Our Most Popular Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
- Buy a regular (non-enhanced), 12-14 pound turkey. Don’t use a self-basting turkey for this recipe.
- Brine for 24 hours, then air-dry overnight in the refrigerator.
- Smoke at 325-350°F until 160-165°F in the breast, 170-175°F in the thigh, approximately 2-1/2 to 3 hours.
- Let rest for 20 minutes before carving. Alternatively, wrap tightly in several layers of foil, place breast-side down in an empty cooler, and hold for 90-120 minutes before carving.
- Collect the pan drippings for making gravy.
This is the most popular turkey brining recipes among members of The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board. Here’s how I brined and cooked a whole turkey using this recipe on October 22-23, 2005. I hope you enjoy it!
Select & Prepare The Turkey
This is a 12.80 pound Albertsons Natural Turkey, just your basic, frozen supermarket turkey.
Choose a regular turkey for this recipe, not a self-basting bird that’s been injected with a solution of salt and other flavorings. Read the fine print on the label—you do not want a turkey that says, “Contains up to X% of a solution to enhance juiciness and tenderness…” See Turkey Selection & Preparation for more details.
Choose a 12-14 pound turkey and thaw according to the package directions. Remove and discard any leg restraint, then remove the giblets from the neck cavity and the neck from the body cavity. Trim away large areas of fat or excess skin around the body cavity.
The turkey is now ready for brining.
Brine The Turkey
In preparation for brining:
- Find a non-reactive container large enough to hold the turkey.
- Make sure the container will fit in your refrigerator.
See All About Brining and Food Grade Plastic Containers For Brining for information about selecting an appropriate container, including alternatives like coolers or turkey roasting bags inside non-food safe containers. These pictures show a plastic barbecue sauce bucket that I got for free from a local barbecue joint.
Here’s the recipe for the apple brine. It was published in Weber’s Art of the Grill in 1999 and in the Weber Grill Out Times newsletter, Volume 5, Issue 2 in Fall 1999.
Apple Brine For Turkey
- 2 quarts apple juice
- 1 pound brown sugar (light or dark)
- 1 cup Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
- 3 quarts cold water
- 3 oranges, quartered
- 4 ounces fresh ginger, unpeeled and thinly sliced
- 15 whole cloves
- 6 bay leaves
- 6 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Substitute 3/4 cup Morton Kosher Salt or 1/2 cup table salt for Diamond Crystal.
Combine apple juice, brown sugar, and salt in a large saucepan. Heat on stovetop just enough so that sugar and salt melt into the apple juice. Remove from heat and let mixture come to room temperature. To speed cooling, place the saucepan in a sink filled with ice water.
In a large non-reactive container, combine the cooled apple juice mixture with the remaining ingredients. When adding the oranges, squeeze each piece to release the juice into the container, then drop in the peel.
Put the turkey in the brine breast side down. Place a heavy plate or bowl on top to keep the bird submerged, if necessary.
Brine the turkey for 24 hours. You may wish to stir the solution 2-3 times during the brining process. I’m not sure if this is necessary or if it actually does anything, but I like to do it anyway.
Since brining does not preserve meat, the turkey and the brine solution must be kept below 40°F throughout the entire brining process.
Air-Dry The Turkey
After brining, pat the turkey dry inside and out with paper towels.
Fire The WSM
Fire-up the cooker using the Standard Method—one full Weber chimney starter of hot Kingsford Charcoal Briquets in the charcoal bowl, followed by another full chimney of unlit Kingsford, allowing all coals to become fully lit before cooking.
Foil The Water Pan
Cover the inside and outside of the water pan with wide, heavy duty aluminum foil. Place the pan inside the cooker, but leave it empty.
No Rub Required
Remove the turkey from the refrigerator at the same time you start firing-up the cooker. Let it sit at room temperature until ready to go into the cooker.
For better presentation, tie the ends of the drumsticks together using kitchen twine so they don’t splay out into a funny shape during cooking. There’s no need for any elaborate trussing. Also, fold the wing tips under the turkey.
