Okay—I know what you’re thinking. Is it really possible to smoke a whole turkey on a gas grill? And if so, why would I? Well the answer to the first question is yes, it is TOTALLY possible to smoke an entire turkey using your gas grill. To answer the second question, smoked turkey is delicious, and is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser for any occasion. Just picture it now: your guests have all arrived and all the side dishes are done. You’ve just stepped out and everyone is waiting with anticipation. Then, you walk in the backdoor with a giant turkey, perfectly browned, dripping with juices and flavor, and the aroma alone is enough to satisfy the entire household. Why wouldn’t you smoke a turkey? Everyone has had the usual (and often dry) oven-roasted turkey. But not everyone has had the chance to experience turkey in its best form—smoked and golden brown fresh of the grill.
We are going to cover everything from tools, techniques, and pro-tips to make sure that you have no questions when getting ready for and smoking a turkey on your gas grill. Keep reading, get in the zone, and try not to drool on your computer thinking about smoked turkey (I’m definitely not speaking from personal experience on that last one…).
What You Will Need: Prepping and Tools
First things first, every great culinary creation is only possible with the right tools for the job. What you need for smoking a turkey is nothing that you can’t find in your kitchen, and If you can’t, won’t break your wallet. This is a list of what you’ll need.
Prepping Your Gas Grill
Your grill is the star of the show here. Unlike when using charcoal, using gas will allow you to keep a constant and steady temperature, which is exactly what you need when smoking large pieces of meat like a full turkey. You want to start by soaking a few cups (around 3-4 handfuls) of wood chips in water for about 30 minutes to an hour, to help keep them from burning up right away. Also, if you are going to put the drip pan below the grilling surface, now is the time to do it (read below under “Prepping Your Turkey” for your drip pan options).
Pro-tip: Oak chips are a good choice for turkey because the thickness allows them to smoke longer, and they bring a bold balanced flavor when used with turkey.
Get your grill lit and pre-heated to around 300 degrees, using burners on the sides so as to avoid direct heat below your bird. I recommend this temperature because it is right in the middle as far as minutes for pound (about 21 minutes per pound at 300 degrees), and the suggested temperature. The reason is that you want to avoid cooking it for too long and drying out the turkey, but you don’t want to cook it too quickly and risk burning the exterior before the interior cooks all the way through! Once your grill reaches temperature, put your metal pan with the wood chips on the grill, in a corner away from your indirect turkey-cooking-zone. The chips will take about 10 to 15 minutes to start smoking. Once that’s all finished, you’re ready to get smoking!
Prepping Your Turkey
Once you have all of your culinary materials, begin by prepping your turkey. If you want to add moisture and weight to your bird, you can brine it using your favorite brine recipe, but this isn’t a requirement to get superb flavor. If you do choose to brine, make sure you do it in advance the night before. Use your favorite seasoning mix or rub, and get a good coat on all surfaces of the turkey.
Pro-tip: Make sure that you get underneath the skin of the bird where you can, to ensure that you get the most flavor possible. Once the turkey is prepped, you’re ready to put it on the grill.
Now you have a choice to make: where do you put the drip pan? Most gas grills have metal covers that sit above the burners, and below the grilling surface. This is one place you can place the drip pan. Ideally these burners directly below the turkey will be off, so you aren’t cooking with direct heat, and the drip pan will be fine there. The other option is putting the turkey directly in the drip pan, and setting it on the grill surface. Personally, I like putting the turkey in the drip pan, because it keeps moisture close to the bird, and makes basting it easier. Regardless of your choice, make sure you put a cup of water in the drip pan before putting the turkey on the grill. The last step before starting your cooking time is to insert your thermometer if you have one you want to leave in for easy checking. The general rule of thumb here is putting it either in the thickest part of the breast, or the innermost part of the thigh. If you have more than one, great! Use both of them for the most accurate readings.
Pro-tip: If you want even more smoky flavor on the table, use the drippings from your turkey to make gravy. The gravy you get from smoked drippings is packed full of flavor!
Smoking Turkey On A Gas Grill
Now that your bird is on the grill, you’re halfway done with finishing your delicious, mouth-watering smoked turkey. This is where using a gas grill to smoke your turkey really pays off. The steady temperature and consistency, added with directional cooking, means that your grill is going to do most of the work, without much need for adjusting. Set a timer based on the size of your turkey, and monitor the temperature on your grill to ensure it stays steady around 300 degrees.
Pro-tip: Smoking foods is an easy way to add flavor, but it doesn’t take a forest worth of wood chips! The most flavor that you will get infused into any given meat will only take about 2-3 hours of smoking. Once you have had your turkey on for that long, you don’t need to worry about adding chips for more flavor.
Check your thermometers at halfway through and three-quarters of the way through, and baste your turkey as needed to ensure it stays moist. If you have the turkey sitting in the drip pan (it’s the best way!) you can always cover the pan with foil to help stop it from browning. You can do this after the first couple hours, when the turkey has absorbed as much smoke flavor as it will. If you do this, be careful because the pan will be hot! Once your turkey has reached 165 degrees at the thickest part of the breast and the innermost part of the thigh, you can remove it from the grill and begin letting the bird rest. At this point I will warn you, the temptations will be high to cut into your turkey and stuff your face full of smoky turkey goodness—but don’t! Just as important as the cook, resting your turkey is key to keeping it juicy.
The Homestretch: Resting and Carving Your Turkey
You are so close; the finish line is just around the corner! Once you take your turkey off the grill, it needs to rest. The rule of thumb here is 20-30 percent of the total cooking time. If you cooked the turkey in the drip pan, carefully take it out of the drip pan and place it on a large cutting board or platter (you might need to have a friend help you with this, especially if you have a massive turkey). Cover the bird lightly with foil, and let it do its thing. While the turkey is resting, you can take the drip pan off the grill if you didn’t cook the turkey in it, and make your gravy and start cleaning your grill. After the turkey has rested, you can carve just as you would a turkey cooked any other way.
Serve and Enjoy
The best part of this entire process is eating the turkey. Every bite will be well worth the time you put into smoking your turkey, and you’re bound to receive praise from all of your family and guests. The only downside is you might have people showing up at your door asking you to smoke more turkeys!
Making a gas grilled smoked turkey is worth every second. I hope you find this guide and our pro-tips helpful in making your smoked turkey as delicious as possible. Enjoy!