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Sweet and Spicy Smoked Turkey Legs

sweet spicy smoked turkey legs

These sweet and spicy smoked turkey legs are easy to do in the smoker in just a couple of hours and they are a wonderful addition to the Thanksgiving festivities.

Helpful Information
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Marinate Time: 10 hours
  • Cook Time: 2 hours (depends on size)
  • Smoker Temp: 225°F
  • Meat Finish Temp: 165°F
  • Recommended Wood: Pecan/Apple
What You'll Need
  • 4-6 turkey legs (one per person)
  • Basic buttermilk brine (recipe below)
  • Brining container or zip top bag
  • Olive oil
  • Jeff's original rub 
Make the Basic Buttermilk Brine

Ingredients

  • ½ gallon water
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • ¾ cup coarse kosher salt
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar (light will work)

Instructions

  1. Place the water into a gallon sized pitcher.
  2. Add the salt and stir until the salt dissolves
  3. Add the buttermilk and brown sugar and stir again for about 30 seconds to combine.

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Set the brine aside while you get the turkey legs out of the package.

Brine the Turkey Legs

Remove the turkey legs from the package and place them into a ziptop bag or a lidded plastic/glass container.

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Pour enough brine over the turkey legs to cover them completely.

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Place a lid on the container then refrigerate the brining container for about 10 hours.

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When the turkey legs are finished brining, remove them from the brine and rinse them really well under cold water.

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Season the Turkey Legs

Drizzle olive oil over the drumsticks then spread it all over with your hands or a brush.

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Sprinkle Jeff's original rub on all sides of the turkey drumsticks

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I talk about these Bradley racks a lot, but they are so handy! I have had mine for several years and as long as you take the time to clean them really good every time, they will last you for a really long time.

Update: These are getting hard to find so another great product that works equally well is the Weber grill pans. Heavy duty and feels like they'll be around for many decades to come.

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Prepare the Smoker

Set up your smoker for cooking at about 225-240°F.

If your smoker has a water pan, use it.

Electric Smoker Tips

  •  If you have trouble getting smoke, prop door open to keep heating element on until you see smoke.
  • Use dry chips.. do not soak!
  • Open door only when necessary to minimize heat loss.

Propane/Gas Smoker Tips

  • Add dry chips to chip box and turn flame on HIGH until you see smoke. Initially, do not add food until you see smoke. For refilling with wood chips, turn heat to high then prop door open slightly to maintain proper temperature until you see smoke. Close the door once you see smoke.
  • Make sure you have a full bottle of propane (Most gas smokers will run for about 30 hours on a 20-lb refillable tank.

Charcoal Smoker Tips

  • Use lump charcoal for best results
  • Use wood chunks or large splits laid right on top of the charcoal for best smoke.
  • Do NOT use lighter fluid to start! Use a charcoal chimney, barbecue safe firestarters, or an electric charcoal starter instead.
  • If you have one of the small bullet type charcoal smokers, you may find it difficult to maintain proper temperatures. Consider putting less water in the water pan to help it heat easier. Also consider drilling some holes in the side of your charcoal pan to allow more air to your coals (this will void the warranty).

Offset/Wood Smoker

  • Even though these are often made for burning all wood, I tend to get better results when I use lump charcoal for the heat, and wood for smoke and I think you will too. Keep a bed of coals in the bottom and add a medium sized stick of wood on top to provide smoke. Continue to add coals and wood as needed to keep the heat and smoke going.
  • Hot spots are inevitable in many of these smokers so use a digital probe thermometer to monitor the temperature right where the food is sitting on the grate and use that as your gauge.
  • Always leave the vents/chimney partially open to ensure proper airflow through the smoker.

Ceramic/Kamado Type Cooker

  • Use lump charcoal for best results.
  • Mix wood chunks and wood chips in with the charcoal at about a 25% ratio to keep the smoke going.
  • Be sure to set up the cooker for indirect cooking by using a platesetter (BGE) or other accessory.
Smoke the Turkey Legs

Once the smoker is going and maintaining the proper temperature, place the turkey legs on the grate.

Monitor the Temperature

It is best to monitor the temperature using a digital probe meat thermometer. Some of my favorite leave-in digital probe food thermometers (in no specific order) are:

Another one of my favorite thermometers is the thermapen which is a digital pocket thermometer that reads in about 2 seconds. If you are doing a big batch of something like turkey legs, you can easily check 30 of them in about a minute.

I have a thermapen in my pocket any time I am cooking and it is one of the many tools, I don't cook without. Solid construction, comes in a variety of colors, works fast, the most accurate thermometer you will ever own and I highly recommend it!

Another great tool is the improved ThermoPop digital pocket thermometer which reads in 3-4 seconds (that's fast), is splash-proof and is being offered now for only $29. One of my favorite toys.. er, tools;-)

ThermoPop_generic-01

Once the turkey legs reach 165°F in the thickest part, they are done and should be removed from the heat right away.

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Rest the Turkey Legs & Serve

Immediately wrap the smoked turkey legs in foil individually and let them sit and rest for about 10 minutes before serving them.