Apply a very thin coat of vegetable oil or melted, unsalted butter to the turkey skin.
There is no barbecue seasoning or rub applied to the turkey as part of this recipe.
Smoke The Turkey
When all the coals are covered with gray ash, place 2-3 medium-sized chunks of dry cherry wood or other mild smoke wood on the coals. I used 1 chunk of cherry and 1 chunk of apple.
Assemble the cooker and place the turkey breast-side up on the top grate. Set the three bottom vents to 50% open. Open the top vent fully and leave it that way throughout the entire cook.
Adjust the bottom vents as necessary throughout the cooking process to maintain a temperature of 325-350°F measured at the lid.
Cook the turkey until it measures 160-165°F in the breast, 170-175°F in the thigh, using an instant-read thermometer. Cooking time is approximately 2-1/2 to 3 hours.
There’s no need to baste or rotate the turkey during the cooking process.
As you can see, I was unable to keep the cooker in the 325-350°F temperature range…but I did not panic and it all worked out fine!
Here’s how the cooker temperatures and vent settings went during my cook:
|Time||Lid Temp||Meat Temp||Vent 1 %||Vent 2 %||Vent 3 %|
|2:00 pm (s)||297||–||100||100||100|
|2:30 pm (s)||290||–||100||100||100|
(s) Rapped bowl leg to dislodge ashes
Note that the vent percentages represent the way I set the vents at the time indicated.
Rest Then Carve The Turkey
Remove the turkey from the cooker and let rest for 20 minutes before carving. Do not cover with foil, as this will cause the skin to go soft.
Alternatively, wrap the turkey tightly in several layers of wide, heavy duty aluminum foil, place breast-side down in an empty cooler, and hold for 90-120 minutes before carving.
After the rest, carve the turkey to your liking. See the Turkey Selection & Preparation article for carving tips.
I like to remove the breast as a single piece and then cut into slices across the grain using an electric carving knife as shown in the photo above.
Here’s another example of an apple brined whole turkey I smoked in the WSM for Thanksgiving 2001.
There are three common ways to collect pan drippings when smoking a turkey:
- Cook the turkey in a shallow, disposable foil pan.
- Cook the turkey on the top cooking grate. Place an empty foil pan on the bottom grate to catch the drippings.
- Cook the turkey on the top cooking grate. Line the water pan with wide, heavy duty aluminum foil, but suspend the foil 1-1/2″ above the bottom of the pan so it does not touch. This prevents the drippings from burning.
Here’s an example of lining the water pan with foil and catching the drippings:
As you remove the turkey from the cooker, pour any accumulated juices inside the body cavity into the pan. You can also use the juices left in the bottom of a rimmed baking sheet pan after letting the turkey rest before carving.
You’ll typically end up with about 1-1/2 cups of drippings.
If you don’t have any drippings, make the delicious turkey giblet gravy described on The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board using the giblets, aromatic vegetables, chicken stock, white wine, and seasonings.
More Turkey Links On TVWB
- Whole Turkey – Self-Basting
- Whole Turkey – Basic Brine
- Whole Turkey – Brined Butterball Self-Basting
- Whole Turkey – Honey Brine
- Whole Turkey – Salted aka Dry Brined
- Butterflied Turkey – Salted
- Turkey Breast – Bone-In
- Turkey Breast – Boneless & Skinless
- Turkey Breast – Central Texas Style
- Turkey Selection & Preparation
- Poultry Recipes on The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board
- Turkey Talk on The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board
- Video: Turkey Carving Demo
- Transcript: Turkey Chat With TVWB & Weber’s Kevin Kolman – November 2013
- Countdown to Thanksgiving: 30 Tips For Your Best Thanksgiving Ever
Don’t Cook Your First Turkey On Thanksgiving Day
Don’t attempt to cook your first whole turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Who needs the pressure? Instead, cook a practice turkey a week or so before the big day. This way, you’ll be confident in your abilities and in your recipe, and you’ll look like a seasoned pro when you pull the perfect smoked turkey from the WSM and present it to your family and friends.