Tender, juicy, and flavor-packed Smoked Turkey Leg is an easy dish you can prepare even if it isn’t the holidays. Easily pair this dish with any side or simply enjoy it as it is. You don’t have to wait for the holidays to taste the best turkey drumsticks.
I can still remember how my first trip to Disneyland became so magical. Aside from all the fireworks, music, fanfare, and characters, the food really made my trip memorable.
Nope, it’s not the sweets at all, it’s more on the juicy smoked turkey leg that can set you a few dollars back.
My son actually loved it so much that he wanted to go back to just buy more.
Unfortunately, our home is quite far from there so I had to look for another way to satisfy his cravings. Luckily, his mom is a total foodie that can create a dish that’s close to his favorites.
Today I’ll share with you just how I did it so you can make a delicious magical meal wherever you are.
While most people think that bird meat is often white, turkey legs are actually dark meat!
This is because they are often used which means leaner and more developed muscles. What does this mean for us turkey lovers? It means that it’s juicier, more tender, and easier to season than other parts of the bird.
Making the perfect smoked turkey legs takes just two steps; seasoning and smoking. Both parts are important and require simple and flavor-packed ingredients.
Seasoning the Turkey Legs
- Salt and Pepper – This basic combo is enough to make the natural flavors of the turkey legs to po
TIP: You can skip seasoning your turkey legs if you used a brine (see my How To Brine a Turkey HERE).
Personally, I’d stick to the light seasoning because I don’t want to end up with turkey legs that are too salty considering that I’ll also be rubbing it with seasoning.
The legs are naturally moist so it doesn’t dry out easily when smoked.
Smoked Turkey Rub Options
- Creole seasoning – my all-time favorite rub that’s perfect for any meat. It spices up the turkey all around giving you a well-flavored holiday dinner. You can make your own with my homemade Creole Seasoning here..
- Homemade poultry seasoning – Talk about a perfect pair! The blend of ingredients perfectly complements the turkey meat and the smoky aftertaste. Check out my homemade version of Poultry Seasoning.
- Italian Seasoning – The herby flavors of this rub gives your holiday turkey a fresh and delightful taste. See how I made my own version of Italian Seasoning here..
Tips and Tricks
- Don’t wash the turkey. Bacteria in the water can develop into harmful pathogens. You don’t want that.
- Temperature not jiggle. Whether it jiggles or wiggles after cooking, if its internal temperature doesn’t reach at least 165 F, it isn’t done yet. You can actually take it out of the smoker once it reaches 160 F and it’ll continue to cook outside.
- Use within 2 days. Once you thaw out the turkey legs you bought from the grocery, it’s ideal to use it within two days. This helps ensure the quality and freshness of the poultry.
- Buy frozen. Frozen poultry usually means that the quality is preserved. Freezing meats also often kills off harmful bacteria that could make your meat go bad easily.
- Check the texture. If you’ve left it somewhere warm for a few hours and it thaws out, chances are it decomposes. A sign of decomposition is a slimy film on the surface of the meat. avoid meats like this at all cost.
- Get a good sniff of it. As with most raw food, it shouldn’t smell like anything at all. So if you get a hint of rotten eggs or sulfur, steer away from that.
- I suggest taking out the poultry about 5 degrees before your target internal temperature. It continues to cook for a few more minutes after you take it out of the heat.
- For a crispier turkey. Let it air dry in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
- Rule of thumb. Let the turkey sit for an hour per pound before serving.
What smoker to use?
There are a lot of smoking methods you can use to prepare for this type of meat. I tried different smokers for this recipe so you don’t have to.
Here are some of my preferred techniques for this recipe:
My Choice: Pellet Smoker
- Distinct Flavor – Your turkey legs will have a richer flavor with low and slow smoking.
- Temperature control – The smoker automatically feeds the heating element with woodchips regulating the temperature inside This method also infuses the flavor of the wood chips in the turkey meat. (Personally, I think Apple flavored wood is great for Turkey meat but feel free to mix and match.)
- Indirect Heat – This uses indirect heat which means that the heat source is distant from the meat.
- Bulky unit – takes a bit too much space for one cooking method.
How to use it?
- Placing the Meat – Place the meats in a rack indirect to the heat source. This makes sure that your meat will cook evenly. No flipping necessary.
- Installing the water pan -Add a pan with half a cup of water to the smoking chamber to prevent it from drying out.
- Trapping the heat – Close the lid to trap the flavorful smoke and the heat.
Verdict: By far, this is the easiest way to smoke. No need for the dirty work, just check the meat from time to time!👍
I, myself, use a Traeger Pellet Smoker because it’s one of the most versatile cookers in the market.
- Compact unit – Its small size makes it truly convenient.
- No electricity – No need to plug it for electricity so you can enjoy your smoked turkey legs even when you’re in the great outdoors.
- Low Cost – It’s low cost makes it really affordable and it’s waaay easier to clean!
- Direct heat – The heat source is in the same chamber as the meat. this can lead to roasting rather than smoking which burns one side of the leg.
A simple compact charcoal grill can also be used for smoking.
This is the perfect smoker for you if you don’t have much space in your backyard. I’d be careful about using this tho; it’s also super easy to stain your shirt with soot.
This method uses hot charcoal which cooks the meat with low but direct heat. Flavored wood can also be used for this method to infuse your preferred smoky flavor.
How to use your charcoal grill as a smoker?
- Heat the charcoals – Place the hot charcoals on one extreme side of the grill.
- Catch – Add a tin catch just below the grill so you can catch any juices that drip off.
- Placement – Place the turkey legs on the other side of the grill farthest from the coals and the water pan beside it.
- Trap the heat – Close the lid to start the smoking process.
