How to Get Crispy Skin on Smoked Turkey

A Guide to the Perfect Smoked, Crispy Turkey
Milton Greenaway

Pulling your turkey out of the smoker to find it has rubbery skin is the stuff of horror movies. It doesn’t matter how you are smoking it, crispy turkey skin is always the aim. 

Thankfully anyone who wants to know how to get crispy skin on smoked turkey can now rest easy – the answer is simple. So read the following guide as we reveal some of the best tips for crispy success.

Why Your Turkey Soft and Rubbery

The first thing to understand is why your turkey is coming out soft in the first place. Low temperatures and excessive moisture are the main culprits. 

If you are basting, using a liquid bring, wrapping, or tenting your turkey then you are not going to get crispy skin.

The temperature needs to stay within 275°-325°F for optimal crispiness and try coating it with oil and your pick of herbs to help it crisp up. 

How to Get Crispy Skin on Smoked Turkey – Start with the Heat

It all starts here, the best temperature to get a crispy turkey skin is 275°-325°F. Anything lower will be the number one reason why you are getting soft and rubbery turkey skin that no one enjoys biting down on!

You want to render the fat from the turkey skin into the meat to crisp up the remaining skin. 

Of course, you don’t want to increase the temperature too high. Since the turkey skin is thin, it crisps up well but will burn if the temperature is too high. 

One problem many people encounter when smoking their turkey lies in the “stall”. This is the internal meat temperature, and if it stops rising, you won’t get crispy skin. This is not going to happen if you cook that bird at temperatures over 275°F.

Tips for Crispy Skin on Smoked Turkey

Try butterflying the turkey to help it cook evenly, this will produce more even heat and crisp up the skin.

Pre the bird by Dry brining it first. Rub it with kosher salt (it is more coarse and will help penetrate the skin and leave it in the fridge for 24 hours. That way, the salt can get into the meat and loosen the muscles, allowing it to juice up when it cooks. 

Some experts recommend adding baking powder to a dry rub. This can create minute bubbles on the surface which can create a large surface area to make it crispier. 

Use a probe thermometer to check the internal temperature of the bird. 

Wrap the wings and tips of the legs in kitchen foil to stop them from overcooking from the higher temperatures. 

Should I Tent My Turkey for Crispy Skin?

There is no need to tent your turkey if you want crispy skin. Because the skin is already thin, hours of smoke will cause it to blacken. A couple of hours in, it should have enough protection from the smoke it has already taken to make tenting unnecessary.

Although it is tempting to copy the techniques some TV chefs have adopted and create a foil tent in the latter stages, they cause moisture under the foil. Steam = a soft turkey skin so avoid tenting at all costs. 

Maybe you don’t want a dark turkey. If this is the case, you can build a tent after a couple of hours of smoking, but ensure there is plenty of airflows to get to the bird and keep the temperature high.

Why Wrapping Your Turkey in Foil is Bad

Besides the wings and leg tips later in the smoking process, avoid wrapping your turkey in foil if you want crispy skin.

Wrapping meat in foil is a technique used to keep it moist but is best kept for brisket – we’re not looking for soft skin here! There will be too much steam to crisp the skin, so you will end up with a rubbery turkey. 

Dry or Wet Brine

A long soak is not going to help get your turkey skin crispy and although it will stop it from drying out, a wet brine can dilute the flavor of the meat. Also, a wet brine will soften skin.

Try dry brining if you want to enhance the flavor. Rub it with salt or meat rub the day before cooking as it will dry out the skin, but help the bird retain moisture as it cooks. 

It is up to you as to whether or not you wish to skip this step. 

Injecting Your Turkey

Injecting your turkey is a good way of introducing other flavors into the mix, and using a stock and melted butter can be good for an aromatic bird when injected throughout the breast. 

Quick Wins in Your Smoker

Some smoking sets up involve cooking coals on one side, with meat out of the way. When this is the case, moving the bird to the other side of the grill (directly over the coals) towards the end of the cooking process is a good way of getting crispy skin. When using this method, pay close attention or risk burning the turkey.

Using low heat and cooking the bird slowly is another way. It stops juices from dripping and disturbing the smoke which can impact the flavor of the meat. 

Finish Turkey in the Oven

If your smoker finds it difficult to maintain high temperatures then you will find it near impossible to get crispy skin.

Try finishing the turkey off in the oven once the smokey flavor has worked its way into the meat. You won’t lose any of the taste, so once the internal temperature hits 145°F, then cooking it at 275°-325°F in the oven can crisp the skin.

Be mindful of overcooking at this point and keep a close eye on its progress. 

Final Word

So, there are various methods for getting nice crisp skin on your smoked turkey, and it all starts with the temperature. A little prep goes a long way, but don’t despair even if it is soft and rubbery after smoking, there are still ways you can crisp the skin (think of the oven method).