How Long To Smoke A 20lb Turkey? Guide, Tips & Delicious Recipes
The question has been asked for years, how long does it take to smoke a 20lb turkey? There are so many variables that go into this equation. You have the size of your smoker, the type of wood you use, the temperature you cook at and finally- what size is your bird?
It’s almost Thanksgiving time again – which means one thing for most people: It’s time to think about cooking an amazing Thanksgiving dinner! One essential part of any great meal is finding out How Long To Smoke A 20lb Turkey.
Below I will answer all these questions in depth with tips on how to get that perfect smoked turkey just right! Read on if you want to know how long to smoke a 20 pound turkey & everything about smoking a 20lb Turkey.
What can you do to make sure your turkey turns out perfect? The answer may surprise you… Read on for more information!
How Long To Smoke A 20lb Turkey? Full Answer
The size of the turkey will be a big factor in how long you need to smoke it for. It is common that smaller turkeys are done faster than larger birds because all the weight is not in one place.
In this case, start checking your turkey’s temperature about an hour before expected end time and check every half hour after that until it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit at the thickest part of the thigh. If you have an 8-12lb turkey or a 12-16 lb bird, plan on smoking for about 5 hours – if not longer!
If you use a pre-basted turkey, make sure to take into consideration that they may cook quicker because there is already added moisture content due to being injected with butter or flavors.
Your smoker temperature is another big factor in how long it will take to cook your turkey. Smoking at 165 degrees Fahrenheit means that you are cooking hot and fast! Hotter temperatures mean less smoking time for the same sized bird.
For every 2-3 degrees you lower your heat, expect to add an hour or more of smoking time to your recipe – if not longer depending on the size of your bird.
Temperature can also vary based on what type of wood you use. Hardwoods like hickory, oak, pecan and fruitwoods all burn hotter than a milder tasting option such as apple, cherry or peach woods. If you choose to use a wood such as mesquite, keep this in mind and adjust your temperature accordingly.
What size is your turkey?
This question I find to be the most important of all because it will determine if you have a moist and juicy bird or one that is dry and stringy.
Smaller turkeys benefit from smoking at higher temperatures for short times due to their size and the lesser amount of time they take to cook completely.
For example, check 2-3 lbs birds after 1 hour and then every half hour until done. (I would recommend checking them sooner).
Larger turkeys will usually need lower temps for longer periods of time in order to keep moisture content high. If cooking a 20lb turkey or larger, try smoking between 200-225 degrees Fahrenheit for 5-6 hours depending on thickness and size.
Now you know all there is to consider when it comes down to How Long To Smoke A 20lb Turkey . If you follow these guidelines, chances are your bird will turn out delicious and juicy every time!
What are the best smoking woods for turkey
Depending on the type of turkey you are smoking, you can choose different types of smoke to give them a unique flavor. Hickory and oak are good for poultry because they give off a strong smoky flavor without being too overpowering. Pecan is not as intense but still comes out with a great, slightly nutty taste.
Fruit woods such as apple, peach or cherry also add a nice sweetness to your bird that goes well with savory rubs and glazes. So every guide answer your question about how long to smoke a 20lb turkey must include full of smoking woods options.
Mesquite is okay to use if you want the smoky barbeque flavor but it burns hotter than most other varieties so make sure it’s age has been seasoned properly before using!
It is best to cook poultry at lower temperatures like 225 degrees Fahrenheit for a longer period of time. This ensures the meat stays moist and tender without burning or drying it out too much.
Prep your smoker before cooking your turkey .
Make sure the inside is clean and that there are no creosote or debris left from a previous cooking session. You can use a metal container filled with water next to the wood chips to produce steam and help keep your smoker moist during cooking time.
Turkey should not be cooked at higher temperatures due to its low fat content. Cooking at high temps will also dry out the meat, leaving it tough and stringy.
Smoked turkey should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit before being removed from the heat source so make sure you have a good digital thermometer .
If you want to take your turkey’s flavor up to eleven, smoke it on oak wood! Oak has been found by many as one of the best types of wood for turkey because of its deep, rich smoke. The flavor it adds to the meat is simply wonderful!
If you smoke your turkey too long it will dry out and lose all that great juiciness that makes it so delicious. Depending on the size of your bird, 2-3 hours at 225 degrees Fahrenheit should be enough time to infuse with smoky goodness. Please pay attention to this when find out “how long to smoke a 20 pound turkey”.
