A decade ago, deep-fried turkeys were all the rage for Thanksgiving. They were quick to prepare, tasty and became a backyard show at holiday dinners.

Unfortunately, an abundance of cooking mishaps became YouTube fodder and drew warnings from fire departments nationwide, tapering enthusiasm for the deep-frying trend.

A new turkey trend is emerging, though – smoking. Smokers use lower temperatures for a longer period of time, a cooking process that keeps the flavor and texture of turkey and other meats from disappearing. Smokers are not the same as grills, which place items over higher heat for a shorter period of time, giving meats a seared flavor.

Culinary publications, celebrity chefs and foodie websites have jumped on the smoked Thanksgiving turkey trend. Even Martha Stewart used a smoker for a pre-Thanksgiving trial run: “I had never made a smoked turkey for the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving feast before, but the combination of a really great, organically raised bird and my new grill lured me to experiment.” The result? “… A plump turkey that appears to have been lacquered with a deep-mahogany stain. The meat is tender, moist, and juicy, and the skin is crispy.”

Heading into Thanksgiving, there are four Ts if you are considering a smoker to cook your turkey:


Traditional oven-roasted turkeys rely heavily on seasoning for flavor. Smoked turkeys, on the other hand, get their flavor from another source – wood chips or wood pellets. Flavor varieties like apple, hickory, mesquite, cherry, oak, pecan, maple and others have distinct aromas that put a tasty spin on turkey.


A thawed 10-pound turkey generally takes about three hours to roast in an oven at 325 degrees. Because smokers cook meat at lower temperatures, the time to smoke a turkey can be twice as long. This means grill masters must either wake up extra early on Thanksgiving Day or plan the meal for mid- to late-afternoon.


With steak, certain cuts are inherently more tender than others. Turkeys generally have little variation based on size, brand name or price. That means a turkey’s tenderness when serving is all up to the chef. Overcooked turkey is tough to chew; undercooked turkey can make your guests sick. Wireless thermometers allow chefs to continuously monitor the bird’s temperature without opening and closing the smoker.


In recent years, new manufacturers have entered the grilling industry. Although low retail prices typically help launch companies into a competitive marketplace, it’s hard to beat the quality produced by legacy manufacturers. Big Green Egg (1974), Traeger (1985) and Weber (1893) continue leading the industry because of their durability, reliability and versatility.

Grilling and smoking are two different styles of cooking and require different skill sets. First-time smokers should read the instruction manual and scour the internet for recipes and consumer reviewers. Homemade stuffing, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce are staples of a Thanksgiving feast, but turkey is the main attraction – you have to get it right.