You’ve got your turkey all ready for the smoker—but there’s nothing in the cavity. Should you add anything to the inside of the bird, or is it better to leave it empty? Here are a few ideas about what to put in turkey cavity when smoking the entire bird.
What To Put In Turkey Cavity When Smoking
Fresh herbs, citrus fruit, and apples all make superb additions to a turkey’s cavity. Aromatic vegetables such as carrots, onions, celery, and garlic work well too. Try matching the ingredients with whatever you’ll be serving with the turkey so that the flavors complement each other.
About Safe Serving Temperatures
Before we begin, we should stress that turkey is only safe to eat once it’s reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
At lower temperatures, the bacteria that cause food poisoning will take longer to die off. When the meat is cooked to 165, however, those same bacteria will be destroyed in a matter of seconds.
For optimum results, cook the breast meat until it hits the 160-degree mark. Pull it off the heat and let it rest, loosely tented with foil, for 10 to 15 minutes. The meat should reach the target serving temperature of 165 degrees as it rests.
The darker meat of the legs and thighs should cook to a slightly higher temperature. When the meat reaches 180 degrees, it becomes tender and succulent. Prior to this, it might have a chewy or rubbery texture.
If the breasts are finished cooking before the dark meat, carve them off and set them aside to rest. Return the rest of the bird to the smoker until the legs and thighs have attained the optimum serving temperature.
Should Smoked Turkey Be Stuffed?
Although stuffing is often served alongside turkey, we don’t like to stuff the bird when it’s going on the smoker. Here’s why.
A stuffed bird takes longer to cook than an unstuffed one. Since you’ll be putting the turkey on the smoker for several hours as it is, stuffing it will prolong the cooking time to an uncomfortable degree.
Similarly, you’ll need to ensure that the stuffing cooks to a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees. Depending on how large the turkey is, this can be problematic. You might even have to take the stuffing out of the cavity and let it finish cooking separately.
What’s more, stuffing tastes funny when it’s spent a long time in the smoker. A nice touch of wood smoke will complement the turkey, but you can’t say the same for the stuffing. That’s the main reason why we tend to avoid stuffing smoked turkey.
If you have your heart set on serving stuffing at your gathering, prepare it separately and bake it in a buttered casserole dish at 400 degrees. It should reach the desired consistency and temperature in about 30 minutes.
What To Put In Turkey Cavity When Smoking
So, if you’re not stuffing the bird with a mixture of bread crumbs and seasoning, what can you put in the turkey cavity before smoking? While the wood smoke will impart flavor, you’ll still want to provide the proper seasoning.
Essentially, anything that would improve the flavor of the turkey can be placed in the cavity. In this section, we’ll explore the most popular choices.
Our favorite herbs to use when cooking turkey—using any method—are rosemary, sage, and thyme. Rosemary has a lovely floral aroma, and thyme’s woodsy nature plays beautifully off the savory meat. Meanwhile, sage offers a more pungent, earthy taste.
You can also experiment with other herbs, depending on how you plan to serve the turkey. For example, if you want to make turkey salad for sandwiches out of the leftovers, it’s a great idea to stuff the cavity with fresh tarragon.
When roasting turkey, we often add a few aromatic vegetables to the pan. When we’re putting the bird on the smoker, the same vegetables go inside the cavity.
Chunks of carrot, celery, onion, and garlic all make fine additions to smoked turkey. There’s no need to peel the vegetables beforehand, as you’ll be discarding them as soon as the bird is cooked. However, be sure to wash them thoroughly.
Try cutting a couple of apples in half and adding those to the turkey cavity. This is a particularly good choice if you used apple juice or cider to brine the turkey, or if you’re putting apple wood chips or pellets in the smoker.
Citrus fruits are an excellent option as well. Both lemons and oranges can contribute a vivid freshness to the smoked turkey. As a bonus, they help the meat retain moisture during the cooking process.
If you want to get creative, try adding dried apricots or dates to the cavity. If you’re serving stuffing on the side, dice about 1/2 cup of the same fruit and add it to the recipe.
What If The Turkey Cavity is Still Frozen?
You can cook turkey that’s still frozen in the cavity without worrying about food poisoning. As long as the meat cooks to a safe internal temperature, it doesn’t matter if it was still frozen or partially frozen when you put it on the smoker.
When cooking a turkey that’s still frozen in patches, add about 25 percent to the estimated cooking time. In other words, if you expected the bird to be done in 4 hours, plan on cooking it for around 5 hours instead.
If the bird is still frozen solid, you should add 50 percent to the estimated cooking time. In these cases, the estimated 4 hour cooking time lengthens into 6 hours.
Note that we don’t recommend smoking turkeys from a completely frozen state. It’s better to thaw the meat in a cold water bath for a few hours, then begin cooking as planned.
If you notice that the turkey is still frozen in the cavity when you take it out of the fridge, try running it under cold water for a few minutes. Often, this will take care of any icy patches.
Remember that running raw poultry under cold water can spread bacteria around your sink area. Be sure to disinfect the sink and countertops as soon as possible afterward.
Do I Need To Put Anything in the Cavity After Brining?
Brining imparts a degree of flavor to the bird, but it’s most often used to prevent the meat from drying out. The salt solution allows the meat’s fibers to retain a higher level of moisture, so it stays nice and juicy as it cooks.
We would recommend adding your chosen ingredients to the cavity regardless of whether you brined the turkey beforehand. In fact, incorporating similar ingredients into the brine mixture and the cavity can create a bolder flavor profile.
For example, if you added sage and onions to the brine, put some of those in the turkey cavity. If you opted for lemon juice and rosemary in the brine mixture, stuff a halved lemon and a few rosemary sprigs inside the bird.
The Bottom Line
Anything that would complement the flavor of the turkey would make a decent addition to the bird’s cavity. Try experimenting with various combinations of ingredients to see what works best.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!