The Best Tip For Avoiding A Mess When Smoking A Turkey

As something Americans do every year on Thanksgiving, cooking a whole turkey is a culinary skill with many ins and outs to be aware of. Granted, much of that comes from alternative cooking methods people want to try rather than just oven-roasting a bird as they have for the last 35 years. While different cooking methods for turkey can be a great idea — and smoking is a fantastic one — it's also important to take note of some cooking tips if you're taking things in a new direction.

Sometimes those tips surround safety, like preventing your turkey from exploding in the deep fryer, racking up a body count. Other tips are simpler, where failing to follow them won't result in paramedics being called out but might still make your day a little worse. The good news is that many of these tricks are easy to manage. Like how to avoid a huge mess when you're smoking a whole turkey: Use a drip pan. It'll make your life a whole lot easier, prevent potentially dangerous flare-ups, and may make the final meal turn out better.

Drip pans help you keep clean and make the meal better

Drip pans are a simple but also fairly crucial piece of kit. Even in a smoker, a drip pan will keep things from getting incredibly messy. Disposable ones (if you don't feel like cleaning the drip pan after) aren't even expensive, at less than $2 per pan online. The obvious use here is to keep your smoker from becoming a gunky poultry mess. 

We should also note how this works if you're unfamiliar with smokers. They typically have two racks: A top rack, where the food goes, and a bottom rack. The drip pan goes on the bottom rack below the meat to catch the drippings. Since smoking is a process of indirect heat (more like an oven with wood chips than a direct flame in grilling), this doesn't present a problem. You're in this for the long haul: It's a process that can take up to eight hours, depending on the size of your turkey.

But there's another important use for the drippings: gravy. If you've ever had gravy made with turkey juices, you know it's the best part of Thanksgiving dinner; a gift from the meaty gods. What works in an oven roasting pan works from a drip pan in a smoker, and you can get delicious gravy the same way: By saving the drippings for later.

There are other tips to be aware of when smoking a turkey

Of course, using a drip pan isn't the only thing you should be aware of if you're smoking a turkey. First, you should always spatchcock it — removing the spine and folding it open — if your turkey is going in the smoker because it'll cook more evenly and faster. This also means you shouldn't stuff it, but you shouldn't do that anyway because it's a potential safety risk. Smaller turkeys (8-12 pounds) are also better options than larger ones because they're easier to cook evenly, and younger turkeys are more tender anyway. And, of course, always cook your turkey to a consistent internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any bacteria lurking inside.

Follow simple tips like these, and your smoked turkey game will be A+ in no time. Nobody will complain about a dry bird, and there won't be a huge mess to clean up. It's a win-win.