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

  • Quick Glance
  • (4)
  • 30 M
  • 1 D, 4 H
  • Serves 4
5/5 - 4 reviews
Print RecipeBuy the The Ancestral Table cookbook

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Special Equipment: Apple wood for smoking; instant-read thermometer

Ingredients


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. Originally published November 12, 2016.

Print RecipeBuy the The Ancestral Table cookbook

Want it? Click it.

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.

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Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. Not enough information to actually do your turkey right when cooking on the grill. Temperature settings at medium? Can you define this with a temperature perhaps? I started off in the 250-280 range but needed to increase to 325 to 350 to get it done.

    On second thought–apologies! A massive hit in our house.

    1. Vince, I’m so pleased that this was a hit! My son requests them frequently in our house. Typically the 245 to 260°F range should be ok on the grill, but every grill is different, and depending on the size of legs, how frequently the grill was opened, etc, it could need a higher temperature, so I’m glad that you tried that and it worked for you. Really appreciate the feedback!

  4. Please elaborate on the skin, which one of your testers advises to discard. If the skin isn’t edible and delicious, it’s certainly not renaissance festival style, which is what I’m aiming to replicate or improve.

    1. Rock Lobster, I’ve made these several times, and have never discarded the skin. However, I always give them a quick finish on the grill to crisp up the skin slightly. The smoking process often yields slightly rubbery skin on turkey or chicken, but I find a quick trip across the grill eliminates that and gives the nice crispy skin that you want alongside that flavorful smoked turkey. I’d suggest sampling a little bit of the skin after smoking and decide at that point.

  5. Do not have a grill or a smoker, or access to either. Can you please give instructions of how to do this in the oven?

    1. Hi Emily, we didn’t test this recipe in the oven so I’m reluctant to give you specific instructions. There are ways to use wet wood chips in a pan on the lower rack of a low temperature oven to simulate grill smoking.

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