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Questions

Where can I find the giant turkey legs?

Unfortunately, I have not been successful at finding the really big ones like you see at state fairs and amusement parks. The folks who do have them, do not give up their suppliers so, for the purpose of use lowly backyarders, I think we are going to have to stick with the smaller ones found at our local supermarkets.

Should I dry the skin on the turkey legs?

Some folks dry the skin (in the fridge) after brining them and before smoking them. This is to make the skin end up more crispy. I don't normally administer this step but it does not hurt anything if you want to try it out.

Simply brine the legs as usual, then pat them dry and place them on a rack. Let them air dry in the fridge for several hours before putting my rub on them and smoking them.

Can these turkey legs be injected instead of brined?

Of course you can, but, in my opinion, the flavor is not the same. When I eat a turkey leg, I am looking for a slightly salty and highly flavorful taste. In my opinion, injecting just does not do the job like brining does.

The next time you do a batch, inject one of them and brine the rest. You will be able to see the difference and make a decision as to whether injected smoked turkey legs are for you.

Can the turkey legs be smoked at a hotter temperature?

Turkey, like most other poultry, does not benefit greatly from low and slow cooking other than the fact that it gets more time in the smoke. If you need to smoke them faster, you can certainly do that just be aware that if you take it past about 260°F, the sugar in the rub will burn and char. I tend to do them lower to give them more smoke flavor and to make sure my rub maintains it's great flavor without burning.

Past Thanksgiving Recipes

Here's some great recipes for smoking a whole turkey:

Printable Recipe

Print

Sweet and Spicy Smoked Turkey Legs

These sweet and spicy smoked turkey legs are easy to do in the smoker in just a couple of hours and they are a wonderful addition to the Thanksgiving festivities.

  • Author: Jeff Phillips
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 2 hours
  • Total Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
  • Yield: 4 -6 1x
  • Category: Entree
  • Cuisine: Hot Smoking

Ingredients

Scale
  • 46 turkey legs (((one per person)))
  • Basic buttermilk brine (((recipe below)))
  • Brining container or zip top bag
  • Olive oil
  • Jeff’s rub

Instructions

Make the Basic Buttermilk Brine

  1. Ingredients: ½ gallon water, 1 quart buttermilk, ¾ cup coarse kosher salt, and ½ cup dark brown sugar (light will work).
  2. Place the water into a gallon sized pitcher.
  3. Add the salt and stir until the salt dissolves
  4. Add the buttermilk and brown sugar and stir again for about 30 seconds to combine.
  5. Set the brine aside while you get the turkey legs out of the package.

Brine the Turkey Legs

  1. Remove the turkey legs from the package and place them into a ziptop bag or a lidded plastic/glass container.
  2. Pour enough brine over the turkey legs to cover them completely.
  3. Place a lid on the container then refrigerate the brining container for about 10 hours.
  4. When the turkey legs are finished brining, remove them from the brine and rinse them really well under cold water.

Season the Turkey Legs

  1. Drizzle olive oil over the drumsticks then spread it all over with your hands or a brush.
  2. Sprinkle Jeff’s rub on all sides of the turkey drumsticks

Prepare the Smoker

  1. Set up your smoker for cooking at about 225-240°F.
  2. If your smoker has a water pan, use it.

Smoke the Turkey Legs

  1. Once the smoker is going and maintaining the proper temperature, place the turkey legs on the grate.
  2. It is best to monitor the temperature using a digital probe meat thermometer.
  3. Once the turkey legs reach 165 °F in the thickest part, they are done and should be removed from the heat right away.

Rest the Turkey Legs & Serve

  1. Immediately wrap the smoked turkey legs in foil individually and let them sit and rest for about 10 minutes before serving them.

Questions

  1. Where can I find the giant turkey legs? Unfortunately, I have not been successful at finding the really big ones like you see at state fairs and amusement parks. The folks who do have them, do not give up their suppliers so, for the purpose of use lowly backyarders, I think we are going to have to stick with the smaller ones found at our local supermarkets.
  2. Should I dry the skin on the turkey legs? Some folks dry the skin (in the fridge) after brining them and before smoking them. This is to make the skin end up more crispy. I don’t normally administer this step but it does not hurt anything if you want to try it out. Simply brine the legs as usual, then pat them dry and place them on a rack. Let them air dry in the fridge for several hours before putting my rub on them and smoking them.
  3. Can these turkey legs be injected instead of brined? Of course you can, but, in my opinion, the flavor is not the same. When I eat a turkey leg, I am looking for a slightly salty and highly flavorful taste. In my opinion, injecting just does not do the job like brining does. The next time you do a batch, inject one of them and brine the rest. You will be able to see the difference and make a decision as to whether injected smoked turkey legs are for you.
  4. Can the turkey legs be smoked at a hotter temperature? Turkey, like most other poultry, does not benefit greatly from low and slow cooking other than the fact that it gets more time in the smoke. If you need to smoke them faster, you can certainly do that just be aware that if you take it past about 260°F, the sugar in the rub will burn and char. I tend to do them lower to give them more smoke flavor and to make sure my rub maintains it’s great flavor without burning.

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