Thanksgiving dinner has never been so simple and scrumptious than when these smoked turkey thighs are on the menu! With the perfectly spiced dry rub and trip to the smoker, these turkey thighs come out much more flavorful than your typical oven roasting preparation. Let’s fire up the smoker and cook a feast the whole family is sure to love.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
Only dark meat: Instead of roasting a whole bird, satisfy your love for dark meat and throw these turkey thighs on the smoker. Who doesn’t love the richer, more flavorful meat? A smoked turkey breast is delicious, but it's hard to beat dark meat. Plus, it’s easier and quicker than making a whole roasted turkey.
Keeps your oven free: Scheduling oven time is one of the trickiest parts of hosting Thanksgiving dinner, but since our outdoor smoker takes care of the cooking, your oven is free to prepare those family-favorite side dishes and pies. Hosting has never been easier when smoked turkey is on the holiday dinner menu.
Prep ahead of serving time: You can take care of all hands-on preparation well in advance of guests arriving, so you can sit back and sip on a Thanksgiving mimosa and enjoy good company.
Turkey thighs: The star of our show, turkey thighs are typically available in your standard grocery store from September through December. If you’d like to make this smoked turkey thigh recipe outside of the holiday season, check with your local butcher, or pick up some extra turkey thighs when they’re available and store them in the freezer. That way, you can have a taste of the holidays year round.
Olive oil: We brush this on our turkey thighs to help get that beautiful brown skin.
Coarse kosher salt: This is for dry brining our meat. How's that for a simple brine?
Dry spice rub: For our spice mixture, we use a combination of brown sugar, smoked paprika, garlic powder, chili powder and onion powder. This happens to be the same dry rub we use for my smoked turkey legs and wings, so you’re more than welcome to make an extra large batch to cook other turkey parts at the same time. If you already have a favorite seasoning blend, you can use that as well.
Step 1: We start by dry brining the turkey thighs. For this step, we pat the turkey dry with a paper towel, sprinkle salt all over the thighs and refrigerate uncovered for at least eight hours, though preferably 12-24 hours (photo 1).
Step 2: After dry brining, we brush the turkey thighs with olive oil (photo 2) and coat them with the spices (photo 3). We want to rub both the skin and the meat underneath to maximize that wonderful spice flavor.
Now we let the turkey rest at room temperature for 30-60 minutes. As the turkey rests, this is the perfect time to heat our smoker to a low temperature of 250 degrees F.
Step 3: Now we place the turkey thighs right on the grill grates with the skin side facing up. To ensure we cook the meat to perfection, we then insert a leave-in digital thermometer into the thickest part of the meat without touching the bone like so (photo 4).
Step 4: When the internal temperature of the meat reaches 130-140 degrees F, we brush the skin with another round of olive oil (photo 5), close the lid and let the turkey continue smoking until the meat finishes cooking.
And that’s it! All it takes is four simple steps to get a platter of mouthwatering smoked turkey thighs.
Recipe note: This recipe was tested using an electric vertical pellet grill. However, you can use any type of smoker.
What to Serve With Turkey
Of course, it’s not Thanksgiving without loads of side dishes. This is the time to enjoy and indulge, and I have plenty of recommendations to help you and your family do just that. Try some of these favorite side dishes for one delicious Thanksgiving dinner.
- Smoked mac and cheese
- Smoked mashed potatoes
- Brandy cranberry sauce
- Fresh green bean casserole
- Croissant stuffing
- Sweet potato soufflé
You’ll especially love hickory, which makes a great all-purpose wood. Hickory gives the turkey a smoky, savory flavor without being too strong. If you prefer a more mild wood, apple, cherry, pecan and maple work nicely.
The meat should take two to three hours. With smoking, a few factors can affect the cooking time, such as the starting meat temperature, outdoor weather, heat consistency and size of the turkey, but two to three hours is a good rule of thumb. Since your oven won’t be busy roasting a turkey, you can set it to 200 degrees F and keep any side dishes warm if they finish before the thighs.
