This is the best smoked turkey brine recipe with smoked turkey rub that I’ve made after trying a variety of smoked turkey brine recipes from popular food magazines and cookbooks.
This brine for smoking turkey recipe is made with maple syrup, a variety of herbs, and is very easy to do. It’s become my go-to recipe for brining turkey for smoking at Thanksgiving and other holidays.
It also uses a rub recipe, which is key to giving this brined smoked turkey a fantastic flavor.
This smoked turkey brine and rub is gluten free and dairy free.
Even though the brine contains maple syrup, it’s a keto, paleo, and low carb friendly recipe as the brine just flavors and moistens the turkey.
Ceramic or electric smoker smoked turkey?
At first, we made a brine for smoking in the electric smoker.
(Read my Why you should buy a Masterbuilt Electric Smoker to see if that type of smoker is for you.)
Then for the past few Thanksgivings, we've smoked whole turkeys and turkey breasts on our Kamado Joe Grill, which is a ceramic smoker
Even though the Kamado Joe requires more set up, the results are AMAZING. If there’s someone in your life who loves to BBQ, check out the Kamado Joe Grill.
Compared to the Green Egg, we found the Joe has more easy-to-use features and a better price than the Green Egg. It’ll make the ultimate gift for the griller on your holiday list!
Why you should brine and smoke your turkey
You must try to brine a turkey for smoking in an electric smoker.
Doing both a rub and smoking a brined turkey makes a huge difference when it comes to flavor, tenderness, and the moisture level of the meat.
Brining a turkey for smoking helps keep it super moist and the flavor you get from smoking it is out of this world.
How to make a brine for turkey
No worry, smoking and brining a turkey for Thanksgiving is easy to do.
First, read through the brine turkey recipe and make sure you have enough ingredients on hand to double the brining recipe.
I find that a single batch of turkey brine is fine if you’re cooking a small turkey or just a turkey breast.
However, you may want to double this brine recipe for turkey if you’re making a larger bird or you find that you don't have enough brine to cover your turkey.
Here’s how to make turkey brine for smoked turkey:
1. Prepare the turkey by removing the wrapping and taking out the giblets, liver, and neck, which you can save for making stock or gravy.
Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Don't wash your turkey before cooking.
According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, you shouldn't wash raw poultry before cooking.
Bacteria in raw poultry can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces.
Washing just splashes the bacteria around your sink and countertops. And you! YUCK.
2. Combine all the brine ingredients in a large stockpot and stir until the salt is dissolved.
3. Place your turkey in a container that will allow it to stay submerged in the brine such as a deep soup pot or food-grade bucket.
You can also place it in a brining bag, which you can place in an insulated cooler with ice and save the refrigerator space.
4. Pour the brine over the turkey and refrigerate for 24-36 hours.
How to smoke a turkey
Finally, when it comes to smoking, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to cook the bird. You don’t want to make your guests wait.
It’s better to smoke and cook the turkey early and have it sitting in the oven on warm. (Just remember to cover it with foil to keep the moisture in.)
Speed up cooking time: If you want your brined turkey to cook even faster, try butterflying your turkey (also called “spatchcocking”).
Here’s how to smoke your turkey:
1. When you are ready to begin smoking the turkey, remove it from the brine. Pat the turkey with paper towels.
2. In a bowl, combine the rub ingredients and rub the inside and outside of the turkey with the seasoned paste. Toss any of the remaining smoked turkey rub recipe into the main cavity of the turkey.
3. Stuff turkey with apple, onion, whole lemons, and herbs.
4. Truss the brined turkey, securing the openings with skewers. Then place a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh.
5. Place the brined turkey breast side up on a wire rack in a roasting pan that will fit Into your smoker.
6. Put the turkey into a 400-degree F smoker (or highest temperature if it doesn't get that hot) for about 30 minutes.
7. Then bring the temperature down to 240-260 degrees F and maintain that temperature throughout the smoking time.
8. Cook for a total time of about 30 minutes per pound, or until the meat thermometer reads 165 degrees F – approximately 6 to 7 hours for a 12-15 pound turkey.
9. When it's done, remove the turkey from the smoker. Place it on a cutting board and let it sit for 20 minutes before carving to ensure that the meat stays moist and flavorful.
What to brine a turkey in
Brining container: If you don’t have a super large stockpot as a container for this turkey brine for smoking, you can use a large Styrofoam cooler.
Sometimes I use a cheap Styrofoam shipping container after making sure my turkey fits in it with a bit of room to spare.
