How to smoke turkey legs for tender, juicy and flavorful meat.
- Go straight to the Recipe Card or
- Read on for relevant tips and information on how to smoke turkey drumsticks (2 mins)
From backyards nationwide to fairs, festivals and theme parks like Disney smoked turkey legs have a huge fan base. When their aroma wafts about and tickles the nostrils the urge to sink one’s teeth into the tasty meat is usually pretty strong.
Preparing them at home is easy – here is what you need to do.
Keys to Perfectly Smoked Turkey Legs
There are three essential steps to juicy, tender and flavorful fair style smoked turkey legs.
- Brine. Brining the lean turkey meat is absolutely necessary. The brine is a saline solution that can be further flavored (with spices or beer, etc). It plays a dual role – it penetrates deep into the meat and and helps it absorb and later retain moisture during cooking. It also flavors the meat deep inside, as opposed to only on the surface. We add a bit of curing salt to ours when we smoke drumsticks – it is so worth it.
- Use a dry rub. To further flavor the outside of the turkey legs.
- Smoke the turkey legs slow on low. Turkey drumsticks have a lot of connective tissue and the low heat is key to liquefying the collagen. Conceptually it is just like grilling chicken drumsticks over indirect heat but with the smoking element included.
NOTE: When people say smoked turkey legs they typically mean turkey drumsticks since the whole turkey leg also includes the thigh.
Smoked Turkey Brine
Our recipe for smoked turkey brine works for turkey breast and turkey ‘ham’ (which is the other name for the drumsticks meat). If you are planning to brine a whole turkey, triple or quadriple the brine quantity as needed.
- To make the brine bring water to boil with kosher salt, pink curing salt (optional) and brown sugar, stir to dissolve them.
- Place the drumsticks in a large container, cover with ice, add peppercorns, mustard seeds, cloves, bay leaf etc. and pour the brine solution over all that. The brine will instantaneously cool down. Cover and refrigerate.
Let the turkey drumsticks brine for at least 12 hours and up to 48 for best results.
To speed up the process a bit consider injecting some of the brine – follow the instructions included with your brand of meat injector syringe.
Use your favorite dry rub to coat the turkey legs an all sides. We like to include smoked paprika and/or chipotle powder in our dry rubs (see the recipe card for ingredients and quantities) to impart extra smokey flavors.
- Pat the drumsticks dry after removing them from the brine and discard it, then set to work and liberally season them with the dry rub.
- Let the seasoned drumsticks come to room temperature and get familiar with the dry rub while you get the smoker ready.
How to Smoke Turkey Legs – Workflow
- Use a chimney starter and once the charcoals turn mostly white pour over wood (hickory or applewood chunks work nicely).
- Add wood chips on top and place in smoking chamber (or handle as specified by the manufacturer).
- Preheat smoker to 225-250 F. Place the drumsticks on the smoking rack and close.
The heat from the charcoal will slowly cook the turkey legs while the smoke from the woods chips will infuse them with flavor. Maintain the temperature and replenish both charcoal and smoking wood as needed, per the specifications of the manufacturer.
How Long to Smoke Turkey Legs
Smoke them until the meat browns and becomes very tender – typically about three to four hours.
Smoked turkey legs are done when the internal temperature registers 170 F. Be sure that your meat thermometer is not touching drumstick bones when measuring.
Use the specs in the card below as general guidelines and consider subtle adjustments.
Base such tweaks on the actual weight of the turkey legs (each individually), how long you brined them for and the actual smoker temperature you were able to maintain.
All that being said it is important to note that a 170 F internal temperature could be reached in less than the 3 to 4 hours of smoking time if the smoker’s temperature runs higher. Be sure to control it – the 225 to 250 F range is essential.
The longer the time the drumsticks spend at 160 F internal temp, getting to that 170 F, the longer they have for their connective tissue to break down and turn into liquefied collagen = tastier and more tender meat.
- 6 raw turkey drumsticks, about 1 to 1 1/2 lbs each
- 7 cups of water
- 1/3 cup coarse salt (kosher or sea)
- 1/2 tsp pink curing salt for wet curing* (optional, but highly recommended)
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 6 bay leaves
- 4 cloves
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp peppercorns
- 7 cups ice cubes
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp coarse salt (kosher or sea)
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tbsp fine ground black pepper
- Rinse the turkey legs with cold water and place them in a large container. Add the bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns, and mustard seeds plus 7 cups of ice (listed under the brine ingredients).
- Prepare the brine solution - boil the water with the two types of salt and brown sugar. Stir to dissolve, cool down a bit and pour over the turkey legs and ice. The ice cubes will cause it to cool down all the way and the brining solution will get diluted as needed. Cover and refrigerate (closer to 48 hours for best results).***
- When ready to smoke take the drumsticks out of the brine and pat them dry. Discard the brine.
- Mix the dry rub and apply it generously over the drumsticks. Let them come to room temperature while you preheat the smoker.
- Set up your smoker as per the manufacturer's instructions and preheat it to 225-250 F. Add the smoking wood as specified by its manufacturer.
- Place the drumsticks over the smoking rack and smoke until the meat is tender and registers 170 F. This should take about 3 to 4 hours.
YOU WILL ALSO NEED:
Wood chunks and chips for smoking (hickory or applewood recommended).
*Curing salt - the kind that is used for wet curing meats which generally require cooking before consumption. Do not use more than specified - a bit goes a really long way.
** Use your favorite dry rub instead.
*** You can also use a meat injector syringe to speed up the process.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 603Total Fat: 26gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 17gCholesterol: 330mgSodium: 1231mgCarbohydrates: 21gFiber: 1gSugar: 27gProtein: 78g
Beer Pairing Tips
We recommend crisp and flavorful easy sippers to wash down smoked turkey legs.
Anything from American craft lagers to Munich helles or dunkels and Vienna lagers, Czech pilsners with their floral aromas and sweetness. All of these styles are supportive of the rich smoked turkey meat flavors without overpowering them. Not to mention that they are perfect for a warm day in the backyard – won’t be a big deal if you enjoyed a few.