This simple Smoked Turkey Legs recipe is dry brined, smoked, and glazed with an amazing honey butter mix that will become an instant family classic!
Whether you had your first turkey leg at Disneyland, county fair or Six Flags, you know these are simply mouthwateringly delicious.
With minimal prep and a simple brine, you can make your own Disney turkey leg at home for the family this weekend’s BBQ, or make several, and serve these up at game day and tailgating. Heck, you might be in charge of the county’s Renaissance Fair and have to smoke these for a massive crowd.
Your guests will go wild over these when you learn how easy it will be to learn how to cook smoked turkey legs. Heck, smoke the whole bird while you’re at it and it will drive your neighbors crazy with the amazing aroma.
🍽️ Why This Works
⭐ Delicious – You aren’t going to find a tastier recipe! The light smoke and the sweet glaze work just perfectly with these. The honey and butter glaze sticks to the meat and leaves it with a slightly stick coating that is melt-in-your-mouth delicious!
⭐ Juicy – The dry brine seals the skin and keeps the moisture trapped inside the smoked turkey drumsticks. As a result, these are packed full of flavor and juices.
⭐ Simple – This is a silly-simple recipe. The dry brine does most of the work while it rests in the fridge. You’ll smoke on indirect heat until the internal temp reaches 165°F and the glaze will finish it off. Seriously, this is so easy!
🛒 Turkey Legs – These are the star of the show. Look for legs that are of uniform size in the packaging. You don’t want the small ones to be ready before the larger ones are done.
🛒 Turkey Brine for Smoking – I used Bada Bing dry brine from the Grill Dads and Spiceology. You can certainly use a wet brine like I did on the Smoked Turkey Breast and the Spatchcocked Turkey, but that requires a bit of extra work. A dry brine is much easier.
🛒 Honey and Butter – These ingredients are the secret to finishing the smoked turkey legs. The honey mixes with the melted butter and serves as a simple glaze that makes all the difference! It adds just a slight sweetness to the skin.
You don’t need a lot of complex items to make this work. I bet you have most of this at home already!
✔️ Elevated Baking Rack – I used to smoke straight on the grill grate on indirect heat, but recently found that these elevated baking racks work even better. The racks fit right inside a 1/8 sheet pan, which captures any drippings and keeps the meat elevated, so it will smoke evenly on all sides.
Winner winner! The quarter-sized sheet pans fit on my large Big Green Egg perfectly.
✔️ Ziploc Bag – The old shake-and-bake approach to coating the turkey legs with the dry brine is the best. Add the dry brine to the Ziploc and then add one leg at a time.
Shake it up, and you’ll get a nice, even coating. If you want less dry brine, simply sprinkle on the brine rather than shaking it on.
The brine remains on the skin while smoking and will give a slightly salty taste. If you would rather have less salt flavor, sprinkle the rub instead.
✔️ Smoker – A dedicated pellet grill smoker like a Traeger works great, but I used my Big Green Egg with a plate setter. If you use a charcoal grill or gas grill, turn off the center burners and use a smoking box to hold the wood chips.
✔️ Wood – Since you are smoking, you will be using wood. We like fruit woods with our poultry because we want it mild. Nevertheless, you can use hickory or mesquite, for a more robust smoke influence.
This time we chose hickory as it wasn’t going to be on the smoker long so I knew it wouldn’t be overpowered.
If you aren’t sure which wood to choose, print off the Wood Smoking Cheatsheet so you can reference it every time you use your smoker. Check out the Best Wood for Smoking a Turkey as another resource.
✔️ Fire Starters – Buy the ones at the store or learn to make your own firestarters out of wax, lint, and egg cartons.
🔥 How to Smoke Turkey Legs
🔷 Step 1: Remove the turkey legs from the packaging and pat them dry with a paper towel.
🔷 Step 2: Add some dry brine to a large Ziploc bag and place a turkey leg inside. Seal it up and give it a good shake to coat the brine evenly. Place it on an elevated baking rack (cooling rack) on a sheet pan, and let it rest in the refrigerator uncovered for 24 hours.
Note: The dry brine will pull some of the moisture out of the skin and it creates a seal that keeps the juices trapped inside. You will notice that the texture of the skin changes and there will be a little bit of drippings on the sheet pan the next day. That is completely normal and means that the dry brine worked.
🔷 Step 3: Set up your grill for smoking at 275°F. For a kamado-style grill, add the plate setter to create an indirect heat. I added whole hickory chunks to the coal as I wanted a very strong smoky taste. For a milder smoky flavor, use apple wood or cherry wood.
🔷 Step 4: Keep the legs on the sheet pan with the baking rack and add it to the grill. No need to rinse this dry brine. Expect that it will take about 3 hours for the interior temperature to reach the USDA-recommended 165°F.
🔷 Step 5: When the legs reach about 150°F, melt the butter and mix it with the honey. Stir well to combine them. Brush the melted butter/honey mixture on the turkey legs and let them keep smoking until they reach 165°F.