First, rinse the inside of the cooler and its lid with bleach and hot water. Then rinse it several times with more hot water. Then do the smell test to make sure you can’t detect any bleach.
If you don’t have a Styrofoam cooler, you can use a large plastic picnic cooler. Just make sure to clean it thoroughly before and after you do your brine turkey recipe.
Weigh down the turkey: After making your brine and placing it and the turkey in the cooler, you’ll need to weigh down the turkey since it will float.
Place a couple of gallon-sized Ziploc bags filled with ice or lunch box ice packs on top of the turkey. The bags will not only weigh down the turkey, they also keep everything cool without diluting the brine.
You can also place a couple of clean, heavy pot lids on top of the turkey to weigh it down, too.
Brining bags rule! If you don’t want to bother with bleaching a cooler, try a brining bag, which makes set up and clean up super easy to do. This is my preferred method as you fill the bag with brine, and place the turkey inside.
After sealing it, just place the filled brining bag in an ice-filled cooler to keep it overnight.
After placing the lid on the cooler, keep it somewhere cool or cold, like the basement, garage, or back porch if you live in a cold area.
If you think a filled cooler will be too hard to move, set up the cooler in the basement, garage or porch first. Then bring out your turkey, brine, and ice bags – or brining bag and ice – to finish the job.
Tips for brined smoked turkey
Nutritional yeast: You can buy nutritional yeast online, in the health food aisle of your grocery store, at a natural grocery store.
More brining and turkey smoking resources
Keep the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line number handy just in case – 1-800 BUTTERBALL.
They can help with any of your turkey cooking-related questions whether you’re brining, roasting, frying, grilling, or smoking your Thanksgiving turkey this year.
More turkey recipes for your smoker
What to serve with a smoked turkey
Don’t forget to make a batch of Sara Moulton’s Best Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy Recipe.
Then serve the smoked turkey with these easy to make side dishes:
- Gluten Free Cornbread Stuffing
- Crockpot Mashed Potatoes
- Marinated Asparagus
- Sweetened Collard Greens
- Sugar Free Cranberry Sauce Recipe
- Brussel Sprouts Salad with Cranberries
For turkey brine
- 1 12-pound turkey
- 2 1/2 gallons hot water
- 1 1/2 cups maple syrup
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 2 whole bay leaves
- 10 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 cup roughly chopped fresh sage
- 1 cup roughly chopped fresh thyme
- 1 cup roughly chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1/2 cup fresh oregano
- 1/2 cup fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
For smoked turkey rub
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
For smoked turkey seasoning mixture
- 1 cup apple, roughly chopped
- 1 cup onion, roughly chopped
- 2 whole lemons
- Several large sprigs of sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and parsley
- Unwrap the turkey and remove giblets, liver, and neck. Dry the turkey well with paper towels.
- Combine all the brine ingredients in a large pot and stir until the salt is dissolved.
- Place the turkey In a container that will allow it to stay submerged in the brine such as a stockpot. Pour in the brine. (Tip: You can also place the turkey in a brining bag. Fill with brine and seal. Then place the bagged turkey in an insulated cooler with ice. Place the cooler in a cold place like the garage or outside on the back porch.)
- Cover turkey and refrigerate 24-36 hours.
- When you are ready to begin smoking the turkey, remove it from the brine, and pat dry with paper towels.
- In a small bowl, combine the rub ingredients. Rub the inside and outside of the turkey with the seasoned paste. Toss any remaining turkey seasoning mixture into the main cavity of the turkey.
- Stuff the turkey with apple, onion, whole lemons, and herbs.
- Truss the brined turkey with skewers. Place a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh.
- Place the brined turkey breast side up on a wire rack in a roasting pan that will fit Into your smoker.
- Put the turkey into a 400-degree F smoker for about 30 minutes. (If your smoker doesn't get that hot, put it at the highest setting possible.)
- Bring the temperature down to 240-260 degrees F. Maintain that temperature throughout the smoking time. Cook turkey for about 30 minutes per pound, or until the meat thermometer reads 165 degrees F – approximately 6-7 hours for a 12-15 pound turkey.
- When done, remove the turkey from the smoker. Let the smoked turkey sit for 20 minutes before carving.
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Serving Size:1 pound
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 877Total Fat: 34gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 22gCholesterol: 556mgSodium: 479mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 132g
Nutritional information is automatically calculated per the ingredients list. Serving size may not be accurate. Please double-check with your preferred nutritional app for the most accurate information.
Originally posted on November 19, 2010. Updated with new pictures and information.