The Best Wood For Smoking Turkey

Learn how to smoke it to get delicious poultry that no one can resist

Written by Elisa Chan. Updated on Learn how to smoke it to get delicious poultry that no one can resist

Smoked poultry is a whole different thing compared to even the most delicious cooked meaty food!

Scented with the wooden aroma, such meat gets that well-recognized smoky flavor that one can’t confuse to anything. And what can be better than smoked turkey on the dinner table?

However, when we decide to prepare some food like that, a question often arises about what sort of wood to choose.

Will it influence the final taste and flavor of the bird’s meat?

How not to mess up and pick the right woods to smoke this type of poultry?

And, what is the best wood for smoking turkey? The best wood for flavorful turkey is cherry, for light flavor, choose Alder for honey-like notes, choose Maple tree wood and for the fruity scent, choose Applewood. If you want a strenght scent choose Hickory or an Oak tree.

Don’t worry, we have prepared a complete guide for you guys!

What is the Best Wood For Smoking Turkey?

Generally speaking, there are five types of wood that are preferred most above the others when it comes to smoking poultry and turkey in particular. These are usually cherry, apple, alder, and a couple of others. However, it is OK to make use of other sorts of wood if, for instance, one wants to get poultry with a stronger aroma.

Everyone who ever smoked meat or poultry at least once in their lives must be aware of the fact that the wood that is used for the cooking procedure matters a lot, no less than the meat itself.

It is not enough to just properly choose the turkey that is going to be smoked (but of course, the quality of meat matters a lot, do not forget about that!). The wood that will be used also plays an essential role. It is the type of woods that will define what the taste and flavor of the final dish will be.

This is why the most common mistake of newbie turkey smokers is to pick up the wrong or not quite suitable wood. As a result, the meat can have a too strong smoked scent that will overlap the taste of the food, or the taste of poultry can change.

Since we want our delicious meaty foodstuff to taste of its natural flavor, it is crucially important to make use of the sort of wood that will complement the initial taste of the meat and highlight it instead of overpowering it.

This is why we would strongly recommend opting for one of the following types of wood if you are not a professional smoker yet.

What is the Best Wood For Smoking Turkey

Cherry wood

The cherry wood is flavorful enough and at the same time, it does not overpower the innate taste of meat. Moreover, cherry will add that significant hue to the carcass making your guest admire and wonder how you managed to achieve it. 

Besides, it has one more wonderful feature: this sort of wood can be matched ideally with any brine that will be used for preparing the meat.

A small hint for you: try to add a bit of hickory to the cherry wood when smoking to get that traditional smokey aroma!

Pecan wood

Smoking With Wood - How to Choose the Right Wood for Smoking MeatSmoking With Wood – How to Choose the Right Wood for Smoking Meat

Opt for this type of wood to give your smoked turkey the recognizable sweet and nutty flavor and somewhat sharper smokey notes.

However, we would recommend everyone to test it on some part of the meat prior to smoking a whole carcass since not everyone may find pecan wood suitable for themselves due to the specific aroma.

Alder wood

This sort of wood is known for the extremely light flavor, even subtler than applewood! Perhaps, this is why alder is often used for smoking seafood, but don’t worry, the turkey will win from being smoked with it, too!

Photo by SJ .

Also, this wood burns slowly which makes alder an ideal pick for beginners since you will have no chances to make a sudden mistake and accidentally burn the whole carcass by heating it too long.

An additional perk of alder wood is that it combines very well with many herbs and seasonings – a perfect choice if you like the varied tastes!


To try something new, why not go for maple wood?

Its aromatic scent and honey-like notes may seem to be something too different from the well-known wood scents, but they will give the bird’s meat a delicate earthy aroma and highlight its natural taste.


Applewood is known for its fruity scent notes that will definitely give your turkey a special fusion of flavors!

Unlike most other woods, applewood will not produce that strong significant smokey scent which makes it ideal for those who prefer to have it light smoked.

