This Thanksgiving, Skip the Bird and Go All-Out with Turkey Legs

These smoked, flavor-packed turkey legs deserve to take center-stage.

In 2021, Food & Wine went over the top with our series "Give Thanks, But Make It Extra" — a celebration of all things opulent, glittering, rich, delicious, and joyful.

If turkey tends to be the star of your Thanksgiving, chances are, you have a favorite cut of meat. Maybe it's the golden brown, crispy skin, glistening with rendered fat to the point where it almost resembles bacon; maybe it's a simple slice of breast meat, waiting to be doused (and then doused some more) with a flood of gravy. Or maybe it's the meaty, juicy turkey legs, which you're prepared to battle your tablemates for every year. If that's the case, this recipe for Chipotle-Spiced Smoked Turkey Legs is going to deliver for you big-time — it's 100% drumsticks, and you can have them all to yourself.

The world is your turkey-leg oyster.

Developed by Dotdash Meredith Food Studios recipe developer and tester John Somerall, these next-level turkey legs are first dry-brined and then smoked, resulting in tender, mahogany-colored drumsticks that have a light kick of heat thanks to chipotle chiles. They only take three steps to make, and as a bonus, the leftovers can be shredded and turned into all kinds of other dishes, such as sandwiches or a mix-in for pasta salads. Or just leave them whole and go to town. The world is your turkey-leg oyster.

Read on for our step-by-step guide so you can make them at home, and grab the recipe below.

Dry Brine 'Em

Before you can smoke these turkey legs, you need to dry brine them uncovered in the refrigerator for at least eight hours, or up to 24. It may sound like a long time, but don't skip this step — it not only ensures more flavorful and juicy meat but helps to dry out the skin as well, meaning it will crisp up more as it cooks. This brine packs in all kinds of spices and seasonings, including dried chipotle chiles, fresh bay leaves, kosher salt, dark brown sugar, garlic powder, dried sage, ground cloves, and more. Once the bay leaves and chiles are ground up and mixed together with the rest of the dry brine ingredients, pat the turkey legs dry with paper towels and then sprinkle the mixture evenly over them. Get the legs on a wire rack set within a paper towel-lined, rimmed baking sheet, and transfer them to the fridge.

Rinse and Dry

After the turkey legs have sat in the fridge, rinse them under cold water to remove the dry brine and thoroughly pat them dry with paper towels. Then, place them back on the wire rack in the baking sheet and let them rest at room temperature while you get the smoker ready.

Smoke Turkey

At this point, all that's left to do is the main event — smoking the turkey legs. Somerall says you shouldn't move the turkey around too much while it cooks, and you should resist the urge to keep opening the lid of the smoker to peek. The more you open the smoker, the longer the smoking process will take. Minimizing opening the lid helps ensure the temperature of the grill remains consistent (you want the smoker to maintain an internal temperature between 275°F and 300°F). Make sure that the thicker part of the drumsticks are facing the hot coals, too.

Ultimately, the turkey legs should register 165°F when you insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, which should take about two to two-and-a-half hours.

Chipotle-Spiced Smoked Turkey Legs
Photo by Noah Fecks / Food Styling by Drew Aichele / Prop Styling by Ethan Lunkenheimer

Serve Turkey Legs

Let the meat rest for 10 minutes on a platter before serving and then go all. in. on. that. turkey. You can enjoy the legs whole (and you absolutely should), or shred the meat for those aforementioned leftover dishes. For Thanksgiving, pair them with all kinds of sides — what doesn't turkey go with? (Don't answer that.) Mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, roasted brussels sprouts, and stuffing would all work beautifully. And of course, you can't forget the gravy. If you'd like, you can even save the turkey bones to create a turkey broth and make the most of that smoky flavor.

In short? This recipe can bring all kinds of joy (and tasty meals) this holiday season. For even more ideas, check out our Extra Thanksgiving Recipes roundup, which includes everything you need to make an unforgettable, showstopping holiday menu.

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