Smoked Turkey vs. Fried Turkey: Which Is Best for Thanksgiving Dinner?

Thanksgiving turkey
November 10, 2021

Every year, when Thanksgiving comes around, most of us spend a lot of time in the kitchen getting ready all the dishes that will leave us needing individual wheelbarrows to get us back to our beds at the end of the day. The main draw of the Thanksgiving meal is undoubtedly the turkey. That alone takes plenty of time, starting with picking it out, cooking it, and then stuffing and carving it.

Almost everyone knows what an excellent roasted turkey should taste like. However, there's no reason that you have to repeat the same method of preparation each year. 

Do you want to try something different this Thanksgiving? Don't worry—we aren't talking about Tofurkey. Instead, how about a fried or smoked turkey versus the classic roasted turkey? In this article, we dig into the turkey and the various ways you can safely prepare it for your family.

Ways to Cook a Turkey and How They Differ

Roasting a turkey is the typical way to prepare them for the Thanksgiving season. Roasting is a pretty drawn-out process, particularly if you want to stuff the turkey. You will need to have a stuffed turkey in the oven at 350°F for 15 minutes per pound of turkey. For example, when preparing a 12-pound turkey, you need to keep it in the oven for about three hours.

Fried Turkey

However, there are other options when it comes to turkey preparation. For instance, you can fry the turkey. A deep-fried turkey will likely appeal to the younger generation of Thanksgiving attendees. However, the succulent skin you get when you have a fried turkey will appeal to almost anyone.

Pros of a Fried Turkey:

  • Frying a turkey is likely one of the fastest ways you can get this bird cooked. That means if you wake up late on the fateful morning, you can still have the turkey deliciously cooked through in no time. Compared to the 15 minutes per pound for a roasted turkey, the cooking time of fried turkey is about three minutes per pound.
  • You can't knock that delectable, crispy skin. Frying the turkey is one of the only ways you can get this juicy result.

Cons of a Fried Turkey:

  • Safety can be a big issue when it comes to frying a turkey. You should only fry a turkey outdoors since a surprisingly significant amount of people have burned their house down trying to fry a turkey indoors.
  • You need to have the utmost care when you are frying a turkey. The oil is kept at a scalding temperature and will result in immediate burns when it comes into contact with your skin.

Smoked Turkey

Another excellent option for Turkey Day? You can smoke your turkey. Again, this gives you an entirely different flavor profile for the sumptuous bird. There are still pros and cons that come with the process, but if you love smokey flavors, you will likely be won over anyway.

Pros of a Smoked Turkey:

  • Smoking opens the door to all kinds of flavor experimentation. For example, you can smoke your turkey with different woods to give it various flavors.
  • Smoking, when done correctly, allows you to maintain moist meat.
  • Once you get it started, it is a very low-maintenance option. You can continue to prepare plenty of other things while your turkey cooks.

Cons of a Smoked Turkey:

  • Again, this process has to happen outside. You should always smoke meat outside. And since it's a turkey, you will need a large smoker.
  • Smoking the bird is the most time-consuming cooking processe.
fried turkeyfried turkey

How to Safely Fry a Turkey

Although we already mentioned the dangers that come with this option, another disclaimer never hurts. Be aware that frying a turkey is an inherently dangerous undertaking. Treat the process with dual attention and respect, and you should be safe.

Setting Up the Fryer

You can't use a typical kitchen fryer to fry your turkey. Instead, you will need to get a special vat on a stand and set it up outdoors. Set it up in an area where there is no chance that a child or pet can go anywhere near it. If it spills on them, it will cause third-degree burns, and water won't effectively wash it off. 

An excellent option to keep your fryer safe from the elements and delineate an area around the fryer is to use a grill gazebo. In addition, you can add safety tape around the outside to keep everyone but designated fryers out of the area.

Create a "Safety Zone"

Once you have sorted out the space and ensured its safety, make sure you fully understand the way your fryer works before setting it up. Then, once you get it going, never leave it unsupervised. You can set up a schedule with other responsible fryers if you want someone to relieve you. Otherwise, set up your camping chair and be prepared to stay out there the entire time the turkey cooks. 

It is also best to have all your necessary supplies easily accessible. Set up a camping table outside of the "oil zone" so that you are ready when the time comes to check the temperature of the turkey and proceed with cooking it.

Each deep fryer works slightly differently, so we won't give you set-up instructions here. Instead, read and re-read the specific instructions for yours.

Pro tipPro tip


Instead of vegetable or canola oil, use peanut oil. You can get peanut oil to higher temperatures without it catching fire.


Prepare the Turkey

Now that you have the deep fryer ready check your turkey two or three times. You must completely defrost the turkey. Putting a wet or icy turkey in hot oil can result in a run to the hospital. Double-check the inside of the turkey since it can harbor ice in the cavity, particularly between the rib bones. It is much better to be safe than sorry in this case.

Once the oil has reached approximately 350°F (177°C), insert the fry hanger into the bird. Ensure it has caught very well since a dropped turkey is another way disaster can strike.

Cooking the Turkey

Before lowering the turkey into the oil, make sure you are appropriately dressed. That means you shouldn't have any skin showing. You should have solid shoes, heavy oven mitts, jeans or work pants, and a long-sleeve. You can turn the burner off when it comes to lowering the turkey to ensure no flare-ups when the turkey enters the vat. However, there are risks associated with relighting the burner after the turkey is in, so take your pick.

As the turkey cooks, you should check the instant-read thermometer frequently, particularly after about half the time the turkey should be done. It helps to have another person check the thermometer while you slowly lift the turkey out. Once the internal temperature of the fried turkey is 145°F (63°C), you are ready. Take it carefully out of the oil and let it rest for 20 minutes before carving it.

bbq turkeybbq turkey

How to Safely Smoke a Turkey

Cooking a smoked turkey is a much safer process than frying. A patio gazebo or other dedicated outdoor space is recommended to keep the smoker protected from the elements and separated from children and pets while it is being used. 

Set Up the Smoker

Start by preheating the smoker to 250°F. You can load it with whatever wood you want to try. However, for first-time turkey smokers, we recommend apple wood.

Prepare the Turkey

Make sure your turkey is defrosted, although it isn't as crucial with a smoked turkey. Coat the aluminum pan you will use with cooking spray and tuck the turkey's wings under the body.

Stuff the cavity of the turkey with your choice of stuffing and use twine to tie the legs together. Then use your rub and spread it all over the turkey.

Cook the Turkey

Place the turkey in the smoker and refill the wood chips whenever it needs it. You can baste with broth about every 30 minutes.

Check the thermometer after about five hours. As soon as the thickest part of the turkey registers 165°F, it is ready. Let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes before you transfer it to the plate and carve it.

Set Up Your Celebration Space

Take advantage of the good weather with an outdoor Thanksgiving celebration. Set up a pop-up canopy and chairs or use your outdoor gazebo to bring the holiday outside and enjoy the beautiful fall colors along with your scrumptious food. 

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