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How to Make Smoked Turkey Thighs

Learn how to make smoked turkey thighs on ANY grill or smoker, whether its a Traeger or Pit Boss pellet grill, a Masterbuilt propane smoker, or just a simple Weber kettle!

Smoked turkey thighs are simple to make and a delicious way to enjoy smoked turkey without making a whole bird!

smoked turkey thighs When most people think about smoking turkey, but don’t want to make a whole bird, they automatically think of making a smoked turkey breast.

But what if you’re more of a dark meat fan?

Then in that case, skip the breast a go for some smoked turkey thighs!

Now you know we love smoking turkey at Mad Backyard, especially our world famous Pellet Grill Thanksgiving Turkey, our fool proof Spatchocked Turkey, a Cajun Butter Injected Smoked Turkey Breast, caveman inspired “Pterodactyl” Smoked Turkey Wings and of course the show stopping Trash Can Turkey!

But today we are keeping it simple with some smoked turkey thighs that can be prepared on almost any grill or smoker

Let’s go!

 

Preparing the Turkey Thighs to be Smoked

You’ll need to do a little work on your turkey thighs before you put them in the smoker, depending how they come when you buy them.

 

How to Separate Turkey Thighs from the Legs

If your turkey thighs are already separated from the legs, feel free to skip down to the next section!

In our case, we were only able to find turkey leg quarters so we had to go ahead and separate the legs from the thighs.

raw turkey leg quarters

Thankfully this is pretty easy to do, especially if you have a good boning knife like our favorite from iMarku.

Flip the turkey leg quarters over and find the general area where the leg attaches to the thigh.

the bottom of a raw turkey thigh and leg

Make a cut about 2/3 of the way through on this side until your knife runs up to the bone.

separating a raw turkey thigh from the leg with a knife

Flip the turkey leg quarter over and make a similar cut on the front side.

cutting a raw turkey thigh from the leg

Pull the leg away from the thigh and move back and forth to feel where the joint is.

separating a raw turkey thigh from the leg

Cut a little in this area and then pull further to expose the joint itself.  Use your boning knife to cut right through where the two bones meet.

The joint will actually be more into the leg meat than the thigh part.

separating a raw turkey thigh from the leg

Carefully cut through and separate the leg from the thigh.

separated raw turkey thigh from the leg

Now you have your cleanly separated turkey thigh and leg.

a raw turkey thigh and turkey leg separated

Smoked Turkey Legs are delicious too, and you can find our recipe for them HERE.

If you’ve got turkey leg quarters like we did, we recommend separating them like this and smoking your turkey thighs and legs separate rather than smoking the entire turkey leg quarter as one peice.

It makes the meat more presentable and the legs tend to cook faster than the thighs anyways, so you can remove them from the smoker on their own schedule!

 

Trimming the Turkey Thighs to Smoke

Give the turkey thighs a good rinse and pat them dry with a paper towel and place them on a cutting board.

Flip the thigh over so the skin side is DOWN and see where the skin hangs over each edge.

Use your sharp boning knife to trim away the skin that hangs over and them trim off the bony triangular tail bone at the bottom of each turkey thigh if present as well.

a trimmed turkey thigh

Flip the turkey thighs back over and you should have a nice trimmed and neat looking turkey thigh (that kind of looks just like a large chicken thigh!)

raw turkey thighs on a wire rack

 

How to Make Smoked Pig Shots
How to Make Smoked Pig Shots

Our Favorite Seasonings for Smoked Turkey Thighs

famous dave's chicken rub

Let’s talk about seasoning up these smoked turkey thighs!

You can really go with any flavors you like because, unlike our crispy smoked turkey wings, we are keeping these out of sugar burning territory.

We especially like Famous Dave’s Chicken Rub on smoked chicken and turkey (as long as we aren’t cooking higher than 325-350°F, otherwise the sugar burns).

It’s not overly sweet, has just a pinch of heat, and even a little bit of citrus flavor as well that pairs very well with poultry.

seasoned turkey thighs

You can also always brush on a sweet barbecue sauce or honey glaze at the very end too if you want to go full on Barbecue Style with your smoked turkey thighs.

Or you can choose more traditional Thanksgiving flavors to pair them with some sweet potatoes or brussel sprouts.

We also like to always set some smoked turkey aside to pull for smoked turkey soup so keep that in mind when choosing your flavor profile!

If you are looking to use an easy off the shelf barbecue rub with NO SUGAR, we’d recommend Bad Byron’s Butt Rub.

Bad Byron's butt rub

Its heavy on flavor but unlike most other off the shelf BBQ seasonings, contains no sugar.

