How To Get Crispy Skin On Smoked Turkey

There is nothing like a smoked turkey but one of the best parts is the crispy skin of smoked turkey along with the cranberry sauce, and all the trimmings. But its can be tricky getting juicy, moist, flavorful meat as well as crispy skin.

The balance between the high heat needed to get crispy skin and keeping the meat moist is tough. Read on for some ways to ensure your smoked turkey has crisp skin and moist meat.

What Really Goes Into Getting Crispy Skin?

Before we go any further it is worth understanding the science behind getting crispy skin on poultry. Poultry skin contains collagen and fat, both of these need a really high temperature to render down and become crispy.

It is much easier to get crispy skin on your turkey in the oven because ovens are designed to get that hot. Whereas smokers are for going low and slow. This can mean you end up with rubbery skin. Below we will discuss the tools and methods you need to ensure you get crispy skin on your turkey every time.

How to Get Crispy Skin on Turkey

Getting crispy skin on your turkey starts before you put it in the smoker, it mainly happens in the prep stage. After defrosting your fresh turkey you want to brine it. There are two brining options, dry brining and wet brining.

Both work well in conjunction whether your cooking a spatchcock turkey or smoking a whole turkey. If you don’t have time you can just do one of these brining methods.

Wet Brining

First you want to take note whether your turkey is pre-brined. If it pre-brined it might say on the label it was soaked in water and salt, that means its already brined, that means you can skip this step. I prefer to buy a turkey that isn’t brined and do it myself.

When you wet brine you add flavor and moisture, the water and salt permeate the meat. This helps the the proteins to breakdown as well ensure the meat stays moist during the low and slow smoking process.

You should brine for 24 hours and no more than 30 hours. Once the turkey is brined, dry it off it with paper towel.

Dry Brining

If you only wet brine your turkey, towel dry it and apply a rub, you won’t end up with crispy skin. I also like to dry brine the turkey, this is a process in which you apply a dry brine to the skin which dries out the skin whilst in the fridge.

You need a kosher salt turkey rub, you apply the rub to the inside and outside of the turkey. If your cooking a spatchcock turkey, make sure you season both sides. Then you put the turkey in the turkey uncovered for for at least 2 hours but if you have time overnight is best. The salt in the dry brine will draw the moisture out, and dry the skin of the turkey, this ensures when you smoked it you get that delicious crispy skin.

You can also use baking powder instead of the rub, this also to also dry out the skin and draw out the excess moisture.Once the skin is thoroughly dried, you can coat the entire bird in baking powder and then rub it with butter or oil. Oil will produce a better result, as butter naturally contains water. 

What You Need to Ensure Crispy Skin

  1. Brining Container: A large stock pot, ideally 16 quarts, is perfect for brining. If brining multiple turkeys, consider using a cooler. If using a cooler, continually add ice to maintain a safe temperature, mimicking that of a refrigerator.
  2. Chopping Boards: You will need this for preparing as well as slicing.
  3. Paper Towels: You need lots of paper towel for drying the skin. You’ll need plenty for patting dry the skin after brining.
  4. Probe Thermometer: You need a leave-in style thermometer so you can monitor the internal temperature of the turkey while it is smoking.
  5. Instant Read Thermometer: While the probe thermometer will help you monitor the internal temperature over the whole cook, you should also get an instant read thermometer, make sure you check the temperature in the thickest parts of the turkey.
  6. Kosher Salt: You should make sure you have kosher salt, you want to avoid table salt as that has iodine it in.

Mastering The Smoking Process

It doesnt matter what type of smoking your using, it all about smoking at the correct temperature. I have also included some information on the type of wood that produces crisper skin, my thoughts on basting and resting your turkey.

Does Your Choice of Wood Chips Matter?

The wood chips you pick not only contribute the flavor but also the moisture level of the turkey. I usually go with wood chunks or wood chips of fruitwood such as applewood or cherrywood. Both burn at a low rate and impart a mild smoky flavor which is good for poultry

Turkey Preparation

We discussed this in the previous section, you need to either wet brine or dry brine or if you have time do a combination of both. You want the skin of the turkey to be dry. Remember to prep down the turkey and use a leave in thermometer to ensure you monitoring the internal temperature of the turkey. You want to make sure the thickest part of the bird which is the breast reaches 165°F, if you overcook it the skin may go rubbery.

Resting The Turkey

Once you hit the 160°F in the thickest part of the breast you can remove the turkey from the smoker and place on a wire rack. Don’t tent the turkey as we mention below, this can create steam and make the crispy go rubbery. All you want to do is place foil loosely over the turkey.

