiday meal one to remember and serve this succulent, crispy smoked spatchcock turkey! This turkey is coated with a flavorful dry rub and then smoked low and slow to infuse the perfect kiss of smoke into wonderfully tender, moist meat. The whole family is sure to fall in love with this smoked turkey.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
If you’ve ever made my smoked spatchcock chicken, you know this is a wonderful technique for smoking poultry. Essentially, the spatchcock method includes removing the backbone to butterfly the bird, which allows for more even and faster cooking. When the turkey finishes smoking, you’ll even find a spatchcock bird is easier to carve because it lays flat.
For that and so many other reasons, you’ll love this smoked spatchcock turkey.
- No gummy skin here. Don’t let anyone tell you turkey skin doesn’t get crispy in the smoker. With the right technique, you can absolutely deliver crackling, crispy skin.
- Juicy meat with a deeper, more complex flavor that you won’t get from roasting alone.
- Requires very little prep work and hands-on time.
- Frees up the oven to make room for all those family-favorite side dishes and pies.
- Ultra versatile — make this smoked turkey as is or serve with a holiday glaze or spiced butter.
- Works for turkeys in a range of sizes.
- Makes the best leftovers, including some seriously delicious smoked turkey sandwiches.
Whole turkey: If possible, opt for a pastured organic turkey and avoid turkeys that are marked as “basted” or “injected,” which means the turkey was filled with additives to plump up the size.
Kosher salt: This is what we use to dry brine the turkey for superior skin browning and juicy meat.
Dry rub: We use a blend of brown sugar, smoked paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, dried sage, dried thyme and dried rosemary. You're also welcome to use your favorite dry rub if you already have one.
Olive oil: We rub this on the turkey skin at the end and blast it with high heat to help crisp up that skin.
Spatchcock the Turkey
Step 1: For our first step, we dry brine the turkey by patting the skin dry with paper towels and then rubbing kosher salt all over the skin (photo 1). Now we place the turkey uncovered on a large sheet pan in the refrigerator to allow the dry brining to work its magic.
Step 2: When we’re ready to smoke the turkey, we remove it from the refrigerator and spatchcock the turkey.
To spatchcock, we flip the bird so that the turkey breast side is facing down, and the backbone side is facing up. We then take a pair of sharp kitchen shears and cut all the way through one side of the backbone and then repeat on the other side to remove the backbone. Now we flip the turkey and press the breast side down until we hear the breast bone crack (photos 2-4).
Season the Turkey
Step 3: With our turkey spatchcocked, we stir together the spices and herbs in a small bowl and coat the entire turkey with the dry rub (photo 5).
Smoke the Turkey
Step 4: We now move the turkey directly to the grill grates of a 225-degree F smoker with a water pan, insert a leave-in thermometer into the middle of the breast meat and close the lid until the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 130 degrees F (photo 6). I like to place the turkey so that the legs and thighs are closest to the heat source, and make sure the thermometer doesn’t touch any bones for an accurate reading.
Step 5: Now we remove the turkey from the smoker and crank up the heat to 400 degrees F. While the smoker heats up, we generously brush the skin with olive oil (photo 7).
We place the turkey back in the smoker to finish cooking and remove it when the thickest part of the breast meat reaches 157-160 degrees F. The dark meat should be at least 175 degrees F. Poultry is technically done when it hits 165 degrees F, but as it rests, we’ll get the carry-over heat, and this helps prevent overcooking the white meat.
After resting the meat for 30-45 minutes under loosely tented aluminum foil, we carve the spatchcock turkey with a sharp knife on a large cutting board and enjoy the most perfect holiday meal.
Recipe testing note: This smoked turkey was tested on a vertical pellet grill, but you can use any type of smoker. And if you don’t have a smoker, check out this guide on how to turn your propane or charcoal grill into a smoker with a few tips.
Serving Ideas on the Side
Of course, what’s a holiday feast without appetizers, side dishes and desserts? These are a few of our family favorites.
- Appetizers: Smoked cream cheese, fig baked Brie and spicy pumpkin hummus.
- Side dishes: Smoked mac and cheese, smoked mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, brandy cranberry sauce, croissant stuffing and sweet potato cornbread.
- Desserts: Maple-bourbon pumpkin pie, pumpkin pound cake and apple shortcakes.
How to Store Leftovers
Once everyone finishes feasting, pull the remaining turkey from the bones, allow it to cool completely and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three to four days. For longer storage, you can freeze the leftover turkey for up to six months before the quality starts to degrade.
To use those leftovers, you have so many options. As mentioned, this smoked turkey makes the best sandwiches, but don’t stop there. Here are a few other ways to put that leftover smoked turkey to use.
- Stir into mac and cheese.
- Pile onto a sheet pan of nachos.
- Use in a turkey noodle soup.
- Make into turkey-cranberry sliders with your other leftovers.
- Stuff into Thanksgiving enchiladas or turkey tacos.
- Spoon it into this smoked Buffalo dip.
As the salt sits on the turkey, it pulls the moisture from the meat and skin. Over time, the moisture dissolves the salt, which is reabsorbed into the turkey. This makes for juicier, more flavorful meat, and it leaves the skin in the perfect condition to get that crisp crackling everyone loves.
