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How do you serve smoked turkey?

Smoked turkey is a delicious dish that is perfect for gatherings and celebrations. However, serving smoked turkey can seem intimidating, especially if you’ve never done it before. Don’t worry – with some planning and preparation, you can serve smoked turkey like a pro.

What equipment do you need to serve smoked turkey?

To serve smoked turkey properly, you’ll need:

  • A cutting board and chef’s knife to carve the turkey
  • A meat fork to hold the turkey in place while carving
  • A large platter to arrange the carved turkey on
  • Carving forks for serving individual portions of turkey
  • A turkey baster or spoon for collecting the turkey juices

Having the right equipment makes the process easier and ensures you can beautifully present the smoked turkey. Invest in a quality carving knife and meat fork so you can cleanly slice through the turkey. Choose a platter large enough to comfortably fit the entire turkey. Carving forks allow guests to serve themselves portions of turkey without making a mess.

How do you carve a smoked turkey?

Carving a smoked turkey properly takes some skill, but you can follow these steps:

  1. Place the whole turkey on a cutting board breast side up. Use a meat fork to hold it steady.
  2. Using a sharp carving knife, slice horizontally across the turkey just above the leg to remove the leg quarter.
  3. Make a horizontal cut along the turkey breast to remove the breast meat from the bone.
  4. Cut the breast meat into thin slices. Arrange the sliced meat on a serving platter.
  5. Remove the wings by cutting through the joints. Add them to the platter.
  6. Slice the thigh and leg meat, keeping it attached to the bone for easier eating.
  7. Arrange the carved turkey on the platter attractively. Pour any collected juices over the meat.

Take your time carving the turkey and ask someone to help hold it in place. Properly carved smoked turkey has neat, thin slices of breast meat and leg portions left on the bone.

What are some tips for preventing dried out turkey?

Smoked turkey can easily dry out and become tough. Follow these tips for kept your turkey moist and flavorful:

  • Brine the turkey before smoking. Let it soak in a saltwater brine, which helps the meat retain moisture.
  • Don’t oversmoke the turkey. Aim for an internal temperature of 165°F.
  • Wrap the turkey in foil during the last hour of smoking. This steams the meat.
  • Let the turkey rest before carving. The juices will redistribute through the meat.
  • Carve the turkey just before serving. Don’t leave it sitting out too long.
  • Serve lots of gravy and sauce to add moisture.

A moist smoked turkey starts long before it goes into the smoker. Brining is essential to make sure the meat absorbs flavor and doesn’t dry out. Avoid overcooking the turkey to prevent it from drying out.

What are the best side dishes for smoked turkey?

Smoked turkey tastes amazing on its own, but also pairs well with various Thanksgiving-style side dishes like:

  • Mashed potatoes – Creamy, buttery mashed potatoes complement the smoky flavor.
  • Stuffing – Bread-based stuffing soaks up the turkey juices.
  • Cranberry sauce – The bright tart-sweet flavor cuts through the richness.
  • Green bean casserole – Crispy fried onions add crunch.
  • Roasted vegetables – Think roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, and parsnips.
  • Mac and cheese – Ooey-gooey cheese is always a hit.
  • Dinner rolls – Warm, pillowy rolls are perfect for sandwiches.
  • Pumpkin or pecan pie – Satisfy that sweet craving afterwards.

When planning your menu, include a variety of sides that incorporate different textures and flavors. Dishes like mashed potatoes and stuffing soak up the turkey juices while lighter options like roasted veggies add freshness.

How can you use leftovers from a smoked turkey?

A smoked turkey yields lots of delicious leftovers. Be creative with how you use them! Here are some ideas:

  • Turkey sandwiches – Layer sliced turkey on bread with cranberry sauce, lettuce, and mayo.
  • Turkey casserole – Mix turkey, vegetables, cream of mushroom soup and rice or pasta.
  • Turkey tetrazzini – Turkey and noodles in a sherry cream sauce topped with cheese.
  • Turkey soup – Simmer the turkey carcass for stock and add veggies, noodles, and shredded turkey.
  • Turkey enchiladas – Fill tortillas with shredded turkey, cheese, and enchilada sauce.
  • Turkey salad – Toss cubed turkey with mayo, celery, apples, and nuts for a tasty lunch.
  • Turkey hash – Sauté diced turkey with potatoes, onions, peppers, and spices.

Get creative and try something new! Leftover smoked turkey keeps well in the fridge for 3-4 days or in the freezer for 3-4 months. Use it up before it goes bad.

Should you smoke the whole turkey or just the breast?

