Smoked Turkey Rub Recipe: With 10 Ingredients That Are in Your Kitchen

August 11, 2023

My fiery smoked turkey rub is an aromatic blend of 10 ingredients including brown sugar, smoked paprika, kosher salt, chili powder, thyme, rosemary, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, and black pepper.

As a restaurant prep cook, smoked turkey was a favorite menu item because it was juicy and packed full of flavor. However, the props here go to our hot and firey smoked turkey rub. Let me show you how to make it.

In this post, I share the best-smoked turkey rub recipe and tell you how to smoke your turkey. I will also tell you my favorite things about this rub, how to use it, and some tips on how to store it. Let’s get started:

smoked turkey rub recipe

My Fiery Smoked Turkey Rub Recipe

Just like with any good recipe, this hot rub starts with preparedness. Gather your ingredients in the following quantities:

  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder


  1. Measure your ingredients into a small bowl. This rub is enough to coat a whole turkey and still have some leftovers for other recipes.
  2. Give it a good mix. When well blended, let it sit for a short while before rubbing it on the bird.

What I Love About This Smoked Turkey Rub

Here are a few things I love about this fiery rub:

  1. It packs a punch. With a combination of aromatic herbs, peppers, and seasonings, this homemade smoked turkey rub hits the ultimate balance of sweet and hot every time.
  2. It’s aromatic. The spices and herbs in the rub release their aromatic compounds during the smoking process, filling the air with enticing scents but most importantly, the aroma is imparted to every bite of your smoked turkey.
  3. It boosts crust formation. The brown sugar in the rub not only balances out the widely different flavors but is also responsible for that killer brown crust that we all droll over.
  4. This is all thanks to the Maillard process when the amino acids in the meat react with the brown sugar in the rub resulting in a delicious bark. This process is also called the browning reaction.
  5. If nutrition calories make you weary of using brown sugar, consider using coconut sugar, beet sugar, or date sugar. I recommend BetterBody Foods Coconut Palm Sugar or Now Foods Beet Sugar.
  6. Keeps the turkey juicy. The salt content in the turkey seasoning acts as a natural brine that helps the turkey retain moisture during the smoking process. This is one of the reasons we let the rub sit on the turkey before it gets to the smoker.
  7. Is highly versatile. This rub is highly customizable, allowing you to adjust or swap the ingredients to your liking to suit your palate.
  8. Short prep time. Making this rub is relatively simple and requires basic ingredients often taking less than 3 minutes to prepare.
  9. It stores well. When handled properly, this rub can last up to a year without going bad.
Whole Turkey Marinated with Dry Rub

Which Other Turkey Rub Recipes Should I Try?

The classics include:

Cajun Turkey Rub

Cajun seasoning features several peppers and that’s why it is a favorite for those who love extra heat. To whip some up, combine salt, brown sugar, chipotle powder, jalapeno powder, chili powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and top this off with dried chili flakes. Easy peasy!

Creole Turkey Rub

If heat is not your thing, try a creole rub. Creole seasoning is herbal-based. Combine basil, sage, oregano, thyme, bay leaves, rosemary, brown sugar, and salt.

Garlic N’ Butter Rub

Garlic butter rub for smoked turkey remains a classic because it is simple and very flexible. It basically consists of a butter, garlic, and salt base. To this, you can add pretty much any of your favorite spices like pepper, sage, cinnamon, cumin, or thyme.

Citrus And Herb Butter Rub

Just as the name suggests, this rub requires zest from your favorite citrus fruit. You can go with lemon zest, orange zest, or a mix of both. Mix in sage, rosemary, basil, bay leaves, thyme, and of course salt.

Once blended, let it sit in the refrigerator. I recommend a waiting period of 2 days for the citrus notes to be more potent.

My Hot and Sweet Smoked Turkey Recipe

Armed with a well-seasoned whole bird, your grill or smoker, a meat probe, and your choice of flavored wood let’s get to smoking the turkey:

Prep the Smoker

Pour a good amount of fuel into your grill such that you will not keep interrupting the cooking process to refuel. I will be using Fire & Flavor Cherry Wood Pellets because the taste of cherry on turkey hits the spot. Additionally, cherry wood imparts a gorgeous reddish color on the meat’s crust.

Preheat the smoker to 225°F. I like to start low because the turkey will absorb most of the smoke flavor before the crust starts to form. Starting low gives my bird sufficient time to suck in a lot of smoke before cranking up the temperature.

My Traeger wood pellet grill comes with a smoke boost feature that comes in handy when smoking large meat cuts like whole turkey.

Smoking the Turkey

With the smoker ready, place your bird on the cooking grates with the turkey breast side facing up and let it cook for 30 minutes before flipping it and smoking the other side for another 30 minutes. Keep the lid closed to reduce heat loss.

After 1 hour, the bird has absorbed a sufficient amount of smoke so crank up the smoker temperature to 325°F for the final cooking phase.

Baste 2-3 times with salted butter to keep the crust crispy and enhance its color. Depending on the size of your bird, it should take between 3-4.5 hours to cook through.

Your turkey is done when the internal temperature of the turkey breast gets to 165°F. To confirm this, grab your meat thermometer and drive it into the turkey breast at a slanted angle, avoiding the bone. If it reads lower than 165°F, let it cook longer.

