Turkey tenderloin is a lean, tender cut of meat from the breast of the turkey. Smoking it with applewood chips imparts a sweet, smoky flavor that takes this quick-cooking cut to new heights. In this article, we will go over everything you need to know to cook a juicy, flavorful applewood smoked turkey tenderloin.
What is Turkey Tenderloin?
Turkey tenderloin is a strip of white meat that runs along the breastbone of the turkey. It is sometimes called turkey fillet. This is a very lean cut of meat with little fat or connective tissue, which makes it ideal for quick cooking methods like grilling, sauteing, or smoking.
Compared to turkey breast, the tenderloin is smaller, more uniform in shape, and even more tender. It has a delicate texture and mild flavor.
Benefits of Cooking with Turkey Tenderloin
There are several benefits to cooking with turkey tenderloin:
– It’s extremely lean and low in fat and calories. A 3 oz serving contains only 120 calories and 1 g of fat.
– It cooks faster than larger turkey cuts like a whole breast or leg. The tenderloin can be grilled or smoked in under 30 minutes.
– The tenderness makes it ideal for serving without heavy sauces or gravies. A simple marinade or rub is all it needs.
– It’s versatile and easy to incorporate into a variety of dishes like sandwiches, salads, pastas, and more.
– It’s an affordable alternative to chicken breast and easier to cook than a whole turkey.
Choosing and Preparing the Tenderloin
Picking the Right Size
Turkey tenderloins are sold individually and generally weigh between 1/2 lb to 1 lb each. For main course servings, choose a 3/4 to 1 lb tenderloin which will provide 3 to 4 portions.
For appetizers or sandwiches, you can opt for smaller 1/2 lb tenderloins. Plan on about 4 oz raw meat per person.
Looking for Freshness
The tenderloins should look moist and pink with no dry or brown spots. Avoid any that look shriveled or slimy. Make sure to check the sell-by date and pick the freshest option.
For food safety, cook within 1-2 days of purchasing. You can store tenderloins in the refrigerator loosely wrapped in plastic wrap until ready to use.
Trimming and Seasoning
Rinse the tenderloin under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Trim off any excess fat or silver skin.
You can leave the tenderloins whole or slice them horizontally into medallions about 1 inch thick. Pounding to an even thickness will allow them to cook faster.
Season the turkey all over with salt, pepper, and any other spices or herbs you want. Let it marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes up to overnight.
Smoking the Tenderloin
Setting Up the Smoker
The best way to smoke a turkey tenderloin is with a charcoal or electric smoker. You’ll need:
– Drained wood chips – Use applewood chips to complement the sweet turkey flavor. Soak them in water for 30 minutes.
– Water pan – Filled with water and placed on the grill. This helps regulate temperature and prevent flare ups.
– Cooking thermometer – Essential for monitoring the internal temperature of the meat.
Getting the Right Temperature
Set up your smoker to maintain a temperature between 225°F to 250°F. This low and slow cooking allows the turkey to become tender and take on smoke flavor.
For an electric smoker, simply set it to the desired temperature. With a charcoal smoker, you’ll need to prep the coals, fill the water pan, and carefully regulate the air flow.
Use a thermometer placed at grill level to monitor the temperature. Add a handful of soaked wood chips every 30 minutes to generate steady smoke.
Whole tenderloins take 20-30 minutes to smoke cook. Sliced medallions will take 15-20 minutes.
Cook to an internal temperature of 165°F. The meat will firm up and turn opaque white when fully cooked.
Refer to this cooking time table based on the tenderloin weight:
|Tenderloin Weight||Whole Time||Sliced Time|
|1/2 pound||20 minutes||15 minutes|
|3/4 pound||25 minutes||15-18 minutes|
|1 pound||30 minutes||18-20 minutes|
Use a quick read thermometer to check the internal temp. If needed, move to a cooler part of the grill or cut the heat to prevent overcooking.
Let the smoked tenderloin rest 5 minutes before slicing. Serve warm or chilled.
Applewood Smoked Turkey Tenderloin Recipes
Smoked turkey tenderloin is extremely versatile. Here are some recipe ideas:
Maple Glazed Turkey with Roasted Vegetables
– Brush smoked medallions with pure maple syrup and roast on a sheet pan with potatoes, carrots, onions, and peppers tossed in olive oil and seasoning until glazed and cooked through.
BBQ Turkey Sandwiches
– Pile sliced smoked turkey tenderloin on buns and dress up with your favorite bbq sauce, coleslaw, and pickles.
Warm Spinach Turkey Salad
– Thinly slice a smoked whole tenderloin and serve on a bed of spinach and arugula tossed with balsamic vinaigrette and topped with parmesan cheese and crispy bacon bits.
Turkey Caprese Salad
– Alternate layers of smoked turkey, sliced tomato, fresh mozzarella, and basil leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic reduction.
Turkey Avocado Wrap
– Fill a tortilla with sliced turkey, avocado, roasted red peppers, pepper jack cheese, and chipotle mayo.
Cobb Salad with Smoked Turkey
– Top chopped romaine lettuce with diced smoked turkey, tomatoes, bacon, boiled egg, avocado, and blue cheese. Toss with ranch dressing.
Smoking turkey tenderloin FAQs
What kind of wood is best for smoking turkey?
Apple, cherry, pecan, and hickory wood chips are all good options for smoking turkey. Apple provides a milder, sweeter smoke flavor that pairs nicely with the turkey.
Should I brine the turkey tenderloin before smoking?
Brining is not necessary for tenderloins since they are naturally tender and lean. A basic dry rub or marinade is sufficient for flavor and moisture. If you want extra juicy and seasoned meat, a quick 30 minute brine can be used.
Is it safe to eat smoked turkey tenderloins that are pink inside?
Yes, it is safe to eat smoked turkey tenderloins with a hint of pink as long as they have reached an internal temperature of 165°F. The pink color can be caused by the smoke interacting with the proteins. Turkey is safely cooked at 165°F.
Can I smoke a frozen turkey tenderloin?
It’s best not to smoke turkey directly from frozen. Always thaw tenderloins completely in the refrigerator before smoking for food safety and even cooking. Smoking partially frozen meat can lead to uneven cooking.
What flavor combinations go well with smoked turkey tenderloin?
The mild flavor of turkey goes well with sweet, tangy, and savory flavors. Baste or serve it with bbq sauce, maple syrup, honey mustard, cranberry chutney, pesto, chimichurri, teriyaki, or fruit salsa. Pair it with roasted veggies or leafy greens.
Smoked turkey tenderloin makes for a quick and delicious weeknight dinner or entree for a crowd. The lean turkey stays juicy and tender during the low, slow smoking process. The applewood smoke provides wonderful subtle flavor.
Preparing smoked turkey tenderloins is easier than you think. Follow the tips above for choosing, seasoning, and monitoring the temperature. Slice and serve the tenderloins warm or chilled in your favorite sandwiches, salads, and wraps for amazing flavor in under an hour.