Learn how to make the best smoked turkey legs on ANY grill or smoker, whether its a Traeger or Pit Boss pellet grill, a Masterbuilt electric smoker, or just a simple Weber kettle!
Smoked turkey legs are easy to make, easy to serve, and best of all…FUN to eat for both kids and adults!
Let’s get started!
We love smoking turkey around here.
Whether it’s a Whole Pellet Grill Thanksgiving Turkey, the fool proof Spatchocked Turkey, our Cajun Butter Injected Smoked Turkey Breast, or the “Are you OUT of your MIND?” Trash Can Turkey...yes you ready that right…we love turkey cooked on the grill…or smoker…or…trash can.
But today we are simplifying things and focusing on the always-fun, Disney-inspired, cave-manny, walk around and socialize whilst you eat…smoked turkey legs.
First we are going to do an easy overnight brine to make sure they stay moist and flavorful throughout the cook.
Then, we will season them up with our all time favorite BBQ rub for turkey and cook them over medium heat indirectly until perfectly cooked and colored.
You can do this on your Traeger pellet grill, a charcoal or gas grill, or even in an electric smoker. We have details for each method below so no one gets left behind today.
Brining the Turkey Legs
A turkey prep method you’ll read about a lot is brining. When most people refer to brining a turkey they are referring more specifically to wet brining.
At its most basic, this is just soaking the turkey overnight in a solution that usually includes salt, sugar, water and maybe some aromatics.
But, what does it do?
Well, the salt naturally penetrates overnight and helps to not only flavor the meat but also retain moisture throughout the cooking process.
Do you HAVE to brine your turkey legs before you smoke them?
Of course not.
But we wouldn’t recommend going through this extra step if it didn’t make them taste phenomenal.
We’ve got a quick smoked turkey leg brine in the recipe below.
Simply mix it up the day before and then soak your turkey legs in a plastic food storage bag or covered container.
You can use also one of the many brining recipes found online (Alton Brown’s is a classic) or save a bit of effort with a premade turkey brining solution if you’d rather save some time.
Brine for a good 6-12 hours before you smoke the turkey legs, you’ll be glad you did.
Our Favorite Seasonings for Smoked Turkey Legs
Take the turkey legs out of the brining solution and rinse them off under cold running water and pat dry before seasoning.
Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of briny goodness inside the meat. But you don’t want to leave it on the outside AND add a salty rub on top of it or your smoked turkey legs will taste like a salt lick.
Now, you can use ANY of your favorite BBQ rubs. Since we are only smoking these at 300°F we don;t need to worry about burning any sugary rubs.
So choose anything you like and sprinkle it on generously on all sides of each leg.
No need to oil them up, this will just inhibit the skin from crisping up.
Three Little Pigs Touch of Cherry is one of our personal favorite rubs for smoked turkey, and their Kansas City Championship Rub will give you a good hit of garlic, onion, and some heat if you like more of those flavors.
You can always mix it in with a more balanced rub like Blues Hog if you just want to add a little of those flavors.
Best Wood for Smoking Turkey Legs
For turkey we generally go for a milder smoke flavor by choosing oak or fruitwood pellets.
Pecan, apple, beech and cherry all give great results.
For fun, you can choose your woods seasonally, using beech and cherry in spring and summer and pecan and apple into the fall and winter.
Best Times and Temperatures for Smoked Turkey Legs
You will need to watch both your cooking temperature and internal temperature carefully when smoking the turkey legs.
We recommend setting up the grill or smoker for indirect heat to cook at 300°F.
This seems to be the best temperature for smoking turkey legs.
Any lower your smoked turkey legs will not only take forever but the skin likely won;t crisp up.
Any higher and you risk burning the sugar in your BBQ rub.
Target Internal Temperature for Smoked Turkey Legs
You HAVE to use a good instant read meat thermometer to know where the internal temperature is of your smoked turkey legs.
If your smoked turkey legs are big enough, you’ll want a good leave in probe thermometer like the Thermopro as well as a second instant read thermometer to spot check as you get close to pulling them off the smoker.
If you don’t yet own an instant read thermometer, ThermoPro makes a good one of these too.
While we have used and recommended ThermoPro for years, lately we have also become big fans of the MEATER leave in thermometer.
It is extremely accurate and has an incredible 165 foot bluetooth range and works right with your smartphone so you don’t need to carry a separate controller around with you like many other remote thermometers require.
It’s got a great free app that is constantly being updated and even has an algorithm to predict how much longer your type of meat will take to cook based on cooking temperature, target temperature, current internal temperature.
It’s like a GPS for your meat!
Anyways, back to our smoked turkey legs…
We are going to bring the internal temperature of our smoked turkey legs up to 175*F.
