Best and Worst Wood for Smoking Turkey (With Tips)

By Last Updated: April 26th, 2023Categories: Household

Smoked turkey is one of the most common highlights during special celebrations like Thanksgiving, especially in the US. That’s because it’s so delicious and mouth-watering. Not to mention, the turkey can come in various smoke flavors and tastes. Yes! Smoking turkey may look so simple at first glance, but there are major considerations that must be made when doing it.

One of the factors that contribute to a smoked turkey’s flavor is the type of wood used during the smoking process. Different words have different effects on the turkey. And if you want to make your turkey much more special, you may need to start looking for the best wood for smoking turkey. You may also need to avoid the worst woods for smoking turkey. So, read on for more details.

Part 1: Best Woods for Smoking Turkey

Below are 5 of the best woods for smoking turkey. We’ve selected them according to people’s opinion and our experience with them.

Alderwood

Alderwood is known for smoking seafood and giving them earthy smokiness. What not everyone knows is that such a type of wood can also be used for lighter earthy smokiness for turkey. And because this kind of wood has minimal effect on the natural flavors of the meat, it is recommended that you add other spices and flavors to your turkey.

Alderwood

Yes! This is perfect for making sure the flavors are intact. And since the Alderwood burns gently and slowly, your turkey is sure to get smoked without worrying about overcooked meat. Whatever grill you use, rest assured that the heat is just in the right spot.

Cherry Wood

Those who have been smoking turkey for ages know that cherry would is one of the best options for smoking turkey. It’s also one of the most common woods to use. Cherry wood can bring out the best natural flavors of turkey by infusing deep and sweet smokiness. It can also impart some richness, making it best if you’re not planning to marinade or add other flavors to your turkey.

Cherry Wood

Besides all of that, cherry wood can also make your turkey look redder than usual. This is particularly a great advantage if you are planning to style your turkey. The red color is pleasing to the eye, which can make your turkey a centerpiece around the other kinds of food in any celebration.

Pecan Wood

If you can’t find cherry wood, pecan wood is the best alternative there is. Like the former, it also gives the turkey a certain sweetness. The only thing that sets pecan apart from cherry is that it has richer smokiness and nuttiness to it. It’s heavier and much more powerful, too.

Pecan Wood

So, if the previous woods don’t satisfy you and you need a stronger one, pecan is an excellent option. However, you need to know that this wood may give the turkey too much sweetness. So, you better not over-smoke it. In addition, pecan is independent, you shouldn’t mix it with the other types of wood in this list as it’s already rich and strong enough.

Maplewood

If you want a mild smokiness and sweet aromatic experience with your smoked turkey, Maplewood is the one we recommend. Besides cherry wood, maple wood is also a popular choice when smoking a turkey. It can provide enough of the sweetness of flowers and even faint hints of honey at times.

Maple Wood

In case you are planning to use some herbs, spices, and even aromatics, the Maplewood won’t overpower the original flavors. It perfectly complements that it even enhances them to make the turkey much more special.

With good glaze brushed on the surface of the turkey, the maple smoke can gently make the appearance much more aesthetic– great for taking pictures.

Applewood

In case subtle sweetness is the one you are looking for, we suggest that you use Applewood. It’s one of the best fruitwoods to use when smoking a turkey. It can give a smoky flavor that’s not overpowering. The flavors it introduces to the smokey turkey complement well with the natural flavor so you can still taste the meat.

Applewood

For the applewood to be effective, we recommend that you burn it low and slow. This way, the gentle heat can really go through the meat without overcooking and taking away the juices inside. We also suggest this to those who are just starting to smoke a turkey. It’s extremely rare that you’d go wrong with this wood. Just make sure that you always maintain optimal temperature.

In addition, you may mix other types of woods with applewood except for pecan. Do this if you want to have a dance of different flavors to get in the meat.

Part 2: Worst Woods for Smoking Turkey

Of course, you also need to know the worst kinds of woods to use when smoking a turkey. This way, you’d know which one to avoid. Just take note that these woods can still be the best for other types of meats you want to smoke.

