Smoked Turkey Legs: Better Than Disney
Did you ever go to the fair or the carnival as a kid? Some people go for the rides, some go for the games, but I went for the food, in particular the smoked turkey legs!
There is something magical about walking around with a giant piece of smoked meat and stuffing your face between the rides, the games, and all the other attractions.
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I thought this would be a perfect time to show you how to smoke your own turkey legs at home and relive some of those childhood memories with family and friends.
Smoked Turkey Legs
Most of the smoked turkey leg Disney copycat recipes you see will tell you to inject the legs with a curing solution.
This will include a special curing salt known as Prague Powder #1, which is the same ingredient used to make cured ham and gives the turkey legs their characteristic pink color.
There’s nothing wrong with using a curing brine injection.
It does give the turkey legs a very salty, almost ham-like taste, so for this recipe, I decided to go with more classic barbecue flavors.
Where to buy turkey legs
If you want to cook those super-size, caveman friendly turkey legs you would find at Disneyland, you need to shop for male tom turkey legs. These can weigh 1.75 – 2 pounds each.
These are hard to source. You’ll probably need to place a special order with your butcher.
The best option is to smoke the smaller hen legs. They should be readily available at most grocery stores. Plus they are faster to cook and a better size for most eaters.
Brining turkey legs
Most of the time when I am cooking a whole turkey, I will brine it for 24 hours. It is especially important for retaining moisture and flavor in the breast where it can dry out most often.
Let’s be honest, there is nothing worse than dry turkey.
Luckily, turkey legs are not as lean and have more fat content which helps them retain more of their flavor and moisture throughout the cooking process. That’s why I decided not to brine for this cook, but if I were doing a whole turkey or just the breast, I would most certainly take the time to do it.
If you want to brine your turkey legs, you can use our chicken wing brine recipe.
What kind of wood is best for smoked turkey legs?
You can use several different types of wood for smoking turkey. Some give off a much stronger flavor while others are mild.
I chose to use pecan wood for my turkey legs because I like a nice smoky flavor with some sweet undertones. Fruit woods are also great options as they are also sweeter and milder than other woods. Apple and cherry are always a great choice for poultry.
I would avoid woods such as hickory or mesquite as the flavor of the smoke is usually too strong for poultry and can easily overpower it.
Also if you find that wood chunks are producing too much smoke for your personal liking, try using wood chips to tone down the level of smoke you are producing.
How to smoke turkey legs
1. Oil and rub the turkey legs
Remove your turkey legs from the package and apply some oil and rub it all over. This is going to act as a binder and allow the seasoning or rub to evenly adhere to the legs.
I like to use avocado oil because of its high smoke point, flavor, and because it is better for you than most other oils.
After the oil is applied to the turkey legs, sprinkle on a nice even layer of seasoning.
For this cook, I used Kosmos Q Dirty Bird BBQ Rub. This is one of my favorite poultry seasonings as it has a nice balance of flavors, but if you want to make your own rub I recommend using our BBQ Turkey Rub recipe.
After I apply the seasoning I usually let the rub sit on the turkey legs for 5-10 minutes before placing them on the smoker.
2. Smoke the legs
For this cook, I used my Large Big Green Egg with Fogo Charcoal.
Heat up your smoker to 225°F -250°F. Once your smoker is up to temperature add your smoke wood.
After you place the turkey legs on the smoker you are going to let them smoke until the internal temperature gets to 140°F. At this point, I turn up the heat in my smoker to 350°F.
The reason I do this is that the high heat helps get the turkey skin nice and crispy. No rubbery skin on these turkey legs!
Another thing I like to do is spritz the turkey legs with water a couple of times during the cooking process. Not only does spritzing help keep the turkey from drying out but it also helps build a bark on the skin.
If you notice that the bottom part of the leg is cooking much faster than the top or that it is burning you can wrap foil around them to protect the meat.
3. Glaze the legs
Your turkey legs are ready when the internal temp reaches 165°F. Just a few minutes before removing the turkey legs from the smoker I like to add a nice coating of bbq sauce.
Not everyone who smokes turkey legs adds sauce but I always think it’s a nice touch and gives another layer of flavor.
I used Best Damn BBQ Sauce, Sweet Lady Love. For an easy homemade option use our classic BBQ sauce recipe.
I heated up the sauce on the smoker and brushed on a few coats. I let the sauce tack up on the turkey legs for about 5 minutes and then I remove them to rest for 10 minutes.
If you have it available you can wrap a layer of newspaper or butcher paper around the bottom of each leg so you can hold it without getting your hands messy.
For some more Thanksgiving turkey inspiration check out our other recipes below:
- Smoked Turkey Breast with Cranberry and Port Glaze
- Spatchcocked Smoked Turkey with Pan Stuffing
- Smoked Turkey Recipe: The Best Method for Juicy BBQ Turkey
A note about poultry safe eating temperature
With poultry, the safe internal temperature for eating is 165°F. Sometimes when I’m cooking an entire turkey or chicken I will remove it from the smoker at 160°F and let it rest. While it rests the meat will come up to 165°F.
However, when cooking turkey legs there is more wiggle room as the meat will not dry out as quickly. I remove my turkey legs when the internal temperature reaches around 175°F. You can decide on what you prefer as long as the internal temp is past 165°F.
A lot of time when I’m cooking dark meat like legs, wings, or thighs I leave them on even longer and they still retain plenty of moisture.
Having a good instant read thermometer is a must, and always ensures you are cooking your food to the correct safe temperature. There are plenty available on the market but I recommend the Thermapen ONE by Thermoworks for its accuracy and speed.
Pecan Smoked Turkey Legs
- 1 Turkey leg
- 1 tbsp Avocado oil per leg
- 1 tbsp BBQ rub per leg
- ½ cup BBQ Sauce per leg
- Setup the smoker to 250°F and add your pecan wood.
- Remove your turkey legs from the package and apply a coating of avocado oil all over them.
- Sprinkle the BBQ rub evenly on the turkey legs and let them sit for 10 minutes.
- Place the turkey legs on the smoker and cook until they reach an internal temperature of 140°F. You can spritz the turkey legs with water a few times during the cooking process if the meat looks like it's drying out.
- Turn up the heat on your smoker to 350°F and continue cooking until the internal temperature reads 160°F.
- Warm up your sauce and apply a couple of coats to your turkey legs and continue cooking until the internal temperature reads at least 165°F.
- Remove the turkey legs from the smoker and let them rest for 10 minutes.
- Wrap a layer of newspaper or butcher paper around the bottom of each leg to give you that nostalgic feeling!