Smoking turkey legs on a pellet grill is easy and will produce spectacular results if you take the time to perform a few extra steps. I did these on my Z Grills but the recipe will work great on your Traeger or Pit Boss.
Let me show you how to make some awesome smoked turkey wings so you can enjoy these massive beasts at your house!
Start with Extra Large Tom Turkey Legs
The hardest part of making smoked turkey legs is finding some that are large enough. Usually when I spot turkey legs in the store they are from the hens and weigh in the one pound range.
The problem with small turkey legs is that the ratio of edible meat to inedible tendons is low and you spend more time dealing with the tendons than enjoying the meat.
The legs from the larger Tom turkeys weigh in the two pound range. These legs have just as many tendons as the smaller hen legs but twice as much meat.
It’s not the end of the world if you end up dealing with the smaller legs but try to grab the big ones if they are available.
Brine the Turkey Legs
I always brine turkey legs before they hit the smoker.
In order for the meat to become almost fall apart tender you need to “over cook” the legs to an internal temperature of around 180F. The brining step helps make sure the meat stays juicy when cooked to such a high internal temperature.
I use my smoked chicken breasts brine recipe for turkey legs and it works just fine.
Turkey Leg Brine
- 2 quarts water
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
Note: If you want to make “Disney Style Smoked Turkey Legs” then you would also add a teaspoon of pink curing salt (sodium nitrite) to the brine. The pink salt will “cure” the legs and give the meat a pink color along with a ham type flavor.
Place the legs into the brine and refrigerate for at least four hours and up to overnight.
After the turkey legs have brined, thoroughly rinse them off with cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
Prepare the Turkey Legs for Your Pellet Grill
I have a couple of tricks when it comes to seasoning the legs.
The first trick is to take advantage of the huge pocket that exists between the skin and the meat to add some flavor. I like to slide a couple tablespoons of butter under the skin. You could also slip in an orange slice and/or a sprig of fresh rosemary if you were so inclined.
I mean, you’ve got the space in there you might as well put it to use!!
The second trick is to add some corn starch to my dry rub to help stop the skin from becoming rubbery. My turkey rub is given below:
Smoked Turkey Leg Dry Rub
- 1 tbls Corn Starch
- 2 tsp chili powder
- 2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
There is no salt or sugar in the dry rub as the turkey has already soaked up plenty of those flavors from the brine.
Season the legs well on all sides and let the legs rest at room temperature while you get your pellet grill fired up.
Smoke the Turkey Legs in Two Stages
Ready for the next tip?
When you are smoking any kind of poultry you want to get enough smoke flavor to penetrate into the meat while keeping the skin edible. One of the ways I accomplish this task is to smoke the legs in a two step process.
The Low Temperature Smoking Step
Set your Traeger, Pit Boss or Z Grills to 180F.
I was burning some hickory pellets for this cook but a lot of folks swear by fruit woods for poultry. Use whatever pellets make you happy.
Fill a six inch smoke tube with the same wood pellets, light the pellets for 30 seconds with a torch and then blow out the flames so the pellets smolder.
Put the turkey legs on your pellet grill and let them smoke at 180F with the smoldering smoke tube for one hour.
The High Temperature Smoking Step
If you let the legs finish cooking at 180F it would take all day and the skin would come out with the texture of leather. So, in order to speed up the cook and keep the skin edible we are going to jack up the temperature.
After the legs have smoked for one hour at 180F raise the temperature of the grill to 350F. The six inch smoke tube should still be smoldering but don’t worry if it isn’t…the meat should have plenty of smoke flavor at this point.
Let the legs smoke at 350F for at least one hour and probably for about 90 minutes until done.
This part of the cook is a little hotter and longer than you will see in a lot of other recipes but that is because we are working with massive two pound Tom turkey legs instead of one pound hen legs.
How to Tell When the Smoked Turkey Legs are Done
There are three tell tale signs to let you know when the turkey legs are done and ready to come off the grill.
- The skin and tendons will pull away from the base of the leg and start pulling up the bone.
- The skin and meat will split near the base of the leg.
- The internal temperature in the thickest part of the meat will be 175F-185F.
If the cook is taking too long, or the skin looks like it is getting too dark, you can always the legs in aluminum foil and speed things along.
Smoked Turkey Legs on a Pellet Grill
- Pellet Grill Traeger, Pit Boss, Z Grills
- 6 inch Smoke Tube
- 2 Turkey Legs about two pounds each
- 2 quarts Water
- 1/2 cup Salt
- 1/4 cup Brown Sugar
- Dry Rub
- 1 tbsp Corn Starch
- 2 tsp Chili Powder
- 2 tsp Black Pepper
- 1 tsp Onion Powder
- 1 tsp Garlic Powder
- Brine the turkey legs in the refrigerator for at least four hours and up to overnight.
- Rinse the legs under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
- Season the legs with the dry rub and let rest at room temperature while your pellet grill comes to temperature.
- Set the temperature of the pellet grill to 180F and add a smoldering six inch Smoke Tube to the primary cooking grate.
- Smoke the legs at 180F for one hour.
- Raise the temperature of the smoker to 350F.
- Smoke the legs for 60-90 minutes until an internal temperature of 175-185F is reached.