When cooking large cuts of meat like whole turkeys, the total cooking time is directly related to the temperature of the oven—or smoker, in this case. Here’s our ultimate guide on how long to cook a turkey at 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
How Long To Cook a Turkey at 325 Degrees
At 325 degrees, turkey should take about 15 minutes per pound to finish cooking. That means a 12-pound turkey should be on the smoker for around 3 hours. This is the temperature that many people use for roasting turkey. It should yield crisp skin and a mild to moderate smoke flavor.
What’s The Best Temperature For Smoking Turkey?
For beef brisket and pork butt, we set the smoker as low as 225. Poultry, on the other hand, is leaner than these cuts. That means the meat should be tender and juicy even when it’s cooked at a higher temperature.
If you want to mimic the experience of cooking the bird in the oven, go ahead and set the smoker to 325 degrees—or higher still, if you prefer. Just be forewarned that the turkey won’t taste as smoky when you do this.
How Big a Turkey Should I Get For the Smoker?
First and foremost, your turkey will need to fit on the grill or smoker when the lid of the unit is closed. For obvious reasons, this won’t work with giant turkeys or smokers that are on the small side.
Our advice would be to look for a 10- to 12-pound turkey when using the smoker. When you’re planning on setting the temperature to 325 degrees, this isn’t as important, but it will still speed along your cooking time.
How Long To Thaw Your Turkey According To Size
When it comes to thawing meat, the refrigerator is your best bet. This is especially true for large cuts, but you’ll need to plan ahead.
In a refrigerator set to the ideal temperature—that is, between 32 and 39 degrees—a turkey should thaw at a rate of 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of meat. The larger the bird, the longer it will take to thaw.
Therefore, if you’ve followed our advice and gotten a 12-pound turkey for the smoker, it should take 2 to 3 days to defrost. If the turkey weighs a bit more, you might need to pull it from the freezer 4 to 5 days before you plan to cook it.
Once the turkey is defrosted, it should keep in the fridge for 1 to 2 days. Don’t wait any longer than this, or the quality of the meat will begin to deteriorate. If you can’t cook it off in time, it’s fine to put it back in the freezer.
The Air-Dry Process
When you’re getting ready to cook the turkey, take it out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for up to an hour. During this time, the skin will dry out slightly, which promotes crisper skin.
Set the turkey on a roasting rack with a pan or large platter beneath it to catch any juices. Make sure the bird is placed somewhere out of the way while you’re waiting for the smoker to heat up.
Seasoning The Bird
When the skin has had a chance to dry out, season the turkey as desired. You can apply a seasoning rub, or keep it simple with a blend of kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
Remember that if you’ve opted to brine the bird in a saltwater solution, you might want to cut back on the salt. Brining is done primarily for moisture retention, but the meat will still retain some of the salty flavor.
The spices will adhere to the skin more readily if you apply a binder first. We prefer a thin layer of cooking spray made from a neutral oil, but you can also use butter or olive oil.
To Stuff or Not to Stuff
Should you add stuffing to the main cavity? We don’t recommend it, especially when cooking the bird on a smoker.
Stuffing the turkey will prolong the cooking process, so you’ll have to wait even longer before dinner is ready. What’s more, you’ll have to make sure the stuffing heats to 165 degrees before serving it. Otherwise, it might harbor dangerous bacteria.
There’s another reason why we don’t like to stuff smoked turkeys: The stuffing will take on the smoke flavor, making it taste bitter and acrid. While smoked meat is delicious, bread crumbs don’t exactly benefit from the process.
Instead of stuffing the turkey, bake your stuffing in a buttered casserole dish until it’s heated through and the top layer is nice and crunchy.
That said, you can put other things in the turkey’s cavity to give the meat more flavor. Aromatic vegetables like carrots, onions, garlic, and celery are good bets. You can also add apples, citrus fruits, or sprigs of fresh herbs.
Should I Tent the Turkey With Foil?
Most of the time, it’s not necessary to tent the bird with aluminum foil during the smoke. The barrier can prevent the turkey from absorbing enough smoke to give it the flavor you want.
That said, when the temperature is set above 300 degrees, the skin might burn while you’re waiting for the meat to finish cooking. If you’d like, you can smoke the turkey in a roasting pan, tenting it with foil when the turkey’s internal temp hits 130 degrees.
