Turkey is one of the best meats to smoke, especially for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Of course, you can serve a beautifully smoked turkey any time of year. But before you start smoking, it is essential to understand which wood will give you the specific flavor you are looking for.
Turkey is a very delicate type of meat. It can dry out fast if not properly cooked.
You’ll want to be mindful of what wood you’re using. Otherwise, you might end up serving something inedible. Note that some woods can be very strong, while others can be very light in flavor.
To get the perfect result, I’ll discuss the various woods commonly used for smoking a turkey. I’ll also share some types of wood that you should avoid.
The Best Wood for Smoking Turkey
I’ve been smoking turkey for many years. The most valuable thing I’ve learned is that using wood from fruit trees makes for the best flavor.
If you do your research, you’ll learn that fruitwoods are commonly used in smoking turkey because of their enticing aroma. This aroma will make your turkey taste much better than usual. Additionally, fruitwood guarantees a great look (or “presentation”) of your food after cooking.
This is my top fruitwood to use when smoking turkey. It provides a nice touch of sweetness to your bird, while not overpowering the natural flavors. Moreover, it gives a beautiful deep red color to the meat—making your dish stand out on special occasions.
If you’re looking to add a complex taste to your smoked turkey, add a small amount of hickory wood. Doing so will give a little bit of smokiness to the bird.
Cherrywood also works with other kinds of meat like pork, beef, and fish. (checkout smoking wood chart).
Pecan produces sweet-tasting flavors in turkey meat, just like cherry. Even so, unlike cherry, pecan is far richer in flavor. Truth be told, pecan gives off the most potent flavors of all fruitwoods. However, it doesn’t overpower the turkey’s authentic flavors.
Pecan wood is famous for the slight nut-like layer of flavor that it imparts to the meat. This nutty flavor can be savored beneath the sweetness of the turkey. You won’t easily taste the nutty flavor until you’ve bitten deep into the turkey, which makes the wood extra unique. Because of this, pecan is my second favorite wood to use when smoking poultry.
I don’t recommend mixing pecan with other hardwoods like oak or hickory. This is because pecan is rich enough on its own: No additional flavor is necessary. Adding extra earthy woods will only result in overpowering the flavor of the meat. You will end up serving turkey that is too bitter and barely edible.
If you find pecan a little too sweet, it’s best to test first and see how the turkey reacts to pecan. You can use a marinade or rub that’s not too sweet to even out the flavors.
Yes, maple is another wood that belongs to the sweeter end of the scale. What makes this wood exceptional is that it adds a light, delicate layer of flavor to the turkey.
The wood provides a layer of sweetness without eradicating the natural flavors of the meat. If anything, maple enhances the turkey’s overall taste. Maple is a great alternative for cherry or pecan if you find them too sweet or rich. Maple sits near the middle of the spectrum for providing sweetness.
I love using maple not only for smoking poultry but also for vegetables.
I really enjoy the subtle and sweet taste that applewood gives to the meat. The flavor it imparts is more mellow than cherry, maple, or pecan. This makes it perfect if you want to weaken the sweetness a bit.
Applewood produces a lot of smoke because of its compact design, which affects the taste of the meat. While it goes well with poultry, apple can be used in other meats like fish, beef, or pork.
Just like other fruitwoods, apple can be combined with a hardwood like hickory. Hickory will give a slight earthy tone to the smoke and add a smoky flavor to the turkey.
What to avoid
Since turkey is a very delicate type of meat, some wood types must be avoided. If you use wood that has a harder or stronger aroma than other fruitwoods, the flavor might be too strong. Some of the woods to avoid include: