How to Smoke a Wild Turkey (hint: BACON!)
I feel like I owe you a warning with this post.
What I’m about to share with you is my absolute favorite meal. Ever. As in ever-forever, of all time, nothing is better. It’s how I cook a wild turkey.
It takes time (9.5 hours on this particular bird). But if you do it right, I promise you this: you’ll be sending me emails of love and gratitude, possibly offering to name your next-born after me or something. It’s worthy. Trust me. So here we go… How to Smoke a Wild Turkey (wrapped in bacon)!
Step 1) You have to get a WILD turkey.
Sure, you can try this with a store-bought bird. I do it all the time. It will work ok. But if you want to unlock the full potential of this method of cooking, I highly suggest you get your hands on a wild turkey. Maybe you have a cousin, uncle, neighbor or something that hunts? Hopefully you hunt? Whatever the case, get your hands on a wild turkey.
When I get a wild turkey, it’s a big deal at our house. We usually spend a Saturday hanging out around the smoker and then throw a big dinner that evening. Tip: Wild turkey is a great way to introduce newcomers to the lifestyle of eating wild game.
Step 2) Pluck and Clean.
I know a lot of folks prefer to breast-out their turkeys, but don’t miss out on cooking them whole! We like to save as much meat as possible, especially since we only have a limited number of turkey tags a year.
You can either pluck or skin the bird, whichever is easier. While I prefer to pluck, I have friends who swear by skinning them, and sometimes I do it to save time. I normally leave the skin on to help retain moisture during the slow-cooking process. However, since I am going to a) brine the turkey and b) wrap it in bacon, the skin isn’t that necessary.
Step 3) Brine.
Once the bird is cleaned, we cover it in our fridge until we’re ready. Then we’ll move the turkey into a cooler full of a brine for 18-24 hours the day before we cook.
To make the brine, dissolve the following ingredients into a little water on the stove:
- 2 cups sugar
- 1.5 cups kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- Once these ingredients are fluid, add in 1.5 cups of Soy Sauce.
Allow the mixture to cool (adding ice if you like to speed up the process). Once cooled, mix the brine in the cooler on top of the turkey with approx 2 gallons of water. (Note: we usually put in 1.5 gallons of water and a lot of ice to keep the turkey cold).
Step 4) Prep.
This bird is going to take a long time to cook, something to the tune of 8-12 hours depending on the size of the bird. So I’ll usually get up pretty early and fire up the coals. Once I’ve got the coals started, I’ll head inside and prepare the turkey for the smoker.
To prepare the turkey, I remove it from the brine solution in the cooler and place it onto a large platter or dish. Before I put it into the smoker, I’ll wrap the whole thing in bacon. Yep – WRAP THE WHOLE THING IN BACON. Sometimes we do a woven bacon blanket, sometimes we spiral wrap; it really doesn’t matter. Just get that thing covered in bacon.
Before I dump the coals into the smoker pan, I like to lay a digital thermometer probe onto the grate where the turkey will be placed to get a realistic reading for what the turkey is getting. Those thermometers on smoker/grills are notoriously inaccurate. My inexpensive digital meat thermometer works great even has a magnet to hold it to the side of the smoker for easy monitoring.
Once I’ve got water in my drip pan, my coals burning hot, and the turkey set inside the smoker – I’m ready to ad the smoke.
Step 5) Smoke.
There are several different schools of thought on how much the turkey will actually absorb smoke. I’ve found that it works well to smoke the bird for 2 hours, then check the coals, add more heat to the fire, and smoke again for 2 more hours. 4 hours of smoke is about perfect for our tastes.
I try to keep the fire at 200-220 degrees for at least 7 hours by adjusting dampeners and adding/removing fuel. I typically check the coals and water pan every 2.5-3 hours after the first 4 hours of smoke. Once the bird has been cooking for 7 hours (maybe longer for larger birds) I start to check the temp. When the whole bird is reading in the 165 range I know I’m getting close.
Most sources suggest cooking whole birds to a temp of 180, but keep in mind the bird will continue to cook after removed from the smoker.
Step 6) Set and Serve.
Once the thermometer is reading the desired temp in the deep sections of the breast and thigh, we remove the turkey from the smoker and let it sit covered on the counter for 30 minutes to an hour.
To carve the breast meat, I like to remove the entire breast from each side and cut across the grain of the meat (rather than the more traditional shaving-style carving). Cutting the meat this way helps make each bite tender and produces what we refer to as “turkey steaks”. We will usually remove the thighs and legs and serve them whole.
So, there you have it! My favorite way to prepare a wild turkey: bacon-wrapped and smoked. Do you have any questions? Did I forget anything? Please ask away in the comments section so I can fill in any gaps. Thanks!