How to Smoke Turkey Legs on a Charcoal Grill

How to Smoke Turkey Legs on a Charcoal Grill

Smoked turkey legs are a delicious and flavorful dish that combines the tenderness of turkey with the rich, smoky taste achieved through slow cooking on a charcoal grill. Perfect for any barbecue or family gathering, they are a favorite among meat lovers.

Benefits of Smoking Turkey Legs on a Charcoal Grill

Using a charcoal grill to smoke turkey legs offers several benefits:

  • Enhanced Flavor: Charcoal imparts a unique smoky flavor that enhances the taste of the turkey legs.
  • Control Over Cooking: A charcoal grill allows for better control over temperature and smoke levels.
  • Versatility: You can experiment with different types of wood chips to create various flavor profiles.

Purpose of the Guide

This guide aims to provide a comprehensive, step-by-step approach to smoking turkey legs on a charcoal grill, covering everything from preparation to serving. By following this guide, you can achieve perfectly smoked turkey legs with rich flavor and tender texture.

Preparing the Turkey Legs

Selecting High-Quality Turkey Legs

Choosing the right turkey legs is crucial for a successful smoking process. Look for fresh, high-quality turkey legs that are free from blemishes and have a good amount of meat on them. Fresh turkey legs will yield the best flavor and texture.

Brining the Turkey Legs

1. Ingredients for Brine

To prepare a basic brine, you will need:

  • Water
  • Kosher salt
  • Brown sugar
  • Optional flavorings: garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves, and herbs

2. Brining Time and Process

Brining helps to keep the turkey legs moist during the smoking process. Here’s how to do it:

  1. In a large container, dissolve 1 cup of kosher salt and 1 cup of brown sugar in 1 gallon of water.
  2. Add optional flavorings if desired.
  3. Submerge the turkey legs in the brine solution.
  4. Cover and refrigerate for 4-6 hours.

Seasoning the Turkey Legs

1. Dry Rub Ingredients

Prepare a dry rub using the following ingredients:

  • Paprika
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Black pepper
  • Brown sugar
  • Salt
  • Optional spices: cayenne pepper, chili powder, thyme

2. Applying the Rub

  1. Remove the turkey legs from the brine and pat them dry with paper towels.
  2. Generously apply the dry rub all over the turkey legs, ensuring they are evenly coated.
  3. Let the seasoned turkey legs rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes before smoking.

Setting Up the Charcoal Grill

Choosing the Right Charcoal and Wood Chips

Select high-quality lump charcoal or briquettes for consistent heat. Choose wood chips that complement the flavor of turkey, such as hickory, applewood, or cherrywood. Soak the wood chips in water for at least 30 minutes before using them.

Arranging the Coals for Indirect Heat

Create a two-zone fire by piling the lit charcoal on one side of the grill, leaving the other side empty. This setup allows for indirect cooking, where the turkey legs can cook slowly without being directly over the flames.

Preheating the Grill

  1. Light the charcoal using a chimney starter or lighter cubes.
  2. Once the coals are fully ignited and covered with a layer of white ash, arrange them for indirect heat.
  3. Place the cooking grate on the grill and close the lid.
  4. Preheat the grill to a temperature of 225-250°F (107-121°C).

Setting Up a Water Pan for Moisture

Place a water pan directly above the charcoal. The water pan helps to regulate the temperature inside the grill and adds moisture to the environment, preventing the turkey legs from drying out. Fill the pan with hot water before placing it in the grill.

Smoking Process

Preparing the Wood Chips

1. Soaking the Wood Chips

Soak your chosen wood chips (e.g., hickory, applewood, or cherrywood) in water for at least 30 minutes. This soaking process ensures the chips smolder rather than burn, producing a consistent, flavorful smoke.

2. Adding Wood Chips to the Coals

Once soaked, drain the wood chips and add a handful directly onto the lit coals. Replenish the wood chips as needed throughout the smoking process to maintain a steady smoke.

Placing the Turkey Legs on the Grill

1. Positioning for Indirect Heat

Place the turkey legs on the grill grate over the side with no coals (indirect heat zone). This setup allows the turkey legs to cook slowly and absorb the smoky flavor without direct exposure to intense heat.

2. Maintaining Consistent Temperature (225-250°F)

Close the grill lid and adjust the air vents to maintain a consistent temperature of 225-250°F (107-121°C). Monitor the temperature regularly using a grill thermometer and adjust the vents as necessary to keep it within this range.

