Best Wood To Smoke Turkey

Smoking is one of the tastiest ways you can use to cook your food. Since ancient times, people have been smoking food for all kinds of reasons, ranging from a means of preservation to simply improving taste. These days, though, you don't need to build a campfire out in the middle of the woods to get that same flavor, with grills and smokers available to make the process as easy and user-friendly as possible.

Even so, many don't know where to start when it comes to being a first time smoker. They don't know what wood to use, what kind of meat to smoke, how much to smoke, or even how long you should smoke. One of the hardest meats of all for beginners to try smoking is turkey, not helped by the fact that it's prone to overcooking even when simply roasted. Let's break down some common beginner problems for those without experience in smoking meat, focusing on some tips and tricks to make the process easier and more fun while cooking yourself a succulent and flavorful smoked turkey. We have already somewhat covered this topic on 5 Things You Must Know To Use Wood Chips For Smoking article, but today we’re going to talk more about the actual wood selection.

Wood Selection

Possibly the most critical decision one makes when smoking a piece of meat is the kind of wood they intend to use. The wood used in smoking is where the flavor comes from, so attention needs to be paid to what you're using before you end up with something nearly inedible.

With poultry, one needs to be especially careful in their wood selection, as stronger tasting smoke can easily overpower the natural flavor of the meat. Aim for lighter tasting woods such as those that come from fruit trees instead of harsher, heavier tasting woods like the commonly used mesquite or hickory.

Combining woods to give a good depth of flavor can be helpful, too. For instance, a combination of maple and plum would deliver a mildly sweet and slightly smokey edge to your turkey with little risk overpowering it. Mulberry, pecan, nectarine, peach, and olive are also good choices to use with poultry. Experimentation is key in finding what you like and dislike, too, so don't be afraid to combine different flavors and try new things. To help you start, we have just the right tool. Check out our Meat Smoking Guide!

Wood Chips Versus Wood Chunks

There is much debate in the world of smoking on whether wood chips or wood chunks are the superior wood to use when smoking. Each have their strengths and weaknesses with a definitive "winner" being hard to declare, leaving the choice largely up to the individual and what they intend to use the wood for.

One major difference between the two forms of wood involve the need for soaking in water. If set alight without this step, wood chips will burn extremely quickly, turning to ash before a decent amount of smoke can be built up. By soaking them in hot water before hand, you're not only helping them to resist burning too quickly, but the usage of hot water allows for greater saturation, meaning longer lasting wood chips.

Wood chunks on the other hand do not need soaking beforehand, as their large size give them the natural advantage in longevity over the small chips. In fact, regardless of soaking, you're much more likely to have to add more wood chips to a grill or smoker more often than you would with wood chunks. As one would expect, the need to add more wood to the fire will require opening the grill, letting out a large amount of heat and accumulated smoke each time, meaning any method that can reduce the amount of heat and smoke loss is beneficial for the overall taste and quality of the finished meat.

That being said, it can be more of a hassle getting wood chunks to light initially. Wood chips are easier to catch on fire due to their smaller size and increased surface area, as opposed to the large, thick wood chunks that will take some time before they really begin burning. Once they do start to burn, though, wood chunks will always last longer than an equal amount of wood chips thanks to this same heartiness when it comes to the flame.

Bark on Wood

Like the chunk versus chip debate, leaving or removing the bark from your smoking wood is another issue many smokers discuss. Some say the bark adds more flavor while others say it tastes harsher or worse than the wood itself. Others say it gives off an entirely different flavor from the wood, while still more insist it makes little if any difference to the overall taste of your meat, as well as certain claims that more bark produces a better smoke ring on the cooked meat.

Given how extremely subjective this matter seems to be, it'll be another case of personal taste and experimentation. Try smoking and grilling with and without bark at different times to see whether you can taste a difference, settling on whatever you think is best after you've come to a conclusion.

Heat Source

The heat source for your grill or smoker will heavily influence the way in which you'll be producing smoke. For most people, they'll be using a charcoal-based grill or smoker while cooking their meat, as it's the easiest and most convenient method for producing a good quantity of smoke due to being able to place both the wood and the goals on top of each other.

When using a charcoal grill or smoker, you should always stick to natural chunk charcoal. Not only will it burn hotter and longer than the alternative, charcoal briquettes are composed of large amounts of starches and wood byproducts that give off a more pungent and less pure smoke, effectively tainting the finished taste of your meat in a way natural charcoal won't.

Propane grills are also just as capable of smoking despite what some may claim. While a bit more challenging, a little practice will see you smoking with propane in no time at all. For this method, it's required you use wood chips rather than chunks. Additionally, they should not be soaked in water like you would with a charcoal grill, as the wood will be burning much more slowly all on its own when using the propane method.

In order to smoke using a propane grill, you'll need to pre-light your wood chips before placing them in the grill. Unlike with charcoal, the wood for smoking won't be touching a constant source of flame via the grill itself, meaning it's up to you to ensure it's lit beforehand. Place the wood chips in a foil pouch or aluminum tray to hold them, light them enough to smolder, and place below the grates and the flames themselves, which is the ideal position for smoke to accumulate below the meat and circulate throughout the grill. The same rules for checking and adding more wood if needed apply here, too.

Finally, when smoking turkey specifically, it's necessary to use a relatively lower temperature than for other meats to prevent the turkey from drying out. Turkey has less fat than other poultry or meats, so it must be treated with extra care. An ideal smoking temperature for this bird would sit close to 225 degrees Fahrenheit, with cooking time dependent upon the size of your meat and what parts of the bird you're cooking. As with any time you grill or smoke, consistency is key in getting an evenly cooked and deliciously moist piece of meat at the end.

Conclusion

While smoking meat might seem intimidating at first, it's actually a super simple and super rewarding process just about anyone can do. Whether you're using a grill or a smoker, charcoal or propane, wood chips or wood chunks, you'll be able to smoke all kinds of food, including turkey, perfectly with a little bit of practice. Before I let you go, don’t forget to watch this video about Best Woods For Smoking Meat:

Was this guide helpful? What are your favorite woods to use when smoking turkey? Have any smoking tips for beginners? Leave a comment below, and don't forget to share this guide with any of your friends who are looking to start smoking meats.

Frequently Asked Questions​

What is the Best Wood for Smoking Chicken or Turkey?

Can You Mix Woods for a Smoker?

How Do You Use Wood Chips for Smoking?

How Do You Cool Down a Smoker?

How Long Does it Take to Smoke a Turkey?

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