The only tricky thing about this sort of wood is that it takes more time to incorporate into the meat.

It means your poultry will need more time for becoming properly soaked with the aroma.

To not burn the poultry while waiting for it to be smoked properly, try to either low down the heat or spritz the bird with water. As an option, placing a pan with water inside of the smoker can also help to keep the environment warm and the meat juicy.

And, what wood to use for smoking turkey? You should choose the wood for smoking turkey, depending on your preferences. Choose a Hickory or Oaktree for a “heavy” smell. And Cherry for flavourful smell, Alder for light flavor, Maple tree for honey-like smell and for the gentle fruit smell choose Applewood.

Anyway, no matter which one of them you will choose, all these sorts of wood serve perfectly both for the beginning smokers and for the experienced cooks.

Types Of Wood For Strong Smoked Flavor

What if you are already familiar with the simplest and the safest options of wood for smoking, and now you’d like to try out something stronger? Well, for the brave ones, we have several ideas that are definitely worth trying!

We bet you and your guests will enjoy the poultry smoked with one of these!

Hickory wood

This sort of wood is usually recommended to be added for giving more strength to the subtle scent of other woods, but if you are looking for a strong and pronounced scent, meet hickory as it is!

This wood has a distinctive and quite heavy flavor, and it is often considered to be a classy wood for smoking. Besides, it is very versatile, being able to produce flavors from sweet to savory to the smoked turkey legs even after reheating

Types Of Wood For Strong Smoked Flavor
Photo by Diane Helentjaris

Nevertheless, it would be wiser not to start your experience with meat smoking with hickory since it might be quite complicated for a newbie to figure out how much wood to use for getting the desired scent.

Oak wood

Another “heavy” wood that is classic.

Oak is traditionally used for smoking red meat but who said it won’t work for turkey?

And even if you’re not sure whether it will be too strong for you, it is always OK to try to mix it with the subtler sorts like apple or maple to get the ideal combination of flavors!

Both hickory and oak woods are usually used for smoking red meats like steak, ribs, or even brisket because they give quite a strong aroma.

However, if used in correct proportions, each of them can make your weekend bbq super delicious!

Types Of Wood For Strong Smoked Flavor

The Best Wood For Smoking Turkey (Burning Speed)

Wood Hard/Soft Wood Burn Speed Comment
Apple Hardwood Good This wood burns slowly, and gives a gentle fruit smell t the meat
Alder Hardwood Fast This wood burns fast and you need twice more than any ordinary wood to smoke the meat properly. Gives a "heavy" wood smell to the meat.
Cherry Hardwood Good Burns well and gives a pleasent flavor to the meat. If you want an easy smoking experience this wood is a good option

Hardwood Good Good choice for the red meat. Burns slowly and gives much heat, like an alder has a strenght smoke and smell.
Pecan Hardwood Fast Burns really fast and gives specific nut smell to the meat you should try it first on the small peace of the meant. And only after smoke the whole turkey in ir.

Chunks, Pellets, or Chips? Know What to Choose From

When the wood is finally chosen, it seems that we are done preparing, and it is finally time to proceed to smoke. But no!

There is one more step left that must not be skipped. Before we begin, we must decide what the form of the wood will be.

What do we mean? Usually, the wood meant for smoking food is sold in one of the following forms that are chunks, pellets, or chips.

Best Smoker Wood Chips 2020  🏆  Top 5 Best Wood for Smoking TurkeyBest Smoker Wood Chips 2020 🏆 Top 5 Best Wood for Smoking Turkey

Basically, they are all the same essentially, the only distinction is that each type is meant for a certain kind of smoker.

For instance, we can use only pellets for a pellet smoker since this device is specifically designed for this form of wood. 

On the other hand, an electric smoker can often successfully accept both pellets and chips, but it is still better to double-check that before using any of them.

And finally, offset and charcoal smokers are designed for logs or chunks.