We love it on beef roasts and steaks, as it won’t burn at those high roasting and searing temperatures.

It’s also great for anyone watching their sugar intake who loves BBQ!

Pro Tip: Don’t use any oil to help the rub adhere to your turkey thighs as this can keep the skin from getting crispy and rendering correctly later.

The moisture in the skin should be more than enough to help any rub you use stick.

Make sure to be generous on each side!

 

The Best Woods for Smoking Turkey Thighs

pouring apple pellets in a pit boss hopper

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!

On our Pit Boss pellet grill we used these apple pellets and got a nice mild smoke flavor on our smoked turkey thighs.

 

Best Times and Temperatures for Smoked Turkey Thighs

setting a pit boss pellet grill to 220 225 degrees

Most conventional barbecue like beef brisket and pork shoulder is smoked “low and slow” in the 225°-275°F range for the entire cook.

The problem with smoking turkey this way is that while yes, you will get a lot of smoky flavor, your turkey skin will still be rubbery and unappetizing when finished cooking, and the meat may dry out before ever hitting a food safe internal temperature.

We are using a BBQ rub with some sugar in it so need to avoid temperatures much higher than 325°F.

But if we thought if smoked them the entire time at 325°F, the smoked turkey thighs may cook through before getting enough smoky flavor.

So we started them “Low and Slow” at 220°F for about 2 Hours before bumping up the heat up to 325°F to finish them off for the last hour or so.

So first set up your smoker for 220°F with INDIRECT heat.

More on how exactly to do this on various grills and smokers below.

 

How Long Does it Take to Smoke Turkey Thighs?

turkey thighs placed in a smoker

For the first 2 hours at 220°F, check the smoked turkey thighs every 30 minutes or so to make sure they are cooking evenly on the smoker and rotate as necessary if you see certain sides getting darker or looking more done.

Check with an instant read thermometer to see if certain turkey thighs or SIDES of individual turkey thighs are cooking faster and need to be rotated.

Avoid flipping and cooking “skin side down” as you may lose a lot seasoning and tear the skin on your smoked turkey thighs.

If you are set up for INDIRECT cooking, your smoed turkey thighs should cook like they are in an oven and not need to be flipped.

smoked turkey thighs smoking in a smoker

After those first 2 hours, the internal temperature of the turkey thighs was about 130°F internally, and we bumped the heat up to 325°F to finish.

They took about another hour to finish cooking after that.

If you are pressed for time, you can always start them at 325°F or turn the heat up sooner in the cook.

 

Target Internal Temperature for Smoked Turkey Thighs

an instant read thermometer showing 178 degrees internal temperature of smoked turkey thighs

You HAVE to use a good instant read meat thermometer to know where the internal temperature is of your smoked turkey thighs.

If you don’t yet own an instant read thermometer, ThermoPro makes a good one.

We are going to bring the internal temperature of our smoked turkey thighs up to at least 175°F.

Turkey thighs are DARK meat and need to come up to a higher internal temperature than white meat such as breasts and wings.

 

Setting up your Grill or Smoker for Smoked Turkey Thighs

smoked turkey thighs smoking in a smoker

You’ll need to set up your grill or smoker a little different depending on whether you are using a grill, smoker, or a pellet grill like a Traeger or Pit Boss.

Here are the best instructions for setting up different types of grills and smokers to make delicious smoked turkey thighs so go ahead and skip down to the type you are using!

 

Smoked Turkey Thighs in a Vertical or Offset Charcoal Smoker

Weber 22-inch Smokey Mountain Cooker, Charcoal Smoker

Weber Smokey Mountain on Amazon

Fill your firebox or lower charcoal basin with about two chimneys’ worth 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, don’t bother with filling it.

Light a charcoal chimney with just a handful of briquets and wait about 15 minutes for them to fully ignite.

Oil the racks of the smoker with a paper towel to keep the turkey thighs from sticking later.

Once lit, add the briquets to the center depression you created.

Keep the dampers about 1/2 way to 3/4 open until the temperature is in the 200°F range.

Add 1 chunk of smoking wood once the smoker is up to temperature, put the seasoned turkey thighs, skin side UP, on the oiled racks.

Then slowly close down the top and bottom dampers to about 1/3-1/4 open until you are maintaining a temperature of about 220°F.

After 2 hours, or when the internal temperature of the turkey thighs is about 130-140°F, open the vents up on the top and bottom of the smoker back up about 1/2-3/4 of the way.

Use a fireplace poker to stir the charcoal around and get more oxygen flow to the briquets.

Watch as the temperature rises to around 275-300°F and then start closing the vents down again back to 1/2 way open (or os open as needed) until maintaining a temperature of 325°F in the smoker.

