How Long to Smoke a Turkey in a Pit Barrel Cooker

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Knowing how long to smoke a turkey on a Pit Barrel can be tricky, there are a few variables you need to think about like how to monitor and get a consistent temperature, or what kind of fuel and configuration needs to be used. I have covered these and much more to help you cook a perfectly tender and juicy turkey.


How Long to Smoke a Turkey in a Pit Barrel Cooker

You need to cook your turkey in the Pit Boss for 3.5-7 hours until the internal temperature of the turkey legs reaches 180°F and the turkey breast reaches 165°F.

How to Monitor the Pit Barrel Cooker Temperature

We need to know how to accurately monitor the ambient temperature, before covering how to work out all of the timings…

Use an ambient temperature probe in the middle of the Pit Barrel cooking chamber, this will allow you to know what temp you are cooking at, as well as any temperature adjustments you need to make.

If you find the temperature in the Pit Barrel gets too hot, use the vents to decrease the temperature.

At What Temperature Should I Smoke Turkey?

The recommended temperature for turkey is typically between 225°F and 275°F (107°C and 135°C). This range will allow the turkey to cook evenly and slow, but still ensures it will remain juicy and tender and absorb the smoky from the pellets or wood chips you use.

How to Estimate the Cooking Time of a Turkey

To estimate the cooking time you need to know the cooking temp & weight of the bird.

Turkey cooks at a rate of 15 minutes per pound at 250˚F.

Turkey cooks at a rate of 12 minutes per pound at 350˚F.

Let’s say you have a 15-pound turkey and your smoker has a temperature of 350°F.

12 x 15 = 180 minutes. (3-4 hours)

Remember to ask your butcher or check the packaging to know the exact weight.

How a Pit Barrel Cooker Disperses Heat

Before moving further let’s understand how a pit barrel disperses heat, this simple but effective design doesn’t come with electronic parts. This style of smoker uses airflow and insulation to adjust or maintain heat.

A gallon steel drum sits level on a 3-point stand, with a removable charcoal basket at the bottom and a standard grill grate on top.

You can add mods like a stainless steel hook or chimney inside the barrel, there is an adjustable air vent on the lower side with a saleable lid for the top. The best thing is because the turkey is hanging, you don’t have to baste the turkey, it does it itself.


How to Set the Coals in Your Charcoal Basket

We want to cook the turkey with indirect heat, set the unit coals over half of the coal basket. Let them burn and smoulder for 20 minutes before adding your. This will allow you to hang the turkey on the cooler side.

Note: make sure you use charcoal lumps in the Pit Barrel

Will I Need to Add More Hot Coals?

This will depend on the size of your turkey, charcoal burns for around 6-7 hours. So if you estimate the cooking time being longer then you might have to, but you won’t for an average sized turkey.

When to Add the Wood Chips for Smoking

Add your favorite wood chips before adding the turkey, I like to use apple wood for smoked turkey. You will need to add a handful of chips every 30 minutes during the cooking process.

Check the Cooking Capacity of Your Pit Barrel Cooker

Turkeys are huge birds, some can reach up to 30 pounds! Check if your barrel cooker can fit in comfortably.

When to Add Your Turkey & How to Situate

Have a turkey hanger or standard hanger rod set up in your Pit Barrel, place the rods down the flap of skin in the neck and into the crevice.

This will ensure the turkey is secured and equally balanced, put the turkey in your Pit Barrel. With the steel rods installed as per above after the coals have settled for 20 minutes, place the turkey on the side opposite the lit coals. Close the lid and monitor the internal temperatures.

Note: Place the bottom side of the turkey towards the coals, so the thighs and legs are closer to your heat source.

Can I Smoke a Frozen Turkey?

Always defrost the turkey before cooking, this is how you tell if a turkey is thawed, otherwise working out the cooking time will be inaccurate.You will risk food poisoning because the center will not cook through.

Should I Add a Charcoal Chimney in the Pit Barrel Smoker?

A chimney is added to help get a consistent temp and re-direct smoke fog, as we want to smoke the turkey, you will not need to add a chimney.

Reheating Your Turkey

Yes you can reheat smoked turkey legs or a full turkey after it has been smoked but its recommended you heat them in the oven rather than the smoker with some juices in the pan to ensure they stay moist.

What Internal Cooking Temperature Does the Meat Need to Be?

You are monitoring 2 internal temperatures on your digital meat thermometer.

The probe in the dark meat should read 185°F.

The probe in the white breast meat should read 165°F.

These are the safe temperatures for consumption.

It is important to accurately monitor these otherwise you risk poultry food poisoning.

Smoke On!


Hi, I’m Charlie, I have been meat-smoking and grilling for the past 15 years. I have an array of different smokers, thermometers, and have a love for finding the right wood and charcoal combo My favourite recipes are my EXTRA CRISPY smoked pork belly, juicy pulled pork, smoked brisket, duck poppers, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill).

I loves sharing his tips with beginners, helping them navigate the world of smoking. I find it’s not just about cooking; it’s a quest for that perfect smoky flavor.

You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling recipes with you!

You can read more about me on our About Us page.

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