Depending on the type of wood you use and how hot your smoker goes, smoking a 20lb turkey can take anywhere from 5-10 hours or more! Make sure you keep an eye on the temperature gauge inside and check for doneness using a digital thermometer .
For large birds such as this, when comes to how long to smoke a 20 pound turkey, bring the heat down to around 200 degrees Fahrenheit and plan to cook until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
How Long To Smoke A 20lb Turkey now that you know all there is to it! After reading this, you should have enough information to smoke the perfect holiday turkey every time you cook one. Happy Thanksgiving!
Does brining or injecting help with flavor of smoked meat?
Yes, this would apply to injecting water solution with butter/chicken stock or marinades into turkey prior smoking or grilling process. When using marinades try not use sugary marinades or with too much oil because it will burn when grilling.
If you do inject, make sure to use a meat injector needle and angle the needle tip at 45 degrees so that once it is inserted into the meat you pull back on the plunger a bit before releasing juice in order to get rid of air bubbles.
A turkey that has been brined will have much more flavor than one that is not. And it also helps to retain moisture which keeps the meat from drying out while being cooked.
As far as injected turkeys are concerned, if you are talking about a marinade or just butter then yes, it will give added flavor and moisture to the meat.
We do however feel that injecting flavors into the depths of the muscle fibers is best left up to someone else because it does make for difficult clean up…
Recipes and tips for making the perfect smoked turkey.
We recommend brining turkey in a saltwater solution for at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours. If you choose this method, rinse the bird well before placing it on the smoker.
While on the smoker there is no need to baste or add butter because it will cause too many flare-ups and that can produce burnt skin and undercooked meat.
For added flavor we like to use apple chips or chunks while cooking and then glaze with a favorite barbecue sauce just prior removing from heat. Also we prefer dark meat over white meat when smoking, but either one will work fine.
Smoked Turkey Breast Cut Cooking Times
Cut whole turkey into pieces Remove neck & giblets from cavity Rinse thoroughly inside & out With moistened paper dish towel, pat turkey dry with paper towels. For crispy skin brine or marinade is not recommended.
A whole turkey is typically cooked at 325°F to 350°F with the temperature being measured in the deepest part of the inner thigh next to the breastbone. If cooking a bone-in turkey place it into your smoker with meat thermometer probe inserted through the skin into thigh next to body cavity.
If you are smoking a boneless turkey, insert meat thermometer probe between upper thigh and breast so tip is in thickest part of inner thigh muscle
Generally cook for 10 minutes per pound or until instant read digital food thermometer reads 165°F when inserted through center of stuffing.
Typically smoking a turkey for 1 hour per pound will give you good results, but if you go by temperature then 12 minutes per pound or until thermometer reads 165°F as measured in the innermost part of the thigh next to body cavity.
Smoked Turkey Drumstick Cooking Times
Remove neck & giblets from cavity Rinse thoroughly inside & out
With moistened paper dish towel pat dry with paper towels
For crispy skin brine or marinade is not recommended Cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes (total time) at 300°F to 350°F depending on preference.
Insert meat thermometer probe between upper thigh and breast so tip is in thickest part of inner thigh muscle
Tips for what side dishes go well with smoked turkeys?
As far as side dishes go, it really depends on what flavors you are going for. If you want to stick with tradition then your basic sides like baked beans , corn-on-the-cob , stuffing or dressing, candied yams/sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, macaroni & cheese and cole slaw would be good.
For more of a Texan influence try serving brisket , smoked sausage links, potato salad or ranch beans. You can also add some smoked turkey wings or thighs which taste fantastic when glazed with barbecue sauce .
Of course you don’t have to serve just one side dish so feel free to get creative…
Smoked Turkey Recipes
Texas Smoked Turkey
1 (10 to 12 lb) whole turkey, thawed if frozen
For the Brine
- 3 quarts lukewarm water
- 1 cup sea or kosher salt
- 1/2 cup maple sugar or brown sugar
- 2 oranges, halved
- 2 lemons, halved
- 4 bay leaves
- 6 cloves garlic, smashed with the flat part of a knife
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 5 sprigs rosemary
For the Rub
- 1/4 cup sea or kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons paprika
- 2 tablespoons lemon pepper seasoning blend (such as Lawry’s)
- 3 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
1. To make the brine, combine all of the ingredients in a 5-gallon bucket or large pot and stir until well mixed. Set aside 2 cups of the mixture to use as a turkey marinade later.