As it comes from the description, most smokers can not accept any form of wood, so before using them, always check how finely the wood must be chopped to add it to the device.

Otherwise, it can easily get broken.

What Smoker to Choose? Selecting a Heat Source

Since it appears that the type of smoker we are using also matters a lot, let’s figure out what devices are used most often and what makes them distinct.

As everyone could already guess, the kind of heat source will directly affect the way of producing smoke which, in its turn, will influence the final taste of the foodstuff.

Charcoal grill

For instance, a charcoal grill is one of the most popular types since it is the easiest to utilize. Also, it produces a good amount of smoke which allows making properly smoked meat.

However, for better results, go for natural chunk charcoal. It burns hotter and longer, and besides, the starches and wood byproducts it contains will produce a more pungent smoke that will taint the taste of the poultry effectively. 

Propane smokers

They are somewhat more challenging since one will need some practice before learning how to deal with them easily. These smokers use wood chips only, besides, those must not be wet, otherwise, the process of smoking will last way longer than it should be.

Also, there are some nuances regarding the temperature, but once you learn this stuff properly, using a propane device will not be a problem.

Of course, for the people who are new to smoking foods, it is easier to make use of traditional smokers since they need no previous training in using them. And later it is always possible to shift to more complicated methods.

How Long to Smoke Different Parts Of Turkey?

This is probably the most frequent inquiry asked, and we can understand why.

Most people think that the whole carcass will take more time than, let’s say, wings. But is it so? And how much time each of them needs?

To clarify that, we prepared a simple chart to compare the smoking time for different types of smokers.

Whole carcass Breast Wings Legs
Smoker 240 F, 30-40 min/pound 240 F, 30-40 min/pound 225 F, 1-2 hours 225 F, 4 hours
Grill 325 F, 3 hours 350 F, 1-2 hours 325 F, 30-40 min 325 F, 45-60 min

And no matter whether grill or smoker is used, the final internal temperature of the bird must be 165 F (check that at the thickest parts of the breast or innermost part of wings/thigh).

How Long to Smoke Different Parts Of Turkey

Handy Hints For Making an Ideal Turkey

Many recipes of how to smoke turkey exists, but nobody can argue with the fact that certain suggestions must always be taken into account if we want to get an ideally smoked bird.

Buy it fresh

No need to explain that fresh poultry tastes way better, right? Besides, it is juicier than the frozen or old counterpart.

However, if the carcass was purchased a day or two before being cooked, it is still fine.

Prepare it right

To get the whole turkey ready for being smoked, we suggest removing its backbone and breastbone. It will allow spreading the bird open and smoke it more thoroughly and faster.

But except for that, the carcass prepared this way will absorb all the spices and marinade much better which, let’s agree, will make its taste unforgettable!

Prepare it right
Photo by radovan

Mind the temperature

To get turkey ideally smoked, its thickest part must be at 165 F all the time while being cooked. To achieve that, we would advise using a probe thermometer even if your smoker has its own.

Give it time to rest

It is better not to serve the freshly smoked bird at once.

Let it sit for twenty minutes or so prior to cutting it.

Like that, the meat will remain juicy and get soaked with juices better.

It may indeed seem a bit tricky and complicated to smoke a turkey, but believe us, the second you get familiar with the process and learn all the nuances, making this delicious dish will only be a pleasure for you and your guests!

Frequently Asked Questions

⭐ What’s the best wood to smoke turkey legs?

For the cured legs, maple or pecan are considered to be the optimal choice. But for the fresh legs, better use applewood.

⭐ What’s the best wood to smoke turkey wings?

They say any hardwood or orchard wood is fine e.g. hickory, oak, maple, cherry, etc.

⭐ What are the best wood chips to smoke a turkey?

Hickory or maple/apple/cherry are the best ones.

Written by
Elisa is a passionate cook who will advise you on healthy and delicious food topics! With her help, you will discover how to properly store and freeze food, as well as learn important nuances about preserving vitamins in your meals to make them stay nutritious.
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