I prefer the leg and thigh meat of a turkey to the breast, except for sandwiches. I do enjoy leftover roasted and thinly sliced turkey breast piled high on toasted bread with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise.
When it comes to eating turkey as the main event of a meal, dark meat has more flavor and moisture than light meat, in my opinion. And, it cooks really nicely low and slow in my Masterbuilt Smoker. A combination of water and apple cider in the liquid bowl adds even more moisture to the meat.
Smoked legs or drumsticks are actually fun to eat with your hands. Every time I watch a film where the main characters are medieval gentry gorging on large cuts of meat, I am intrigued and amused. Watching those well-dressed royals chomping on whole grilled turkey legs makes me crave smoked drumsticks that I can eat without regard to table manners. This is a perfect casual backyard barbeque food.
Preparing Turkey Legs for the Smoker
I don’t always brine my turkey, especially if I am oven roasting and basting often. When it comes to smoking turkey, I do recommend brining it first.
You might be thinking that this sounds like a time-consuming project. It is much less labor-intensive than you might think. Making a salt, sugar, and water brine is super easy. The turkey and brine do the rest of the work by just sitting in the fridge or a cooler for hours. Then, the smoker does the rest. You can pretty much chill during much of the process.
A basic brine for 6 turkey drumsticks is 10 cups of filtered water, 1/3 cup sea salt, and 1/4 cup brown sugar. In place of sugar, I will use honey because I like the flavor of a really nice local, floral honey. If I want to give the turkey a deeper color, I will use blackstrap molasses as the sweet component. Maple syrup is another option. Use what is available.
You don’t have to stop with the basic brine. I like to add some allspice berries and bay leaves. Feel free to add things like garlic cloves, peppercorns, fresh thyme sprigs, and sage leaves.
You can place the legs in gallon-size resealable plastic bags. Pour the brine over the legs and seal the bags. Place the bags in a baking dish to catch any spills and refrigerate overnight.
While your smoker is preheating, Rinse off the legs and pat them dry with paper towels. Season them with your favorite dry rub. I have included a blend in the recipe. Now it is time to smoke the turkey.
What to Serve with Smoked Turkey Legs
Since you are likely to eat turkey legs with your hands, it makes sense to pull together a meal that includes more hand-held or picnic-style offerings. Just have plenty of napkins on hand. Here are some ideas to complete your meal:
If you have kids taking part in the feast, smoked chicken drumsticks are a great idea because they are smaller and more manageable. Also, I find that some younger children haven’t yet developed a palate for dark meat turkey.
If you have a smoker with multiple racks, you can prepare vegetables, such as corn on the cob and jalapeño poppers. Just make sure you smoke the veggies on a rack above the poultry to prevent cross-contamination. I also really enjoy wedges of seedless sweet watermelon to serve with smoked proteins.
Brined and Smoked Turkey Legs Recipe
- 6 large turkey drumsticks
- 10 cups filtered, room temperature water
- 1/3 cup sea salt
- 1/4 cup runny or melted honey
- 4 dried bay leaves
- 6 allspice berries
- 6 whole peppercorns
- 3 TBS brown sugar
- 1 TBS sweet paprika
- 1-1/2 tsps garlic powder
- 1-1/2 tsps onion powder
- 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
For the Smoker
- Apple or cherry wood chips
- Water and apple cider or apple juice
Total time:3 hour 30 min – Prep time:30 min – Smoke time:3 hour – Serves:6 people
1. In a large mixing bowl or soup pot, whisk together the water, salt, honey, bay leaves, allspice, and peppercorns until well combined. Place the turkey legs in 2 separate gallon-sized plastic bags. Pour half the brine in one bag and half in the other. Seal the bags and gently massage the brine into the turkey to coat well. Place the bags in a baking dish and refrigerate overnight.
2. Remove a rack from the smoker. Fill the water bowl of your smoker halfway with equal parts water and apple cider. Fill the tray with wood chips. Preheat the smoker to 260°F with the top vent open.
3. While the smoker is heating up, remove the turkey drumsticks from the brine and rinse under cool water. Pat dry with paper towels and place the legs on a platter or cutting board.
4. In a small mixing bowl, stir together the sugar, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and pepper. Using your hands, pat the dry rub all over the turkey legs. Place the legs on the smoker rack.
5. Place the rack with the turkey legs in the smoker. Cook until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 165°F when checked with a digital meat thermometer, approximately 2-1/2 to 3 hours. Remember to refill the water bowl and wood chip tray when you don’t see any smoke coming through the vent.
6. Remove the turkey legs from your smoker and tent loosely with foil. Allow them to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving. Serve with napkins and your favorite side dishes.