Smoked Beer-Can Turkey Recipe

Smoked Beer-Can Turkey

Serious Eats / Joshua Bousel

Why It Works

  • Brining the turkey for 12 hours ensures incredibly moist flavorful meat.
  • A tall (24-ounce) can of beer provides enough stability to vertically support the weight of a 12-pound bird.
  • The beautiful mahogany skin of beer-can turkey smoked over apple wood on the grill makes for a brag-worthy showstopper.

Why stop with beer-can chicken, let's go for broke with beer-can turkey! Since it's been disproven that roasting a chicken on a beer imparts moisture or flavor—the beer never boils so it never produces steam—this is truly just for looks and the ability to say you've done it.*

For this recipe, I decided to go with a standard barbecue flavor, starting with a sweet apple juice and molasses brine, which was paired with a simple barbecue rub after the bird was done brining.

I really wanted to find one of those Heineken keg cans to call this "keg-can turkey," but alas, I could not locate one in the quaint town of New York City, so instead opted for a tall 24-ounce can, which worked perfectly in terms of weight and size to support the 12-pound beast.

It was then smoked—you can do this on a kettle grill, but will need to extend vertical cooking space by using something like an extension ring or the Smokenator—over apple wood until the breast hit 160°F. What emerged was truly something worthy to brag about.

The skin turned a beautiful mahogany color, and the meat was incredibly moist and flavorful, with a light sweetness, a little spice, and a distinct smokiness. My only regret is not doing a chicken alongside it so you can get a real sense of the scale of this accomplishment when the two birds are set next to each other, because if I'm not going to really show off, what's it's all for?

*On a grill, roasting vertically does help by keeping the breast meat further from the fire, cooking it slightly slower than the more forgiving dark meat, but this isn't really an issue in the more even heat of the smoker.

Recipe Facts

Active: 60 mins
Total: 16 hrs
Serves: 12 to 14 servings

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For the Brine:

  • 2 quarts apple juice

  • 1 cup kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

  • 1/4 cup molasses

  • 3 quarts ice cold water

  • 1 whole natural turkey, 12 to 14 pounds

For the Rub:

  • 1 tablespoon paprika

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon chile powder

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1 medium chunk of apple wood or other light smoking wood

  • 1 (24-ounce) tall can of beer


  1. To make the brine: Whisk together apple juice, salt, brown sugar, and molasses in a large container until salt and sugar are dissolved. Stir in 3 quarts ice cold water. Submerge turkey, breast side down, in brine. Place container in refrigerator and brine for 12 hours.

    Whole turkey submerged in apple juice and molasses brine

    Serious Eats / Joshua Bousel

  2. To make the rub: In a small bowl combine paprika, salt, chili powder, garlic powder, black pepper, onion powder, thyme, oregano, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Set aside.

    Seasoning and spices for turkey dry rub in a bowl

    Serious Eats / Joshua Bousel

  3. Remove turkey from brine. Pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Using fingers, gently separate skin from meat underneath breasts and around thighs. Spread about 1 1/2 tablespoon of rub under breast and thigh. Sprinkle remaining rub all over turkey, inside and out.

    Whole turkey on rack rubbed with spices

    Serious Eats / Joshua Bousel

  4. Fire up smoker or grill to 325°F, adding smoking wood chunks when at temperature. When the wood is ignited and producing smoke, drink or empty 1/3 of beer and place can on smoker. Carefully lower turkey onto beer can, legs down. Adjust turkey legs so it stands vertical stably. Cover and smoke until an instant read thermometer registers 160°F in the thickest part of the breast, about 2 to 3 hours.

    Whole smoked turkey propped vertically on a beer can in a grill

    Serious Eats / Joshua Bousel

  5. Remove the turkey from the smoker and allow to rest, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove beer can; carve and serve.

    Whole smoked turkey propped vertically on a beer can on a serving platter

    Serious Eats / Joshua Bousel

Special Equipment

Smoker or grill, instant-read thermometer

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
382 Calories
14g Fat
4g Carbs
56g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12 to 14
Amount per serving
Calories 382
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 14g 19%
Saturated Fat 4g 21%
Cholesterol 212mg 71%
Sodium 1108mg 48%
Total Carbohydrate 4g 1%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 56g
Vitamin C 1mg 5%
Calcium 43mg 3%
Iron 2mg 14%
Potassium 512mg 11%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)