Best Types of Wood for Smoking Turkey

Smoked Turkey is a delicious delicacy that can be enjoyed on any occasion. However, getting this meal right can prove tricky as I have missed the mark a couple of times. But that all changed when I discovered that an excellent smoked turkey depends on two crucial elements the cooking duration and the type of wood used.

In this article, you will read about the different types of woods that can be used and you will also see some other helpful points to bear in mind when smoking turkey.

So, if you want to know how to make a scrumptious and delicious smoked turkey, keep reading!

Why Smoked Turkey:

You can deep fry, boil, oven-roast, and barbeque a turkey, however, there is something quite distinct and unforgettable about the rich flavor of smoked turkey. The taste of a smoked turkey is enhanced by the type of wood used and the ingredients used on the turkey ( barbeque rubs and butter).

In addition, smoked turkey is healthy lean meat and this makes it the go-to meat for many. It is also packed with nutritional vitamins and minerals essential for health and vitality.

Furthermore, you can opt for a larger-sized turkey when you choose to smoke it. Most times you are restricted to a specific size when roasting turkey in an oven, but this restriction does not apply when smoking turkey. In fact, an added bonus is the promise of leftovers, that is only if the delicious smoked turkey isn’t consumed in one sitting.

However, it is important to note that cooking turkey in this way will take up more time compared to other cooking alternatives out there. So, only go for smoked turkey when you have enough time to spare before family or guests arrive.

Best Types of Wood For Smoking Turkey:

  • Cherry wood
  • Alder wood
  • Maple wood
  • Applewood
  • Oakwood
  • Pecan wood

Now, let’s explore each wood type individually and discover what each brings to the dish.

Cherry Wood:

Cherry wood tops my list because I consider it the best wood when it comes to smoking turkey, and many agree. Cherry wood is an ideal choice because it infuses rich flavor into the otherwise bland turkey meat. Cherry wood offers a subtle yet undeniable smokey taste to the turkey.

In addition, cherry wood is known to give the turkey a vibrant deep red hue, making it an eye-catching meal.

Thankfully there are different brands of cherry wood out there, so you will be spoilt for choice. Additionally, you could opt for any type of cherry wood, whether it be the pellet type, wood chips, or the chunk of wood; whichever you choose a scrumptious result awaits you.

Alder Wood:

Alder wood is a gentle wood that burns slowly. Although traditionally used to smoke seafood like salmon, it also works excellently for smoking turkey and other poultry. By using alder wood to smoke a turkey, you must keep an eye on the meat to ensure that it doesn’t overcook and become dry.

The gentle aroma of the wood means that it will not compete with or upstage the main flavors used on the turkey (marinades, herbs, spices).

Furthermore, this method of smoking turkey guarantees that the meat will be cooked thoroughly. In addition, you can get alder wood in pellet, wood chip, or chunk wood depending on your preference and smoker.

Maple Wood:

Maple wood is an excellent choice for smoking turkey when your aim is to add a notable tinge of sweetness to the meat. When it comes to smoking turkey, some prefer maple wood to other types of wood due to the earthy, spicy flavors it brings to the dish.

When you use maple wood to smoke your turkey, expect to get a taste of honey-like sweetness and subtle fruitiness.

Other than its use in smoking poultry, you can also use maple wood to smoke cheese and vegetables.

As with the other aforementioned wood types, you can get maple wood in a range of forms.

Apple Wood:

Applewood is another great choice for smoking turkey. It has a fruity element that penetrates into the turkey giving it a rich flavor and aroma. However,  the fruity essence will get into the turkey the longer it is cooked. Apple wood works best when it cooks slowly and on low heat.

Though apple wood is quite fragrant, it has a milder flavor compared to cherry wood or pecan. 

Similar to alder wood, you will need to watch your turkey because the longer it takes to cook the higher the chance of it drying out and becoming rubbery. You will find apple wood chunks sold in stores.

Oak Wood: 

Oak wood has a strong savory and earthy fragrance that gives the turkey a delicious taste. While some find the flavor of oak wood too strong for turkey, I believe it is a good choice when you want a turkey packed with flavor.

Furthermore, if you want rich complex flavors in the turkey, you can mix oak wood with sweet woods like maple wood and apple wood for that perfect blend.

In addition, the cooking time when using oak wood is shorter compared to the other wood types. Additionally, when you use red oak to smoke a turkey, it will give the turkey a red tint.

Pecan Wood:

Pecan wood is another sweet wood; it is a blend of sweetness, smokiness, and sharpness. Because pecan wood has a rather intense sweetness to it, it is not always the first choice for smoking turkey.

For milder sweetness, you can use cherry wood or maple wood. In addition, when smoking turkey with pecan wood, do not add in another strong flavored wood like hickory.  

That is because the combination of two strong kinds of wood would give the turkey a rather pungent taste that can very well be unpleasant. 

Now that we have established some of the best woods to use for smoking turkey, let’s look briefly at two wood types that did not make the cut (pun intended!): 

  • Hickory wood 
  • Mesquite wood 

Hickory wood:

Hickory’s aroma is too overwhelming for poultry, which is why it is avoided as its taste in turkey can be offputting. However, if you desire a more nuanced or distinct flavor in the smoked turkey then you can add small shavings of hickory to fruity woods like cherry wood or apple wood.

Mesquite wood:

Mesquite wood has a very strong flavor that is unmissable. The intensity of the wood means it will drown out the flavor of your turkey. While maple wood is a classic choice for tough meats, on its own it doesn’t work well with a lean and tender meat like turkey.

If you desire to give your smoked turkey a rich and intense flavor, then you can add little shavings to sweet woods like cherry wood.

A Few things to Remember When Smoking Turkey:

  • Cherry wood is generally considered the best wood for smoking turkey.
  • Other woods that work for smoking turkey include alder wood, apple wood, maple wood, pecan wood, and oak wood.
  • The fruity essence of apple wood would only come through when the turkey is cooked longer
  • With apple wood and alder wood, the turkey will need to cook longer so keep an eye on it so it doesn’t overcook and dry out.
  • The sweetness of pecan wood is rather strong, so if you want sweetness in your turkey but in a more subtle way then use cherry or maple wood.
  • Using oak wood and cherry wood will give your turkey a vibrant red hue giving it a delicious usual visual appeal.
  •  Hickory wood and mesquite wood can be used to smoke turkey but only in small quantities due to their strong and overwhelming flavors.
  • You can add hickory wood and mesquite wood to fruity, sweet woods like cherry or maple for a more robust and intense flavor.

Wrapping up:

So there you have it, an in-depth look at the best woods to use for smoking your turkey and what you can expect from each of them.  Whether you want your smoked turkey sweet, savory, or complex in flavor, there is a wood to meet that need. Let us know in the comment section what wood is your go-to choice when smoking turkey.

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