Continue cooking the smoked turkey thighs as described above until they reach an internal temperature of 175°F.

Want to see a list of our FAVORITE Vertical Smokers for 2022?  Check it out here!

 

Smoked Turkey Thighs in a Propane and Electric Smokers

a masterbuilt electric smoker with the door closed full of smoke and a pork butt

Masterbuilt Electric Smoker on Amazon

Propane and electric options are some of the easiest smokers for beginners to start with.

Debating whether to buy a propane or electric smoker?  Check out our COMPLETE Comparison Guide HERE.

 

For Propane: Open your gas valve and light the bottom burner. Adjust it to keep the temperature constant at 220° F.

Oil up the racks with a paper towel to keep the turkey thighs from sticking.

Add wood chips to your smoking wood tray and once the smoker is up to temperature, put the seasoned turkey thighs in, SKIN SIDE UP.

Adjust the propane valve to continue maintaining a temperature of about 220°F.

After 2 hours, or when the internal temperature of the turkey thighs is about 130-140°F, open up the propane valve and increase the temperature to 325°F.

Finish the smoked turkey thighs as described above.

Need a refresher? Check our our Complete Guide to How to Use a Propane Smoker HERE.

 

For Electric:  Unfortunately, most electric smokers such as Masterbuilts will not go higher than about 275°F so it will be difficult to perform the second stage of higher heat smoking in the electric smoker itself.

a masterbuilt electric smoker set to 275 degrees

However, you can certainly start the turkey thighs out in the electric smoker at 220°F for the first 2 hours and then move them to a preheated oven set to 325°F just to finish them off.

They will still have the same smoky flavor and be delicious.

Or you can smoke them the entire time at 275°F, the highest the electric smoker will go, and they will take roughly 4-5 hours to finish.

Plug your electric smoker in, open the vents, and turn the temperature to 275° F.

While it comes up to temperature, add smoking wood chips, not pellets, to the smoking wood tray.

Oil the grates of the electric smoker with a paper towel.

Place your seasoned turkey thighs in the electric smoker and close the door.

You will need to refill the wood chips every 30 minutes or so as they smolder out in the chip loader.

We would recommend using no more than 2-3 loads of wood chips in total, otherwise you may end up oversmoking the turkey thighs.

Smoke the turkey thighs until they reach an internal temperature of 175°F.

Refilling wood chips is one of the major drawbacks, besides cooking area and temperature range, of electric smokers compared to pellet grills like Traegers and Pit Bosses.

However, we recently found a great solution.

If you are tired of having to reload fresh wood chips into your electric smoker, especially on longer cooks like pork butt and brisket, then check out this Masterbuilt Automatic Slow Smoker Attachment.

It basically burns new fresh wood chips at a constant rate, much like how a pellet grill works, freeing you up to do other things while getting your food nice and smoky!

 

Smoked Turkey Thighs on a Pellet Grill

a pit boss pellet grill making white smoke preheating

Fill the pellet hopper with your choice of smoking wood pellets.

Plug in the pellet grill, let it run through its start up process, and then turn the temperature to 220°F.

setting a pit boss pellet grill to 220 225 degrees

Make sure you have the flame broiler CLOSED so that the pellet grill is set up for INDIRECT cooking.

For instance, on Pit Boss and Camp Chef pellet grills there is a special lever to pull to switch from DIRECT to INDIRECT heat.

the flame broiler adjustment handle for direct or indirect heat

You want the flame broiler CLOSED for INDIRECT heat.

Go ahead and oil the grates so the turkey thighs do not stick later.

When the pellet grill has come up to temperature, place your seasoned turkey thighs in the cooking chamber and close the lid.

Rotate the smoked turkey thighs for even cooking minutes every 30 minutes or so as described above for 2 Hours and then turn the temperature up to 325°F.

smoked turkey thighs smoking in a smoker

It may take 10-15 minutes for the pellet grill to rise in temperature this much.

Cook at the 325°F level for about another hour as described above, continuing to rotate the smoked turkey thighs as needed, until the internal temperature of each thighs has reached 175°F.

Never used a pellet grill before?  Read our Ultimate Guide to Pellet Grills to learn why they are so easy and how to set one up for success every time.

Here is also a list of our Favorite Pellet Grills Priced UNDER $500

 

Smoked Turkey Thighs on a Gas Grill

Weber 45010001 Spirit II E-310 3-Burner Liquid Propane Grill, Black

Check out this Weber Grill on Amazon

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 grill.

Check out our Ultimate Guide to Smoking on a Gas Grill HERE.

If you are unfamiliar with these gas grill smoking devices mentioned above, no worries, we have you covered!