Hickory

While hickory has been used for smoking many kinds of meats, it’s not really popular when it comes to smoking turkey. The deep earthy smokiness that gets infused into the turkey is just too much, and it kind of throws the natural flavors in the meat off-balanced.

Hickory Wood

Actually, it’s not just turkey, other poultry products are not a good match for hickory as well. The flavoring it gives is just too heavy. But that is just hickory in general. There is one species of hickory that we can recommend for smoking turkey, and that’s pecan wood.

Note:

Hickory has eight species and they’re divided into 2 groups: True Hickory and Pecan Hickory. The former has pignut, mockernut, shellbark, and shagbark, while the latter has bitternut, water hickory, nutmeg hickory, and pecan wood.

Oak

Another wood that’s not good for smoking turkey is oak. Like hickory, this one is quite on the deep side when it comes to flavor and smokiness. However, it’s lighter than hickory, though. It’s just not the best if you consider that there are far better woods for smoking turkey these days.

Oak Wood

However, if you don’t have enough wood like cherry, it’s actually common to add oak to compensate.  In fact, the combination of two kinds of wood can really bring out interesting flavors from poultry meats like turkey. But still, we only recommend that if you’re having a cherry wood shortage.

Mesquite

The last one we do not recommend is Mesquite. It’s more popular in smoking red meats because of its strong flavor. With that in mind, it’s not a good match for smoking turkey as it would most likely overwhelm the natural flavors of the white meat. Mesquite is just too deep for poultry.

Mesquite Wood

But like Oak, it can be added together with cherry or apple wood. If you want to balance the sweetness and smokiness. However, we still don’t mesquite as balancing the flavor is a hit-and-miss situation.

Bonus: Essential Tips for Smoking Turkey

Now that you know the best and worst kinds of wood for smoking turkey, you may need a review on some essential tips to perfect the smoking process. And these are the things you need to keep in mind:

1. Remove the Turkey’s Backbone

When preparing a turkey for smoking, it’s crucial that you don’t forget spatchcocking. It can really make the turkey much better after smoking. It involves the removal of the turkey’s backbone, which makes the body easier to lay flat on the smoker.

With the turkey’s body spread out, it will be cooked and smoked evenly, leaving no part undercooked. Also, it can make the whole smoking process a lot faster. Do this if you want a perfectly smoked turkey.

Spatchcock Turkey

2. Always Check the Temperature

Taking the temperature into account is important if you want the best turkey. The last thing you’d want is an overcooked or undercooked turkey. So, make sure to have a digital thermometer with you and check if the surface temp has already reached 225°F or 107°C. That’s the perfect temperature when smoking.

And if you want to know whether or not the turkey is cooked, its internal temperature should be around 165°F or 73°C.

3. Get A Drip Pan

Sure! You can just lay the turkey flat on the grill of the smoker, but if you really want to keep all the rich flavor, use a drip pan. You see, the moist and the natural juiciness of can drip at the bottom of the smoker. That’s why putting the turkey on a drip pan can help preserve the flavors inside. However, this is just a suggestion. It’s still your choice.

Smoking Turkey

4. Keep the Lid of the Smoker Closed

Unless you need to check if the turkey is cooked, you need to keep the smoker closed at all times. We don’t want the flavors from the smoke to go out, right? Not to mention, opening and closing the lid from time to time could make the smoking time longer.

Conclusion

The best wood for smoking turkey depends on what kinds of smokiness and flavors you want to be present in the meat. Before you choose which wood is the best, the most important things you must consider are the taste and preferences of the people who will eat the turkey you are preparing. The end goal is to make sure you, your family, and your friends have a satisfying and memorable meal.

Well, to do that, you may also need to avoid certain kinds of wood and make sure to follow some of the most important tips to perfectly smoke a turkey.

FAQs

Smoking depends on the weight of your turkey. The average time is half an hour for every pound of turkey meat. And you need to set the temperature at 225°F or 107°C for best results. But you will only know if your turkey is ready if you measure the internal temperature; see if it reaches 165°F or 73°C.

It really depends on what kind of flavor you are trying to achieve when smoking. You can one kind of wood throughout or you may mix different kinds such as oak, pecan, cherry, etc. if you want more nuanced flavors in the meat.