Since the smoked turkey legs are dark meat, they need to cook up a little higher than say a white meat turkey breast that only needs to hit 165°F internally.
We also think the meat just tastes better when cooked that high as all the fat renders out completely.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke Turkey Legs?
You’ll want to monitor the internal temperature of the turkey legs closely for doneness.
Remember, we are bringing them all the way up to 175°F on your instant read thermometer.
In a 300°F smoker or grill this will take roughly 3 hours.
We are attempting to slow cook them and crisp up the skin at the same time, and it takes time for that tougher turkey leg meat to get fall off the bone tender and all the fat to render out from under the skin.
Depending on the size of your turkey legs, how consistent your smoker temperature is, the humidity outside, as well a number of other factors, your cooking time may be more or less, so be prepared.
Pro Tip: If you want the crispiest skin possible, avoid basting or spraying the turkey legs with anything while they are smoking.
Keep the lid closed as much as possible, and use the temperature probes to tell you when the turkey legs are done.
Setting up your Grill or Smoker for Smoked Turkey Legs
Vertical or Offset Charcoal Smoker
Fill your firebox or lower charcoal basin with about 1/4 a bag of unlit charcoal and create a small hollowed out depression in the center where you can add your lit briquets.
If your smoker comes with a water pan, like the Weber Smokey Mountain, fill the water pan as well to help stabilize the temperature and add moisture to the cooking chamber.
Light a charcoal chimney about 1/4 way with charcoal and wait about 20 minutes for it to fully ignite. You don’t want TOO many lit briquests initially or the temperature will get too high too fast and be unmanageable.
Fill your water pan first, then add the lit briquets to the center depression you created.
Keep the smoker dampers about 1/2 way to 3/4 open until the temperature is to about 275°F. Then slowly close them down until you are maintaining a temperature of 300°F.
This will obviously take longer on a cold winter day than a hot summer one.
Add 1-2 chunks of smoking wood once the smoker is up to temperature and put your turkey legs on the cooking grate.
Propane and Electric Smokers
Propane and electric options are some of the easiest smokers for beginners to start with.
For Propane: Open your gas valve and light the bottom burner. Adjust it to keep the temperature constant at 300° F.
Need a refresher? Check out our Ultimate Guide to using a Masterbuilt propane smoker here.
For Electric: Plug your electric smoker in and turn the temperature to 300° F.
Fill the water tray if there is one.
Place your turkey legs on the rack and close the door.
Fill the pellet hopper with your choice of smoking wood pellets.
Plug in the pellet grill and run it through its start up process.
Once it is creating smoke, turn the temperature to 300° F.
When the pellet grill has come up to temperature, place your turkey legs on the grill grates. Make sure your pellet grill is NOT set to DIRECT heat.
Never used a pellet grill before?
Check out this Ultimate Guide to Pellet Grills to learn why they are so easy and how to set one up for success every time.
Gas or Charcoal Grills
On a charcoal grill you can use wood chunks just like you would in a charcoal smoker.
On a gas grill you will likely need to use a smoker box filled with wood chips, or a pellet tube smoker filled with wood pellets.
Think you need a fancy smoker to smoke food at home? Think again. Great smoked food can be made right on your current gas or charcoal grill.
If you are unfamiliar with these gas grill smoking devices mentioned above, no worries, we have you covered!
In the case of smoked turkey legs, we would opt for the pellet tube smoker since it will provide you with a longer smoking time without needing to refill multiple times like a smoker box.
However, either one will work just fine depending on what you have available.
Set up your gas or charcoal grill for indirect cooking with the burners or a small amount of lit briquets on one side and plan for your meat to be on the other side.
Keep your vents closed about 75-90% on top and bottom to help maintain your temperature.
Once the temperature of your grill is about 250° F, place your wood chunks, smoker box, or pellet tube smoker over the coals or lit burners and once smoke begins coming out, place your meat on the opposite side.
Serving Smoked Turkey Legs
One of the best parts of serving smoked turkey legs if you can serve them just how they are!
No carving or utensils necessary!
You can even walk around the party and talk with your guests while chomping away on one like a caveman or cavewoman!
If you want to serve your smoked turkey legs with a BBQ sauce, we recommend basting the turkey legs with your favorite sauce such as our favorite Blues Hog when they reach about 155-160°F internally.
Let the sauce thicken up for those last 15-30 minutes on the smoker before you pull them off.
Accessories That Enhance Your Grilling Experience
Foolproof smoked turkey legs start, of course, with good turkey and great grill or smoker!
Choose one with the space and features you need to optimize your experience. From there, you can go as simple or fancy as you want.
Some good grilling tools are the next thing you need.
What Other Foods Can I Smoke?
Looking for some more inspiration for things to smoke?
