Best Wood For Smoking Turkey

by Tiana Matson

Smoking is an ancient method of cooking. For ages, people have smoked meats and veggies for various reasons which include preservation and just to enhance the flavor.

Today, the smoking process is not the same as it was in the olden days.

The olden times, saw food cooked over the fire and the smoke gave your food a distinctive smoky flavor. Today, people cook using gas and electricity.

Turkey after smoking

However, they haven’t forgotten the ancient cooking style. That’s why we still use barbecue grills to roast our meats.

Have you ever asked yourself why barbecuing is still popular?

The smoke is what makes it desirable. The smoke is usually a result of the wood you use for the smoking process.  I know you may think but, every wood produces smoke so what’s the fuss about this?

Well, every wood produces smoke, yes but, some smoke better suits different meats than others.

Smoking Turkey

THE BEST TYPE OF WOOD FOR SMOKING

You already know that the smoke is essential for a good barbecue. But, do you know that there is a vast majority of wood that produces good smoke. In fact, good smoke comes from all your woods with low resins and heightened flavor.

Below is a list of woods you can use for smoking

  1. Acacia

This one burns very hot which means you should only use it for a limited time, mix it with others or use a few pieces.

  1. Alder

Originates from the Northwestern USA. It assumes a light flavor with a natural sweetness that works well with fish and poultry. It was traditionally used to smoke salmon.

  1. Almond

It has a nutty and sweet flavor that suits all kinds of meats.

  1. Apple

This is the best for the mildness and mellowness in flavor and pure food sweetness. It works best with poultry and pork. It discolors the chicken skin though.

  1. Apricot

Works best with your poultry and pork. It’s closely related to hickory although it gives a sweeter and milder taste.

  1. Black walnut

This is heavy in flavor and may impart a bitter taste. So, when you use it consider mixing it with other wood.

  1. Cherry

It is a good wood and you can mix it with hickory. Its flavor is as mild and sweet as that of apple. The wood also colors your meats. It also works with all kinds of meat.

  1. Citrus

It produces a mild and light fruit flavor with moderate smoke.

  1. Grapevine

It gives some fruity flavor with a lot of tart smoke. You may want to use it sparingly because it has a heavy flavor. You can use it on your poultry and lamb dishes.

  1. Hickory

It will add a strong flavor to your meat, therefore, don’t use it excessively. It has a strong pungent smoke which will add a sweet and smoky flavor to the meat.

  1. Mesquite

It’s popular because of its strong flavors. It burns hot and fast which makes it not suitable for barbecues that require long hours of cooking.

  1. Oak

This is strongly flavored but never overpowering. It’s a versatile kind that you may use on various meats. It burns hot and is best blended with other woods.

  1. Pecan

This is the subtle version of hickory with a delicate flavor.

  1. Plum

This is best for poultry and pork because of its sweet and mild flavor.

  1. Walnut

It has a smoky and heavy flavor which means it will work best when mixed with others. It’s strong flavor best suits red and game meats.

APPLEWOOD FOR SMOKING

The list of woods that provide the fruity and sweet flavor to your meats include apple, cherry, plum and pear. The best option is the applewood when you are smoking either pork or poultry. This is because it gives your meats a light, sweet, fruity smoke flavor.

Mind you, the flavor here is delicate with a sweet aroma. If you want it richer, soak it in wine for about an hour then place on the charcoal and continue to smoke.

WW Wood Apple BBQ Smoking Chips

Western Premium BBQ Products Apple Smoking Chips, 180 cu inch

The primary use of this natural wood is to add smoke flavor to your food. The apple used produces a mildly delicate flavor and a sweet taste which enriches the flavor your turkey. It features a 100% raw wood.

PECAN WOOD FOR SMOKING TURKEY

The pecan wood is famous for its nutty flavor. It’s a strong fruitwood type although it doesn’t bury your turkey’s authentic flavor. It’s nicely mild thus infusing a marvelous flavor to the bird.

Weber-Stephen Pecan Wood Chips

Weber Cubic Meter Stephen Products 17136 Pecan Wood Chips, 192 cu. in. (0.003 cubi, 2 lb

The pecan wood chips render a rich flavor to your poultry and other meats. They are great for smoking in your charcoal grill and it’s durable.

POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN LOOKING FOR THE BEST WOOD FOR YOUR TURKEY

  • It’s all about the wood selection

Whenever you need to smoke your meats the most important decision to make is the kind of wood you will use. By now you know that wood determines the kind of smoke you produce and ultimately the flavor of your meat.

Some woods flavor may render your piece of meat inedible. This is especially so when you are smoking meats like turkey or other poultry. They need light tasting wood and not those heavy ones that are more common today.

I’ve recently discovered that when you combine wood types you end up with a different but in-depth flavor that enhances the taste of your meat. A good one that I recently tried is a combination of maple and plum.

This gave my turkey a mildly sweet and slightly smoky edge all without overpowering it. You can also try the apple, mulberry, olive, plum, grapevine, Pecan and peach.

  • What do you think about the wood chips vs wood chunks

Different people prefer either wood chips or wood chunks. Both people on either side believe that theirs is the best option compared to the other. But, truth be told, both of this have their ups and downs. In fact, for me, it’s hard to tell if there’s a winner.

Woodchucks are large which means they take longer to burn away. There’s nothing that is so good when smoking than wood that doesn’t require you to add some more every so often. This reduces heat and smoke loss.

Wood chips require you to soak them in hot water before you need to use them. This is usually to stop the tendency to burn quickly and turn into ashes before they even produce real smoke. It’s amazing how this works because the water leads to a longer lasting wood chips.

When it comes to ignition wood chips are much easier to light than the wood chunks. They catch fire easily because they have a small surface area. The other advantage is that while wood chunks take time to ignite they take longer burning compared to wood chips.

  • Should you leave the bark on the wood or remove it?

This is another thing I often say depends on personal preferences. Some argue that the bark is good for enriching the meat with flavor while others argue that it spoils the taste.

They say that it makes it harsher, gives it a different flavor from the wood while others say they see no major difference.

For me, it gives it an extra deliciously sweet smoky flavor. But, this matter is controversial I would advise that you test it yourself. Smoke with the bark on and then without the bark. Both on several different occasions to know which way is best.

  • Temperature vs time

This being poultry should be subjected to very low temperatures. Consider that turkey doesn’t have a lot of fat which means drying out is easy. Extra caution is needed when smoking the turkey. The ideal smoking temperature is 225˚F.

The time depends on factors like what part of the meat you are cooking or its size.

  • What heat source do you prefer?

The heat source defines the amount of smoke you will have did you know that?

Most people think that the only heat source for grilling is a charcoal grill. The charcoal grills are popular and that is attributed to its clean job.

smoked turkey

THE CHARCOAL GRILL

When using a charcoal grill always stick to the natural chunk of charcoal. This charcoal burns longer and hotter.

We always prefer using briquettes for this process because they have large wood by-products that will give out a pungent smoke that seals the flavors and the ultimate product is perfect.

How to smoke your turkey using a charcoal grill

Smoking takes time so make sure you have time. Follow the steps below for smoking the turkey

  • Prepare your grill

Begin by cleaning your grill grate then set the grill for indirect heating. Remember to place the drip pan directly at the center bottom of the grate. Go ahead and arrange your coals around the pan. Preheat the grill to about 200˚F.

Lightly oil the grate to help prevent the sticking. You may love to make gravy so use the pan that you set at the bottom of the grate to collect the juice from the turkey. To retain the liquid, pour about 4 cups of water in the pan. This will prevent drying of the liquid as you smoke it.

Additionally, smoking birds is good in a moist environment.  The water pan will help the smoker to retain the moisture.

  • Lets prepare our turkey

Remove the neck and giblet of the turkey then rinse it thoroughly whether it’s brined or not. Confirm that the bird is still fresh and has no loose ends that need trimming. You need a tightly packed bird so pin the wings of the bird with a toothpick to the body.

Depending on your preferences, you may choose to use salt only but a good piece of meat would include a spice rub. This enhances the flavors. It may include a blend of both powdered and fresh herb spices. Add some citrus and vinegar for the lemony flavor if you like.

Rub the spices under the skin, find other the meaty sections and rub in the spices too.

  • Set the smoker temperature

The vital part of smoking aside from time is the temperature. You should always ensure that you smoke your turkey under a constant temperature of between 200-275˚F. Never cook at a lower or higher temperature than the suggested one.