Read Everything You Need to Know about how to use Smoker Boxes here, and see a selection of our Favorite Pellet Tube Smokers here.

Or check out this handy comparison between smoker boxes and pellet tube smokers if you can’t decide which is right for you.

In the case of smoked turkey thighs, we would opt for the pellet smoker tube since we need longer than the 30 minutes one batch of wood chips in a smoker box will last us.

This will save you the hassle of having to refill the smoker box multiple times while smoking the turkey thighs.

Light up the end of your pellet smoker tube filled with pellets with a good butane torch (you can’t use a regular lighter for pellets) and place it in the grill as well to add smoky flavor while the turkey thighs cook.

lighting a pellet smoker tube with a butane torch

Let the pellets ignite for about 5 minutes then blow out the flame and lay the pellet tube smoker down on the grates next to the turkey thighs and close the lid.

a pellet tube smoker making smoke

Set up your gas grill for INDIRECT cooking with a single burner lit on one side and plan for your turkey thighs to be on the other side.

Light just one burner so the temperature stays low in the 220°F range.

Remember, we are smoking the turkey thighs INDIRECTLY, like an oven, not DIRECTLY over the lit burners.

Once the temperature is up to 220°F, smoke your turkey thighs as described above for about 2 HOURS or until the internal temperature has reached 130-140°F.

Then after that, turn up the currently lit far burner to HIGH and begin lighting and turning up additional burners as necessary to bring the temperature up to 325°F.

Continue to rotate as necessary for even cooking.

After about another hour, or once the the smoked turkey thighs have reached 175°F internally, remove them from the gas grill.

 

Smoked Turkey Thighs on a Charcoal Grill

Set up your charcoal grill for indirect cooking with a large mound of unlit briquets on one side and plan for your smoked turkey thighs to be on the other side.

Make a small depression in the mound of unlit briquets where you will dump the lit ones along with the smoking wood.

a charcoal grill set up for indirect smoking

Remember, we are smoking the turkey thighs INDIRECTLY, like an oven, not DIRECTLY over the coals.

Light a charcoal chimney with just a handful of briquets and wait about 15 minutes for them to fully ignite.

Once lit, add the briquets to the center depression you created, replace the grill grates and oil them up with a paper towel..

Keep the dampers about 1/2 way to 3/4 open until the temperature is in the 200°F range.

Add 1 chunk of smoking wood once the grill is up to temperature, put the turkey thighs on the grill grates opposite of the charcoal, with the skin side UP.

Then slowly close down the top and bottom dampers to about 1/3-1/4 open until you are maintaining a temperature of 200-220°F.

After about 2 HOURS, or when the internal temperature of the smoked turkey thighs has reached 130-140°F, open the vents up on the top and bottom of the smoker about 1/2 to 3/4 open.

Use a fireplace poker to stir the charcoal around and get more oxygen flow to the briquets.

Watch as the temperature rises to around 300°F and then start closing the vents down again back to 1/2 way open (or os open as needed) until maintaining a temperature of 325°F in the grill.

Rotate the smoked turkey thighs as necessary with tongs and after about another hour, or once the internal temperature of the thighs has reached 175°F, remove them from the grill.

 

Serving Smoked Turkey Thighs

smoked turkey thighs

You have a lot of great options when it comes to serving smoked turkey thighs!

You can keep them simple with just the rub you used and carve them upa dn serve them, or baste with a sweet BBQ sauce during the last 15-20 minutes of the cook.

Alternatively, you can pull the smoked turkey thigh meat and use it in a smoked turkey soup or even make smoked turkey sandwiches from it, just like we used smoked chicken thighs for our smoked pulled chicken sandwich!

 

What Other Foods Can I Smoke?

sweet potatoes smoking in a smoker
Sticky Smoked Sweet Potatoes go GREAT with Smoked Turkey!

Looking for some more inspiration for things to smoke?

Our Sticky Smoked Sweet Potatoes go GREAT with Smoked Turkey Thighs!

And for dessert, don’t forget the smoked peach cobbler or smoked chocolate chip cookies!

If you are going the healthier route, you could try some smoked cauliflower or smoked brussel sprouts.

You can serve them on the side for a real low carb barbecue feast!

Check out some of our favorite Turkey and Side Dish recipes below that can easily be modified to be done on any grill or smoker.

You’ve come to right place!

