When we were young, trips to Disney World were met with much fanfare:
The time off from school! (I’ll skip out on your multiplication times tables and coloring workbooks, thank you very much!)
You are watching: How To Prepare Smoked Turkey Legs
The rides! (This is the year I ride Thunder Mountain and actually put my hands in the air!)*
The characters! Mickey Mouse! Goofy! (Mustn’t forget my autograph book!)
And. THE FOOD!!!
Okay, before you label us all, and me in particular, as gluttonous fools, it was really just one food item in particular: The Smoked Turkey Legs. (Because that definitely deserves some capitalization.)
Ahhh smoked turkey legs-those cases full of deliciously salty, slightly hammy turkey legs, smoked to a dark and glossy perfection. We’d pay the astronomical $8 to $10 for one and pass it around like a meaty peace pipe, tearing off hunks of turkey like the tacky ravenous tourists that we were so okay with being at that moment. A lot of the other food in Disney World, Universal, Epcot, etc. etc. is just alright in our eyes…This turkey leg, on the other hand, was one of THE main attractions for us.
So imagine our excitement when a couple of years ago, my aunt started making smoked turkey legs in a charcoal grill in her backyard! The taste is almost exactly the same, and you can make them in a big batch with relative ease. We headed over to their house in Western New York for the July 4th weekend and absolutely INSISTED that we eat these and document the process.
There are some tastes that make such an indelible mark on your memory that you become a tiny bit obsessed, and this is definitely one of those tastes. If you share my crazed ardor for this form of smoked poultry in particular, read on!
*Of course this never actually happened because when Sarah and I were young, we were weak-kneed pansies, and by the time we were old enough to not be weak-kneed pansies, Thunder Mountain was such a snooze that it felt like more of a scenic trolley ride than anything else.
Smoked Turkey Legs Recipe Instructions
Combine all of the ingredients for the brine in a large pot and bring to a boil. Let cool. if you’re short on time, you can also start by boiling the brine with just 2 quarts of water and then adding ice to cool to 1 gallon of brine.
While that’s happening, rinse your turkey legs and set aside in a large container (one that will fit into your refrigerator). You may want to use two separate containers.
When the brine has cooled, pour the brine over the turkey legs, making sure they are totally submerged (our container in the photo is probably too small). Cover and refrigerate overnight.
If you want to expedite the process, use a marinade injector, injecting one syringe-full of brine into each turkey leg (1½ syringe-fulls for the larger turkey legs). Then, let brine as usual for 5-6 hours. This way, the turkey legs don’t need to brine overnight. Sounds gruesome, but it really expedites the process, and these marinade injectors are pretty inexpensive!
When the turkey legs are ready, heat your charcoal. Your key tools for this recipe are a charcoal grill, a chimney starter, natural hardwood lump charcoal, and wet wood chips, which provides the smoky flavor. Fill your chimney with charcoal and light the coals with a piece of newspaper.
Let heat for a solid 15-20 minutes or so-until the coals are slightly white hot.
Also, take 1-2 handfuls of wood chips and soak them in water while the coals are heating.
Pour the coals into the grill and scatter the wood chips around the coals. Lay your grill rack over the coals.
Place the turkey legs on the grill rack and close the grill. 1 chimney-full of coal is enough to start for an average-sized charcoal grill. Add another chimney of coal every 20-30 minutes, depending on the kind of charcoal you’re using. Periodically add additional wet wood chips to make more smoke as needed. More wood chips makes more smoke, increasing the “hammy” smoked flavor of the turkey legs. You can cater this to your personal preferences. I like my smoked turkey legs hammy with a good smoke ring; my aunt prefers more of a natural flavor. Take your pick!
The slow cooking method is key here. Periodically check the smoked turkey legs, turning every once in a while, and make sure the grill maintains a temperature of 300-325 degrees. There is some element of trial and error to this if you’re a first-timer; make observations and adjust amounts of charcoal, wood chips, and heat over the course of the cooking time.
Maintain the grill, charcoal, and wood chips, letting the turkey cook for 3 ½ to 4 hours-until the smoked turkey legs have a nice, dark smoky color that a young Chinese girl once thought only existed within the walls of Disney World.
Serve immediately and let your inner caveman / inner Disney World fanatic dig in!
Wrap your smoked turkey legs with a napkin or butcher paper and get medieval with it!