Most barbecue lovers are quite familiar with the binding process.
Slathering up your meat in mustard, oil, or other condiments to help any seasoning or dry rub stick throughout the smoking process.
But, although using a binder is popular for pork ribs or for pulled pork, is it really worth using a binder for smoked turkey?
Now we’re asking the important questions.
Here’s whether you should use a binder if you plan to smoke your turkey, what the best binders are for smoked turkey, and if you really NEED to use one at all.
Whether you call it a binder, slather, or rub glue, the desired purpose remains the same.
A binder is simply a substance used in cooking to help any seasoning or rub stick to the meat throughout the cooking process.
But, smoking a turkey is completely different from smoking pork ribs or a pork shoulder, so should you really use a binder for smoked turkey?
Well, the truth is you absolutely CAN use a binder for smoked turkey, but the binder you use should suit the flavor profile and cooking style of the turkey.
Using an oil or butter-based binder for a smoked turkey will help any seasoning or rub stick to it during the smoking process, help build up a stronger flavor, a crispier skin, and contribute to that beautiful golden-brown color!
Where possible, avoid using overly sugary binders, as they can more easily cause your smoked turkey skin to become black.
What If You’ve Brined Your Turkey?
Brining your turkey can do wonders for the tenderness and juiciness of the cooked meat. But, brining and binding your turkey are two completely separate processes.
In fact, adding an oil or butter-based binder to your brined turkey will actually further help the meat retain its moisture. The binder and seasoning act as a barrier between the harsh heat of the smoker and the moisture within the meat.
Plus, since it’s best practice to pat dry and air out your turkey after it’s been brined, adding an oil or butter binder often saves the skin from charring, or even becoming rubbery and chewy from the excess water within the skin.
So, even if you’ve brined your turkey, it’s definitely worth applying an oil or butter-based binder for maximum rub retention, and subsequent flavor and texture!
Best Binder For Smoked Turkey
When you’re smoking traditional barbecue meats like brisket or pork butt, one of your main focuses is to build up a thick and flavorful bark. What helps heaps is using a binder and a generous application of dry rub.
But, when you’re smoking turkey, building a strong and flavorful bark isn’t really the main goal. Smoked turkey is best served beautifully golden-brown with a crispy AND tasty skin.
That’s why the most effective binders to use for smoked turkey are those that are fat-based, like butter or oil.
These types of binders allow sufficient grip from any seasoning or dry rub, but also help the turkey skin crispen and not burn.
More traditional binders like mustard and mayonnaise can still be used when you’re needing something more heavy-duty too.
So, the best binders for smoked turkey are:
And here’s why.
1. Butter As A Binder For Turkey
Sometimes I genuinely think butter is magic, or maybe that’s how I justify using it so much.
But really, butter works so well as a binder for smoked turkey, as not only does it act as a binder for any seasoning, but it actually enhances the flavor and appearance of the finished turkey.
Butter even crispens up the turkey skin! It helps dehydrate the turkey skin and prevent moisture reabsorption.
Melt your butter thoroughly, pour it carefully over your turkey, and rub it in with a brush so it covers the entire surface.
Of course, butter can burn at high heat, so keep it low and slow for this one folks.
2. Oil As A Binder For Turkey
Cooking oils claim a clear second place when it comes to using a binder for smoked turkey. Especially light or neutral oils, such as olive oil, grapeseed, or even canola.
You can use oil as a binder whether it’s in its liquid form or as cooking spray. Oil works in a similar fashion as butter – but doesn’t burn as easily!
Cooking oil is rather flavorless, but works well as a binder for any seasonings or herbs to stick to, helps crispen up the skin, and keeps it succulent. Great for smoking a whole turkey, turkey legs, or even when smoking a spatchcocked turkey.
3. Mustard On Turkey
Alright, we’re about to enter a new realm. Butter and oil are amazing if you’re looking to keep it traditional: a simple seasoning and a beautiful golden brown skin.
But, for those that are looking for more of a classic barbecue experience and plan to add a fair amount of dry rub or seasoning to your turkey skin, then a thicker, more potent binder tends to work better.
Ta-da. Introducing classic American mustard, the can’t-go-wrong approach to binding.
You see, mustard delivers a very subtle flavor, but it’s the perfect consistency to act as a glue for any seasoning or dry rub.
There’s a good reason why it’s the most popular binder for pork ribs and other meats barbecue meats too.
4. Mayonnaise As A Binder For Turkey
I’m going to come right out and say it. Mayonnaise is such an underrated binder – especially for smoked turkey.
At first, you may think I’ve lost my mind, but that’s not entirely true.
Mayonnaise has a very basic flavor, is effectively colorless, but has the perfect consistency for use as a binder.
It’s probably the next best thing to use for those looking to develop a crazy-delicious dry-rubbed turkey.
Don’t worry, the mayonnaise virtually disappears after the first hour of smoking, but its deliciously sticky reminants stay for the whole cook.
Do You NEED To Use A Binder For Smoked Turkey?
You see, the beautiful thing about barbecue and smoking meats is that you can always make your own styles and flavors.
In short, a binder is not actually necessary for making a delicious smoked turkey. In fact, if you don’t plan on adding any dry rub or seasoning to the outside of your turkey, the binding process is not required at all.
A spray of oil or a slather of butter can still help develop a nice crispy skin and beautiful color, but it won’t be acting as a binder for the seasoning.
In saying that, if you plan to use a nice dry rub to add a distinct flavor profile to your turkey, then it’s almost always worth using a binder, even when you’re planning to smoke a precooked turkey!
Should You Use A Binder For Turkey In The Oven?
Normally binders, slathers, or rub glues are discussed in the forum of smoking meats.
But, the fundamental process of binding will still apply no matter how you plan to cook your turkey.
So, if you plan to roast your turkey in the oven but want to add a delicious dry rub to your turkey, it’s still worth using a binder.
Plus, if you’re going for that golden brown skin, a little oil or butter goes a long way – especially when you’re cooking it or finishing smoked turkey in the oven!
Will The Binding Affect The Flavor Of The Turkey?
One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to binders is the thought that the binding agent will overpower any other flavor in the rub or in the meat.
The truth is, when applied in any normal amount, you will not taste the binder at all – in most cases anyway.
What you will taste is a deeper or stronger flavor of any dry rub, herb, or seasoning put on after the binder.
Binders act to affix any type of seasoning straight to the skin of the turkey, helping it infuse flavor, color, and texture over the cooking process.
Sure, if you pour a whole cup of mustard on your turkey as a binder you’ll taste it, but any thin coat will be virtually undetectable.
Although the primary benefit of applying binders is to help any seasonings stick to the turkey, using a butter or oil-based binder on smoked turkey gives you the best of both worlds.
Not only does butter act as a binder, but it also facilitates crispiness and helps develop turkey skin that is to die for.
Sure, using a binder isn’t 100% necessary for smoked turkey, especially if you don’t plan to use any dry rub.
But, if you’re adding any herbs, special seasonings, or a classic dry rub, then a binder can really work the magic.
If you’ve got any secrets to a perfect smoked turkey, let us all know below!