If you do not have one of these amounts on hand, simply make up the entire amount of brine–then cut it with an equal amount of cold water to make 10 quarts total liquid.
2. Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water, then place turkey in a large container, cover with ice cubes and enough cold water to submerge it completely. Let soak for 1 hour. Remove from ice bath and pat dry all over with paper towels.
3. Combine all of the rub ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Massage the turkey all over with two cups of the reserved brine mixture, then sprinkle it generously–but evenly–with about half of the spice rub.
Don’t worry about rubbing it into the skin; just make sure that every nook and cranny has some seasoning on it.
4. Prepare your grill for indirect heat by igniting a full chimney starter’s worth (about 50 coals) of charcoal and letting them burn until they are partially covered with a thin layer of ash, about 20 minutes.
Spread out 1/2 to 3/4 cup seasoned smoking wood chips or chunks over coals (if using lump charcoal you can add wood during the initial lighting phase).
5. Place a pan of water on the bottom grate and arrange the turkey, breast side up, on top of the upper grate. Insert a remote digital probe into the thickest part of one of the thighs and close the lid.
Keep an eye on grill temperature throughout cooking; maintain it at around 300°F to 310°F inside by adjusting vents or adding more charcoal or wood as needed. Every time you add fresh lit coals, also add 1/2 cup soaked chips or chunks to generate smoke flavor.
Replenish ice in roasting pan as needed to keep about 4 inches cold water over entire surface area of turkey for duration of cooking time (about 8 hours).
6. After about 4 hours of cooking, remove the turkey’s giblets; they should be cooked through at this point.
Gently tip the turkey up so that it rests on its back, then brush all over with some of the remaining spice rub. Continue to cook to an internal temperature of 160°F in center of largest muscle groups (thighs).
7. When finished cooking, let rest for 20 minutes tented loosely with foil before carving and enjoying!
To carve a smoked turkey:
1. Remove wings first by cutting them off just above where they meet the breastbone.
2. Separate drumsticks from thighs by cutting down between them to expose joint connecting leg to body–then cut through connected tendon.
3. Using a thin sharp knife, slice meat off breastbone in thin slices.
Smoked Turkey vs. Roasted Turkey
Many people will debate whether it is better to smoke a turkey or to roast it. Some say smoking is the preferred method, while others believe roasting is the way to go.
The truth probably lies somewhere in between – you can achieve delicious results with both methods. However, here are some things to consider that may help you decide which method you prefer:
Cooking time for either method depends on how big your bird is and if it has been defrosted . A 20-pound turkey, for example, needs about 2 hours per pound at 225 degrees F.
Check the internal temperature by taking an ovenproof meat thermometer and inserting it into the thickest part of the thigh without touching any bone (it’s best to use a digital thermometer and not one with a dial). The minimum safe temperature is 170 degrees F.
Smoked turkey will have a smoky flavor, but if you want your turkey to also taste like smoke, you may need to add wood chips in addition to the charcoal. Add more charcoal as needed during the smoking process.
A smoked turkey will be slightly less moist than a roasted one because of the drying effect of the hot air. However, smoked turkeys often have an excellent appearance due to browning from basting or from being brushed with vegetable oil before smoking.
On the other hand, roasting does not require any added fat for cooking purposes – it will produce its own drippings which can be later on for gravy-making.
Smoking a turkey is more of a hands-on process, while roasting can be done pretty much unattended. If you have the time and enjoy being close to the cooking source, smoking your turkey may suit you better.
Others prefer to let their ovens do all the work! For this reason, many people choose to smoke their turkeys during the colder months when they would rather be inside anyway.
If you want to use both methods on different parts of your bird, separate the drumsticks from the thighs by cutting through them with kitchen shears or a sharp knife so they can receive indirect heat in addition to direct heat.
You may also split your bird in half by using poultry shears and place each half cut-side down on the grill. You can also try smoking turkey simply for your enjoyment – it doesn’t have to be at Thanksgiving.
Guide to Smoke a Turkey For 6 Serving
The best way to smoke a turkey is by using a small electric smoker. You can use a gas, propane or charcoal grill for smoking as well.
What you want to do first is make your rub and allow it to sit overnight in order for the flavors of the spices to meld together with the sugar. If you are wondering what spices go into this rub, here they are:
- 1 tablespoon ground sage
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- ¼ cup dark brown sugar
You can also add other ingredients such as garlic powder, thyme, black pepper and cloves if you’d like. Most people don’t have all these spices on hand so they mix them up in batches so they can store the leftover rub in an airtight container.
