When I think of Smoked Turkey Legs, I think of summer, Disney, and the Kings who ruled the medieval ages. The turkey legs at Disney are famous and the long lines of visitors waiting to get their hands on one is proof! It’s that smell that gets to you; it wafts about and finds it’s way to your nose. It’s hard to resist, but those long lines are a great deterrent. Save your time and make them at home. It really couldn’t be easier!
If you’ve ever visited Disney, you must have experienced the smell of smoked turkey legs wafting through the air as you walk past the food carts. We took McKenna to Disney for her birthday a few years ago. At the time, she was toying with the idea of adopting a vegetarian diet, and John.e has been a vegetarian for most of his life. Needless to say, me – the meateater – did not get to try Disney’s famous smoked turkey drumsticks!
A few years later, while walking through Toronto’s Christmas Market, I happened to see a group of young people. They were standing near the large Christmas tree that everyone seems to congregate to for pictures. But, they weren’t taking selfies. They were all feasting on the largest turkey drumsticks I’ve every seen! It took me right back to when we visited Disney!
So, you would think that when the opportunity came again, I’d jump for it, right? Nope! We were at the Toronto Christmas Market and everyone wanted to try the warm jumbo salted pretzels instead. The pretzels were great, but they did not satisfy my smoked turkey cravings!
BUYING A SMOKER
Earlier this year, when I bought myself a smoker, I made up my mind that I would make my own smoked turkey legs. I had no idea it was so easy to do. And, furthermore, I had no idea that it would be so delicious! I had been dying to use it, but mother nature has been messing with my timing. I swear, Dear Reader, every time I wanted to break in the smoker, it would rain. Eventually, I was able to prepare Barbecued Smoked Pork Belly Burnt Ends. After that, I was hooked!
We were still in the middle of lockdown here in Ontario. So, we were still completing most of our grocery shopping online. Every time I would order turkey legs, they would not be available. Then, one day, John.e visited a local grocery store – one that does not have an online order option – and found turkey legs. He brought some home and I patiently waited for more nice weather so that I could get them into that new smoker.
In case you’re wondering, I made the decision to buy a charcoal smoker and that’s what I used for this recipe. Charcoal smokers are considered the gold standard when it comes to getting that deep smoky flavour. They come in a broad range of styles and sizes, making it easier to find one that suits your available space. And, more importantly, charcoal actively adds to the taste of the food you are cooking and the nitrogen oxide it releases is vital to getting an authentic smoke ring.
There are disadvantages too. For example, charcoal grills need a lot more babysitting and a little more practice and know-how than electric or gas grills. If you want to set it up and forget about it, you’re best off with an electric or propane smoker. With a charcoal smoker, you will need to let it burn for about 30 minutes before you start cooking at all, so consider that too. Lastly, the ash produced by charcoal means that there’s a lot more cleaning up to do once you’ve finished smoking.
3 STEPS TO PERFECT SMOKED TURKEY LEGS
Brining, rubbing, and smoking are the three steps necessary to get these fall-off-the-bone, tender, moist, and delicious Smoked Turkey Legs! Take a big bite into that juicy, flavourful meat and let your inner caveman out! The dark skin tastes smoky and sweet with just the right amount of saltiness. And, inside, the turkey has a pink tinge from the smoke and is seasoned to perfection. Seriously, Dear Reader, when you are presented with a smoked turkey leg, what else do you need? I could have made a complete meal of it!
The brine is a mixture of ice water with salt, brown sugar, bay leaves, mustard seeds and peppercorns. You will want to make sure that you have a bowl large enough to hold all of your turkey legs. Even then, because of the awkward shape, it’s difficult to get them all fully submerged into the brine. The best way is to add the turkey legs to a large resealable bag and pour in the brine mixture. Push out the excess air and seal the bag. Set the bag into a large bowl and refrigerate for 24-48 hours.
The rub is responsible for creating that crispy, darkened, salty and sweet skin. The brown sugar in the rub will quickly caramelize in the smoker and will lock in much of the natural juices and brine into the turkey legs. This, in turn, will keep the legs moist, tender, and of course, delicious!
This is the fun part! Well, as much fun as smoking can be! You see, smoking is not that exciting. Most of the time, you’re left waiting around, just letting the smoker do what it does. Smoking is the process of cooking food at a very low temperature, while being infused with and flavoured by the smoke itself. This takes time and requires patience. Even after the brining wait time, the smoking time will take about 4 hours.
SETTING UP YOUR SMOKER
At this point, I will trust that your smoker is already seasoned. If not, please follow the steps found inside your smoker’s manual. If you have already seasoned and/or used your smoker, then you’re ready to go! Here’s how to get your smoker ready to take on this pork recipe.
