Are you looking for the best wood for smoking turkey for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or just because you love the taste of this delicious bird?
The truth is that turkey is among the best foods you can smoke, especially when you use the right technique and the proper kind of wood for smoking.
But how do you choose which wood chips to use for prepping your turkey in the smoker, among all of the different variants which are available on the market?
Should you opt for hickory, apple, maple, pecan, or others when picking the best wood for smoking turkey?
Here is a brief guide on how to pick the best wood chips for prepping the turkey in a smoker.
Woods which are best suited for smoking turkey
The benefit of using cherry wood for smoking the turkey is that this wood will give the bird a unique sweet touch while not overpowering the taste of the turkey. When you use cherry wood chips for smoking your turkey, you can expect it to come out of the smoker with a beautiful deep color.
The cherry wood chips will add a subtle fruity sweetness to the smoked turkey without overpowering its wonderful taste.
When you smoke and cook the turkey over cherry wood for a few hours, the turkey will develop a dark and deep color that will add even more beauty and deliciousness.
For a more complex taste, you can add just a little bit of hickory wood to the smoker as well. Hickory complements cherry wood quite well.
Our recommendation for the best apple chips for smoking turkey is the Oklahoma Joe’s Cherry Wood Smoker Chips.
These chips are perfect for adding a mild fruity flavor to turkey, fish, pork, and other poultry. They are made of all-natural cherry wood, without harmful additives. They can be used in all types of smokers and for charcoal, gas, and electric grills too.
You can also try out the top-quality Traeger Grills Cherry All-Natural Pellets.
These are bestselling pellets that are perfect for smoking and cooking turkey, as well as for beef, lamb, pork, and other poultry and for many baked goods as well.
Check our guide on how to smoke a turkey on a pellet grill
Pecan wood, like cherry wood, provides a sweet flavor. But pecan wood offers a much richer sweet taste with a nutlike layer to the poultry or meat.
It is more powerful than the cherry, which makes pecan wood chips suitable for those of you who find the flavor of smoking the turkey with cherry wood a tad too subtle and not as sharp.
Then again, some of you may find that the pecan wood chips give the bird a taste that is far too sweet for your preferences. This is why it is a good idea to experiment with a small piece of turkey or other meat and poultry first before using pecan wood chips for making your whole
Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey.
Because it has an overpowering flavor, it is not recommended to combine pecan wood with other earthy woods like hickory or oak.
Our top pick for the best pecan wood for smoking turkey is Weber Cubic Meter Stephen Products 17136 Pecan Wood Chips.
These chips provide the rich and sweet flavor which many people love. They are suitable for smoking an outstanding turkey or for use with beef, lamb, pork, other poultry, and fish as well.
Maple wood is yet another sweet-flavored wood, but it is much more subtle than the other sweet woods like pecan wood.
The maple wood will, in fact, add a very delicate and light layer of sweetness to the turkey without overpowering its excellent natural taste.
Maple wood is also an excellent choice for turkey ribs or for any other pork cut you smoke or barbecue. And as already mentioned, it is a great wood to use when smoking poultry as well.
Related: How to cook turkey ribs – recipe and guide
Overall, if you want to give your turkey a sweet flavor but find that pecan and cherry are much too sweet and overpowering for your taste, you may want to opt for maple wood instead.
Our top recommended maple wood is Camerons Smoking Wood Chips (Maple).
These chips are 100% made of natural wood without any harmful added flavors or chemicals. They are made of raw maple timber which has been cut and kiln-dried. The chips are suitable for all types of smokers and for charcoal and gas grills too. They light up very quickly and create a deliciously sweet and yet subtle smoky flavor to the turkey or other meat in the smoker.
Applewood is another fruity and sweet wood with a mellow and subtle flavor that is perfect for making a mouthwatering turkey in a smoker.
While many pitmasters pick applewood as their top choice when smoking turkey, some of you may find that apple wood is so subtle that it can hardly be tasted and that it requires much more smoking in order to be infused by the meat than other sweet woods.
This longer smoking can cause the turkey to dry out if the heat and smoke are not properly managed.
So, it is recommended that you use low and slow cooking when using apple wood for prepping your Christmas or Thanksgiving turkey if you want it to have a sweet taste and yet remain juicy and delicious.
We recommend the Weber Wood Cubic Meter Stephen Products 17138 Apple Chips as the best applewood chips to choose for smoking the turkey.
These chips provide a subtle and delicately sweet flavor. They come in convenient chip-sized pieces and are offered in large 2-pound bags at an affordable price.
Here’s a guide on how to smoke a turkey in an electric smoker
Woods to avoid when smoking turkey
What is important to understand is that not all types of wood are suitable for smoking all types of meat, poultry, or fish. The same goes for woods suitable for smoking turkey.
Some woods are way too overwhelming or robust for the turkey or other white meat, which can easily be overpowered due to being very delicate. This is why there are some woods that should not be used when smoking turkey.
Here is a list of woods you better avoid when prepping the turkey in your smoker.
While mesquite wood is a wonderful wood that has been used for barbecuing and smoking for years, it is among the best woods for smoking red meats.
Pitmasters prefer it due to the fact that it provides one of the strongest flavors of all wood types.
Mesquite is one of the wonderful woods for smoking a brisket but is too robust and overwhelming for the delicate turkey.
While you can experiment by adding a touch of mesquite along with your other fruitwood when smoking the turkey, it is recommended that you test this on a small cut first before proceeding to prepare the entire turkey with it.
Hickory wood is another very earthy and deep wood, which is often used for smoking and as a base layer for different smoked meats.
It provides that classic wood taste but is way too heavy and overpowering for delicate poultry like turkey.
Oakwood is another wood that you should avoid when smoking turkey because of its earthy and deep flavor.
While it is not as strong and overpowering as hickory or mesquite, oak is still too robust for turkey unless it is combined in small quantities with the fruitwoods you use for the smoking.
Check this amazing recipe for smoked turkey necks
FAQs for the best wood for smoking turkey
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the best wood for smoking turkey.
How many wood chips should be used?
The amount of wood chips you should use for smoking the turkey depends on the size of your smoker box. On average, most smoker boxes usually fit about 5 ounces of wood chips.
But the quantity of the wood chips you will need for smoking the turkey can also be affected by the size of your smoker, the temperature, and the smoking or cooking time.
A good rule of thumb is to start by adding 5-oz of wood chips, and then if you find that you need to add more too often, or if they are not enough for infusing the turkey with the flavor you want, then you should add more.
Trying to smoke a turkey on a gas grill? Check our dedicated article for the best smoker boxes for gas grills.
Don’t know how to use a smoker box? We can cover you with the most important tips for using a smoker box on a gas grill.
How long should the turkey be smoked for?
Once again, the smoking time depends on the smoker, the temperature, and the size of the turkey. In general, it is recommended that you aim for 30 minutes per pound of turkey at a temperature of 225 degrees Fahrenheit (107 degrees Celsius).
The turkey is done when its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit (73 degrees Celsius). It would be best if you always aimed for the internal temperature of the bird rather than a time, so make sure you equip yourself with an accurate and reliable meat thermometer.
Should the wood chips be soaked before the smoking of the turkey?
Whether or not you soak your wood chips before using them for smoking the turkey depends on your taste and preferences. Some pitmasters claim that the soaking helps the chips last longer. Still, others argue that the water can actually lower the ability of the smoke from the wood to penetrate the meat and that the steam produced can affect the smoke and temperature inside the smoker.