Now that your rub is made, you want to rinse off the turkey and pat it dry with a paper towel so you don’t have water dripping down into your smoker.
Next you want to take your oil and coat the inside of the turkey cavity lightly. Then sprinkle on some more of your seasoning mix making sure to get it over all parts of the bird (inside and out).
You can then place this rinsed, dried and seasoned turkey into a roasting pan or deep dish which will help contain any juices that may leak out during smoking.
If you like stuffing, you can make up another small batch of it separate from the rest of the ingredients for use later. Cover this dish up and allow it to rest in the refrigerator until you are ready for it.
Now onto smoking!
You want to set up your electric smoker so that the temperature gauge is reading about 225 degrees Fahrenheit, but this may vary depending on what type of smoker you use.
Once this temperature has been reached, place the turkey breast-side down on the rack. You want to cook the bird at this temperature for about 15 minutes per pound or until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F (using a meat thermometer). If you don’t have a meat thermometer, here’s another way of checking:
“when you poke a fork into its thickest part (thigh), clear juices should run out; if pink or cloudy, keep cooking. Also, the legs should wiggle easily when they are done”.
Once the turkey has reached this temperature, you can remove it from the smoker and let it rest until it is time to serve it.
To prepare the stuffing: mix together the following ingredients in a bowl:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup celery, minced
- 3/4 cup onion, chopped
- 2 1/2 cups bread cubes (preferably stale)
Then add to your mixture:
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
- 1 beaten egg
- Salt to taste
Place this mixture into a roasting pan and arrange around your cooked turkey placing them on top of the wings or drumsticks which will hold in place while keeping them moist.
For the glaze:
Mix together vinegar and mustard. Put aside until you are ready to use it. Then, take a cup of your turkey drippings from the roasting pan where you cooked your turkey and add some water to it along with butter or margarine.
Bring this mixture to a boil then pour into a pan that is deep enough for half of your rinsed cranberries (or more if needed) as well as some orange slices which have been cut in half.
Add 1/2 cup sugar, salt and cinnamon sticks. Simmer all this on low heat for about 15-20 minutes or until your sauce thickens up before adding the rest of the ingredients including those reserved for stuffing
Once everything has been added, you can serve the turkey with this delicious sauce.
This recipe will make around 6 servings.
FAQs on topic how long to smoke a 20lb turkey
Is it safe to smoke a 20 lb turkey?
Smoked turkey is delicious, but can be tricky to get just right. To avoid undercooking or overcooking your bird it is important to use a meat thermometer when smoking a 20 lb turkey. These birds are some of the biggest we’ve seen and they require special handling and planning to smoke successfully.
After about 2 hours in our MES 40 (with AMZNPS) at 230* the thigh meat was at 163*. We removed the bird and set it aside while we finished some other items on the smoker. At 4 hours after initially putting it on we took T&T’s advice and brought the temp up to 250-260*. This increase greatly sped up the cooking process with minor darkening of skin color.
At 6 hours we had reached 165* in the thighs and we pulled it from the smoker. At this point we double checked that it was done and not pink by taking a temp in the breast (165), dark meat (170), and wing (175). We let the bird rest for about an hour before carving.
How long does it take to smoke a 20lb turkey at 250 degrees?
Typically, a 20 lb bird will take around 6 hours to reach 165* when cooking at 250-260*.
How long does it take to smoke a 20 lb turkey at 325?
At 325 degrees, a 20 lb turkey will take about 3 hours to reach 165*
What temperature do you smoke a 20lb turkey breast at?
We usually recommend smoking a whole turkey between 225-250*. If you are cooking it to 165*, then it should take around 4 1/2-5 hours depending on how hot your smoker is running.
We recommend adding some extra time if your bird weighs more than 15 lbs, though this time estimate may vary depending on the size of the bird and type of smoker being used.
How long do you smoke a 20lb turkey at 300 degrees?
If you are cooking your turkey at 300 degrees, it should take about 5 1/2 hours to reach 165* in the breast.
Should I wrap my turkey in foil while smoking?
We do not recommend wrapping your turkey in foil while smoking. Wrapping it will cause the skin to steam and may result in a flabby skin texture and underdeveloped flavor.
Should turkey be room temperature before smoking?
Yes, it is important to remove your turkey from the fridge right before putting it in the smoker. The low temperature of a refrigerator can cause what is called cold-shock.