More Turkey

 

Sides and Desserts to Pair

smoked turkey thighs

Smoked Turkey Thighs

Learn how to make smoked turkey thighs on ANY grill or smoker, whether its a Traeger or Pit Boss pellet grill, a Masterbuilt propane smoker, or just a simple Weber kettle!
Smoked turkey thighs are simple to make and a delicious way to enjoy smoked turkey without making a whole bird!
First we trim, season, and smoke the turkey thighs at a lower temperature to get extra smoky flavor, then raise the temperature to finish to get the skin nice and crispy.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 3 hrs
Total Time 3 hrs 20 mins
Course Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine American, Australian, barbecue, BBQ, Holiday, Smoked, Thanksgiving
Servings 6 servings
Calories 500 kcal

Equipment

  • Gas Grill, Pellet Grill, or Smoker
  • Wood pellets, chunks, or a pellet tube smoker with pellets or a smoker box with wood chips preferably a fruitwood like apple
  • Paper Towels
  • Cutting Board
  • Boning Knife
  • Small Mixing Bowl
  • Instant Read and/or Leave in Probe Thermometer
  • Grilling Tongs

Ingredients
  

  • 3 Raw Turkey Thighs separated from the legs
  • A Favorite BBQ rub like Famous Dave's Chicken Rub -OR - our BBQ Turkey Rub Below. sugar free so that the rub will not burn

BBQ Turkey Rub

  • 2 Tbsp Dark Brown Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp Paprika
  • 2 Tbsp Chili Powder
  • 2 Tbsp Kosher Salt or 1 Tbsp Table Salt
  • 2 tsp Onion Powder
  • 2 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 tsp Black Pepper
  • ½ tsp Cayenne Pepper optional for heat

Instructions
 

  • Light or turn on your smoker, grill or pellet grill and set up the temperature to 220°F. If using a grill, only light a small amount of charcoal or light a single burner on one side for indirect cooking
    setting a pit boss pellet grill to 220 225 degrees

Trimming the Turkey Thighs

  • Remove the turkey thighs their packaging and rinse under cold running water.
    3 Raw Turkey Thighs
  • Pat the turkey thighs dry with paper towels, and place them on a cutting board.
  • If they are connected to the legs as turkey leg quarters, separate the legs from the thighs using a sharp boning knife.
    separated raw turkey thigh from the leg
  • Flip the turkey thighs skin side down and trim any excess skin hanging off the sides of each turkey thigh and also remove the small triangular tail bone at the bottom of each thigh if present.
    a trimmed turkey thigh

Season the Turkey Thighs

  • Gather your favorite BBQ rub or chicken and turkey or mix together the ingredients to the BBQ Turkey Rub above in a small mixing bowl.
    A Favorite BBQ rub like Famous Dave's Chicken Rub -OR - our BBQ Turkey Rub Below., 2 Tbsp Dark Brown Sugar, 2 Tbsp Chili Powder, 2 Tbsp Kosher Salt, 2 tsp Onion Powder, 2 tsp Garlic Powder, 1 tsp Black Pepper, ½ tsp Cayenne Pepper, 2 Tbsp Paprika
    famous dave's chicken rub
  • Generously sprinkle the BBQ rub all over the turkey thighs on each side. Do not use oil to help the rub adhere.
    seasoned turkey thighs

Finish Setting up your Grill or Smoker

  • 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.
    a pit boss pellet grill making white smoke preheating
  • Oil the grates well with canola or vegetable oil using a paper towel
  • Once smoke is being produced and the grill or smoker is at 220°F, put your turkey thighs on the indirect side, skin side UP, and close the lid.
    turkey thighs placed in a smoker

Smoking the Turkey Thighs

  • Rotate the turkey thighs as needed, maybe every 30 minutes for about 2 hours, or until the internal temperature of the thighs has reached 130-140°F.
    smoked turkey thighs smoking in a smoker
  • Then increase the heat of your grill or smoker to 325° and continue cooking INDIRECTLY.
  • Rotate the smoked turkey thighs as needed and cook at this temperature for about another hour, or until the internal temperature has reached 175°F.
    an instant read thermometer showing 178 degrees internal temperature of smoked turkey thighs
  • Remove the smoked turkey thighs from the smoker and place on a wire rack or cutting board to cool.
    smoked turkey thighs

Serving the Smoked Turkey Thighs

  • Let the smoked turkey thighs cool for about 15 minutes.
  • Carve or pull the meat of the smoked turkey thighs and serve hot. Enjoy!

Nutrition

Calories: 500kcal
Keyword barbecue turkey thighs, BBQ turkey thighs, electric smoker turkey thighs, grilled turkey thighs, Masterbuilt, Pit Boss, pit boss turkey thighs, poultry, smoked turkey, smoked turkey thighs, thanksgiving, traeger, traeger turkey thighs, turkey thighs in a smoker, turkey thighs on a grill, Weber
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