Our Sticky Smoked Sweet Potatoes go GREAT with Smoked Turkey Legs!
Check out some of our favorite recipes below that can easily be modified to be done on any grill or smoker.
More Smoked Poultry
- Spatchcocked Chicken on a Pellet Grill
- Smoked Turkey Breast with Cajun Butter Injection
- Pellet Grill Whole Thanksgiving Turkey
- Spatchcock Smoked Turkey on a Pellet Grill
- Trash Can Turkey – OK, technically not made on a grill or smoker but one of the most fun ways there is to cook a Turkey…at over 700 degrees in only 2 hours!
- Smoked Prime Rib on a Traeger Pellet Grill
- Perfect Smoked London Broil
- Smoked Ribeye Roast
- Hot and Fast Smoked Beef Brisket
- Smoked Corned Beef
- Smoked and Reverse Seared Ribeye Steaks
- Pellet Grilled Steak
- Perfect Grilled Hamburgers
- Smoked Eye of Round Roast Beef
- Smoked Flank Steak
- Traeger Smoked Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish Cream
- Honey Smoked Salmon
- Smoked Oysters in a Garlic White Wine Sauce
- Smoked Scallops with Lemon Butter Sauce
- Smoked Lobster Tails
- Honey Smoked Tilapia
- Perfect Smoked Halibut
- Smoked Mahi Mahi
- Smoked Swordfish Steaks
- Smoked Crab Legs with Cajun Clarified Butter
- Smoked Mackerel with Maple Balsamic Glaze
- Pellet Smoked Baby Back Ribs
- Pellet Grill Smoked Pork Chops
- Smoked Fresh Ham with Dark Rum Citrus Glaze
- Spiral Sliced Smoked Hot Dogs
- Smoked Bratwurst with Beer Braised Onions
- Gas Grilled Bratwurst
- Pellet Grilled Bratwurst
- Roasted Pig in Your Backyard
- Traeger Smoked Pulled Pork
- Traeger 3-2-1 Pork Ribs
- Electric Smoker Pork Butt
- Pit Boss Pulled Pork
- Smoked Leg of Lamb with Guinness Marinade
- Smoked Lamb Chops with a Balsamic Butter Sauce
- Smoked Rack of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary or Smoker
- Smoked and Pulled Lamb Shoulder with a Turkish Spice Rub
- Smoked Lamb Shanks
Other Odds and Ends
- Smoked Gouda Cheese
- Smoked Asparagus
- Smoked Cauliflower
- Sticky Smoked Sweet Potatoes
- Perfect Steamed Tamales
- Maple Bourbon Smoked Pineapple
Easy Smoked Turkey Legs
- Gas Grill, Pellet Grill, or Smoker
- Wood pellets, chunks, or a pellet tube smoker with pellets or a smoker box with wood chips
- Paper Towels
- Baking Dish or Large Sealable Plastic Food Storage Bags
- Instant Read and/or Leave in Probe Thermometer
- Cutting Board
- 4 Large Raw Turkey Legs
- Your Favorite BBQ Rub
- 1 Cup Hot Water
- 4 Cups Cold Water
- 2 Tbsp Salt
- 2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
- 2 Bay Leaves whole
- 2 cloves Garlic minced or 1 Tbsp garlic powder
- 1 Tsp Black Pepper
- Remove the turkey legs form their packaging and rinse under cold running water.
Brine the Turkey Legs Overnight
- Bring 1 cup water to a gentle simmer in a stovetop pot. Add salt and brown sugar and whisk until dissolved.
- Add bay leaves, garlic, pepper, and cold water and remove from heat.
- Once cooled, pour the brine mixture over the turkey legs in a covered baking dish or sealable plastic bag.
- Place in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 4-6 hours.
Rinse and Dry the Brined Turkey Legs
- After the turkey legs are finished brining, take them out of the mixture and rinse them off really well under cold running water.
- Pat the turkey legs dry with paper towels, and place them on a cutting board to air dry.
- Generously sprinkle your favorite BBQ rub all over the turkey legs on all sides.
Set up your Grill or Smoker
- Light or turn on your smoker, grill or pellet grill and set up the temperature to 300°F. If using a grill, only light a small amount of charcoal or light a single burner on one side for indirect cooking
- Add your wood chunks directly to the firebox of a smoker, or use chips in a smoker box, or pellets in a tube smoker or pellet grill.
- Once smoke is being produced and the grill or smoker is at 300°F, put your turkey legs on the indirect side and close the lid.
Smoking the Turkey Legs
- Continue smoking the turkey legs, turning occasionally, until the internal temperature reaches 175°F internally. This may take 2-3 hours.
- Remove the smoked turkey legs from the smoker and serve immediately.