Smoked Turkey Breast Side Up or Down (Which Way is Better?)

Not sure whether you put the turkey with the breast facing up or down?

They are benefits and challenges to both options.

Don’t worry! I’ve tested both ways and found out which one leaves you with the juiciest bird (plus that delicious crispy skin).

See my results below!

Should You Smoke a Turkey With the Breast Side Up or Down?

You should smoke a turkey with the breast side up.

With most smokers, the heat comes from below. The breast meat can dry out quickly so having it away from the heat source is best.

However, if you have it breast side down, the fat from the thighs and legs can run down and baste the turkey breast.

There are pros and cons to both methods. To decide which one is better for you, keep reading.


Should You Smoke a Turkey With the Breast Up?

Smoking a turkey breast side up is the most common way.

Pros of Smoking a Turkey Breast Side Up

This is the most common way to smoke a turkey.

It’s quite easy because this seems to be the most natural way for a turkey to sit.

This method can help the breast to cook more quickly.

It also helps you achieve a golden crispy skin on the turkey!

Cons of Smoking a Turkey Breast Side Up

If the heat source is above the cooking area, the breast may dry out.

Indirect heat on the breast is the best way to prevent drying out the meat.

Should You Smoke a Turkey With the Breast Down?

People who use this less popular method swear by it.

Pros of Smoking a Turkey Breast Side Down

The breast meat will be juicier when it is fully cooked.

Since the dark meat will be above the white meat, excess fat will drip onto the white meat.

This means that the usually dry breast meat will have more access to juicy flavor.

Science doesn’t exactly back that up, though.

Other people theorize the juices don’t evaporate from the breast in this position.

But science doesn’t support that, either.

However, most people agree that smoking a turkey breast side down makes it juicier.


Weaknesses of Smoking a Turkey Breast Side Down

The biggest con is that the turkey won’t be picture-perfect.

The turkey may shift to an odd shape and you won’t get the same golden skin.

Some people recommend flipping the turkey halfway through.

However, flipping over a heavy piece of hot meat can be dangerous.

To prevent unnecessary burns, maybe just skip this step.

Then you don’t have to worry about dropping the turkey on the floor a couple of hours before dinner time.

Instructions to Smoke a Turkey Breast Side Down

You can smoke a turkey breast side down the same way you smoke a turkey breast side up.

Choose a Turkey

First, choose a turkey.

You want a turkey that is 15 pounds or less for the smoker.

You’ll also want to factor in how much turkey per person you will need.

A 15-pound turkey will feed about 10 people.

You should estimate 1.5 pounds per person.

If you have more than 10 people, it would be better to smoke two 12-pound turkeys rather than a larger bird.

Thaw the Turkey

Next, thaw the frozen turkey in the fridge. This will take about 24 hours per 5 pounds.

A 12-pound turkey should be in the fridge for about 3 days.

You can place the unwrapped turkey on a roasting rack to improve the airflow.

If you are short on time, you can thaw the frozen turkey in cold water or the microwave.

Do not thaw the turkey at room temperature or in hot water. This can cause bacterial growth and food poisoning.

It is worth the extra time to thaw it correctly.

Prep the Turkey

Now, prep the turkey.

Brine it for up to 24 hours if you choose.

Rub melted butter and some yummy seasonings on it.

Remove the neck and giblets.

Some people may insert aromatics, such as an apple or an onion, into the turkey’s cavity.

Smoke the Turkey

It’s finally time to smoke the turkey. Put the entire bird into the preheated smoker and wait.

If the smoker is at 250°F, you can estimate about 30 minutes per pound.

So twelve pounds of turkey will take about six hours to cook.

A good rule of thumb: resist the temptation to check on the turkey.

Every time you open the smoker, you are increasing the cooking time.

Using a meat thermometer, check the internal temperature at the thickest part of the bird. If you notice the temperature isn’t rising, the turkey breast may have stalled.

Make sure the meat thermometer is not touching the bone as this can alter the results.

The breast is the best place to check the internal temp. Once the internal temperature reaches 165°F, the turkey breast ready.

The drumsticks may reach 180°F by the time the breast is ready. That is good!

Drumsticks usually taste better once they’ve been cooked to a higher temperature.


Rest, Carve, and Serve the Turkey

Let the roast turkey rest for about 30 minutes before carving.

This is an essential part of the cooking process to ensure a flavorful turkey.

You can easily remove the thighs when the turkey is breast side down.

You will want to flip it over to remove the drumsticks and breasts.

Should You Smoke a Spatchcock Turkey Breast Side Down?

Planning on a spatchcock smoked turkey? This is one of my favorite ways to cook turkey. You get a more even cook and don’t have to worry about stuffing. Make sure you place the breast side up for spatchcock turkey.

Tips for Smoking a Turkey

Pat the raw turkey dry with paper towels. The dryer the turkey skin, the crispier it will become.

Use a drip pan for easy cleanup. You can use the drippings to make gravy.

If you don’t have a smoker, you could use a charcoal or gas grill.

You may need to tweak your method, but it will still be delicious.

Spatchcocking the turkey will decrease the cooking time.

This method ensures that heat will distribute to the entire turkey more quickly.

While kosher salt and black pepper are perfect seasonings for a turkey, you can branch out.

Some people like onion and garlic while others may season it with citrusy flavors.

Use your favorite wood chips to add additional flavor to the turkey.

Many people prefer using apple, cherry, or hickory wood chips.

Turkey Recipes

Smoking Turkey in a Gas Smoker

Smoked Turkey Tails

Smoking Turkey in an Electric Smoker

Turkey Gravy

Smoked Turkey Wings

Smoked Turkey in a Pit Boss

Whether you have an electric smoker or pellet grill, why not try cooking your bird outside this year?

Now you have all the information you need to roast the perfect turkey!

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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