These smoked turkey legs are easy to make, ultra flavorful, and need very little hands-on time. Smoker and oven instructions included.
If you are like me, you have memories of enjoying Turkey drumsticks at Disney or any mainstream carnival (or my local Renaissance fair…seriously). Now, every time you crave them, my copycat recipe is your answer!
I typically bake turkey drumsticks, but I was inspired by my family’s favorite smoked turkey wings, I tweaked it a little so you can smoke drumsticks, too.
Table of Contents
Why this recipe works
- Perfect for making ahead. The recipe is pretty hands-off once you brine, dry rub, and set up the turkey legs for smoking. You’ll have plenty of time to play the perfect host, mingle, and enjoy a drink or two.
- It’s a great alternative to whole turkey. While I love a traditional whole roasted turkey, making smoked turkey legs simplifies things. Also, if your family fights over the last turkey leg every time you cook one (like mine does), now no one misses out.
- Works for all occasions. This versatile recipe is a crowd-pleaser for a big family meal, backyard cookout, or Thanksgiving dinner (along with my smoked ham!).
One of my favorite things about this recipe is that you need just a handful of simple ingredients to make this flavorful dish. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Turkey legs. When buying turkey legs, look up the percentage of retained water and if the turkey is basted. We don’t need a pre-basted turkey because we’ll be brining them ourselves. Instead, look for plump turkey legs, ideally from a butcher, NOT a grocery store. If the turkey is lean and has less water retention, reduce the cooking temperature by 20-25°F.
For the brine.
- Water. Base for the brining liquid.
- Coarse salt. Kosher salt and sea salt work well with this recipe.
- Curing salt. This unique salt (Sodium nitrate) is used for wet-curing of meats. You get the perfect pink color inside (similar to a smoked ham).
- Brown sugar. Brining is all about balancing the flavors. And the brown sugar does just that and adds a bit of sweetness.
- Bay leaves, cloves, mustard seeds, and peppercorns. My preferred spice mix for the brine. These four particular spices compliment one another very well.
- Ice cubes. It cools down the hot brine to safely place it in the refrigerator.
For the dry rub.
- Brown sugar. For a little bit of sweetness and the irresistible, crispy caramelization!
- Coarse salt and black pepper. For the seasoning.
- Garlic powder. For the bold garlic flavor.
- Smoked paprika. For a touch of heat.
Find the printable recipe with measurements below.
How to make the best turkey legs
Making smoked turkey drumsticks is way easier than you think, and the smoker takes care of all the hard work.
Step 1- Prep the turkey legs. Rinse the turkey legs and place them in a large container. Add bay leaves, cloves, mustard seeds, peppercorns, and ice cubes.
Step 2- Make the brine. Combine brown sugar, coarse and curing salt, and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cool it down and pour it over the turkey legs. Lid the container and refrigerate overnight (or 12 hours).
Step 3- Make the dry rub. Combine brown sugar, coarse salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and smoked paprika in a bowl.
Step 4- Coat turkey drums with the dry rub. Remove the turkey drums from the brine, pat them dry, and rub them with olive oil. Then, coat with the prepared spice and place the turkey legs on the preheated pellet smoker.
Step 5- Smoke the turkey legs. Smoke the turkey legs for 3-4 hours or until the inner temperature reaches 165F.
Alternative cooking methods
Like with any of my smoker recipes, I also test them all in the oven and grill, too. So, if you don’t own a smoker, don’t fret- I have you covered.
To oven bake: Prep the turkey legs as instructed. Place them on a wire rack over a foil-rimmed baking sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 180C/350F for 45 minutes, or until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165F. Turn on the broil setting and broil for 2-3 minutes or until your desired crispness level.
To grill: Once the turkey is brined and seasoned, place it on a hot charcoal grill with clean grill grates. Grill the turkey legs for 12-15 minutes on each side. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Tips to make the best recipe
- Do not hasten the cooking. Avoid turning up the heat in an attempt to cook faster. Because turkey legs have a lot of muscles and tendons, it takes 3 to 4 hours for the collagen to melt. The result is beautifully moist, tender meat! Otherwise, you’ll end up with really tough turkey legs.
- Use a meat thermometer. The surefire way to know when your turkey is fully cooked. Once the internal temp is 165F, it’s ready to enjoy.
- Get perfectly crispy skin. Smoke the turkey over low heat for a maximum part of the cook. Towards the end of your cooking, ramp up the heat to 350F to enjoy perfectly crispy skin! Alternatively, you can baste or spritz the skin for the lovely crackling.
- Adjust per your salt preference. The salt may look a little high but remember, we discard most it before cooking. If you really aren’t a fan of all the sodium, reduce the amount by half.
- Completely submerge the turkey legs. Dip the turkey legs entirely in the brining liquid for even brining and consistent texture and flavor.
To store. Allow the turkey legs to cool, and refrigerate them in an airtight container for three days.
To freeze. Place leftover turkey in a ziplock bag and store it in the freezer for up to 6 months.
To reheat. Reheat smoked turkey legs in the oven, covered. Or steam them to prevent them from drying out.
Frequently asked questions
Although it really depends on the smoker, light wood chips like cherry or apple work well for this recipe because it isn’t overpowering. If you prefer a super smoky flavor, opt for oak or hickory.
No, that’s not required. In fact, you want it to retain the flavor as much as possible.
I don’t recommend brining the meat for over 24 hours. Overbrining will break down your meat and make it way too salty to consume.
Sure, you can! Remember to thaw your frozen turkey legs before brining them so they absorb all the beautiful flavors.
More delicious ways to cook turkey
- Baked turkey wings– Crispy, juicy, and perfect for a meal in itself.
- Turkey pastrami– Say goodbye to overpriced and overprocessed deli meat.
- Boneless turkey breast– My family loves white meat, and this recipe is a winner.
- Turkey cutlets– Think chicken cutlets, but even more tasty.
- Air fryer turkey breast– The easiest way to cook a crisp and juicy turkey.
Smoked Turkey Legs Recipe
- 4 turkey legs
- Rinse the turkey legs and place them in a large container.
- Add bay leaves, cloves, mustard seeds, peppercorns, and ice cubes.
- In a saucepan, combine brown sugar, coarse salt, and curing salt. Add water and bring to a boil. Cool down the prepared brine and pour it over the turkey legs. Refrigerate for 12 hours.
- Preheat your smoker to 225-250F with your favorite hardwood.
- Remove the turkey legs from the brine and pat them dry. Rub the turkey drums with olive oil.
- In a bowl, combine brown sugar, coarse salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and smoked paprika.
- Rub the turkey with the prepared spice mix and place them on the smoker. Smoke the turkey legs for 3 hours or until the inner temperature reaches 165F.
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