While turkey is safe to eat at 165 degrees F, dark meat is best served at 175-180 degrees F. This extra time gives the connective tissue found in dark meat time to break down for more succulent meat.
Dry brining is great for meat. The salt initially pulls the moisture from the skin and meat. That moisture then dissolves the salt, which the meat reabsorbs for wonderfully juicy, delectable meat. The dry brining process also helps dry the skin for a crisper texture.
If you prefer a wet brine, you’re more than welcome to do so. Just make sure you dry the skin well after brining to help it crisp.
Keep the leftover cooked turkey in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If stored properly, it should last three to four days. It makes delicious leftovers, especially when used in some Thanksgiving enchiladas.
You can also freeze the leftover turkey. Shred the turkey off the bone and store it in a freezer-safe container. It should last for four to six months. While you can still safely consume the turkey after that period, the quality won’t be quite as good.
Watch for the bone: We don’t want to let the meat thermometer touch the bone. That will give us an inaccurate reading.
Brine overnight: This ensures the brine has plenty of time to work its magic, and it makes day-of preparation super simple. We salt the meat, and the next day our turkey is ready for a quick spice rub and smoking.
Use fully thawed turkey: Make sure your turkey is completely thawed. Otherwise, smoking will take too long, and the brining process won’t work.
Let the meat sit before smoking: Don’t skip this step. This helps the turkey come down in temperature for more even cooking, and it helps speed up the process a little bit.
Rest the meat: For best results, let the turkey thighs rest for 10 minutes before serving. This gives the juices a chance to redistribute to the meat. No one wants dry turkey for Thanksgiving.
Don’t toss the bones: Plan on making a homemade turkey stock? Those bones are great for just that.
Sip on a Scotch ale and you’re in for a delicious turkey pairing. This type of beer shows off a malty backbone with just the right touch of sweetness that counters the touch of hickory smoke.
Looking for a nice wine with your Thanksgiving meal? A pinot noir is a classic pairing with smoked turkey. Pinot noir features earthy, herbal flavors that go well with turkey as well as the traditional side dishes. It’s truly the perfect all-purpose wine for the holiday.
For a cocktail, try this spiced cranberry old fashioned. Bourbon has a sweet richness that pairs beautifully with the bolder flavor of the turkey thighs, and the spiced cranberry syrup adds a fun holiday twist.
Make your holiday meal as simple as can be without sacrificing flavor and serve this beloved smoked turkey recipe. Everyone will love that tender, juicy meat.
Smoke More Meats
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Smoked Turkey Thighs
- Smoker any kind
- Wood pellets, chunks or chips preferably hickory
- 4 turkey thighs
- 1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 2-4 tablespoons olive oil
- Pat the turkey thighs until they're dry with paper towels. Sprinkle the turkey thighs with kosher salt. Place in the refrigerator uncovered and refrigerate for at least eight hours, preferably 12-24 hours, to dry brine. Remove from the refrigerator 30-60 minutes before smoking to bring down their temperature for more even cooking.
- In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, smoked paprika, garlic powder, chili powder and onion powder. Set aside. Brush the turkey thighs with olive oil and then rub with the spice mixture both on the skin and under the skin.
- Place the seasoned turkey thighs directly on the the grill grates of a 250-degree F smoker with a water pan. Insert a leave-in thermometer into the largest thigh in the thickest part of the meat without touching the bone to avoid an inaccurate reading. Close the lid and smoke the turkey.
- When the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 130-140 degrees F, brush with olive oil again. Close the lid and continue to smoke until the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 175-180 degrees F. With smoking, the exact cooking time isn't an exact science, but expect it to take between two to three hours. Remove the turkey from the smoker. Allow to rest for 10 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute to the meat and serve. Enjoy!
- Make sure your turkey is completely thawed. Otherwise, smoking will take too long, and the brining process won’t work.
- Store the leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three to four days. You can also shred the meat from the bone and freeze for four to six months.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.