Smoked Turkey Legs

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.

Four smoked turkey legs on a wire rack on a wooden surface.

Ever wonder if smoked turkey legs made at home could possibly be as good as the ones at carnivals and Renaissance festivals?  Actually, they’re better. And you don’t have to stand in a long line to get one. Or pay an exorbitant price. An overnight soak in a brine and a few hours on a smoker or grill is all you need. These are so rich, so succulent, so infused with flavor that we bet your friends and family would happily wait in line and pay for these drumsticks…or maybe at least do the dishes.Angie Zoobkoff

Smoked Turkey Legs FAQs

How do I keep my smoked turkey legs from being too salty?

Weigh your salt. Salt crystal size in different brands of kosher salt can vary dramatically. This recipe specifies 1/2 cup Diamond Brand kosher salt, but if you have a different brand, weigh out 72 grams of salt. If you don’t have a scale, stick with 1/3 cup of kosher salt. Also, give your turkey legs a quick rinse after brining to remove any excess salt.

What should I serve with smoked turkey legs?

A rich creamy side like garlic mashed potatoes or creamy mac and cheese would be welcome alongside these turkey legs. If you’re headed out on a picnic, an easy mayo-free side like this Asian-inspired coleslaw or German-style potato salad would be perfect.

Smoked Turkey Legs

Four smoked turkey legs on a wire rack on a wooden surface.
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.
Russ Crandall

Prep 30 mins
Cook 1 d 3 hrs 30 mins
Total 1 d 4 hrs
Mains
American
4 servings
975 kcal
4.67 / 9 votes
Print RecipeBuy the The Ancestral Table cookbook

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Equipment

  • Apple wood for smoking; instant-read thermometer

Ingredients 

  • 5 cups cold water
  • 1/2 cup Diamond Brand kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1/2 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 1 cup ice cubes plus more as needed
  • 4 turkey legs

Directions
 

  • 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.
Print RecipeBuy the The Ancestral Table cookbook

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Show Nutrition

Serving: 1legCalories: 975kcal (49%)Protein: 132g (264%)Fat: 46g (71%)Saturated Fat: 14g (88%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 12gMonounsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 481mg (160%)Sodium: 501mg (22%)Potassium: 1849mg (53%)Vitamin A: 20IUCalcium: 115mg (12%)Iron: 12mg (67%)

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

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.

Originally published November 12, 2016

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Shouting out: Yabba Dabba Doo!
    I had these two ginormous frozen turkey legs from my last turkey deboning. Honestly, I had no idea how I was going to cook them. When I saw this recipe, it just made sense that I try it. These two turkey legs were the equivalent of four so I made the brine and spices as per recipe. I liked the bagging of the marinade otherwise I was going to have to double the brine amount just to keep the meat submerged. I set the timer to 2 1/2 hours but expected an additional hour or so as these were so big. They actually were cooked through by 2 1/2 hours on my electric smoker using the applewood bisquettes. The flavour was robust but not overly smoky, and the meat was moist. In a calorie reducing maneuver, I discarded the skin but had I seared it on the grill post smoking, it would have also been a treat. Served my smoked turkey legs with an onion and cucumber salad and the South Carolina slaw. These drumsticks had no apparent carnival connection except for the fun of carving out slices. Great recipe!

  2. 4 stars
    Maybe I didn’t rinse long enough, but they came out a bit salty. I’ll try this again, but will reduce the salt content. Otherwise, damn good over apple and peach wood. I crisped up the skin directly over the fire, and it was perfect. Thanks!

    1. They look fantastic, Eric. Great smoke coloring! The brand of salt you used may have been a contributing factor to the saltiness as crystal sizes in kosher salt do vary from brand to brand. Our cup measurement is based on using Diamond brand kosher salt, but if you are using a different brand, then it’s best to go by weight. If you don’t have a scale, you’ll want to use less of other brands, such as Morton. More like 1/3 cup.

  3. 5 stars
    Just a couple of mods that worked out great, I didn’t have any honey so I used 2 T dark brown sugar. Also added 2 t chipotle chili powder. Mmmm good

  4. 5 stars
    Absolutely yummy tasted like we went to the fair. We used Pecan pellets on our Traeger Grill. We will be saving this recipe!!😋🤤

    1. Wonderful, Shantrice! I’m delighted that you loved them. This is a favorite at my dinner table, too.

  5. 5 stars
    I live in San Antonio, Texas, and we have or used to have no thanks to covid a 2 week period of celebration citywide called Fiesta. And usually that’s the only time to find turkeys everywhere without having to go to Six Flags or any place. So I started making them at home in my own smoker. Let me tell you, they were such a hit, that my family, my wife’s family, and all our friends can’t wait for some more of them. I did do one change, and that is not adding honey into the brine. For one I did miss that step, so to make it up, I starting glazing the legs with the honey. Putting the honey in a bowl and adding a little water (warm or hot), mixing it then glazing it with a brush, then wrapping them in foil for the last 1- 1 1/2 hr …. I still let them rest for the 5 minutes before serving, but it came out great. So thank you for this recipe as a guide for me to make my own flavor and for our family and friends who loved it. Again, Thank You!!!

    1. You’re welcome, Eloy! I’m so glad you and your friends and family are enjoying these so much. I love the suggestion for the honey glaze. I’ll definitely have to try that next time we fire up the smoker.

      1. Yes try it. I would make a glaze with honey and a little more brown sugar. When I did it I wrapped it in foil the last hour or hour & half but I would try not wrapping it next to continue to get that smoky sweet taste. Let me know how it turns out… Enjoy!!! We did lol

        1. Will do, Eloy. Might have to wait for some of the snow to melt so I can clear a path to the smoker, but it’s at the top of my list. My son requests these frequently, and I think he’d love them with the glaze.

          1. Awesome. We just had snow here too so i know the feeling. Good luck though when the weather does get better

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