Whiskey-Smoked Turkey Recipe

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Once you put the bird in the smoker, you pretty much leave it there until it’s done.
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“Project Smoke: Seven Steps to Smoked Food Nirvana, Plus 100 Irresistible Recipes from Classic (Slam-Dunk Brisket) to Adventurous (Smoked Bacon-Bourbon Apple Crisp)” by Steven Raichlen
5-6 hrs COOK TIME
24 hrs PREP TIME
Serves 8-10 SERVINGS


    For the turkey:

    • 1 turkey (12 to 14 pounds)
    • 4 bay leaves
    • 1 medium-size onion, peeled and quartered
    • 4 whole cloves
    • 1-1/2 cups coarse salt (sea or kosher)
    • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
    • 2 quarts boiling water
    • 6 quarts cold water (2 gallons in all)
    • 1 cup bourbon or rye whiskey
    • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

    For the injector sauce (optional):

    • 3 tablespoons butter
    • 3 tablespoons low-sodium turkey or chicken stock (preferably homemade)
    • 1 tablespoon whiskey or brandy

    For smoking and serving:

    • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted


    • Thaw the turkey, if frozen. Remove the neck and giblets (liver, gizzard, and heart) and set aside. Be sure to empty both the front (neck) and main cavities of the bird. (Smoke the neck, gizzard, and heart to make a smoked turkey stock.) Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold running water. Fold the wing tips behind the back.
    • Make the brine: Pin the bay leaves to the onion quarters with the cloves. Place the salt and maple syrup in a stockpot large enough to hold the turkey. Add the boiling water and whisk until the salt is dissolved. Whisk in the cold water, the whiskey, and the peppercorns. Add the turkey, legs up, and the onion quarters. Jiggle the turkey as needed so the brine flows into the main cavity and the whole bird is submerged. Put the lid on the stockpot and brine the turkey in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Turn the turkey over halfway through so it brines evenly.
    • The next day, remove the turkey from the brine. Discard the brine. Place the turkey on a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet to drain and dry, 30 minutes. Truss the bird, if desired.
    • Meanwhile, make the injector sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in the stock and whiskey. Let cool to room temperature. Fill the injector with the sauce, then inject it in several places in the breast, thighs, and drumsticks.
    • Set up your smoker following the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat to 275 degrees F. Add the wood as specified by the manufacturer.
    • Full-smoke method: Place the turkey on the rack in the smoker. After 2 hours, start basting the turkey all over with melted butter and baste again every hour. Smoke the turkey until the skin is browned and the meat in the thigh reaches 165 to 170 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. (Insert it into the deepest part of the thigh but not touching the bone.). This will take 5 to 6 hours. Smoke with the grill-finish method: This gives you the rich flavor of smoke with the crisp skin of a roasted turkey. Smoke the turkey as described above (without basting) until the skin is golden brown and the meat in the thigh reaches 145 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thigh but not touching the bone, 3 to 4 hours. If your smoker operates at higher temperatures, increase the heat to 400 degrees F. Otherwise, set up a grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium-high (400 degrees F). Transfer the turkey to the grill, over the drip pan. Baste the bird with melted butter. Roast the turkey until the skin is browned and crisp and the meat of the thigh reaches 165 degrees F, 1 hour more or as needed, basting once or twice more.
    • Transfer the turkey to a platter and loosely drape a sheet of aluminum foil over it. (Don’t bunch the foil around the bird.) Let rest for 20 minutes, then carve and serve.

      For more from Project Smoke, see:

      DIY Backyard SmokehouseWhole Hog Smoking
      Reprinted with permission from Project Smoke by Steven Raichlen, published by Workman Publishing, 2016. Buy this book from our store: Project Smoke.

    While it used to be true that high-quality smoked cuisine was available only at smokehouses or barbecue joints, now new fuels, tools, and technology have made it possible for home cooks to turn out professional-grade smoked foods in their own backyards and kitchens. Project Smoke by Steven Raichlen is your guide to doing the same. More than a cookbook, Project Smoke is also a step-by-step handbook through a huge variety of smoking techniques. It includes a rundown of the smokers available for purchase, of essential brines, rubs, marinades, and sauces, and of different smoking fuels, all while finding room for 100 new, mouthwatering recipes. These recipes — from classics like brisket to vegetables, cocktails, and desserts — were created after extensive research spanning 60 different countries. Raichlen traveled and studied the smoky flavors of foreign cuisines, and here he translates them to his American audience. From low-and-slow techniques in a homemade smokehouse to accessible, 10-minute infusions of flavor on a stovetop, Raichlen can show you how to smoke every mouthwatering food imaginable.

    Buy this book from our store: Project Smoke.

    I’ve cooked our family turkeys most of my adult life, and I don’t
    believe I’ve ever done it the same way twice. Over the years, I’ve tried
    indirect grilling, spit-roasting, spatchcocking, beer-canning, and
    more. But if I had to pick just one method, it would be this:
    whiskey-brined and whiskey barrel chip-smoked. The brine adds flavor and
    succulence, especially to the breast meat, which has a well-documented
    tendency to dry out. The whiskey barrel chips deliver a sweet musky
    smoke flavor. To keep the breast meat extra moist, I also inject it with
    melted butter and chicken stock.

    Method: Hot-smoking

    Prep time: 20 minutes

    Brining time: 24 hours

    Smoking time: 5 to 6 hours

    Fuel: Whiskey barrel chips, such as Jack Daniel’s or Jim Beam—enough for 5 hours of smoking

    Gear: A large stockpot for brining; wire rack; an injector; instant-read thermometer

    Shop: Ideally, an organic or heritage bird. Order it from Heritage Foods, D’Artagnan, or via Local Harvest. The meat has more chew and the flavor is infinitely better. A lot of industrially raised birds come injected with stock, water, and/or butter or vegetable oil — up to 15 percent of their weight. (Water is cheaper than meat, which is one reason processors do it.) This, coupled with your brine, would make the bird unbearably salty. If you can’t find an organic bird, buy a non-organic bird that hasn’t been previously injected.

    What else: How big a turkey should you buy? I like 12- to 14-pounders — even if you’re serving a lot of people. You can always cook two birds if you’re feeding a crowd. Smaller birds are moister and more tender, and it’s easier to control the cooking. Figure on 1-1/2 pounds per person. This will make you feel properly overfed — as you should at Thanksgiving — and leave you with welcome leftovers.