How To Spatchcock & Smoke A Turkey With Pecan Wood

by Texas Homesteader ~ 
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I’ve heard of cooking a chicken ‘spatchcock’ style. That’s simply where you cut away the backbone to open the whole chicken and spread it out flat. It cooks much faster that way.

But we were wondering if we could do the same thing with a larger bird. Perhaps our holiday Turkey? So we sat out to experiment.

Spatchcock smoked turkey cooks much faster than a whole bird traditionally roasted in the oven. The flavor is deep and delicious. #TexasHomesteader

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Food Safety: Thaw Turkeys In Refrigerator

We had two turkeys to experiment with. This should be fun.

First both turkeys were fully & safely thawed in the refrigerator. According to Butterball’s website, it takes about 24 hours of refrigerator thawing for every 4 lbs of turkey.

After the turkeys were thawed it was time for RancherMan to spatchcock the turkeys. 

First he removed the backbone section completely. But that meat & bone wasn’t wasted – I set it aside to make homemade broth using all scrap parts. No food waste!

Now that the turkeys were cut, he spread each turkey to lay it out flat. The entire surface of each one was rubbed with olive oil and seasonings.

To experiment with seasonings I used salt & pepper on both. Then on one turkey I also sprinkled ground dried sage from my garden. On the other I added paprika.

But to be honest, to me neither the flavor nor color variations using each of those different seasonings were really noticed after the turkeys were smoked. So I’d think just salt & pepper would probably be fine too. Whatever you like!

When the turkeys were seasoned he covered them and put them in the refrigerator while he prepared the grill.

He used the same grill preparation procedure that he used when he was Smoking Wild Pork Roasts.

Preparing the Pecan Wood For Smoking

We have several large pecan trees on our Homestead. And pecan wood is a perfect smoking wood.

So RancherMan cut some dead, seasoned branches into chunks no larger than about 1″x2″x2″. This should give the wood chunks plenty of surface area for smoking.

Pecan wood cut into chunks and soaked in water makes your smoking fuel #TexasHomesteader

Remember you want the wood to be dry & seasoned, not green! If you don’t have seasoned pecan wood handy it’s easy to *Buy Smoking Wood too.

He took the pecan wood chunks & soaked them for about an hour to get them good & saturated. While the pecan wood is soaking, RancherMan turns his attention to the grill.

Preparing the Grill

For meat smoking RancherMan prefers to use lump charcoal instead of briquettes. It burns pretty much the same but it’s cheaper. Smoking meat takes lots of charcoal!

He simply made a mound of lump charcoal in his grill’s smoker box & lit it. Then it only took about 20-30 minutes for the charcoal to ash over & turn white.

Now it was time to pour the pecan rounds & soaking water into a large metal pan that we use specifically for smoking meats. He sat that pan on the grill of the smoker box & closed the lid to get the box to heat up.

Smoking The Turkey

In no time the temps in his smoker had reached the perfect smoking temperature, between 225 – 250 degrees Fahrenheit. So RancherMan brought those turkeys out of the refrigerator and splayed each one on the hot grill, breast side up. 

It’s important to note that you cannot move the turkey once it begins cooking on the smoker. As it smokes and cooks, it becomes fall-apart tender. It will come apart if moving the turkey is attempted. So be sure to place it where ya want it now.

RancherMan spaced both turkeys evenly on the grill’s surface to allow even airflow around each of them. Then he closed up the grill and let the smoking begin.

The smoker temps were monitored to keep them between 225 – 250 degrees. About once an hour RancherMan will go to the grill and check on progress. He’s looking at whether the wood is still smoking, whether he needs to add some water to the smoker pan, and how the turkeys are looking.

Tracking Meat And Smoker Temperatures

One of the most important things about cooking turkey whether you roast or smoke the meat is to only cook it to the proper internal temperature. Over-estimating that cooked temperature is the most common reason for a dry bird. 

And I’ve found those little pop-up thingies you typically find on your Thanksgiving turkey to be inaccurate. If I rely on them my turkey is almost always overcooked. So I only use a meat thermometer to track actual temperatures.