Smoking Time and Monitoring

1. Total Smoking Time (2-3 Hours)

Smoke the turkey legs for approximately 2-3 hours. The exact time will depend on the size of the turkey legs and the consistency of the grill temperature.

2. Rotating and Basting the Turkey Legs

Every 30-45 minutes, rotate the turkey legs to ensure even cooking. Optionally, baste the turkey legs with a marinade or apple juice to keep them moist and add flavor.

Checking for Doneness

Using a Meat Thermometer

1. Recommended Internal Temperature (165°F)

Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey leg, avoiding bone contact. The turkey legs are done when they reach an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).

Visual and Texture Cues

In addition to the thermometer, look for visual and texture cues. The turkey legs should have a deep brown color and the meat should feel firm to the touch, with clear juices running when pierced.

Resting and Serving

Resting the Turkey Legs

1. Importance of Resting

Resting the turkey legs allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a more flavorful and tender final product.

2. Resting Time (10-15 Minutes)

After removing the turkey legs from the grill, tent them loosely with aluminum foil and let them rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Serving Suggestions

1. Accompaniments and Sides

Serve smoked turkey legs with complementary sides such as:

  • Coleslaw
  • Baked beans
  • Cornbread
  • Grilled vegetables

2. Sauce and Garnish Ideas

Enhance the flavor of the smoked turkey legs with sauces and garnishes:

  • Barbecue sauce
  • Honey mustard
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Fresh herbs like parsley or cilantro

Tips and Tricks

Enhancing Flavor and Juiciness

  • Brine adequately: Brining adds moisture and flavor to the turkey legs.
  • Use a mix of wood chips: Combining different types of wood chips can enhance the smoky flavor.
  • Baste occasionally: Basting with apple juice or a marinade keeps the meat moist and flavorful.

Avoiding Common Smoking Mistakes

  • Don’t open the grill lid too often: This can cause temperature fluctuations and extend the cooking time.
  • Avoid over-smoking: Too much smoke can make the meat bitter. Add wood chips gradually.
  • Maintain consistent temperature: Fluctuations can result in uneven cooking.

Safety Considerations

  • Ensure proper internal temperature: Always cook turkey legs to an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) to prevent foodborne illness.
  • Handle raw meat carefully: Prevent cross-contamination by using separate utensils and cutting boards for raw and cooked meat.
  • Monitor the grill: Never leave a lit grill unattended and keep a fire extinguisher nearby.

By following this detailed guide, you can master the art of smoking turkey legs on a charcoal grill, creating a delicious, smoky dish that’s sure to impress. Enjoy the process and happy smoking!


Recap of Key Points

Smoking turkey legs on a charcoal grill involves:

  • Selecting high-quality turkey legs and brining them for flavor and moisture.
  • Preparing the grill with indirect heat and maintaining a consistent temperature.
  • Smoking the turkey legs for 2-3 hours until they reach an internal temperature of 165°F.
  • Resting and serving the smoked turkey legs with delicious sides and sauces.

Encouragement to Experiment with Flavors

Feel free to experiment with different dry rubs, marinades, and wood chip combinations to discover unique flavors that suit your taste preferences.

 Invitation for Feedback and Questions

We value your feedback and are here to answer any questions you may have about smoking turkey legs on a charcoal grill. Share your experiences and let us know how your smoked turkey legs turned out!

Additional Resources

Links to Related Recipes and Articles

Explore more recipes and tips for smoking turkey legs:

  • Smoked Turkey Legs Recipe
  • Tips for Perfect Grilling
  • Choosing the Right Wood Chips

Recommended Smoking Tools and Equipment

Essential tools for smoking turkey legs include:

  • Meat thermometer
  • Chimney starter for charcoal
  • Grill tongs and spatula
  • Water pan for moisture control


Can You Smoke Frozen Turkey Legs?

While it’s possible to smoke frozen turkey legs, it’s best to thaw them completely first for even cooking and better flavor absorption. Thaw turkey legs in the refrigerator overnight before smoking.

How to Prevent Dry Turkey Legs

To prevent dry turkey legs when smoking:

  • Brine the turkey legs: Brining adds moisture and flavor.
  • Use a water pan: Place a water pan in the grill to maintain moisture.
  • Baste during smoking: Basting with a marinade or apple juice helps keep the turkey legs moist.

Best Wood Chips for Smoking Turkey Legs

Popular wood chips for smoking turkey legs include:

  • Hickory: Provides a strong, smoky flavor.
  • Applewood: Imparts a sweet and mild smoke.
  • Cherrywood: Adds a slightly sweet and fruity flavor. Experiment with different wood chip combinations to find your preferred flavor profile.

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