How To Get Crispy Skin On Smoked Turkey (5 Secret Techniques)

Is there anything more disappointing than sitting down to a mouth-watering feast of smoked turkey, cranberry sauce, and all the trimmings, only to discover it has rubbery skin?

One simple mistake can ruin one of the favorite holiday meals.

The flavor of smoked turkey adds another level to your meal, but one of the potential problems is chewy skin.

The balance between the high heat needed to get crispy skin and keeping the meat moist is a delicate one that may seem impossible.

Read on for some ways to ensure your smoked turkey has crisp skin and tender meat every time.

Why is My 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 flavored 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, Soaking, or Wet Brining the Turkey

As with the other two methods, basting with butter or chicken broth every 40 minutes is another way to maintain moisture.

Applying a liquid to the bird will have a cooling effect on the outer layers, and keep the skin too moist, almost like pouring cold water over it each time.

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.

Soaking in wet brine a fresh turkey the day before a cook is a great way to add flavor and keep the meat moist, but will soften up the skin and make it that much harder to crisp up. 

So How Do I Keep the Skin Crispy?

There are a few little tricks to help achieve the winning combination of smoked turkey and crispy golden skin.

Dry the Skin Thoroughly

Firstly, start with completely dry skin. Use a paper towel to blot off excess water and moisture.

Leave the bird uncovered in the refrigerator overnight to dry the skin out or uncovered for an hour before cooking to air dry.

Blot dry with a paper towel to make sure all the surface moisture is removed. The drier the skin at the beginning of the process, the crispier the skin will become under direct heat.

Dry Brining

If you do want to brine the bird, use a dry brine mixture instead of the traditional wet brining mixture.

Apply a layer of kosher salt and your brine ingredients to the outside of the turkey and let sit in the refrigerator a day or two before you want to cook. Dry brining helps draw out excess moisture while maintaining flavorful meat.

A herb and spice rub that contains salt is just as effective as dry brining while adding some extra flavor. Baking powder will also give the same result of drawing out excess moisture.

Alternatively, if you prefer a wet brine, leave it to soak then dry the skin thoroughly.

Cover in Baking Powder and Rub the Skin with Fat

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. 

A herb and spice blend, hot sauce, or garlic powder can be added for some extra taste to the crisp skin and herb butter adds a delicious element.

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.

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!


Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi, I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking, and getting out in the yard with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork, smoky pork loin, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill)

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 adventures with you!

You can read more on our About Us page.

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