You may have also heard of a wet brine, which is the process of letting the turkey sit in a salted liquid overnight. I prefer dry brining for many reasons — it’s easier and quicker, it’s less messy, it leaves the turkey with crispier skin, it makes for better flavor, and it cooks faster. Honestly, I don’t see much upside for wet brining a turkey.
No, as long as you dry brine and follow the directions, a water pan does not make the skin soft. A water pan helps stabilize the temperature for more even cooking and helps the smoke flavor better adhere to the meat. I’ve smoked plenty of poultry with water pans and have never had soggy, rubbery skin.
For a good all-purpose wood, hickory works great here. You can also go with so many other options such as apple wood, cherry wood, pecan wood or maple. I usually reserve mesquite for beef, but it’s actually great with turkey if you prefer a more prominent smoky flavor.
With smoking, there is no hard timeline because so many factors play into this, such as temperature stabilization, weather and altitude. Plus, no one cut of meat cooks exactly like the other, even if they’re the same size.
That said, you can expect a 10- to 15-pound turkey to take three to four hours of smoking at the lower temperature and then another 45 minutes to an hour and a half for the higher temperature. With those numbers combined, expect the total smoke time to take about four hours to five and a half hours. As the turkey rests, you can finish the side dishes in the oven.
To thaw a turkey, place it in a large pot and let it sit in the refrigerator. Make sure you plan ahead because this takes time.
According to the USDA, plan for one day of thawing per 4-5 pounds. If you need to speed up the thawing process, you can fill the pot with cold water.
Make sure to fully thaw the turkey before dry brining: If the meat is frozen, the brine won’t properly penetrate the meat.
Dry brine for a minimum of 24 hours and up to 48 hours: A big piece of meat needs time to fully brine and maximize results.
Don’t let the thermometer touch any bones: The bones hold a different temperature than the meat. If the thermometer touches any bones, the reading won’t be accurate.
Buy a small turkey: Don’t buy a turkey larger than 15 pounds. Smaller turkeys are less likely to dry out, the meat is more tender, and you don’t have to worry about it spending too long in the temperature danger zone of 40-140 degrees F, which allows bacteria to grow. A 15-pound turkey feeds up to 12 people, so if you need more servings, opt for two smaller turkeys.
Save the turkey carcass, backbone, giblets and neck for making turkey stock: Depending on how you'd like to cook it, you can make a stove-top homemade turkey stock, Instant Pot turkey stock or slow cooker turkey stock.
Since you’re most likely enjoying this smoked spatchcocked turkey with a holiday dinner, we want pairings that complement the whole meal. For a beer, a bière de garde is perfect. This French-style farmhouse ale has a malty backbone that stands up well to that array of herby, rich dishes, and it has a nice carbonation to keep your palate cleansed during such a heavy meal.
If you prefer wine, a pinot noir is wonderful. This wine shows off earthy notes that pair with those classic Thanksgiving herbs, and it comes with a nice acidity.
For the ultimate holiday meal, the whole family will love this smoked spatchcock turkey recipe. Serve this juicy turkey with your favorite side dishes and pies and you’re in for a special holiday celebration.
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Crispy Smoked Spatchcock Turkey
- Wood pellets, chips or chunks hickory recommended
- Leave-in meat thermometer
- 10-15 pound whole turkey giblets and neck removed, fully thawed before brining
- 3-4 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons dried sage
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- Olive oil
- Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Rub kosher salt all over skin. Place the turkey on a large sheet pan in the refrigerator uncovered for 24-48 hours to dry brine for crispy skin and juicier, more flavorful meat. Do not wipe off the salt after brining.
- Heat the smoker to 225 degrees F. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator. Flip the turkey so that the breast side faces down. You'll notice a triangle-shaped flap. Using kitchen shears, completely cut along one side of the flap and then completely cut on the other side of the flap to remove the backbone. Flip the turkey over and use your hands to flatten the turkey breast until you hear the breast bone crack.
- Stir together the spices and herbs to make the dry rub. Rub it all over the turkey skin and gently lift the skin to rub some of the spices on the meat as well.
- When the smoker reaches temperature, place the turkey in the smoker with the breast-side up and thighs closest to the heat source. Insert a leave-in thermometer into the thickest part of the breast meat without touching the bone, which can skew the reading. Close the lid and smoke until the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 130 degrees F, about three to four hours.
- Remove the turkey from the smoker and crank up the heat to 400 degrees F. Generously brush the turkey skin with olive oil. Reinsert the meat thermometer and place the turkey back in the smoker. Continue to smoke until the turkey breast meat reaches an internal temperature of 157-160 degrees F, about 45 minutes to an hour and a half. As it rests, it will reach 165 degrees F. Loosely tent the turkey with aluminum foil and allow the meat to rest for 30-45 minutes. Carve the turkey. Enjoy!
- Store leftovers in the refrigerator for three to four days or freeze for six months.
- The serving amount depends on the size. Expect to feed eight people with a 10-pound turkey and 12 people with a 15-pound turkey.
- The dry rub nicely coats a 10-pound turkey. For a 15-pound turkey, you might want to increase the spices by half.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.