Verdict: I like using this method though because it’s the most convenient. 👍 All I have to do is take my favorite wood flavor and use it along with charcoal.
- No direct heat – We won’t be using an open fire for this smoker – just woodchips and some heating rods.
- Its own thermometer – It has a built in thermometer to tell the temperature inside the smoker.
- Longer smoking time – It cooks longer and slower because of the low maximum temperature.
- Electric consumption – Depending on your unit, expect a higher electric bill when using this type of smoker.
- Tastes different – If you don’t preheat the smoker, you’d probably taste a bit of plastic from the manufacturing in your dish, especially if it’s new.
It uses convection to heat food which gives the food a different flavor due to the lack of fire.
The parts are generally similar to a bullet smoker with the wood tray substituting the fire chamber.
How to use an Electric Smoker?
- Preheat the smoker: Pre-smoke the unit with the woodchips of your choice.
- Attach the water pan: Once it reaches the desired temperature, place the water pan inside the lowest space inside the unit.
- Placement: Place the turkey leg in the racks and close the lid or door.
NOTE: If you’re a first-time user of this type of smoker, I suggest seasoning your grill with cooking oil. This prevents any residue from the manufacturing to stick to your food.
Verdict: Electric grills tend to cook at a lower temperature which means they would cook longer.
The beauty in cooking turkey meat is that you can play around with the temp and time. Here’s a quick guide on how long you should smoke your turkey legs.
250 F – This cooks the turkey legs a bit slower at 30 minutes per pound. Luckily one leg shouldn’t weigh more than a pound. I love low and slow-cooking because the end product is often really tender.
275 F – The legs cook at a faster rate with this temperature, 20 – 25 minutes per pound.
300 F – Turkey, in general, should just take about 15 minutes per pound at this temperature.
325 F – This is the quickest temperature to cook your turkey meat, only 11 – 13 minutes per pound.
When you use the temperatures above, consider that those are estimates for a single piece of turkey leg.
The difference between barbecuing and smoking is that smoking uses slow and indirect heat so that all sides cook perfectly while roasting uses direct heat which cooks the meat faster.
Make any normal day into a magical holiday with wonderful sides. Here are my top picks for the perfect pairings for this dish.
- Obviously, potatoes! But a side of Rosemary Roasted Potatoes makes it truly complete.
- The mild flavors of Rice Pilaf complements the smoky flavors of this dish.
- A simple Scalloped Corn Casserole is a great side for turkey legs. The sweetness of the casserole gives a different dimension to the whole dish
- To really make it a holiday out of the holidays, a side serving of Homemade Cranberry Sauce or this Homemade Gravy should do the trick.
Easy Poultry Recipes to Try
How to Smoke Turkey Legs
Brining and Seasoning Turkey
- Preseason the legs – lightly season the legs with salt and pepper.
- Season the drumsticks – Rub your choice of seasoning all over the surface of the drum sticks.
Smoking the Turkey
- Pre-heat – Pre-smoke the smoker to 250- 275 degrees Fahrenheit. The higher the temperature, the faster the turkey would cook.
- Start Smoking – Place the turkey in the smoker and brush every 1-2 hours. Smoke until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the leg reaches 165 degrees F. The bird will continue to cook even after taking it out of the smoker.
- Rotate – Rotate turkey halfway through for even browning.
- Remove, Rest and, Serve – Remove the turkey from the smoker and allow it to sit, covered with foil, for 10 minutes, garnish with copped parsley before serving
Smoked Turkey Legs
- 4 pounds turkey legs
- salt and pepper for light seasoning
- seasoning Creole, Italian, Poultry, or your choice of seasoning
Seasoning the Turkey Legs
- Season the turkey – Lightly season the legs all over.
- Rub the turkey – Rub the legs with your choice of seasoning and make sure to rub all over.
Smoking the Turkey
- Pre-heat – Pre-smoke the smoker to 250-275 degrees Fahrenheit. The higher the temperature, the faster the turkey would cook.
- Start Smoking – Place the turkey in the smoker and brush every 1-2 hours. Smoke until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the leg reaches 165 – 170 degrees F. The bird will continue to cook even after you take it out of the smoker.
- Rotate – Rotate turkey legs halfway through for even browning.
- Remove, Rest and, Serve – Remove the turkey from the smoker and allow it to sit, covered with foil, for 10 minutes before serving
Tips & Notes:
- Don’t wash the turkey: Bacteria in the water can develop into harmful pathogens. You don’t want that.
- Temperature not jiggle: Whether it jiggles or wiggles after cooking if its internal temperature doesn’t reach at least 165 F, it isn’t done yet. You can actually take it out of the smoker once it reaches 160 F and it’ll continue to cook outside.
- Use within 2 days: Once you thaw out the turkey legs you bought from the grocery, it’s ideal to use it within two days. This helps ensure the quality and freshness of the poultry.
- Buy frozen: Frozen poultry usually means that the quality is preserved. Freezing meats also often kills off harmful bacteria that could make your meat go bad easily.
- Check the texture: If you’ve left it somewhere warm for a few hours and it thaws out. Chances are it decomposes. A sign of decomposition is a slimy film on the surface of the meat. avoid meats like this at all cost.
- Get a good sniff of it: As with most raw food, it shouldn’t smell like anything at all. So if you get a hint of rotten eggs or sulfur, steer away from that.
- I suggest taking out the poultry about 5 Degrees before your target internal temperature. it continues to cook for a few more minutes after you take it out of the heat.
- For a crispier turkey: Let it air dry in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
- Rule of thumb: Let the turkey sit for an hour per pound.
- Please keep in mind that nutritional information is a rough estimate and can vary greatly based on products used.