Every time I go to a fair or big event where they are selling turkey legs, I usually get one to gnaw on while I'm walking around but it's never as good as what I can do at home. Here's my go to recipe for smoky, slightly sweet and savory turkey legs that will bring out the carnivore in just about anyone.
My original rub along with some butter and maple syrup really builds the flavor for these so I recommend you do it my way. You can of course use a different rub or no rub at all but I guarantee you it won't be as good (of course I'm biased). 😀
Brining meat is something we talk about often and it just involves adding salt to meat to make it more tender, more juicy and more flavorful. Dry brining involves simply sprinkling dry salt onto meat but in wet brining, we make a brine mixture using 1 gallon of water to 1 cup of salt and 1 cup of brown sugar. This is what I call a basic brine and it's what we'll be using in this recipe.
Make the Brine
- 1 gallon of cold water
- 1 cup of coarse kosher salt
- 1 cup of brown sugar (dark or light)
It's important to use coarse kosher salt since it tends to dissolve better than table salt. It also measures differently than table salt.
Get your ingredients together..
Pour the salt into the water and as you begin to mix it will immediately become cloudy. As you continue to mix, the salt will dissolve after a minute or so and the water will return to clear.
Salt dissolved into the water will look like this:
Add the brown sugar and stir to combine.
Then add the turkey legs and place it in the fridge for 8-10 hours
I was only doing 3 turkey legs so they fit into the pitcher. If you do more turkey legs you can use a larger container and pour the brine mixture over the top to cover.
Also, I only needed ½ batch of brine for 3 turkey legs, more than that and you would need a whole batch.
When the turkey legs are done wet brining, it's a good idea to give them a good rinse to make sure there's not residual salt on the outside. The salt that has made it's way into the inside of the meat has already done it's job.
My original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) is such a universal seasoning for so many things whether you are cooking outdoor or inside in the oven and the flavor never ceases to amaze me on whatever I choose to use it on.
On these, I decided to pull an old trick out of my hat and mix the rub with mayonnaise so all of the rub remained intact.
The Rub/Mayo Concoction
For those of you (you know who you are) who would imagine that this is NOT a tasty mixture, try it before you knock it. This is basically oil, egg and my rub and it's good enough to eat by itself. But of course, don't eat it– save it for the turkey legs.
You can of course double the recipe if you have more turkey legs than I did. This was the perfect amount for 3 turkey legs.
At this point, they are ready for the smoker.
I am using the Camp Chef Pursuit for these. If you haven't heard of this dandy thing– it's a portable pellet grill made by Camp Chef and if you are into camping or RV living, then this is perfect since it folds up into a fairly small transportable pellet grill yet it has 501 square inches of cooking space with a top and bottom grate that is approximately 13 x 18.5 inches each.
It is also big enough to hold a Bradley rack or a Weber grill pan on the top and bottom grate which is really nice.
Enough about that.. if you're interested you can read my recent review HERE.
You can use ANY smoker for these turkey legs.
Set up your smoker for cooking at 225-250°F using indirect heat. If your smoker uses a water pan, fill it up.
Once the smoker is preheated, get the smoke rolling and place the meat on the smoker.
I recommend hickory for these but any smoking wood will work. (I used hickory/charwood pellets made by Camp Chef)
As you can see in the image below, the top grate was removed from the Camp Chef Pursuit since it wasn't needed for this cook.
This step is optional but I do recommend it.
When the smoked turkey legs reach about 160°F, it's a good idea to glaze them.
Be sure to use a thermapen or other meat thermometer to check the temperature for best results.
Brush this on a couple of times before removing the turkey from the smoker at an internal temperature of 180°F internal meat temperature.
Depending on the size of your turkey legs, you can figure on about 2 to 2.5 hours for these to reach a good finish temperature of 180°F. I like to take dark meat poultry to a higher temperature than the leaner cuts to make it more tender and due to the extra fat it contains, it can handle it without drying out.
These were so juicy.. I sliced into it and the smoke ring and juiciness were unbelievable!
For pellet smokers, you will most definitely get more smoke at lower temperatures and less smoke as you crank up the heat. Keep the heat low in pellet smokers for the best smoke flavor.
Turkey skin can benefit from cooking at temperatures of 250 to 275°F if your smoker is capable of higher temperatures. This will cut the time down to 1 to 1.5 hours.
To crank up the heat on a pellet smoker, cook the legs for 1 hour at very low heat to get that good smoke flavor then crank up the heat to finish.