🔷 Step 6: Remove them from the grill, let rest for about 10 minutes, and serve. You’ll love the reactions of your friends and family!
PRO TIP: These drumsticks have a lot of connective tissue and may take a bit longer to get tender and allow all of the collagen to break down.
🥣 Wet Brine For Smoked Turkey Legs
If you prefer using a wet brine, pull out the Smoked Turkey Breast recipe which combines water, apple cider vinegar, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, kosher salt, apples, and other spices.
Or keep it simple with water, kosher salt, black peppercorns, brown sugar, and bay leaf.
Some like to boil the wet brine and let it cool to room temperature before use. This is usually done in a large pot. I found that doing this doesn’t make a big difference, so feel free to skip this part.
Anytime you use a wet brine, make sure to rinse the meat well under cold water before smoking.
❄️ Fridge. If you have any leftovers, store these in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days in a sealed airtight container or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil.
🧊 Freezer. Freeze these in a freezer-safe zippered bag for up to 2-3 months. You can either freeze the legs whole or remove the bones and store only the meat. The second option will take up less space in the freezer.
Use freezer-safe Ziploc bags, or vacuum-sealed bags and try to remove as much air as possible before sealing. This will better insulate the cooked meat and prevent freezer burn.
💧 Thawing. Let the turkey legs or meat (if you removed the bones) that overnight in the fridge. This is the best method for preserving flavor and texture. For food safety purposes, avoid thawing at room temperature.
It’s easy to reheat leftover turkey legs or meat but there are some steps you need to take to ensure the meat will be properly reheated without drying it out.
👨🏻🍳 Oven Method. This is the best method as it will help you heat the turkey evenly and keep it moist.
- Preheat the oven to 275°F (135°C).
- Place the turkey legs in an oven-safe dish and add a splash of water or broth. This will prevent the meat from drying out.
- Cover with aluminum foil and reheat until the internal temperature reaches 165°F (74°C). This will take around 20-30 minutes.
📟 Microwave Method. The microwave is the faster alternative but it also makes it easier to overcook the meat or dry them out. Use with caution.
- Place the leftover turkey legs or meat in a microwave-safe dish and cover with a damp paper towel.
- Use a low-power setting and heat in short 15-second intervals.
- Check regularly and remove from the microwave once the leftovers are heated through.
🌶️ Additions & Substitutions
The latter goes well with pretty much anything, and I always double or triple the recipe just so I have some on hand.
🔸 Paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, allspice, chili flakes, cayenne pepper, thyme, oregano, and rosemary, are all staple herbs and spices you can combine to create your own turkey rub.
Mix all ingredients in a bowl before seasoning the legs. If you made extra, keep it in an airtight jar or container in a cool dry place.
🔸 Use a wet brine instead of a dry brine. The wet brine recipe I mentioned above is fine, but you can make things even simpler.
We used a 3-ingredient wet brine for this grilled spatchcock turkey made of just water, salt, and brown sugar (it can be light or dark brown sugar – use whatever you have).
It tenderized the meat perfectly and we added flavors with a BBQ rub.
❗ Expert Tips
📌 Use a baking rack inside a sheet pan – I just recently started using these and it has made all the difference in the world. My wife got a bit cranky when I tried to use the ones for the kitchen, so she bought me a set I can dedicate just to the grill. 😀
📌 Let the dry brine work – The dry brine only needs time to do its thing. Let the legs rest in the refrigerator for a full 24 hours before smoking.
It requires a bit of pre-planning, but you’ll love the results. But the prep is less than 5 minutes so it isn’t a heavy lift.
📌 Low and slow is the key – I kept the grill close to 275°F, but you can go as low as 225°F. Expect it will take a bit longer for the turkey to reach a safe internal temperature.
The internal temperature needs to be 165°F for turkey meat to be fully done. We use the Wireless ThermoPro (we talk about it in our best wireless meat thermometers guide). You can also use the standard ones that you buy at Walmart.
Making sure you get to that temp is what matters and a meat thermometer is the best tool for an accurate measurement.
📌 Wood choice – If you aren’t sure what wood you want to use, check out our Wood Smoking Cheatsheet. This will provide a guide for what wood typically pairs well with the type of meat you are smoking.
For more depth information, take a look at our guide on the best wood for smoking turkey.
🍴What To Serve With Smoked Turkey Legs
This will all depend on what occasion you are serving them.
🥨 Crackers & Cheese. Tailgates warrant these to be served solo but since you are going to pretty much be the BBQ hero with lines waiting for their own leg, you may as well serve little containers of smoked pretzels, smoked cream cheese on crackers, or smoked cheez its.
🧴 BBQ Sauce. The moist and smoky pull-of-the-bone meat is a match made in heaven with barbecue sauce. So many options to try!
You can go for a whiskey BBQ sauce that will add a deeper and richer flavor, a tangy cherry Bourbon BBQ sauce, a sweet and spicy BBQ sauce if you love some heat. Alternatively, use your favorite store-bought option when you’re in a rush.
