Smoking Turkey the Day Before: Things to Know

Did you find yourself wondering if you can smoke that bird the day before or overnight? We’ve got the answers you’re looking for.

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Maybe you’re looking to add some spice to that turkey on Thanksgiving day, and you’re thinking about throwing it in the smoker the day prior. Hey, maybe even it ain’t Thanksgiving Day, but you’ve got the hankering for some smoked turkey and the only time you can cook it is the day before.

Bless your heart, darling, no matter what it is that brought you here. Because you and I are going to delve into tips, tricks, and techniques for smoking turkey the day prior — and making sure it tastes its best on the day of eating.

Can You Smoke Turkey the Day Before?

Now, you may be wondering if it’s even a good idea to smoke turkey the day before. So, for those of you asking, here’s my take on the matter below.

Why, yes, you absolutely and positively can smoke turkey the day before! The trick is to cool it down and refrigerate it promptly so it stays safe to eat, then reheat it with the right technique come time to serve it.

It won’t come out as crispy and as tender as when just smoked, but it’ll nevertheless be delicious and juicy if you reheat it properly.

The good folks at the U.S. Department of Agriculture warn us that cooked food shouldn’t stay out for more than 1–2 hours in the temperature range of 40 to 140°F, which food safety experts have dubbed “the danger zone,” lest it get overgrown with bacteria and become unsafe to eat.

So the trick, if there is one, is to act quickly and not waste any time once the bird’s done resting. Let’s you and I talk about what that means.

How to Smoke Turkey the Day Before

Follow your smoking recipe as you would normally do. Most smoked turkey recipes recommend a cooking time of 45 to 60 minutes per pound, depending on the temp of the cooking chamber and the weight of the bird.

Remove the turkey from the smoker when it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F at the thickest part of the breast and allow it to rest for 20–30 minutes at room temp. Carve it up into small, portion-sized pieces and place them in shallow food storage containers with the lids shut.

Put the plug in the kitchen sink, fill it with ice water, and place the containers in the ice-water bath to cool the pieces of turkey quickly. It’s important to make sure that the lids fit tight, now, to keep that ice water from getting to the turkey meat!

When the turkey’s cool enough for refrigeration, put it on the lower shelves of the fridge — remember, cold air sinks to the bottom, so that’s where it’s coldest — and keep it there come time to reheat and serve it the following day.

How to Reheat Refrigerated Smoked Turkey

Preheat the oven to a temperature of 300°F, with the rack set to the middle position, for a good quarter of an hour.

Meanwhile, take the turkey out of the fridge, spread the pieces out in a single layer on a big, shallow plate, and drape a kitchen towel on top. Bring half a cup of chicken broth to a gentle simmer and pour it over the towel until it’s damp.

Cover the whole thing in aluminum foil and warm it in the oven until the turkey’s internal temperature is once more at 165°F. Remove the smoked turkey from the heat before plating it and serving it on the table.

What About Smoking Turkey Overnight?

It’s true, technically speaking, that you can smoke turkey at any old time of day, including overnight. But let’s be real here, y’all. Smoking a turkey ain’t exactly a set-it-and-forget-it kinda activity, now is it? It takes a little bit of time and effort to get that perfect smoky flavor and juicy tenderness just right.

For one, you ought to heat up that smoker of yours to a cooking temperature of 225°F — give or take five degrees — and make sure it stays that way throughout the smoke. Light your pit an hour before smoking and, before sliding the bird in, stabilize it at the desired temp.

Once again, your cooking time’s anywhere between 45 to 60 minutes per pound. Rule of thumb here is, the bigger the bird, the longer it takes the heat to get to the center and cook it to doneness. Some folks put foil on their birds, and others crank up the heat to 300–350°F before or after smoking. I don’t; I’ve come to the conclusion that leaving the bird alone and taking a cat nap or two does wonders.

If you’re fixing to smoke a turkey, make sure you’re ready to give it the attention it deserves, and I reckon you’ll be rewarded with a meal for a king!

By Sammy Steen

Sammy, Barbehow's editor, is a die-hard carnivore, barbecue whisperer, and self-proclaimed master of the grill.

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