How to Smoke Your Turkey (Without the Smoke)

national lampoon turkey meal mobile
Smoking your turkey is the best way to ensure a happy Thanksgiving, but just don't smoke it too much / National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation/Warner Bros.

Roasting Thanksgiving turkey is a ritual in my family.

Like clockwork, my mom—who says she hates turkey—tries to convince us we don’t actually need one. Why don’t we roast a chicken instead? Or better yet, throw some filet mignon on the grill? And every year I try to whip up a bird that’ll change her mind, because Thanksgiving calls for turkey, darn it.

Don’t get me wrong, my iterations of turkey are really good. So good that people fight over the leftovers (if there are any). But I’m not looking for really good; I’m looking for the best.

Everything changed last year when I tried making a smoked bird. Tender, succulent BBQ is always a crowd-pleaser. Plus, in case you’ve missed the memo, smoky food is everything right now. Why couldn’t I apply some pitmaster wisdom to my turkey-to-be?

After perusing the dark corners of barbecue forums, I discovered a little secret. There was no reason to invest in a fancy smoker (or an extra warm jacket) to achieve the complex flavor of smoked bird. All I needed was a 3.5-ounce bottle of liquid smoke.

I made my regular brine recipe, dumped in the liquid smoke and proceeded as usual. I’ll mention here that my turkey was 10 pounds; math says that for every additional pound of turkey meat you’re cooking you’ll need to add .35 more ounces of liquid smoke to your brine.

The results were pretty miraculous, to put it lightly. I’ll admit I’d worried that the smoke would taste artificial, but that was anything but the case.

My first bite gave me subtle hickory, bonfire and molasses flavors, just present enough to cue “smoked” without overpowering turkey meat’s classic profile. My second and third bites transported me back to the summer, fireflies and that time I ate my way through Birmingham, Alabama.

Wrapped up in the memory of when I first learned the meaning of “Roll Tide Roll,” I completely forgot to check in on my mom’s progress—until I saw her go back for seconds.

“What's that you’re putting on your plate?!” I asked her.

“Stuffing,” she answered, lying through her teeth. My job was done here.

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