Master the Art of Smoking Whole Wild Turkey: Expert Tips and Techniques

Recently my husband harvested his first turkey and wanted to brine and smoke the whole bird on our Traeger pellet grill. This experience was more than just cooking; it was about honoring my husband’s first turkey harvest. Smoking the whole bird was a great way to show respect for the animal and make the most out of what nature provided. The process brought us closer to our food source and reinforced the importance of sustainable hunting practices.

What is a Brine?

We have probably all experienced eating a dry turkey. Turkey is a very lean meat and can sometimes pose a challenge in preserving moisture and flavor during cooking. That’s where we use a brining method. To brine is to infuse the meat with salt to season it internally, retain moisture, and enhance texture. Here, we used a  wet brining method. However, there is a dry brine method as well, I have seen people favor a dry brine with venison and goose. Each offering unique benefits a variety for personal preference. A large turkey will need to sit a full day and possibly overnight to fully soak. 

Wet Brine for Wild Turkey:

The wet brine method offers versatility by allowing you to customize flavors with spices and herbs. The key is creating the right salt-to-water balance – too much, and your turkey risks being overly salty; too little, and the brine won’t effectively season the meat. A basic ratio of 1 cup of salt to 1 gallon of water provides a good starting point. You will need a large pot; I use my water bath canner. You will need to avoid creating an over acidic brine. While creativity is encouraged in flavoring your wet brine, steer clear of highly acidic ingredients like pop, as they can alter the meat’s texture and inhibit salt absorption. Instead, opt for neutral flavors that complement the turkey’s natural taste, such as bay leaves, garlic, and lemon zest.

Wet Brine Recipe:

1 gallon water

1 cup salt

1/2 cup sugar (white or brown)

3-4 bay leaves

4-5 cloves garlic

Black peppercorns

Zest or peels of half a lemon or orange

You can use various fruits depending on preference of flavor, cut them in half.
-Sweet Apples
-oranges and cranberries with cloves

Creating a brine is all about preference and the seasoning you want to achieve. Besides the water/salt ratio, the other items can be swapped. For instance, brown sugar for white, you can add more herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley, and allspice.


Some people prefer to heat the ingredients and simmer until salt and sugar dissolve. However, the brine will need to be completely cooled before submerging the turkey, to prevent partial cooking of the meat. I just stir the brine until dissolved. Brine turkey in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours, depending on desired saltiness. For me it is easiest to allow to sit overnight and start the smoking process during the day. We did this for Thanksgiving a few years back and it worked out well for an afternoon dinner.


  1. Remove turkey from brine and rinse of any excess brine.
  2. Place turkey in roasting pan.
  3. Use your hands to separate the skin from the meat. Stuff butter in between the skin and meat. (Breast and Thighs)
    1. NOTE: You can season the butter, but I recommend using unsalted butter since the brine has already infused the salt. 
  4. Season the entire turkey with preferred seasoning mixture and salt and pepper to taste. 
  5. Optional: stuff  a few sticks of butter, onions and garlic cloves in the cavity. 

Smoking Process

  1. Preheat your Traeger pellet grill to 250°F. Allow to heat for 15 minutes
  2. Place the turkey on the grill, breast side up in the pan.
  3. Smoke the turkey 4-6 hours until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F in the thickest part of the breast and thigh. This can take approximately 30 minutes per pound.
  4. For added flavor, you can baste the turkey with melted butter or apple juice every hour.

Resting and Serving

  1. Once the turkey reaches 165 degrees internal temperature, remove it from the grill and let it rest for 20-30 minutes before carving. Be sure not to touch the bone with the thermometer, it will distort the reading.
  2. Resting allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, ensuring each slice is moist and flavorful. ENJOY!
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