🔥 Classic BBQ Sides. When you’re the grill master for the block party, whip up Smoked Sweet Potatoes, Smoked Baked Potatoes, Smoked Potato Salad, Smoked Mac and Cheese, or grilled Mexican street corn.
🥗 Veggies & Salads. If it’s a small gathering or you’re just cooking for your family, it’s always nice to include a lighter side like this grilled peach and arugula salad, or an avocado corn salsa. Check out our selection of BBQ chicken sides for more great smoked turkey sides.
🦃 More Smoked Turkey Recipes
Both wet brining and dry brining bring out the best in turkey meat and it’s worth exploring in both whole form and smaller cuts.
🍗 A whole smoked turkey is a wonderful choice for feeding a crowd and even if you get some leftovers, they’re versatile and freeze well. The bird has to be fully defrosted before smoking if your turkey was frozen. Read our guide on how to thaw a turkey for more information on how to do it safely and efficiently.
🍗 Try this smoked spatchcock turkey recipe for an even quicker way to cook the entire bird. The turkey is flattened using a special method. In this thinned-out form, it will cook much faster.
At 275°F on indirect heat, it will take between 3-4 hours for the turkey legs to reach the safe internal temperature of 165°F.
There are a lot of tendons and ligaments in turkey legs. The best way to break down all of that connective tissue is to let the legs smoke low and slow for the full 3-4 hours.
Too often, removing them early will not give them time to break down the connective tissues.
I used hickory. This provides a strong flavoring that pairs well with the mild meat and the sweetness of the honey butter glaze. For a more subtle flavor, use a fruitwood like apple, cherry, or peach.
165°F according to the FDA. You can remove the legs from the smoker at 155-160°F and tent for 20 minutes or so to bring the temperature up but we don’t tend to worry about it much when smoking. The meat is generally more tender vs when we grill, in which case we prefer to tent the meat.
Always use a meat thermometer when checking internal temps in the thickest part of the meat.
Absolutely! You will use a similar method in the oven as you would outdoors. To get back the smoky flavor you would get in a smoker, you can add a few teaspoons of liquid smoke to the brine or place wood chips in the roasting pan.
Liquid smoke has a very concentrated flavor so start with less and add more only if needed.
Set the oven to 250°F. Choose your favorite roasting pan. If using wood chips add them to the bottom and then place the riser/grate for the roasting pan so the turkey isn’t sitting directly on the wood. Then place the turkey on that rack/riser/grate and cook until the internal temperature is 165°F.
Add some broth, gravy, chicken stock, or butter to the turkey leg and reheat it low and slow. If using the oven set it to 300°F, and for microwave reheating set it at 70% power.
It’s also recommended to cover the turkey for reheating: for the oven, you can use aluminum foil, and for microwaving, use a microwave-friendly dish with a lid.
Turkey is rich in tendons and ligaments so it needs low and slow cooking to tenderize. To achieve crispy skin, we dry brined the turkey uncovered in the fridge for 24 hours.
This causes the skin to dehydrate, and the seasoning also helps. Then, we smoked it at 275°F until the internal temperature reached 165°F. This takes around 3 hours for turkey legs and if you took the preparation steps above, the skin will be incredibly crispy!
If you use a wet brine, remove the turkey from the brine after the 24 hours have passed, rinse it well and pat it dry with paper towels. Apply your seasonings and place it on a backing rack with a platter under it and let it sit in the fridge for at leat 4-5 hours before smoking.
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Smoked Turkey Legs
- Quarter Sheet Pan Rack
- 4 turkey legs
- ½ cup Bada Bing Dry Brine
- ½ stick butter melted
- 2 tbsp honey
Brining Turkey Legs
- Sprinkle or use a zip lock bag to cover the turkey legs with the Bada Bing Dry Brine. Place on a sheet pan and leave in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Smoking Turkey Legs
- Heat grill on indirect heat for 275 degrees. Add in a couple pieces of wood for smoking of your choice.
- Once the grill is ready, place the turkey legs on a rack that is placed on a sheet pan. Then place on grill
- Smoke until the legs reach internal temperature of about 150 degrees.
- Combine the melted butter with the honey and stir. Then brush on the turkey legs and continue to cook until internal temperature is 165 degrees.
Jason’s been firing up the grill for over 30 years after graduating from the US Coast Guard Academy. His love of finely-grilled steak and chicken led him to buy his first Weber grill to put on his apartment patio in 1992. Each military move led to a new grill (a mixture of gas and charcoal) until he fell in love with the Big Green Egg in 2008. Since then, he has added another 4 grills to the collection. Yes, he has a problem. Jason loves smoking in the ceramic BGE with exotic woods including olive wood from Egypt and hard to find varieties such as sassafras and orange wood. Jason takes the term “foodie” to a whole new level, jumping at the chance to take food tours and cooking classes during foreign travels. These have provided inspiration to incorporate new ideas into recipes when he gets back home. He has been featured in Fox News, Parade, Yahoo News, Kansas City Living and more. After retiring from the military and moving to southwest Florida, he has focused grilling and smoking locally sourced meats and fish (read: he likes to catch his own fish!)