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You can do it! How to successfully smoke a turkey

By Andy Chapman

You can do it! How to successfully smoke a turkey

It’s possible to be a hero of the grill at Christmas, without ever firing up the oven inside — or in my case, getting in the way of all of the inside cooking with pies and stuffing and cookies and candy happening in the kitchen.

Turkey can be tricky, but with a touch of love, some planning and a good grill, you can cook a stellar bird for your family that folks will rave about. It’s possible to be a hero of the grill at Christmas, without ever firing up the oven inside — or in my case, getting in the way of all of the inside cooking with pies and stuffing and cookies and candy happening in the kitchen. But first you will need to do a little prep, and this is where it all starts.

BRINE: Start the night before you want to cook … I usually brine in a cup of brown sugar (packed), a cup of salt, a hand full of cinnamon sticks, 2 to 4 oranges sliced in half (if you have a lemon, throw a sliced one of those in there as well). Stir it all up in a cooler large enough to also hold the bird with water and ice to fill to the top. Set it up and let it sit outside overnight. This process will impart some flavor and sweetness to your bird that will make it special. Important tip: mix everything really well before you add any ice — it will mix much easier if you do that.

TURKEY PRE-COOKING BASICS: Let your turkey come to room temperature before cooking it. That means you should go ahead and pull it out of the cooler. Remove the giblets and neck and clean out any icy leftovers. Pat it dry, and let it come to room temperature. Trust me, if it’s still got some icy spots (because you rushed this process), it will slow down the cooking process and cook unevenly, and that’s not a recipe for success.

TURKEY MAGIC: Make a Beer Swamp Butter. This really is a secret weapon. This same recipe can also be used on chicken as well. My Beer Swamp Butter recipe is a simple mixture of easy-to-find ingredients that you’ll inject into your bird using an easy-to-find-this-time-of-year turkey injector.

INJECTION TIME: Remember when I told you to get the turkey to room temperature? Well, if you inject melted butter into a frozen turkey, basic science says it will not work well. So, be sure to get the bird as close to room temperature as you can manage. Inject the Swamp Butter in a grid pattern around the bird until you’ve used all but about a cup of the liquid. Reserve the remaining cup for basting during cooking.

REST THE BIRD: I learned this trick from cookbook author Ray Lampe, and it’s a good one. Rest the turkey for an hour after injection and before cooking with a Ziploc bag full of ice propped onto the breast portion only. This will retard the cooking process on the breasts, which tend to dry out during cooking. (Please, don’t cook with the ice on the meat; you won’t like the plastic flavor that results.) While you are resting the bird, light your fire. You’ll want to have a medium to low fire — with the internal temperature reaching about 250 to 260 degrees. I use fresh pecan chunks for smoke flavor, but you can use apple, cherry or pecan for this particular cook.

On a Weber style kettle grill, add half a gallon of unlit charcoal on one side of the grill. Light a half-gallon of charcoal in a chimney and pile on top (keeping it all on one side) of the other charcoal. Place the turkey on the grate on the opposite side of the kettle from the fire. Also, place the vent of the grill opposite the fire so that the airflow will pull the heat across the turkey on the grill. Be sure and add your wood chunks before placing the bird on the grate, opposite the coals.

On a Kamado style smoker, just use the plate setter or the regular method for indirect heat. I can give you times, but every bird is different and so is every grill, but after about 2 to 3 hours, add more charcoal or add more air for the purpose of bringing the grill temperature up to 350 degrees. Baste the bird with the Swamp Butter until the internal temperature of the bird is 165 degrees. Remove from grill. Rest your trophy for 20 minutes and then slice and serve.

It’s a little bit of work, but the end result has had folks begging for more.


Beer Swamp Butter


2 cups salted butter
1 (12-ounce) beer (I like to use a medium beer or an ale if you have one.)
1 1/2 tablespoons of your favorite barbecue rub (We use June Bugg All-Purpose Seasoning, but you can use any rub you like. June Bugg has coffee in it; so it really works well in this, trust me. This rub is going on the outside of the turkey, so set this aside.)
1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon fine ground black pepper (I usually use coarse on everything; but trust me, it has to fit through the injector needle, so fine grind is required here.)
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon white pepper
1 tablespoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (Double this if you want to taste the spice, or go less if you have an especially spice sensitive crowd.)

Melt the butter at a low temperature. Whisk in the beer. Whisk all of the other spices into the liquid. Once it’s well blended, remove the mixture from the heat. Do not boil. While liquefied, inject the turkey.

Chef Andy Chapman lives in Gulfport where he owns and operates Eat Y’all, a business that helps farmers and food producers connect to chefs around the globe who are looking for better ingredients. Andy would love to hear how your turkey turns out. Contact him at or 601-852-3463.   

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