I’ll admit I’ve been a bit intimidated to even attempt roasting a whole turkey. But just like many things in life, I was overcomplicating it and not realizing it’s the exact same procedure for other roasted chicken recipes I’ve made, like this Peruvian-inspired pollo asado, and herb roasted spatchcock. The same steps as turkey – cooking is just (a lot) longer due to the size.
Before I walk through the steps on how to smoke a turkey, I want to address 2 main things that have been critical to my success in roasting poultry – olive oil mayonnaise and dry brining.
Olive Oil Mayonnaise vs Butter for Roasting
The majority of recipes you’ll find on the internet and even cookbooks involve using butter as a binder for seasoning chicken or turkey. The butter is supposed to flavor and moisten the turkey when rubbed underneath the skin, as well as help get the skin crispy and golden brown, like a magazine shot.
Did you know that mayonnaise functions the same way? Mayonnaise bastes the turkey throughout the cooking process so the turkey maintains it’s natural juices and is seasoned by the continual basting of the mayonnaise mixture.
Here are 4 Reasons Why I Prefer to Use Olive Oil Mayonnaise:
Lower Saturated Fat Content
Olive oil mayonnaise has a significantly lower saturated fat content. As you may know, consuming a lot of foods high in saturated fats can build (LDL) cholesterol in blood vessels which lead to heart-related issues. Alternatively, olive oil mayonnaise contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fats that support cardiovascular health.
Rich in Healthy Fats
Since olive oil is the primary ingredient in olive oil mayonnaise, you can reap the health benefits. The monounsaturated fatty acid in olive oil can aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and antioxidants.
(Note: this is NOT to say one should consume large amounts of olive oil mayonnaise; nor am I saying you will get a significant amount of heart healthy fat just by consuming. I’m only saying that consuming foods that are more heart-healthy, you reduce the likelihood of heart related diseases.)
Moist Interior and Crispy Exterior
Using olive oil mayonnaise bastes the turkey which enhances the flavor (especially when you mix with spices) and keeps it moist on the inside. And while the turkey is naturally basting with the mayonnaise, the mayonnaise helps the skin to get crispy because of its high smoke point.
Using olive oil mayonnaise is suitable for various turkey cooking methods, including roasting and rotisserie. The high smoke point makes it perfect to toss on the grill for smoking for long periods of time.
Ok, now let’s talk brining.
There’s wet brine when you submerge the poultry in salted water, and dry brine when you rub salt all over the bird, inside (underneath the skin) and outside. Wet brining can take as little as 12 hours, whereas dry brining takes at least 24 hours, max 48 hours.
Yet still, I strongly prefer dry brining.
Here are my top 3 reasons why I prefer to dry brine poultry:
Preserves Natural Juices
Dry brining is coating the turkey with kosher salt (and seasonings, recommended) and allowing it to sit in the refrigerator. Since no additional moisture has been introduced, it preserves the natural juices, which is impossible with wet brining.
Dry brining enhances and concentrates flavor since it draws out moisture from the turkey, allowing the seasoning to penetrate deeper into the meat. This results in a more flavorful and less diluted taste.
Makes Crispier Skin
Dry-brined turkey and poultry tend to have crispier skin because the salt draws out excess moisture from the skin which allows for better browning during roasting or smoking, or even rotisserie cooking.
These are my 2 top tips – using olive oil mayonnaise and the dry brining method – to get flavorful, juicy poultry. And since turkey has a LOT more lean white meat, following these steps to get it as moist as possible is important…after all, no one wants dry meat that tastes like death.
Ok, now on to the fun part – my easy walkthrough on:
How to Smoke Turkey that’s Juicy and Tender
Dry the turkey. This is super important for not only the dry brining, but also the seasoning afterwards.
Dry brine the turkey.
To determine how much salt to use, a general rule of thumb is to use 1 tablespoon of kosher salt for every 4lbs.
Note: I HIGHLY recommend using kosher salt since it’s crumbly, spreads, and does not clump like fine salt.
I like to mix in dried herbs like rosemary and sage for extra flavor. You can use fresh herbs if desired as well, just make sure they are finely chopped.
TIP: remember to gently pull back the skin to get under the skin as well. It’s a step a lot of people miss. This will draw out even more moisture from the skin so it gets crispy.
Allow this to rest UNCOVERED in the fridge for at least 24 hours but up to 48 hours.
After dry brining, it should look dry and you should be able to see meat through the skin so it looks pink and brown.
Prepare the spice blend to mix with olive oil mayonnaise.
For my 14lb turkey, I used the following:
- 2 tablespoons dried herbs (oregano)
- 1.5 tablespoons cumin
- 2.5 tablespoons smoked paprika OR chili powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1/2 hefty cup olive oil mayonnaise
Mix everything together.
Season the turkey.
Rub the seasoning blend inside and outside, ensuring you get underneath the skin as well. A rule of thumb for me is to make sure my fingers can touch if I’m seasoning from both ends.
BE GENTLE – try not to tear the skin.
Stuff the turkey with veggies like carrots, celery, onions, lemons and fresh herbs like rosemary.
Let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes on the counter to come to room temperature as much as possible. This will greatly assist in even cooking.
TIP: use a meat thermometer. Unless you’re very well seasoned in roasting meats, I highly recommend using a meat thermometer to help you keep track of the temperature inside the turkey so you know when it is finished. Insert it into the thickest part, the top of the breast.
Fire up your smoker. I set mine between 225F and 250F and add alder wood or hickory chunks for the smoking.
Depending on the size of the turkey and how well you control the temperature, you can expect a 14lb turkey to smoke for about 3 hours. The slow cooking and lower temperature help ensure the turkey is not drying out due to excess heat.
Remove the turkey when the thermometer reads 155F/68C – 160F/71C.
Let it rest on the counter and use a foil to create a tent around it. Keep in mind that the turkey is still cooking on the inside so the temperature should come to over 160F – 165F.
Remove the thermometer.
Baste the turkey with the natural juices.
Slice and enjoy!