Can smoked turkey legs you make at home possibly be as good as the ones like at the fair or carnival or Renaissance festival or Disney? Actually, they’re even better. All it takes is a simple brine and a little patience. Here’s how to make them.
Smoked Turkey Legs
- Quick Glance
- 30 M
- 1 D, 4 H
- Serves 4
Special Equipment: Apple wood for smoking; instant-read thermometer
In a large pot, combine 3 cups water, salt, honey, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and allspice. Bring to a boil and then stir in the remaining 2 cups cold water and ice cubes. Stir until the ice melts and the mixture comes to room temperature. Add more ice if needed.
Place the turkey legs in gallon-size resealable plastic bags—2 legs per bag—and then divide the brine evenly between each bag. Seal the bags and stash them in the refrigerator to brine overnight.
The next day, pour the brine down the drain and then rinse the turkey legs and pat them dry. Prepare your grill for indirect smoking,
If using a smoker, prepare it for cooking at 245°F to 260°F (118°C to 127°C) using apple wood. Place the turkey legs in the smoker and let it do what it’s designed for. Smoke the turkey legs, keeping the temperature between 245°F to 260°F (118°C to 127°C), until the internal temperature of the turkey registers 165°F (74°C), 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours.
If using a gas grill, wrap a handful of unsoaked apple wood chips in foil, poke a few holes in the foil, and toss it on one side of the grill grate. Turn on all the burners and leave the lid of the grill open until you see smoke coming from the foil packet. Turn off all the burners but the one beneath the foil packet. Place the turkey directly on the grate over indirect heat (that is to say, opposite the lit burner and the foil packet), close the lid, and turn the heat to medium. Smoke the turkey legs, keeping the temperature between 245°F to 260°F (118°C to 127°C), until the internal temperature of the turkey registers 165°F (74°C), 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours. You may need to occasionally check the foil packet to ensure it’s still smoking; if it’s not, fashion a new one and toss it on the burner you’re using for heat.
If using a charcoal grill, place a metal drip pan in the center of the grill under the grate. Pour about 1/2 inch (12 mm) water into the drip pan. Pile hot charcoal on either side of the drip pan and close the lid. Manipulate the coals to maintain a temperature of 245°F to 260°F (118°C to 127°C). Toss a handful of unsoaked apple wood chips directly on the charcoal. Place the turkey legs directly on the grate over the drip pan. Smoke the turkey legs, keeping the temperature between 245°F to 260°F (118°C to 127°C), until the internal temperature of the turkey registers 165°F (74°C), 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours. You may need to occasionally check the wood chips to ensure they’re still smoking; if they’re not, toss another handful onto the charcoal.
When the turkey legs are done, remove them from the grill or smoker and let them rest for at least 5 minutes.
Pile the smoked turkey on a platter and let everyone dig in and demolish them. Originally published November 12, 2016.
Recipe Testers' Tips
Smoked turkey legs have never been high on my must-try carnival food list. However, after making these, I think I'll be indulging every opportunity I get! They were truly exceptional. Crispy and smoky on the outside, while remaining moist and tender on the inside, thanks to the overnight brine.
The spice list seems a little heavy on the black and cayenne pepper at first glance, but don't shy away from it—the smoked turkey legs were full of flavor from the spices but not spicy at all. Would I serve them at Thanksgiving? They certainly were tasty enough to serve to company, and if your Thanksgiving dinner was a fairly casual affair or an outdoor dinner, I think this would be a great fit. In a traditional formal Thanksgiving dinner setting, they might be a bit out of place.
The end product of this smoked turkey legs recipe is a very rich, smoky meat that’s superb in flavor and texture. It’s reminiscent of the fare at almost anyplace I’ve visited that features smoked turkey legs. The best part is that you can make these at a fraction of the cost! Robust and flavorful, they would be a welcome addition to many a festive table or picnic table!
One thing to keep in mind, though, is you’ll probably want to discard the skin, just as you would after smoking any fowl. Finishing the turkey legs for a few minutes on the grill might fix that, but it’s never guaranteed, and you risk ruining the meat. No problem. That luscious smoked turkey meat will have you forgetting all about the skin! I used applewood. I served this along with the deli meats and cheese meal that we usually have on weekends.