Roasted Turkey with Salad

Rest and Carve

Once the turkey reaches is done, carefully remove it from the smoker and let it rest for at least 30 minutes This gives the bird time to redistribute its juices throughout the meat.

Carve and serve!

How Do I Apply Dry Rub On My Turkey?

Apply your dry rub using these step-by-step instructions:

  1. Take your bird out of the refrigerator and let it sit for 30 minutes. This ensures your turkey cooks evenly.
  2. Lay your turkey on a cutting board and use kitchen paper towels to pat it dry all around.
  3. Now scoop some of the dry rub and sprinkle it inside the bird’s cavity. Spread it in order to cover as much ground as you can inside the turkey.
  4. Once done, set the turkey down and sprinkle some more dry rub all around the outside of the turkey.
  5. Go in with your hands and spread the rub to cover the entire turkey. Making sure to get under the skin too.
  6. Once perfectly coated, let the bird sit in the fridge for at least an hour. In my experience, letting it sit overnight yields the best result.

How Should I Store Smoked Turkey Dry Rub?

Proper handling of your dry rub goes a long way to increase its shelf life.

Pour the leftover rub into an airtight container and keep it away from sunlight, heat, and moisture. When your rub is exposed to heat and sunlight, the essential oils in the spices break down becoming a lot less potent and effective.

Moisture on the other hand makes the dry rub clump up into chunky bits that are hard to use. With long exposure to moisture, your rub can become rancid, sticky, and smelly. The exact opposite of a good dry rub. It goes without saying, you will have to toss it.

What is a Smoked Turkey Rub?

Smoked turkey rub is a blend of herbs, spices, and seasonings applied to a turkey before it hits the smoker. Some common ingredients are familiar across most turkey recipes. They include brown sugar, paprika, onion and garlic powder, black and cayenne pepper, and herbs like thyme and rosemary.

For a deep smokey flavor, consider using smoked spices like smoked paprika and smoked black pepper. I like Badia Smoked Paprika and Holy Smoke Hickory Smoked Black Pepper.

However, you can blend your spices depending on your preferences and what is available in your pantry until you nail what hits the spot for you. That said, don’t go crazy. They have to balance out and complement each other.

Hot Seasoning Dry Spice Rub

Turkey Dry Rub vs Turkey Dry Brine vs Turkey Wet Rub

When it comes to turkey seasoning, you can go either of three ways. You can use a dry rub, a wet rub, or a dry brine:

Dry Rub

Turkey dry rub is essentially a mix of dried herbs and spices we rub onto the surface and cavity of the turkey. With a dry rub, you can be sure of a flavorful bark.

However, since dry rubs do not have a fluid medium, they do not sufficiently penetrate the skin so you can expect denser areas of your bird like the turkey breast and thighs to remain bland and under-seasoned.

For this reason, I strongly recommend using dry rubs alongside brines or marinades.

Wet Rub

A wet rub is basically a dry rub with a fluid medium. The most commonly used wet ingredients are olive oil and melted butter.

Since wet rubs include a fluid medium, it is comparatively much easier for the meat to absorb the spice blend. This makes for a flavorful, juicy smoked turkey with delicious crispy skin.

Dry Brine

Dry brining on the other hand involves salting the turkey and allowing it to rest for at least 4-5 hours before cooking. So how does this work? Salt absorbs moisture from the turkey and then the turkey reabsorbs this moisture when it is salted.

In this way, it utilizes the natural moisture in the bird to create a concentrated brine that flavors and tenderizes the turkey. Dry-brined turkeys are evenly flavored, soft, and juicy. For the best outcome, brine your bird overnight in the refrigerator.

Wet Brine

Wet brining involves submerging your turkey in a brining solution usually made of salt and water. I recommend wet brining whole turkey for a maximum of 4 hours. This method is a foolproof way to add plenty of moisture to the meat.

The biggest drawback with a wet brine turkey is that most of the moisture absorbed is water. So overdoing it can easily ruin your whole meal.

For this reason, some grillers use beef broth, chicken stock, and even salted light beer to brine their turkey or poultry. Take it from someone who has tried this, the chicken will not absorb the broth, stock, or beer flavors.

Do You Have to Brine a Turkey?

Do you have to? No. Do I recommend it? Absolutely. Why?

Brining your turkey enhances its flavor and tenderizes it. If you skip this step, you will be able to taste the difference because the meat under the crust will be lacking in flavor and have a comparatively rough texture.

Raw Turkey Meat Soaked on a Seasoned Wet Brine


1. Should I Season My Turkey Before Smoking?

Yes. I recommend seasoning your turkey before smoking to add extra flavor besides flavored wood.

Turkey seasoning adds an unmatched flavor to your bird and makes for a scrumptious-looking crust that tastes even better.

2. Should I Rub Oil On My Turkey Before Seasoning?

Yes, you should. The oil acts as a binder to help the spice blends adhere to the turkey. Without it, most of the rub will shake right off as soon as you move your meat to the roasting tray.

I recommend using olive oil or yellow mustard as a binder before seasoning and smoking turkey.

To Recap

The best-smoked turkey rub is made of an aromatic blend of brown sugar, smoked paprika, kosher salt, chili powder, thyme, rosemary, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, and black pepper.

This rub is full of amazing flavor, easy to prep, highly versatile, and stores well. I don’t know about you but that sound like the full package to me!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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