Cold shock is an instantaneous constriction of muscle fibers when they are exposed to very cold or freezing temperatures. This will result in tough dry meat.
How do you brine turkey wings for smoking?
You can brine turkey wings for smoking by following the same methods as you would to make smoked chicken wings. If you do not want to brine it, simply rub the wing with your favorite BBQ rub or spices and place it on the smoker.
Can I cut a turkey in half to smoke it?
Yes, you can cut your turkey in half to fit it on your smoker. However, only cut the bird if it is a smaller sized turkey. A 20lb bird that has been split down the middle may not be able to reach 165* in the breast and thigh meat unless using a very hot smoker temperature.
Do you rinse the turkey after brining?
No. We do not recommend rinsing your turkey after brining it. It is important to submerge the turkey in the brine solution, so there should be enough water already on the bird. If you choose to rinse it after brining, be sure to discard any remaining brine because it will have been in contact with raw meat and may contain harmful bacteria.
My smoker says “ideal cooking range 300-350” Can I cook my 20lb turkey at that temp?
Yes, many smokers say “ideal cooking range” or similar verbiage (MES 40 for example). At lower temperatures, they are not able to generate as much heat as higher temperatures; this is normal and expected by their design specs.
If your smoker is not able to reach at least 250*, then you may want to consider using a higher temperature setting. You can always check the temp in the breast meat by inserting a probe thermometer into it throughout the cook time.
How long does it take to smoke a 20lb turkey at 400 degrees?
It should take around 3 1/2 hours to reach 165* when cooking at 400*. Keep in mind that if you are cooking your turkey between 325-400 degrees, you will likely get some flare-ups.
We recommend adding an extra half hour of cook time if your smoker temperature is above 350*. If flare-ups do occur, be sure to move or turn off the heat source until they have died down before placing the meat back over them.
Does smoked turkey keep in refrigerator after smoking?
Yes, smoked turkey may be stored in the fridge for up to 7 days if handled correctly. We recommend keeping it vacuum sealed and storing it on a lower shelf where temperatures are typically colder (40 degrees F).
Storing your turkey at higher temps can result in spoilage much more quickly, so make sure you don’t let the bird sit out at room temperature for too long before placing it in the fridge.
How do you brine a frozen turkey?
It is not recommended to brine a frozen turkey. The ice crystals that are formed during the thawing process will cause some areas of the turkey to pick up too much salt, whereas others may remain virtually unaffected.
Should you wash your turkey before cooking it?
No. We do not recommend washing your turkey before cooking it because it can introduce harmful bacteria to the meat.
How long can you leave a cooked turkey out before serving?
Now you know How Long To Smoke A 20lb Turkey, it’s time to mention about another problem about timing.
You should never leave a fully cooked bird out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. If you are in need of cooking ahead or have leftovers, we recommend refrigerating immediately after cooking and consuming within 24-48 hours.
The USDA will release any guidelines pertaining to this in 2015 which will likely be stricter than these current ones.
What happens when you microwave a frozen turkey?
Microwaving a frozen turkey is unsafe because it could cause parts of the bird to heat up faster than others, creating an unevenly cooked product that could also result in bacterial growth.
How do you reheat a smoked turkey?
You can reheat your leftover smoked turkey by frying it on the stovetop, baking at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, or even microwaving in 2-3 minute increments until heated through to 165*.
Can you smoke a thawed turkey?
Yes, you can smoke a thawed turkey with no issues. If you are concerned with having to cook your meat all the way through before serving it, then go ahead and cut into the thickest part of the breast or thigh meat.
Smoking is an excellent method for cooking meats because it imparts delicious flavor with little effort. Just be sure to maintain proper fire / smoker control and remember these key tips so you can have your turkey without any of the drawbacks.
Final words about how long to smoke a 20lb turkey
When it comes to smoking a turkey, the key is timing. The best way to ensure that your bird has been smoked for long enough is by following this handy guide and checking its temperature periodically throughout the process.
If you’re looking for more information on how long to smoke a 20lb turkey, we have provided all of the information that you need to know about smoking a turkey and how long it takes, so be sure to check out our guide before your next big meal!
We hope you enjoyed reading about these helpful hints and tricks when it comes time to prepare your Thanksgiving meal this year.
The Ultimate Guide on “how long to smoke a 20 pound turkey” is here to help you get the best smoked turkey for your next holiday. Happy cooking from Smokin’ Outdoors!
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