Be sure that your smoker’s grilling rack is clean. Remove the charcoal chamber and charcoal grate from the smoker. If the smoker has been previously used, discard any remaining debris or used charcoal ashes. Fill the charcoal chamber with standard, untreated briquettes or lump charcoal. Saturate the charcoal with smoker-approved lighter fluid. Allow the charcoal to soak in the lighter fluid for a few minutes.
Carefully lift the charcoal chamber and grate back into the smoker. Again, following your smoker’s safety guidelines, light the charcoal. Allow the charcoal to burn until covered with a light ash – about 5 minutes. Close the door and ensure that the smoke stack and vents are open to allow air flow. In 20 minutes, you can add the woodchips to your smoker.
For this particular recipe, you can add pre-soaked woodchips which have been wrapped in aluminum foil to the smoker. Or, you can add dry woodchips directly onto the coals, which is what I did. I added two cups of apple wood. Finally, insert the water bowl/grease drip catch bowl if your smoker has one.
HOW TO SMOKE TURKEY LEGS
Here comes the fun part! Well, as fun as it can get when it comes to smoking meat! Load up the smoker with the prepared turkey legs. They should be placed on the middle rack. Close the smoker and smoke the turkey for 3 hours while maintaining a temperature of 250 degrees F.
Depending on your smoker, this could be easier or hard to manage. The basic rule is this – charcoal coals need air to burn or smolder. To increase the temperature of your smoker, fully open the smoke stack and vent. Once the temperature reaches 250 degrees F, you will need to partially close them. Preventing air flow will cause the burning to calm.
TIPS & TRICKS: When checking the internal temperature of smoked meat, it’s a good idea to remove one or two pieces from the smoker and set them onto a plate. Close the smoker door. If you leave the door open and stick the thermometer into the meat while it sits on the cooking grates, all of the smoke and heat is escaping from your smoker. Close the door to help maintain the right cooking temperature.
The temperature of a smoker is not instant. It’s not like turning the faucet in your shower to get hotter or cooler water almost instantly. It can take up to twenty minutes for a smoker to drop or increase its cooking temperature. It’s a good idea to pay close attention for the first thirty minutes or so. Once you get the temperature regulated, you can leave it unattended.
After the three hour mark, check the internal temperature of the turkey legs using a meat thermometer. You are looking for the turkey to register at 170 degrees F. Depending on the size of the turkey legs, they could be done at the three-hour mark, or they may need more time. If they’re not done, let them smoke for another 30 minutes and check the internal temperature again.
When it comes to turkey, I can only imagine serving one thing with it and that would be Cold Plates. Now, that’s just the Newfie in me, so there are of course other options. But, even some of those options are included in the sides that make up a Cold Plate!
Start by making a really good coleslaw. I love my homestyle coleslaw. It’s creamy and probably the most common. But, if you’re feeling more adventurous, why not try my Jalapeno Buttermilk Ranch Coleslaw? It can certainly stand up to the strong flavours of Smoked Turkey Legs! Next, you need a pasta salad. I have this classic pasta salad, this cheesy version of a macaroni salad, and finally, this delicious Coleslaw Pasta Salad. That’s right, it combines a coleslaw and a pasta salad all in one!
I grew up eating this potato salad every Sunday for dinner. I’m now in my 40s and I still have not tired of it! Vegetable Potato Salad is not your every day potato salad, but there’s also nothing special about it either. It is inspired by my Newfoundland heritage, and I’m sure you will love it just as much as I do!
Smoked Turkey Legs
- 3 whole turkey legs (1 to 1 1/2 pounds each)
For the Brine:
- 3 cups water
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons peppercorns (or 1 teaspoon ground black pepper)
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 3 whole bay leaves
- 3 cups ice cubes
For the Rub:
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- Place the turkey legs into a large bowl or a resealable bag and set aside.
- In a saucepan, add the water and salt. Over medium heat, warm the water and stir until the salt is dissolved. Remove from heat.
- Stir in the brown sugar, peppercorns, mustard seeds and bay leaves.
- Add the ice cubes to the mixture and stir to cool the mixture down.
- Once cooled, pour over the turkey legs. Cover bowl or seal the bag. Refrigerate for 24-48 hours. Be sure the brine completely covers the turkey.
- When ready to smoke, remove the turkey from the fridge. Drain and discard the brine. Set the turkey aside while you prepare the smoker.
- While the smoker heats up, combine the rub ingredients. Pat the turkey legs dry with paper towels and generously rub each leg with the dry rub mixture.
- Load up the smoker with the turkey. The legs should be placed on the middle rack. Close the smoker and smoke the turkey for 3 hours while maintaining a temperature of 250 degrees F.
- After the three hour mark, use tongs to remove the turkey from the smoker. Close the smoker door to retain the heat while you check the internal temperature of the turkey. On a meat thermometer, the temperature should ready at least 170 degrees F.
- If the turkey is cooked through, allow it to rest for 5 minutes before slicing. Otherwise, return to smoker for 30 minutes more and check the temperature again.