Skin Not As Crispy As You Hoped?

if you find the skin still isn’t crispy as you like you can give it a quick blast in the oven. Set your oven to 450°F or 232°F and place your turkey on a baking try and allow it to cook for a few minute. Watch it like a hawk, you dont want the turkey to char.

Different Smoker Temperature and Cooking Time

Using a Pellet Smoker

You want to start with a lower temperature of around 250°F. This is the best way to smoke a turkey on a pellet grill and still get crispy skin. This temperature will render the fat and collagen, after cooking for two hours increase the temperature to 375°F, this will crispy up the partly rendered skin. If your smoker doesn’t go this high, you can put the turkey in the oven instead at 375°F.

Using a Charcoal Smoker

If your using a charcoal smoker, you want to get a temperature of 275°F and the key is holding a consistent temperature. This allows the smoke to penetrate the meat and render the fat so that it crisps up.

What Makes Turkey Skin So Rubbery?

There are a few reasons why skin can become rubbery. See them below so you can avoid them!

1. Maintaining the Temperature

The skin of a bird gives the first impression, and crispy golden brown skin wins over soggy grey every time. Low and slow is perfect for the gorgeous smoky flavoured juicy breast meat, but the process does nothing for achieving crispy turkey skin.

High heat is required to render some of the fat from the skin and crisp it up. Cooking the turkey at temperatures between 275-325 is the ideal temp. Cooking at temperatures lower than that is the biggest cause of soft and rubbery skin.

Of course, too high and the fragile skin burns away and the flesh dries out resulting in dry white meat.

If you have a frozen bird, defrost it completely in the refrigerator before preparing for cooking. Frozen or partially defrosted turkey will struggle to reach even internal temps and will release too much moisture. Regular monitoring with a digital meat thermometer is a must.

2. Avoid Tenting Turkey

Tenting is a process that allows the meat to rest and preserve the juices. it involves folding aluminum foil around the meat, once removed from the grill, in a tent shape to keep the meat moist and the internal temperature up while the meat is resting.

Unfortunately, it also causes moisture to become trapped under the foil and create steam, which will soften the skin and prevent it from crisping up.

You can avoid this by making sure there is good airflow around the bird while still maintaining a high cooking temperature.

3. Avoid Basting or Using a Pan

As with the other two methods, basting with butter or chicken broth every 40 minutes is another way to maintain moisture. However applying a liquid to the bird will have a cooling effect on the outer layers, and keep the skin too moist,

Avoid sitting the turkey in a dish that will allow the juices to pool around it. This will just tend to boil the meat and leave it soggy. The more contact with moisture the skin has, the harder it will be to achieve crisper skin.

Not Sure How Much Turkey You Need?

If you’re wondering how many pounds of turkey breast per person, you need to allow for 1¼ lbs of raw turkey per person, and for a whole turkey allow 1¼ lbs of raw turkey per person

Our Secrets Techniques to Crispy Skin

  • Cooking time will vary just ensure you have a thermometer, so you can an eye on the internal temperature.
  • Plan out your cook, you don’t want the smoked turkey done too early before your guests are ready to eat. The longer its sit around the soggy the skin will be.
  • If you have a wood smoker that struggles to reach high temperatures, the turkey can be transferred to a conventional oven for the final cook and crisping up.
  • Try smoking a butterball turkey, they are already been seasoned which makes it easier to get crispy skin.
  • If your use a rub make sure you apply a binder on the turkey first. You can use mustard or oil
  • If you are smoking your turkey in an electric smoker, make sure you use cherrywood chips, which work well with the flavor profile.
  • Using a Pit Barrel? You need to smoke your turkey for at least 3.5-7 hours on a Pit Barrel until the internal temperature of the turkey legs reaches 180°F and the turkey breast reaches 165°F.
  • The meat won’t lose any of the amazing flavors, as it’s already been infused with the smoke flavor during the first stages of the cook.
  • Looking forward to leftovers? If you want to know how to reheat smoked turkey legs or whole turkey, its recommended you use an oven and put some juice in the pan to ensure it stays moist.

As you may have guessed, any excess moisture is the enemy when trying to crisp up the skin. The only thing worse than soggy skin is dry turkey meat!

Try some of the above methods with your favorite smoked turkey recipe and hopefully your next turkey will be the magic blend of crispy skin, smoky flavor, and juicy moist meat!

Smoke On!

Charlie

Author: Charlie Reeves
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.

Hungry For More?

Smoke On!

Charlie

Author: Charlie Reeves
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.

Hungry For More?

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