Friday, October 23, 2009

Weekend Warrior Recipe: Smoked Turkey with Sage Rub and a Maple-Butter Glaze

It's recipe time for Turkey Week. We smoked this turkey last Sunday. I say "we" because Eric and I took turns passing the baby and passing the turkey interchangeably. Our two little butterballs. It was a cold, crisp fall day and Grandma had just come to visit from Georgia. Because we will miss her at Thanksgiving, the day turned into an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner with friends, wine, roasted root veggies, and a tender smoky bird.

If you didn't read earlier in the week, we brined the turkey first. Rinse the turkey out of the brine and pat dry. While it is air-drying a bit, make your rub. I started out throwing around some wild ideas for the rub, but Grandma and Eric voted for traditional flavors. You may smoke the turkey on just about any equipment - a Weber grill with an indirect space and a drip pan underneath, or any type of smoker. I used the electric smoker on this turkey, because why? Because we wanted to go to a puppet show with Grandma and the kids! While we watched the Russian witch Baba Yaga try to eat poor Ivan, our dinner smoked away. We made it back in time to add more smoke and prepare the glaze.

RECIPE: Smoked Turkey with Sage Rub and a Maple-Butter Glaze

The Rub
1/2 cup dried ground sage
3 tbls all spice
1/2 cup kosher salt
3 tbls cracked pepper
Olive oil and/or butter
4-6 garlic cloves, cut in half

Inside Cavity: Wedges of oranges, grapefruit, garlic, bay leaf and fresh sage

The Turkey
All Natural, no solutions added. Because we brine our turkeys first, we don't want any other flavors or solutions added to the turkey (and besides, ew.)
Size should be 10-16#. If you want to smoke a larger turkey, then you must start it at a higher temperature to get it up to a safe internal temperature. I suggest smoking two smaller birds.

The Glaze
1 stick of salted butter
3/4 cup maple syrup
If you want to add a kick - 1 tbls of cayenne pepper.


Before you apply the rub, we must discuss the one danger of a smoked turkey...rubbery skin. Smoking it at the low temperatures needed for barbecue doesn't let the skin crisp up. This first tricks will make that skin a skin-picker's heaven. At the end of the cooking time, we'll turn up the heat to crisp it up a bit more. You may also "start high and end low" as does Danielle of Diva Q.

1. Gently lift up the skin of the turkey and rub olive oil between the meat and the skin. Add butter pats in the pockets along with garlic cloves and 1/3 of the rub.

2. Add the citrus wedges, garlic cloves, fresh sprigs of sage and bay leaf inside the turkey cavity. You can't stuff a turkey for the smoker because it won't get up to the proper internal temperature quickly enough.

3. Rub olive oil on the outside of the skin, in all the nooks and crannies. Spread the rest of the rub over the bird on both sides.

4. Use a skewer to lightly close up the cavity and to pin back the wings.

5. Make your low charcoal fire or preheat your electric smoker or gas grill and "get your smoke on". Add a water pan and include some orange wedges and sage in the water.

6. Smoke turkey for 4 hours at 200-225 degrees. Heat the glaze ingredients on medium-low until blended. Apply the glaze every 30 minutes until turkey is done (about another 2 hours for a total of 6 hours cooking time). The internal temperature when done should be about 180 degrees, but at least 160.

7. For the final 30-40 minutes, add coals to your fire to get the temperature up to 350-375 degrees. Add the glaze liberally. This will crisp up the skin even more. If using an electric smoker, put the turkey in a preheated oven for the final skin crisping.

8. Let turkey rest 20-30 minutes before carving.


  1. I just wanted to say that This is the BEST "How To" article from someone who actually knows great BBQ. Thankyou! I operate Green Leaf BBQ ( in CA.

    I'm going to share several tips if I might with my BBQ friends...

    Great Blog, I'll be checking back. It even looks like we correspond with the same BBQ folks!

    Best Regards, and nice to see such thorough work! - Tim Bryan, Green Leaf BBQ Shop & Catering.

  2. Thank you, Tim! Always great to meet another BBQ friend. Great website, by the way. And feel free to share my blog with your friends. Cheers! Julie

  3. My guests really liked it but I felt that the turkey came out too salty. Between the brine, the rub and the butter there was way too much salt. I would cut the rub salt by a half and use unsalted butter.

  4. Thank you for the feedback, Anonymous. I just have to ask - did you use kosher salt? I always specify kosher, but use half the amount if using table salt. Best, Julie

  5. How do you keep the temperature hot in the smoker?

  6. I just used this recipe (in NJ) and your brining the bird as well and was absolutely delighted, as were all other who partook of the fowl...if I'm ever in Seattle again I'll do my best to look you up.

  7. Hello,

    Indeed a beautiful post, I know Electric smoker is very important, I myself love it & that's why I have recently purchased one of the top electric smokers around, because once I put my money on it, I need it to work for years.

    By the way, Keep up the good work.