There is no doubt that a smoked turkey is a bit more involved than the traditional roasted version. One perk to smoking your bird that I bet you didn’t think about is that with the turkey smoking away, now you have your entire oven free for all the thousand other items that need to be prepared for this feast! Choosing what type of wood you are going to use to smoke a turkey is an important decision. Poultry will absorb the subtle smoke flavor during the entire cooking process.
Let’s talk about the best woods for smoking a turkey and the different flavors each one will provide.
Flavor Profiles of Different Types of Wood
Hickory is a classic hard wood choice for smoking turkey for several reasons. It has a distinct flavor that is robust and very forward and is familiar to those who enjoy smoky flavors.
Maple wood gives off a sweeter smoke and can add a lovely golden hue to anything you smoke with it.
Oak is a European classic smoking wood that is not often associated with our native bird. Oak provides a rich, deep smoke flavor that may be a little much for a turkey. That being said, red oak varieties can give white meat like turkey a distinct reddish tint that looks amazing on the dinner table. Tread carefully here.
Cherry and apple wood, like other fruit woods, will infuse the flavor of their fruit into your food. Fruit tree woods are especially good for smoking lighter meats like chicken or turkey with their more delicate flavors. There is less risk here to overpower your meal with too much smoke forward flavor.
Mesquite is a favorite in the southwestern states and delivers the strongest of flavors. If you want the powerful forward flavors of mesquite on your bird, I recommend cutting it with a milder wood to balance out the effects. Too much mesquite smoke can be overwhelming.
Alder is another great option that is readily available in many areas. Alder smoke has an earthy flavor that is a little milder and is therefore a bit more forgiving for anyone new to smoking. If you find the flavors from other hardwoods to be too strong, adding some alder will help tone it down a bit and still add its own delicious characteristics.
While smoking a whole turkey can seem intimidating at first, it is really a rewarding process with a delicious outcome. Experimentation is key in discovering what you like and don’t like, so don’t hesitate to try out some different combos on some smaller birds to prepare for choosing the best wood to smoke your turkey.
For some high quality, untreated flavorful smoking woods check these options from Wildwood Grilling.
Check out this smoked Turkey recipe that I made last Thanksgiving. I brined it and used Hickory smoking blocks. It was a hit!
Happy smoking… and eating!
Matt worked his first kitchen job in the country of Malta at the age of 15. He has worked as a restaurant Chef in Arizona, Maine, Spain, the UK, Oregon and finally North Idaho. Now the Executive Chef at Wildwood Grilling, he thoroughly enjoys his day job.