You can smoke a whole turkey or just turkey breast – both have pros and cons:

  • Whole smoked turkey
    • More dramatic presentation
    • Can feed a crowd
    • Provides wings, legs and thighs
    • Longer cooking time (6-8 hours)
  • Smoked turkey breast
    • Easier to find smaller sizes
    • Cooks faster (3-4 hours)
    • White meat without any dark meat
    • Less waste

For a special occasion, go with a whole smoked turkey for a beautiful table centerpiece. For smaller groups or if you’re short on time, a boneless turkey breast may be easier to manage. Choose what best fits your needs.

What wood should you use to smoke a turkey?

Certain wood types infuse more flavor when smoking a turkey. Good options include:

  • Apple wood – Subtle sweetness.
  • Cherry wood – Fruity, slightly tart flavor.
  • Maple wood – Mildly smoky with a hint of sweetness.
  • Hickory wood – Classic bold, bacon-like flavor.
  • Pecan wood – Rich and buttery flavor.
  • Mesquite wood – Intense smoky flavor, use sparingly.

Apple, cherry, and maple wood provide sweeter, more delicate flavor notes. Hickory and mesquite give a strong, traditional smoke taste. It’s common to use a blend of two woods for a balanced flavor. Avoid soft woods like pine which can give a bitter taste.

What recipe should you stuff inside a smoked turkey?

Stuffing adds delicious flavor to smoked turkey. Here are some recommended recipes:

  • Classic bread stuffing – Toast bread cubes with onions, celery, sage, broth, eggs.
  • Cornbread stuffing – Combine cornbread with sausage, apples, pecans, herbs.
  • Wild rice stuffing – Cook wild rice with mushrooms, walnuts, parsley.
  • Cranberry-pecan stuffing – Toast pecans and mix with dried cranberries, sage, onions.
  • Sausage and apple stuffing – Saute pork sausage with Granny Smith apples, rosemary.

When making stuffing, look for recipes that include lots of flavorful ingredients like fruits, nuts, herbs, and spices. The stuffing should be moist but not wet. Stuff the turkey loosely so the stuffing has room to expand as it cooks inside the bird.

How long should you brine a turkey before smoking?

For the juiciest results, brine your turkey for:

  • 8-12 hours for a 6-10 lb turkey
  • 12-24 hours for a 10-14 lb turkey
  • 24-48 hours for a 14-18 lb turkey

Make sure the turkey is fully submerged in the brine the entire time. Keep it refrigerated. The salt in the brine helps season the meat and aids in moisture retention. Too little brining time won’t have much effect. Too long can make the meat too salty.

What is the best way to prepare a smoked turkey?

Follow these steps for smoking turkey perfection:

  1. Rinse the turkey and pat dry. Trim excess fat.
  2. Make a saltwater brine. Submerge the turkey and refrigerate for 8-24 hours.
  3. Remove turkey from brine, rinse, and pat very dry. Let stand at room temp 30-60 minutes.
  4. Lightly rub the turkey with olive oil then your choice of seasonings.
  5. Prepare your smoker with soaked wood chips. Heat to 225-250°F.
  6. Place turkey in smoker, breast side up. Insert a meat thermometer into the thigh.
  7. Add more wood chips and replenish coals to maintain temperature.
  8. Smoke turkey until breasts reach 160°F and thighs reach 175°F, about 5-8 hours.
  9. Remove from smoker and let rest 30 minutes before carving.

Proper brining, seasoning, temperature, and resting time are all key for the highest quality smoked turkey. It takes some work but the results are unbeatable in flavor and texture.

What are some common mistakes with smoking turkey?

It’s easy to mess up your first smoked turkey. Avoid these common pitfalls:

  • Not brining – Skipping the brine makes the turkey dry and bland.
  • Using a whole frozen turkey – Thawing is essential for even cooking.
  • Overcrowding the smoker – Turkey needs air flow to cook evenly.
  • Cooking at too high temperature – Slow and low is best.
  • Not monitoring temperature – Use a meat thermometer for accuracy.
  • Letting the fire go out – Maintain a steady temp throughout cooking.
  • Carving too early – Let the turkey rest before you slice into it.

It’s easy to get impatient and take shortcuts, but resist the urge! Proper technique is crucial for smoked turkey. Follow the steps carefully for the first time before trying any “hacks”.


Serving a perfectly smoked turkey may seem daunting, but have confidence in yourself! Just take it one step at a time. Brine the bird, prep the smoker, maintain the ideal temperature, and let the turkey rest before carving. With the right techniques, you’ll have a beautiful centerpiece turkey with juicy meat that your guests will rave about. The leftovers are just a bonus!