Chipotle-Spiced Smoked Turkey Legs

Seasoning these turkey legs with a dry brine packs them with flavor before they head to the smoker, resulting in juicy, smoky, and tender meat with a light kick from the chipotle chiles. Brining the legs uncovered in the refrigerator overnight also helps to keep the skin dry, and crisp up as it cooks. The turkey legs will emerge from the smoker a beautiful mahogany color. Serve them whole (which would be perfect for Thanksgiving), or shred the meat and mix it into grain bowls, pasta salads, sandwiches, and more. Save the bones as well to make a smoky turkey broth for soups or sauces. Read more about how to make these turkey legs, step-by-step.

Active Time:
30 mins
Refrigerate Time:
8 hrs
Total Time:
11 hrs 15 mins


  • 2 (about 1/4 ounce total) dried chipotle chiles, stems and seeds removed

  • 2 fresh bay leaves

  • ¼ cup kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder

  • 1 tablespoon onion powder

  • 1 tablespoon dried sage

  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme

  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon chili powder

  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice

  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves

  • 5 pounds fresh or thawed frozen turkey drumsticks (about four 20-ounce drumsticks)


  1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels, and top with a wire rack; set aside. Process chipotle chiles and bay leaves in a spice grinder or a mini food processor until coarsely ground, 30 to 45 seconds. Stir together ground chipotle chile mixture, salt, brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, sage, thyme, black pepper, chili powder, allspice, and cloves in a medium bowl. Pat turkey legs dry with paper towels, and sprinkle evenly with salt mixture. Transfer turkey legs to prepared baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours.

  2. Remove turkey legs from refrigerator; rinse under cold water to remove dry brine. Thoroughly pat turkey legs dry with paper towels; return legs to wire rack on baking sheet. Let rest at room temperature while preparing the smoker.

  3. Open bottom vent of grill completely. Light charcoal chimney starter filled with briquettes. When the briquettes are covered with gray ash, pour them onto the bottom grate of the grill, and then push over to 1 side. Top hot coals with 3 to 5 pieces of hickory wood chunks, and place top grate on grill (do not grease top grate). Cover grill. Maintain a consistent internal temperature of 275°F to 300°F for 15 to 20 minutes. Place turkey legs on side of grill grate without coals underneath, with thicker side of drumsticks facing coals. Grill, covered, and adding more hickory as needed to maintain smoker internal temperature of 275°F to 300°F, until a thermometer inserted into thickest portion of turkey legs registers 165°F, 2 hours to 2 1/2 hours. Transfer turkey legs to a plate or platter, and let rest 10 minutes.

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