Never look back, this juicy Smoked Pulled Turkey is going to take over. It’s so flavorful and simple to make, piling into sandwiches, tacos, wraps, and of course, your mouth. Read along for this comprehensive guide to show you how to smoke pulled turkey.
Traditional turkey will always hold a special memory, but it just doesn’t cut it for me anymore. Just like most meats from my childhood, I’ve searched for ways to improve the flavors, textures, and juiciness through the process of barbecue.
Smoking a whole turkey is a huge improvement on its own, but narrowing it down to the very specific process of making smoked pulled turkey was even better.
Make sure to pair this with Cranberry Honey Mustard BBQ Sauce!
Why This Process Works
- Easy peasy turkey. There are only a few steps with minimal preparation, which gives you more time for those mashed potatoes. Or beer.
- Cook it early, or the day before. I’ve found it’s best to serve it fresh, however, the flavor and textures are not compromised if you reheat it properly. This is a great meat for meal prep too.
- Very juicy. Trust me, smoked turkey breast has never been better. Combine that with this specific process and you’ll see that every bite is very juicy. The smoking process does not dry it out.
Important Facts about Pulled Turkey
Let’s start off from the top because there are some things you’ll want to know before you get started:
- Use boneless turkey breast. Skip the whole bird, unless you want to break it down. We’re going to keep it as simple as possible and focus on this one kind of meat. Boneless is best.
- Let the meat rest. Just like most barbecue, it’s best when it rests before shredding. This makes sure that the juices retreat back into the muscles, instead of squeezing out. We want juicy AF turkey.
- There’s butter. During the wrapping phase, butter is added to promote moisture and flavor. Unsalted butter is recommended as the turkey will already be seasoned.
Step 1: Prepping the Turkey
Purchase a boneless turkey breast. That will save time in removing the bones.
If not, or if you’re breaking down a whole turkey, the bones are pretty easy to remove. On the underside of the breast, opposite of the side with skin, you can slide a sharp knife alongside the bone and simply remove it.
Remove the skin as well, carefully so as to not slice up the meat. It should pull off relatively easily, with a little aid from your knife.
You should remove the skin. This will open up the meat for more seasoning, which means more direct flavor from the spices and smoke. Turkey skin is not nearly as pleasant to eat as chicken skin, and it also gets very rubbery when shredded.
Step 2: Seasoning the Breast
Season the turkey with your spices of choice. Personally, we love salt, pepper, and granulated garlic as a simple combination – it’s extremely flavorful and you won’t regret keeping it simple.
Sprinkle the seasoning of choice on liberally. I highly recommend doing this a few hours before if possible to allow the salt to dry-brine the meat. Doing so will highly benefit the turkey.
What is Dry-Brining?
This is a fancy name for the simple process of salting and resting meat before cooking it. Doing so provides the same goals of wet-brining without diluting the natural flavors of the meat. The food becomes deeply seasoned and remains very juicy.
Season the meat, and allow it to rest uncovered in the fridge for a period of time. It’s as simple as that. Osmosis and diffusion do the magic, drawing out excess moisture and sucking back in salt, creating a natural brine that penetrates deep into the muscles.
Benefits of Dry-Brining
- Crispier bark, crust, or skin on the outside.
- Deeply seasoned food throughout every bite.
- Higher juice and moisture retention.
- Simple process, very little work involved.
You’ll be using this same method for ALL meats, including whole chicken, turkey, pork, chicken wings, and more. Dry-brining works well for anything that will be smoked slowly, or grilled directly over the coals.
How Long Should the Meat Dry-Brine?
The time required for dry-brining depends on what you’re doing and the size of the meat. Smaller cuts that you’ll cook for a shorter period of time and searing on the grill won’t take much longer than an hour or so, and larger cuts like the Prime Rib above need to dry-brine overnight. Most meats will be seasoned properly if rested overnight.
Equipment for Dry-Brining
Aside from your seasoning of choice, the only equipment that I recommend is a wire rack on a baking sheet. Allowing the meat to be elevated provides even airflow around the meat, drying out the outside on the bottom as well, which lifts it out of its own juices. Having a soggy bottom goes against what you’re trying to accomplish.
Step 3: Smoking Stage
Set your smoker for 250°F and get that turkey breast in there.
Make sure the meat isn’t cold, right from the fridge when you add it to the preheated smoker.
Allow the turkey to smoke for a few hours. Smoke until the turkey reads 165°F internal temperature in the thickest part. Good news, you don’t need to spritz, just let it go! I promise you, it won’t be dry.
Step 4: Wrap the Turkey Halfway Through
Depending on the size of your turkey breast or thigh, it might take 2-3 hours to reach the midpoint.
Once the thickest part reads 165°F, remove the turkey and place it on top of a few tablespoons of unsalted butter, laid in heavy-duty foil. Add a little more butter to the top, and wrap it up tight.
Place the wrapped turkey back into the smoker and allow it to continue to cook for a few hours.
The final target temperature is about 200-205°F. The probe should be able to slide in through the top with little resistance.
Be careful of the butter and juices! Do not place your probe in the side, or everything will leak out!
Rest, Shred, and Serve
Allow the turkey to rest, fully wrapped, for at least 30 minutes.
I recommend stabbing the side of the foil over a serving dish to drain out the buttery juices. This reduces the chances of losing or spilling it when you remove the turkey from the foil.
Place the turkey in its juices and carefully shred. Everything should pull apart very easily. Now you can take a bite of the best, smoked pulled turkey you’ve ever had.
Frequently Asked Questions
This recipe shows using a turkey breast, but it also works with thighs. The key is to cook to temperature, not with time. Both produce delicious results.
Through my testing, it is not required. It certainly won’t hurt and is another opportunity to add flavor. Spritzing can slow down the cooking process so just be aware.
You can, and it will still work. Removing the skin allows for more seasoning to interact with the meat directly, and also allows for more smoke penetration. Plus, it’s gross when you shred it.
More Pulled Meats to TryPrint
- 1 boneless turkey breast, about 2 1/2 pounds
- 2 tablespoons fine kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 4 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Remove the skin from the turkey. Also, remove the bones if you were not able to find a boneless cut.
- Mix the salt, pepper, and garlic together. Season all sides of the turkey breast generously. Allow it to rest, uncovered in the fridge for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
- Preheat the smoker to 250°F. Remove the turkey from the fridge while it warms up. Place the breast in the smoker and allow it to cook for a few hours, until the internal temperature in the thickest part reads 165°F.
- Remove the turkey breast from the smoker and place it in a large heavy-duty foil sheet, big enough to wrap the breast completely. Place half of the butter underneath the breast, and lay the other half on top. Wrap up the breast very tight, and place back in the smoker with the seam facing up.
- Cook the breast until the temperature is about 200-205°F internal temperature. Make sure you check the temperature from the top, not the sides, or the liquid will spill out.
- Allow the turkey to rest while wrapped for at least 30 minutes at room temperature. Carefully pour out the liquid into a serving dish. Shred the turkey and add it to the liquid, mixing to incorporate.
- Serve and enjoy!
- Absolutely remove the skin, this is a crucial step for the best flavor and outcome.
- Be careful when using a probe once the breast is wrapped. There will be a lot of liquid inside that could spill out.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Dry Brine: 2 hours
- Cook Time: 5 hours
- Category: Chicken & Poultry
- Method: Smoking
- Cuisine: Turkey
Keywords: pulled turkey, pulled meat, smoked turkey, smoked turkey breast, smoked pulled turkey, bbq turkey