You can use a thermometer placed in the meatiest part of the breast or thigh to monitor the progress of the meat’s internal temperatures. A probe with a data reader is good, or even an instant read to use when you bring the bird out for basting and such. Be sure not to allow the probe to touch any bone, as that could skew your reading.

Easier Way To Track Cooking Progress

But how about this??!! Recently RancherMan obtained a *Meater Wireless Thermometer. It has two sensors – one on the tip placed inside the meat, and one on the opposite end to monitor the temperatures inside the grill.

And the signal transmits to an app on his phone for up to 165 ft. HOW COOL! 

So an app on his phone will actually closely monitor the temps for him – both inside the grill as well as inside the bird.

That means this wireless temperature probe keeps tabs on both the internal temps of the meat as well as the ambient temps inside of the smoker without RancherMan needing to open the lid.

As anyone who’s ever smoked meat knows, each time you open that lid you’re wrecking the internal temperatures of your smoker. So the less you can open that lid, the more even your cooking temperatures are.

Safe Internal Temps For Turkey

According to the USDA, the safe internal temperature for cooking a turkey is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to only allow the internal temps to reach this temperature, as anything more can result in dry meat.

All in all it took RancherMan about 4 hrs to smoke both turkeys to an internal temp of 165 at the breast. A single turkey would probably only take about 3 – 3.5 hours.

But your time will depend upon how closely your monitor the temps in your smoker and how large the turkey is. Use a meat thermometer to monitor meat temps and know when it’s done.

Resting The Cooked Meat

Remove the turkey from the smoker when the internal temps reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit at the thickest part of the breast. (without temperature probe touching bone)

Place the turkey in a shallow pan or platter & allow it to rest, tented under foil, for about 15-30 minutes.

Note: If you rest the turkey breast-side down, gravity may help the breast meat to be even more juicy.

After the meat’s rested, get to carving and enjoy your smoked spatchcock turkey. You’ll find it’s moist, tender and exploding in flavor. 

Benefits of Smoking The Turkey

There are several benefits to smoking the turkey instead of oven roasting. First & foremost, (for me) the cooking mess is significantly lessened. No greasy roasting pans to wrangle.

Also, the meat cooks significantly faster than traditional oven roasting. RancherMan says it’s less than half the cook time.

And we often cook the turkey in advance, carve it and layer it attractively on a metal serving tray. We’ll cover the meat tightly with heavy foil and freeze.

Pre-roasting or smoking your turkey before the big day saves time and lets you enjoy your holiday along with your guests #TexasHomestaeder

Then we’ll bring it out of the freezer in enough time to allow it to thaw in the refrigerator. That way on the big day all we need to do is slowly warm it up and serve it.

So on the day of our holiday gathering there is no greasy roasting pan to deal with, no big kitchen cleanup. The carcass was dealt with days ago and the Homemade Broth has already been made. (and oftentimes even Pressure Canned)

That means we get to actually enjoy our holiday along with our guests instead of being shackled in the kitchen with a pile of greasy roasting dishes!


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2 thoughts on “How To Spatchcock & Smoke A Turkey With Pecan Wood

  1. Paula Boales Pabis

    Just want to be sure I understand-the pecan wood and water are placed over the coals. Is that correct? And the wood smokes, even in water? How much water is in the pan? Just an inch or so in the bottom or is the wood completely covered? I always smoke our turkey by putting the wet wood directly on the coals. The way you describe sounds like it would use less wood and be easier. I really enjoy your blog. Thanks in advance.

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      The procedure you use is another common way of smoking meat, but you’re right – the wood burns more quickly. RancherMan puts the lump charcoal in the smoker box and lights it, waiting for it to ash over. Then the soaked pecan pieces and water are poured into a metal pan, which is then placed on the rack over the smoking lump charcoal in the smoker box. The smoke travels through the smoker box and into the actual grill, smoking the meat. He inspects the smoker box periodically to see if he needs to add more water to the pan containing the wood chips. How quickly the water evaporates is variable, depending upon how much water you’ve placed in it as well as the surface area of the pan/water. ~TxH~


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