Smoked Turkey vs Roasted Turkey: Which Is Better?

Smoked Turkey vs Roasted Turkey

Choosing the style to adopt for your turkey is worth deep consideration since there are two prominent styles.  Besides, you want to ensure you get the best of your bird during the holiday season. Should you smoke your turkey or roast it? Is anyone of the two styles better than the other? If these are your curiosities, then this article is a good decision for you.

In this piece, you will get to know if smoked turkey is better than roasted turkey. We will take you through the processes, and show you the differences between the two methods and what makes each unique.

In Short: Yes, smoked turkey is better than roasted turkey. This is because smoked turkey of it’s a very distinct taste. More so, with a smoked turkey, you can achieve both a unique flavor and crispy skin. With roasting, you only get the crispiness but not the flavor the smoked turkey has.

Is Smoked Turkey Better Than Roasted Turkey?

Deciding which method of making your bird is the best depends on what quality catches your fancy: the crispiness or the taste? If you’re someone who likes your turkey crispy, roasting is better for you.

On the flip side, if you’re more particular about a pronounced taste, smoked turkey is the option you should always go for.

Why is smoked turkey better than roasted turkey? How can you make smoked turkey crispy? Keep reading to have a better understanding of these.

The Process: Smoked Turkey

To smoke a bird, it is soaked in seasoned brine to supply its flavors and make sure it doesn’t dry out during the smoking process. The smoker is made to be at 185 to 225°F temperature. The process takes about 5 to 8 hours depending on the size of the bird. Larger birds take a long time before they are done.

The average time to prepare a large bird of about 13 pounds is 7 hours. This is why it is advisable to divide a large bird into two halves before proceeding with the smoking process to reduce the cooking time and get the bird on the feasting table as soon as possible.

You can always test to know if the turkey has been perfectly smoked using a kitchen thermometer. If the internal temperature of the bird has reached 160°F, then you can set it down in a standing position from the roasting pan and allow it to rest. This should take about 15 minutes before you proceed with carving.

Generally, the smoking process takes a long time because the fire has to be relatively low and regulated. This is because it is not easy to regulate the charcoal while smoking, and as such, it is better to play safe by ensuring the bird doesn’t burn without getting cooked from the inside.

Tip: Don’t remove your bird from the smoker until you can see the juices rushing out. This happening is a sure test that your bird has been perfectly smoked.

smoked turkey
Image: @mikekhill via Twenty20

The Process: Roasted Turkey

A bird is roasted at a pre-heated oven temperature between 325 to 350°F. This is why roasting a turkey takes a shorter time: a maximum of 4 hours for an average size bird between 4 to 8 pounds. The beauty and uniqueness of roasted turkeys lie in their crispy skin, so some individuals who are ‘crispy freaks’ raise the oven temperature above 350°F to get some extra level of crispiness.

To know when the bird is done, the internal temperature reaches 160°F when the kitchen thermometer is set at the turkey breast. The turkey breast is the best place to test for the internal temperature because it is the fattest part of the bird, so if that part is done, you are certain the whole bird is ready.

Tip: Irrespective of the cooking method chosen, 165°F is the standard internal temperature according to USDA. At the specified 160°F for both processes, the bird would reach 165°F while it is at rest.

Smoked Turkey And Roasted Turkey: The Differences

Here are the four main differences between smoked turkey and roasted turkey.

1. Taste

Smoked turkey has a more pronounced and unique flavor mainly because of the smoke from the wood/coal and secondarily because of the seasoned brine.

Generally, there is always a distinct taste that accompanies any food cooked with a smoker or firewood. Roasted turkeys, on the other hand, have a gentle flavor.

It will take the cook some extra effort and some kind of innovation in seasoning the turkey to improve the taste more than what the usual always is. Regardless of what the cook does, however, the distinctive taste present in smoked turkeys cannot be achieved in roasted turkeys.

2. Crispiness

The crispiness is the unique quality of roasted turkeys. This is usually because of the high oven temperature used in the process of roasting them, causing the skin of the bird to dry out.

Some people even pat the bird dry before placing them in the oven.

For a smoked turkey, crispy skin is not directly achievable because it is smoked because they have to be cooked on a lower heat, causing the wetness retained from the brine it was soaked in to prevent the skin from drying out and becoming crisp.

3. Cooking Time

Roasted turkey is usually ready in a shorter time because the cooking temperature is always hotter.

Smoked turkey takes a longer time to cook at a lower heat temperature. Also, roasted turkey stands an advantage because it is easier to regulate the temperature of the oven. This is not easy with a smoker.

4. Gravy Making

A smoked turkey cannot be used for gravy making because it is usually difficult to get drippings during the smoking process. This is so because the smoke is done on the grill grates on your smoker. Smoked turkey gravy is however always prepared separately.

Roasted turkeys on the other hand can be easily used to make gravy because it is easy to get the drippings from the oven.

How Long To Let Turkey Rest After Cooking

Tip: You can make gravy for your smoked turkey using the neck, giblets, and backbone to get the turkey flavor in your gravy. If you’re concerned about the drippings, in particular, you can get some when slicing the turkey after you’re done with the smoking. When you carefully cut the smoked turkey, some of the juices will flow onto the board. You can scoop* and pour those into your gravy before you serve.

Smoked Turkey vs Roasted Turkey: Our Verdict

A smoked turkey is better than a roasted turkey because smoked turkeys have a unique taste compared to roasted turkeys, and there’s no unique advantage a roasted turkey has (crispiness and gravy) that your smoked turkey cannot get if you know your way.

How To Make Your Uniquely Flavored, Smoked Turkey Crispy

As much as a smoked turkey can be mouth-watering with all the trimmings, you can be disappointed by the dry and chewy taste it has. The good news is you can enjoy your holiday meal without that feeling.

Below are the two major things you need to do to get a perfectly smoked turkey that is both tasty and crispy.

1. Do a dry brining

To achieve a crispy smoked turkey, use a dry brining mixture in place of the old wet mixture you are used to. You do this by applying a layer of kosher salt and your brine ingredients to the turkey and leaving it in the refrigerator for like 2 days. This help to do away with unneeded moisture while smoking the turkey.

However, if you’re used to the wet brining, go ahead with it, but ensure you pat the skin dry before smoking the bird.

2. Increase and maintain the temperature

High heat is a big deal for crispy skinning. To get crispy skin for your smoked turkey, maintain a temperature of 250 to 325°F. This will make it cook faster, dry up the water from the brine, and crisp up the skin of the turkey.

Cooking at temperatures lower than this will certainly result in dry and chewy turkey skin. You should also maintain the temperature by adding coals during intervals.

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Final Summary

A smoked turkey is better than a roasted turkey because of its unique flavor. However, you might not like them because of their dry skin.

Not to worry, you only need to ensure two things to achieve a crispy turkey in addition to the addictive taste: water and crispiness are two parallel lines that can never meet; ensure the bird is dry before you proceed with the smoking process, and then, increase and maintain the smoking temperature while the process is on.

With these two things ensured, a smoked turkey would beat a roasted turkey every day. Smoked turkeys can be served with cranberry sauce and candied yams, just like roasted turkeys.

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