Thanksgiving approaches and with that, we here at Team Traeger wanted to bring you the most comprehensive gathering of information available when it comes to turkey and your Traeger. The most important aspects of a killer turkey are flavor and texture. You want a turkey that tastes like turkey layered with subtle flavors and a kiss of Traeger's signature smoke. For texture, you want meat that is melt in your mouth juicy without turning to mush or taking an hour to chew. We can walk you through the entire process from brining to basting to get you the turkey you will dream of until next Thanskgiving (or next week). Read on to get the answers to the most common turkey-related questions we get every year.
Picking your Turkey:
How big of a turkey do I need? Typically we plan 1 lb of turkey per person. Yes, there will be leftovers but that never makes us sad.
Should I buy a kosher turkey or not? Kosher turkeys are injected with a salt solution to make them more flavorful and juicy. If you purchase a kosher turkey, you do not need to do an additional brine as this will make your turkey too salty and can adversely affect the texture. We recommend purchasing a turkey that hasn't been injected with anything so you can add your own flavor with a brine. If you have a kosher turkey and still wish to brine it, soak the turkey in cold water overnight to draw out some of the salt and then brine. In addition to being pre-salted, kosher turkeys are raised on a vegetarian diet and are hormone and anti-biotic free.
What's the best way to thaw my turkey? There are two safe ways to thaw a turkey The easiest way is to put a roasting pan under it and thaw in the refrigerator. Allow about 1 day for every 4 pounds. In other words, a 20-pounder will take 5 days. The second way to safely defrost a turkey is to make sure there are no tears in the wrapping, then submerge it in a sink, food-safe pail, or large basin filled with cold water (40 degrees F or less). It’s a good idea to put the turkey in a large resealable plastic bag so water and turkey juices don’t mingle. Allow about 45 minutes per pound. Be sure to drain and change the water every 30 minutes.
Why would I brine a turkey? Brining a turkey adds more flavor and juiciness than any other method we have tried. Brining allows you to season your turkey from the inside out before cooking, and who doesn't want yummy flavor in every single bite? A simple brine is 1 gallon cold water, 1 cup kosher salt, 1/2 cup brown sugar and any additional seasonings you'd like. We recommend peppercorns, thyme, bay leaves, rosemary, or garlic. We have an awesome infographic post ALL about brining turkeys. If you are thinking about brining a bird, consult that post first.
How long should I brine my turkey? Opinion on this varies, but we recommend no less than 16 and no more than 32 hours. We find 24 hours is the perfect amount of time to add the right amount of flavor without the turkey getting too salty.
What do I season my turkey with? We like to keep this one simple and classic. We mix 8 tablespoons of softened butter with 2 tablespoons of finely chopped mixed herbs such as parsley, sage, rosemary and marjoram and use our fingers to press the butter mixture up under the skin of the turkey. Spread it evenly across all areas of the bird. Drizzle the outside of the bird with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper or Traeger's Pork & Poultry Rub.
Do I stuff the cavity of my turkey? This one is completely personal preference, but we personally prefer not to. When you stuff a turkey, the internal temperature of the stuffing must reach 165 degrees F and that typically means the breast and thigh meat of your turkey is much higher and the meat will be dry. We like to stuff the cavity of our turkeys with aromatics like onion, garlic, rosemary, thyme and citrus quarters that can infuse the meat with more flavor from the inside out.
Cooking the bird:
Directly on the grill or in a roasting pan? Again, personal preference. We will always choose to put a whole turkey in a roasting pan so we can collect the drippings for gravy. When using a roasting pan, we also like to add a few cups of broth to the bottom of the pan to steam the bird with extra flavor and moisture while cooking. No roasting pan? Layer the bottom of a large pan with carrot and celery sticks and place the bird on top. This will elevate the bird enough so it isn't stewing in its' own juices and will also add great flavor to the drippings.
How long and and what temperature do I cook my turkey? A small bird (8 to 12 pounds) requires 2-1/2 to 3 hours at 325 degrees F; a medium (12 – 18 pounds) will need 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 hours; and a large bird (over 18 pounds) could take up to 6 hours.
How do I add more smoke flavor to my turkey? Cook your turkey on the Smoke setting for 1 to 3 hours, then finish cooking on higher heat (325 degrees F or higher) to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F and crisp the skin. We do not recommend cooking a turkey – especially a large one – entirely on the Smoke setting as it adds hours to the cooking time. The skin also tends to be rubbery as the heat on the Smoke setting isn’t high enough to render the fat. Check out our turkey guide below for more information.
What flavor of pellets should I use on a turkey? Our favorite is a 50/50 mix of apple and hickory. Of course, you can always refer to our pellet guide and pick your own or create a personal blend.
Should I baste my turkey, or leave it alone? Basting is entirely optional. If you've already brined, seasoned, and smoked we don't think basting is completely necessary but it is a good way to add extra flavor to the skin specifically. Just keep in mind that every time you open the lid, you lose up to 20% of the heat in your grill.
How long does my turkey need to rest? We recommend letting a 12-15 lb turkey rest for at least 20 minutes. Anything over 15 lbs needs at least 30 minutes to rest before carving. DO NOT tent your turkey with foil. Unless you enjoy soggy skin. The steam from the hot turkey will collect on the foil and drip onto your perfect turkey skin and make it anything but crispy.
There you have it, Traeger Nation. Our tried and true method for the perfect turkey. Got any tips to add?? Be sure to add your voice to our discussions on Facebook and Instagram @traegergrills. Also, tag us in your Thanksgiving food pictures using #traegerthanksgiving. We'd love to see what you make!