Remember, you are reaching for a smoky flavor as well as the tenderness. The cooking process should take anything between 25-35 minutes.

  • Set your turkey on the grill

Place the turkey on the grate of the smoker where the smoke flows all around it. Also, make sure it is right above the pan where the drips are easily collected in the pan below. You can also rotate the turkey every after an hour.

Meanwhile, clean the utensils you used for the process.

  • Building the smoke dose

Now that you have your bird on the grate and the smoker is hot, you want to add more smoke. Birds are known to absorb the smoke early in the cooking process. You can use almost all woods but do confirm with our list of best preferred for turkey.

The wood chunks are good but if you have chips consider soaking first. After soaking the chips shake off the excess water and leave them damp. After placing the wood in the smoker close it to give it a good smoke.

How to add a smoky flavor

Turkey before Smoking

The smoky flavor is more of a personal preference that you can add as you build a smoke dose. Follow the steps below to make a smoky flavor for your turkey.

  • Use any mild fruit wood chips to enhance the flavor and aroma of the smoke. However, be careful not to use an item that will mask the turkey’s flavor. Soak this wood chips in water, fruit juice or wine.
  • You can also add herbs to the wood chips. The herbs include rosemary, oregano, thyme, bay leaves and sage.
  • Another layer should include cinnamon sticks, tea leaves or citrus peel strips.
  • Baste the bird if you need to

Let the turkey cook on for about 5-6 hours. In your last hour, you can baste the chicken. Some people prefer to add sweet to the baste to give it a candied flavor. Apply the baste all over the turkey and especially the inside.

  • Confirm the temperature

You need to confirm that the turkey has reached the desired temperature. Take time to check the breast but avoid hitting the bone with the thermometer as it will give you a false recording. The temperature of the turkey should be anything between 175 and 180˚F.

If the lowest temperature of the turkey is anything like 175˚F, get it off the smoker for its cooked.

  • Let it rest

Cover the turkey with an aluminum foil. The resting time seals in the juices and flavor. In fact, it’s the difference between a nicely cooked meat and the one that isn’t. The meat tends to reabsorb the moisture before you cut it again.

The resting duration should take anything between 15-20minutes. But, cover it properly to ensure it retains the heat and moisture within.

THE PROPANE GRILL

smoke your turkey using a charcoal grill

This is equally reliable when it comes to smoking. Although some people claim it doesn’t work, it does and it also does it perfectly. You only need to practice more. This method doesn’t use wood chunks it uses wood chips.

Moreover, although you soak the chips in water when using a charcoal grill, here you don’t need to soak it. This is because the propane method will allow the wood chips to burn very slowly. For the ignition process, before you place the chips in the grill pre-light them.

Make sure they are well lit then place directly below the grates to continue lighting themselves. You can also make sure its spread all through the grill.  This is for even distribution of heat.

IMPORTANT TIPS WHEN SMOKING

  • When smoking, the dry rubs are better for the marination process. For the case of birds smoking, roughly rub the buds with the marinades and let it rest for about 2 hours. Use the paprika, sugar, ground black pepper, dried oregano, thyme, salt and cayenne powder.
  • What kind of meat are you smoking? The boneless meats tend to shrink when slow smoking. If you have a layer of fat over your meat, the shrinking will decrease.
  • Most people don’t know that peeking slows the smoking process. So, when smoking your meats in a smoker, avoid peeking.
  • It’s okay to add charcoal when you are smoking the turkey. This will maintain the heat to a constant same. Make sure you have a pile of charcoal burning on another grill and add it to the main fire when necessary.
  • Confirm the smoke’s heat every so often. It shouldn’t exceed 250 degrees.
  • The time it takes to smoke will depend on several things which include: the type of meat you are smoking, the size, the weather and the charcoal temperature.
  • Remember to monitor the internal temperatures using the oven thermometer.
  • You can add the different sauces towards the end of the smoking process if you wish.

CONCLUSION

Historically, Thanksgiving Day is associated with eating turkey. It could be grilled, smoked or baked. If you didn’t know, now you know that the best wood for smoking turkey is mostly fruitwoods. The best of all though is apple and pecan.

With the holiday fast approaching, I hope you will mix a few kinds of wood here and there to come up with a unique flavor for your smoked turkey.

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