Dry Brined and Smoked Whole Turkey Recipe

Traditional oven roasted whole turkey is the fail safe for most American homes when it comes to Thanksgiving, but a dry brined smoked whole turkey is a great change of pace. The reason that oven roasting is so popular is that it’s mostly a safe as well as relatively easy way to cook a turkey.

Sure, people get fancy with how they prepare the turkey or techniques for making sure the white meat isn’t dry, but the gist is to put it in the oven and forget about it until it’s ready. Sometimes, however, it’s nice to shake things up with a completely different preparation such as deep frying a turkey or spatchocking a turkey (removing the back bone and flattening it while roasting).

When I bought an electric smoker as a beginner (calm down die hard wood or coal smokers!), I thought to myself that an electric smoker is really just an oven that imparts smoky flavor. Why couldn’t I go ahead and roast an entire whole turkey in my smoker? Why should I keep waiting in the deli line with all of the other impatient, cranky people just to get my hands on some processed smoked turkey?

Luckily, rather than ruin Thanksgiving for my family by experimenting with the only turkey, my day job abides by the old tradition of providing its employees with a free, farm fresh turkey each year around Thanksgiving. That meant I could take a chance smoking a whole turkey without destroying the lovely holiday.

Before I did that though, I wanted to figure out how to keep the turkey from getting dry in the smoker. Smoke can easily dry out meat even with a water dish inside the smoker. I already knew about infusing moisture and flavor into poultry via brining in a salt water bath, but I didn’t have a large enough container or sturdy enough bag to hold the turkey and all of that liquid reliably.

I discovered another process called, “Dry Brining.” It supposedly infuses flavor into the meat using only salt and spices without water. Rather than add moisture to the turkey, it helps to retain the moisture already in the meat. This seemed like a great idea because it didn’t involve precariously perching a large container filled with enough liquid to surround a turkey in my refrigerator. I also hoped that the dry brine would help to crisp up the skin. Smoked poultry is notorious for ending up with a rubbery skin that’s edible, but nowhere near as nice as crispy skin.

After concluding the whole process, I ended up with a beautiful, deep brown smoked whole turkey with a perfectly balanced smoke flavor. The meat itself retained a lot of moisture, although admittedly, the white meat was still a bit dryer than the dark meat. I would definitely make this recipe again for the holidays, especially if I didn’t have a way to wet brine the turkey.

Dry Brined and Smoked Turkey in an Electric Smoker

  • Servings: 18
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

Whole smoked turkey in an electric smoker.


  • 15-18 pound turkey (you can use almost any size turkey)
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons of baking powder (this helps to crisp up the skin)
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme (not ground)
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1.5 cups of soaked cherry wood chips


  • Large bowl for mixing
  • Baking sheet for the turkey
  • Refrigerator
  • Meat thermometer
  • Smoker (electric/wood/coal)


  1. If your turkey is in plastic, remove it from the packaging and make sure to remove the giblet bag (the sack filled with the organs and neck). You can save the neck if you want and smoke it as well or just use the giblets for other recipes. Place the turkey on a baking dish for easy transport and cleanup. Home Is A Kitchen - Smoked Whole Turkey Recipe - Raw Turkey
  2. Prepare the dry brine ingredients by mixing all of the spices in a large bowl. Home Is A Kitchen - Smoked Whole Turkey Recipe - dry brine ingredients
  3. Spread 1/2 to 2/3 of the dry brine all over the turkey on the outside as well as inside the cavity. You don’t need to use all of the dry brine. Just make sure every surface is coated as well as the interior cavity. DO NOT put any brine under the skin between the skin and meat! Use latex gloves if you want or just wash your hands immediately after handling the dry brine and turkey so as not to dry out your hands or cross contaminate any surfaces. Home Is A Kitchen - Smoked Whole Turkey Recipe - dry-brine applied to turkey
  4. Tie off the legs of the turkey so that they aren’t splayed apart. This will help keep the shape of the turkey as it cooks. Home Is A Kitchen - Smoked Whole Turkey Recipe - tied turkey legs
  5. Place the dry-brined turkey in the fridge overnight or for about 8 to 12 hours uncovered until ready to smoke.
  6. When ready, heat the smoker to 250 degrees F and fill the water pan only about half way. The turkey will drip more fat and liquid into it, so you want to make sure it doesn’t overflow.
  7. As the smoker gets up to temp, soak the cherry wood chips in water.
  8. Once the smoker is up to temp, carefully place the turkey in the smoker and insert the meat thermometer deep into the thigh of the turkey for an accurate internal temp. Getting an accurate internal temperature is very important because if the interior of the turkey isn’t 175 degrees F in the thigh or 165 degrees F in the breast, it may not be safe to eat. home-is-a-kitchen-dry-brined-and-smoked-whole-turkey-going-in-the-smoker
  9. Close the door of the smoker and add 1/2 cup of cherry wood chips to the smoker.
  10. Check the temperature of the turkey and add wood chips every hour. After 3.5 hours, check the temperature of the turkey every 20 minutes just to make sure it doesn’t get too hot. Depending on the size, the turkey should be ready in 4 to 5 hours. For 18 pounds, it took about 4.5 to 5 hours (approx. 15 min per pound).
  11. Once the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 175 or 180 degrees F in the thigh, open the smoker and behold its glory! Home Is A Kitchen - Dry Brined and Smoked Whole Turkey Recipe - turkey out of the smokerHome Is A Kitchen - Dry Brined and Smoked Whole Turkey Recipe - turkey-done-in-the-smoker
  12. Remove the smoked whole turkey turkey from the smoker and place back onto a baking sheet to cool down a bit and let the juices redistribute. Home Is A Kitchen - Dry Brined and Smoked Whole Turkey Recipe - smoked whole turkey finished
  13. When ready to serve, slice or carve the turkey as you normally would. Home Is A Kitchen - Dry Brined and Smoked Whole Turkey Recipe - smoked whole turkey carvedHome Is A Kitchen - Dry Brined and Smoked Whole Turkey Recipe - smoked whole turkey carved breast
  14. Make note that the turkey leg is probably one of the best bites on this smoked whole turkey! Home Is A Kitchen - Dry Brined and Smoked Whole Turkey Recipe - smoked whole turkey drumstick


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11 thoughts on “Dry Brined and Smoked Whole Turkey Recipe

Add yours

    1. Hi Amanda. Yes you can! I’d also suggest melting some butter and rubbing it on the outside and between the skin and the meat just before roasting to get that nice crispy skin. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

      1. Thank you!

        I made baby back ribs for the first time and follwed your recipe. They were amazing!

    2. Hi Amanda. Yes you can! I’d also suggest melting some butter and rubbing it on the outside and between the skin and the meat just before roasting to get that nice crispy skin. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

  1. Holy cow.. er.. turkey!! This was a wonderful brine recipe. I used the Penzey brand Chili 9000 for my chili powder and smoked paprika and it was great. First time I’ve used baking powder in my turkey brine and it was a noticeable difference in the skin. Highly recommend and glad I found this site!

  2. I realize this post is several years old, but thought I’d try my question anyway…do you rinse the brine off before smoking or leave it on? Based on the photo of the bird in the smoker (pre-cooked/smoked), it looks like the brine is still on. Thanks for any help.

  3. Thanks so much for the response! I wish I would have stated this previously, but I’m using a thawed 8% pre-basted turkey. Can I still follow the recipe and directions you’ve provided?

    1. You should be able to use the recipe just fine. The purpose of the dry brine is to season and help the meat retain more moisture overall. A pre-basted turkey will only help with that.

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