What is the best wood for smoking turkey? There are several wood options to choose from, each with its own unique flavor characteristic. As turkey is a lean and mild flavored meat there are some woods that work better than others. The ideal varietal imparts a smoky undertone without overpowering the flavor you’re going for.
Two quick things to remember when selecting the best wood for smoking turkey:
- Opt for well-seasoned hardwoods, steering clear of softwoods and treated varieties to prevent any potential harmful chemical contamination that could alter your food’s flavor.
- When smoking turkey, you can experiment with combinations of different woods to create your own custom flavor profile.
Based on personal testing and interviewing various pitmasters, here’s the list of best wood for smoking turkeys:
Cherry wood is my personal favorite for poultry. It provides a sweet and fruity flavor, which pairs well with turkey as the mild flavor doesn’t overpower the delicate meat. It gives the bird a beautiful reddish hue as well. BBQ experts across the board highly recommend cherry wood if you’re new to smoking turkey.
When smoking turkey, it’s important to keep a consistent temperature and smoke level. Cherry wood’s characteristics make it a great choice for easy maintaining.
Soft and mellow with a subtle fruitiness, applewood is less intense compared to cherry or pecan. When used to smoke turkey, applewood adds a faint sweet taste with modest aromatics. It’s an ideal option for those looking for a light touch of smokiness that complements rather than dominates the turkey’s inherent flavor.
Additionally, apple wood burns relatively slowly and steadily, providing a consistent smoking experience.
Pecan wood offers a sweet and nutty flavor and is richer in flavor than cherry. It’s a versatile wood that works well with poultry and can complement the turkey’s natural taste.
Maple wood imparts a gentle and sweet smoky taste, although not as sweet as cherry or apple. Maple wood is a great option for those seeking a hint of smokiness complemented by a nuance of honey.
Oak wood has a moderate and versatile flavor profile, imparting a medium smoky taste that won’t overwhelm the natural flavors of the turkey. It’s a good choice to mix with cherry if you’re looking to create your own wood mix.
It’s a popular choice amongst pitmasters, such as Aaron Franklin.
Because it burns at a medium to high temperature, managing the heat and ensuring a steady, low temperature for slow smoking a turkey might require more attention and adjustment.
Alder wood offers a mild and slightly sweet flavor and is often used for smoking fish. While it’s not as commonly used for turkey, it can provide a unique and pleasant taste. Alder wood burns slowly therefore imparts a gentle flavor.
Options To Avoid
Now that we’ve reviewed the best wood for smoked turkey, let’s move on to the woods I recommend avoiding (or using very sparingly when mixing).
Mesquite wood imparts a strong, robust flavor that can quickly overwhelm the delicate nuances of the turkey’s meat. Mesquite is a popular choice for red meat that can handle a hit of heavy flavor.
Additionally, mesquite burns hot and fast, making it challenging to maintain the low and steady temperatures required for properly smoking turkey, which can lead to uneven cooking and a less than desirable texture.
With its deep earthy wood flavor, hickory wood is too distinct and heavy for delicate poultry. The bird will be easily overwhelmed by the intense, sometimes bitter smokiness imparted by hickory leading to an unbalanced and unpleasant eating experience.
Additionally, the dense nature of hickory wood means it burns at a high temperature, which, if not carefully managed, can result in the outside of the turkey cooking too quickly while the inside remains underdone.
Here are a few Smoked Turkey Recipes to consider making this holiday season:
When shopping for wood for smoking turkey, keep the below in mind as you’ll get a sense of what type of wood to get and how much. Here are the ‘must have’ Smoker Accessories you may need as well.
How Long To Smoke Turkey
Plan on it taking 30 minutes per pound when cooking at 225°F. If you’re smoking it at 250°F, it will take about 25 minutes per pound.
Best Smoker For Turkey
You can use a pellet smoker, charcoal or even wood-fire grill to smoke a turkey. Here’s the form of wood you want to purchase:
Pellet Smoker – Wood Pellets
Electric or Gas Smoker – Wood Chips
Charcoal Grill – Wood Chunks
The Best Wood For Smoking Turkey
The best wood for smoking turkey is really a matter of personal preference, as it depends on the flavor profile you want to impart on the turkey. Pitmasters do consider milder woods such as apple, cherry, or oak as the best wood to smoke turkey as they provide a gentler smoke. They’re also easier varietals for smoking newcomers.