You have probably tasted the awesome smoked Disneyland turkey legs if you have ever been in one of their theme parks. Their smoked-to-perfection turkey legs are delicious, smoked carefully, with a nice dark and glossy crust.
I decided to try and replicate the recipe at home, and see if I can copycat and make my turkey legs taste as great as theirs.
So, it doesn't matter if you are after replicating the Disney Turkey Legs or just want to learn how to smoke bbq turkey legs at home just for fun, I decided to write a full step-by-step guide, with everything you need to know about cooking them.
Table of Contents
24 Hours (Inc. Brining)
Quick Insight about Disney Turkey Legs
Since this guide was inspired by the original Disney Smoked Turkey Legs, we wanted to give a quick insight into why their recipe tastes so good and what is the cooking secret.
After some research, I found out that their turkey is not just thrown into the smoker. It go through a curing process with salt, which gives them the signature color, making very pleasing for the eye.
The salting curing gives them a slightly pink color, making them look similar to ham and even some people saying that they taste a little like ham due to their saltiness taste.
Note: We have derivated the recipe from Disney and prepared the legs at home and the results were pretty good, just like the ones you buy at the carts at the park. If you want the exact Disney Recipe, you can find the recipe card at the end of this article.
Where to Buy & How to Select the Best Turkey Legs for Smoking
If you are wondering where can you find high-quality turkey legs, then I suggest you head to your local grocery store or local butcher.
The ones that are used on Disney theme parks are mostly male tom turkey legs. You can easily notice that due to their size, being around 1 1/2 to 2 pounds apiece.
You will probably have difficulties finding such huge pieces at your local store since most of the ones that are sold around come from a hen. Hen legs are smaller and weigh around 3/4 - 1 pound apiece.
Don't worry if you can't find large tom turkey since the hen will do the job just fine. They are just smaller in size and will feed fewer people but the taste will be the same.
If you want to go for the big tom legs, then you can order them in advance or talk to your butcher to find them for you. This will take a bit of extra time and preparation and the cooking time will be slightly more.
Note: Our recipe and cooking times are based on the normal, hen turkey cut found in most stores.
Smoked Turkey Legs Recipe
24 Hours (Inc. Brining)
The required ingredients are for 8 Turkey Legs.
Dry Rub Seasoning Ingredients
If you are going to use a charcoal smoker/grill, then you will need 1 bag of charcoal and 1-2 bags of wood chips.
If you are wondering what is the best wood to smoke turkey legs, then I think it goes down to personal choice, even though I prefer Apple Wood or Hickory.
Smoked Turkey Leg Brine
Even though a lot of people don't think that brining is important when making smoked turkey legs, the truth is that the wet curing brine will hugely improve your meat's flavor:
- By tenderizing the meat
- Will Improve their taste
- It gives them a nice, signature pinkish color
- It gives the meat a slight saltiness flavor
And when all these improvements are combined with a proper smoke flavor, then you will definitely end up with tender, fall-of-the-bone turkey legs.
Brining the Turkey Legs
Start by preparing the brine mixture. In a large pan, put together all the ingredients mentioned in the upper-section.
Put the mixture on the stove and bring it to boil by stirring occasionally. After it has reached the boiling point, let it rest at room temperature before putting all the turkey in it.
Place the cooled-brine mixture and the turkey legs in the refrigerator for around 9-12 hours. You can leave it over-night or even better, go for up to 24 hours brining.
- Also Read: How Long to Brine Chicken
The cool brine will make sure it properly penetrates the turkey legs. If you think it is still hot, you can add a few ice cubes to cool it off.
Dry Rubbing & Seasoning the Turkey Legs for Smoking
The dry rubbing and seasoning are totally on your personal taste. You can go for a simple salt flavor or you can go a little bit extra like I prefer to use for this recipe.
Also, if you don't like the dry rub seasoning I am using, you can always use your own combination or store-bought rub.
Just make sure to not go with a too-salty rub, since you have already used salt on the wet brine. You can always reduce the salt in the rub if you think things are getting too salty.
Seasoning Turkey Legs for Smoking
After you have left the meat brine over-night on the wet brine, then remove them from the mixture and pat dry using a paper towel.
Meanwhile, mix together all your dry rubbing ingredients and start rubbing the entire outside surface of the turkey legs.
Make sure to fully coat them with seasoning rub and to not leave any un-even spots.
How to Smoke Turkey Legs
The smoking process of the turkey legs is an overall, a 2-step process:
- Brining - First, you have to definitely brine them if you want the best results. The best option would be to prepare the mixture and submerge the meat, leaving them to cure for 24 hours in the fridge. You can use a gallon zip bag to make sure they stay fully submerged all the time.
- Smoking - The second part of the process is smoking turkey legs. Since the brining process takes up to 24 hours to finish, you have to prepare a day ahead when cooking. Just prepare the smoker to pre-heat at 225-240°F before putting the meat.
Preparing the Smoker
Start your smoker and pre-heat it at 225-240°F. Place your wood chips directly over the charcoal or inside a smoker wood box.
Maintaining the recommended smoking temperature is crucial to have the best results when cooking smoked turkey legs.
After you have removed them from the wet brine, fully coated in dry rubbing, and your smoker has reached the recommended temperature, now it is time to smoke them.
If using a Gas Grill instead of Smoker
If you are going to use a gas grill, wrap the unsoaked wood chips in foil and poke a few holes in the foil. Put them on one side of the grill.
Turn on the grill and leave the lid open until you see smoke coming out of the foil packet. At this point, turn off all the burners except the one under the foil.
Place the turkey on the indirect heat side, so on the opposite side of the foil packet, and close the lid. You should cook at Medium heat, keeping temperature of the grill between 245-260°F. Occasionally check the foil packet to make sure it is still smoking, If not, then make a new one and replace it.
If using a Charcoal Grill
If you are using a charcoal grill, then prepare it by placing a metal drip pan in the center of the grill, under the grate.
Pour about 1/2 inch water into the pan and pile hot charcoal around the drip pan.
Also, toss a handful of unsoaked wood chips directly on the charcoal. Place the meat on the grates, on top of the drip pan.
Make sure to keep a continuous temperature of 245-260°F during the whole cooking process.
If the chips stop smoking, toss another handful onto the charcoal.
Smoking Turkey Legs on a Grill
With your smoker pre-heated, place the seasoned turkey legs directly on the grill grates.
Close the lid and let them cook for several hours.
How Long to Smoke Turkey Legs
You should smoke turkey legs for 3-5 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.
If you want to go a little bit super tender, you can smoke them up to 175°F but we don't recommend it since they continue to cook for a few minutes even after you remove them from the heat.
You can always use an instant-read thermometer to get a better temperature reading.
After the meat has reached the recommended internal temperature, the turkey legs should have a deep brown crust on the outside. Don't worry if you notice the meat under the skin in pinkish color. It is part of the chemical reaction from the cure.
- Also Read: How Long to Smoke Whole Turkey
Note: Cook times will vary depending on set and ambient temperatures.
After you remove them from the smoker, you should leave the smoked turkey legs to rest for around 10-15 minutes for the juices to settle down.
After that, you can eat them served by wrapping the end of it using a butcher paper, holding with hands only or served based on your preference.