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.
Ever wonder if a smoked turkey leg made at home could possibly be as good as the ones at theme parks, 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 smoky 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.
Why Our Testers Loved This
There’s quite a few reasons our recipe testers gobbled these tasty turkey legs up. They found them to be “crispy and smoky on the outside, while remaining moist and tender on the inside.”
Dan Kraan joined in with his comment, “The end product of this smoked turkey legs recipe is a very rich, smoky meat that’s superb in flavor and texture.“
Notes on Ingredients
- Kosher salt–Depending on the brand of kosher salt you’re using, you may need to adjust the amount of salt added to your brine. Crystal sizes in kosher salt can vary dramatically. So if you’re using Diamond Crystal kosher salt, use 1/2 cup. If you’re using a different brand or are uncertain of the brand, weigh your salt. You should have 72 grams.
- Honey–The addition of a little sugar to your brine improves the flavor of your finished turkey and helps to give the skin a golden-brown color.
- Turkey legs–When purchasing your poultry, look for ones that are all about the same size so that they’re finished cooking at the same time.
How to Make This Recipe
- Combine 3 cups of water, salt, honey, and spices in a large pot. Bring to a boil.
- Add the remaining 2 cups of water and the ice cubes and stir until the ice melts. Let the brine cool to room temperature.
- Divvy the turkey legs between two resealable bags and pour the brine over them. Stash them in the fridge overnight.
- Prepare a smoker or grill with a smoke packet for indirect cooking. Drain the turkey legs and pat them dry. Place on the grill or smoker and cook at about 250°F until the internal temperature in the thickest part of the leg reaches 165°F on an instant-read meat thermometer.
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.
How can I get crispy skin on my turkey legs?
Smoking chicken or turkey can often lead to rubbery, chewy skin. If you’d like to enjoy the skin on the smoked turkey legs, I recommend cooking them over a direct flame for a couple of minutes after smoking until the skin is crispy.
What should I serve with these?
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.
- Use apple wood chips or chunks for smoking. If you can’t get apple wood, hickory is a good alternative.
- Don’t brine your turkey for longer than 24 hours.
- Store leftover turkey legs in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Reheat in a 300°F oven or on the grill until warmed through.
- This recipe is suitable for gluten-free and dairy-free diets.
More great smoked turkey recipes
☞ If you make this recipe, or any dish on LC, consider leaving a review, a star rating, and your best photo in the comments below. I love hearing from you.–David
Smoked Turkey Legs
- Apple wood for smoking; instant-read thermometer
- 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
- 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 smoke the turkey legs, keeping the temperature between 245°F and 260°F, 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, 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.
- Smoking wood–If you can’t get apple wood, hickory is a good alternative.
- Brining–Don’t brine your turkey for longer than 24 hours.
- Storage–Store leftover turkey legs in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Reheat in a 300°F oven or on the grill until warmed through.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We’d love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
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.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Disney-style drumsticks have never been high on my must-try carnival food list. However, after making this smoked turkey leg recipe, 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.