Pro Tip: This is also a good technique if you enjoy a hint of smoke flavor, but don’t want to overdo it. If you’re opting to smoke the bird at 325 degrees, that may be the case anyway.
How Long To Cook a Turkey at 325
When your smoker is set to 325 degrees, a whole turkey should cook at a rate of about 15 minutes per pound.
For smaller turkeys weighing 10 to 12 pounds, plan on a total cooking time of 2-1/2 to 3 hours. If your bird tips the scales at 16 pounds, it could be on the smoker for 4 hours or more.
This is another reason why we try to select smaller turkeys for this cooking application. The larger the turkey, the harder it is to predict the cooking time. Every bird is different, so you should use the internal temperature as your guide (see below).
When is Turkey Considered Done?
Poultry is considered safe to eat when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, the bacteria that cause food poisoning are wiped out in a matter of seconds, rendering the meat safe for human consumption.
Turkey and chicken breasts should be removed from the heat when they’ve cooked to 160 degrees. Thanks to carryover cooking, the temp should rise an additional 5 degrees while the meat is resting.
Dark meat, on the other hand, is better when it cooks to 180-185 degrees. You can help to ensure that the whole bird will be ready at the same time by positioning it so that the legs and thighs are facing the heat source.
Should you find that the breasts are done cooking before the dark meat has reached the optimal temperature, carve them off and let them rest while you return the rest of the bird to the smoker.
One final note: Don’t rely on color when gauging whether the bird is done. Sometimes, the juices will run clear and the meat will turn opaque before the meat reaches a safe temperature.
Conversely, the meat could be cooked through and still retain a hint of pink. Smoked meats are even more likely to remain pink just beneath the skin.
Should You Start at a Higher or Lower Temperature?
Some pitmasters swear by the technique of starting the smoke at a high temperature to sear the bird, then lowering the heat for the second stage. Others might start by cooking the turkey low and slow and cranking up the temp toward the end of the smoke.
While you’re free to try either of these approaches, we prefer to keep the heat at a steady temperature for the duration of the cooking time. Fiddling around with the temperature will waste time that could be better spent on side dishes or other pursuits.
How To Rest a Turkey
Try to plan on 20 to 40 minutes of resting time for a whole turkey. During this period, the juices will flow back and be reabsorbed into the meat’s fibers, leaving you with juicy and succulent meat.
If you need to rest the turkey for longer than 20 minutes, be sure to tent it with foil to keep the meat warm. When the bird has cooked to at least 165 degrees and you’re only resting it for 20 minutes, there’s no need to use foil, but you can if you’d like.
About Heritage Turkeys
Heritage turkeys are rare, but if you’ve purchased one for the smoker, you should adjust your cooking procedures.
In order to be classified as a heritage bird, the turkey has to meet a certain set of criteria. Specifically, it needs to belong to a variety of turkey that’s been designated as heritage by the Livestock Conservancy.
These turkeys are distinguished by their longer drumsticks and thighs, leaner breast meat, and smaller size. It’s rare for a heritage turkey to weigh more than 16 pounds. Some popular heritage breeds include Narragansett, Standard Bronze, and Bourbon Red.
What does this mean for the cooking process? Since the birds live a more active lifestyle than commercially bred turkeys, the meat can be tough if it’s not cooked right. To give the turkeys the treatment they deserve, you’ll need to plan ahead.
One option might be to cook the turkey at 450 degrees for 7 to 9 minutes per pound. This is convenient because the meat will finish cooking quickly.
On the other hand, you can set the smoker to 325 degrees and cook the turkey a bit longer than you normally would. A 12-pound heritage turkey should take 3-1/2 to 4 hours to cook at this temperature.
The key is to avoid overcooking the meat. Since heritage birds are less likely to be contaminated with hazardous bacteria, you might even consider pulling the turkey from the heat when the breast meat is cooked to 150-155 degrees.
Be aware that when poultry is cooked to just 150, it will take 3 minutes for any potential bacteria to die off completely. Make sure the meat remains at this temperature for at least that long before you attempt to serve it.
The Bottom Line
Whether you’re roasting a turkey or giving it the royal treatment on the smoker, temperature is more important than time. As soon as the meat has cooked to the recommended temperature, it’s time to take it off the heat.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!