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Weekend chef: Smoked turkey legs, a spring festival treat!

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Posted 2:26pm on Monday, Apr. 23, 2012

Being a turkey-leg connoisseur, I make it a point to check out all the spring festivals in the area. You can’t swing a 2-pound turkey leg at the Main St. Fort Worth Arts Festival, Mayfest or Scarborough Renaissance Festival without hitting someone gnawing on, well, a 2-pound turkey leg.

With the popularity and the price tag of festival legs rising — they were 9 tickets at the Main St. fest this year, which didn’t sound bad until I realized it was a buck a ticket — I decided it was time to start making my own.

The secret to making an authentic festival-style turkey leg is that the meat needs to be cured, like a ham. The curing process gives it that hammy flavor that many of us crave, and it makes the meat very juicy.

I just happened to have some leftover curing salts and spices from St. Paddy’s Day corned beef brisket and Texas pastrami experiments, so I went in search of some turkey legs. I didn’t have to hunt long.

My local Walmart had ’em, and as I suspected, they were cheap! I picked up 12 legs at a little more than a dollar a leg. (I am beginning to think I should set up a festival cart next year.)

I cured the legs for a day, then smoked them for 3½ hours. I think they turned out as good or better than most of the festival turkey legs that I’ve had in recent years. And judging by the way the hungry hordes in our office devoured the legs for a lunchtime snack, I could find myself in a new line of work.

At the very least, my next spring festival will be BYOL (Bring Your Own Leg).

Here’s the recipe if you want to give it a try:

Festival smoked turkey legs

  • 3 to 4 turkey legs
  • ½ gallon of water
  • ½ cup Morton Tender Quick® curing salt (my local Kroger carries it)
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons liquid smoke if you are using an oven or grill, skip if using a smoker
  • 1 tablespoon pickling spices (I like Penzeys Spices Corned Beef Spices mix)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of your favorite rub or paprika
  • 1 large resealable plastic bag

Curing

Mix Morton Tender Quick curing salt, brown sugar, pickling spices and liquid smoke into ½ gallon of water and stir until curing salt and brown sugar are dissolved.

Place 3 or 4 turkey legs into a large, resealable plastic bag, add the curing liquid and seal the bag.

Place bag in bowl or pan to catch any liquid (if the bag springs a leak), then place into the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Cooking

When ready to cook, preheat oven, grill or smoker to somewhere between 225 – 250 degrees.

Remove legs from curing liquid and rinse off in cold water, making sure to remove all the pickling spices.

Pat legs dry with a paper towel.

Coat legs with olive oil, then lightly coat them with rub or paprika. This is more for crisping the skin and adding color. The cure has already added all that hammy flavor.

Smoke in smoker or roast in oven for about 3 hours, or when the temperature of the legs reads 180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, turning 3 to 4 times. It might seem as if we are overcooking the legs, but turkey legs have a lot of connective tissue, which needs to be broken down with high heat. The cure will help keep the legs juicy.

At 180 degrees, turn heat up to around 350-–400 degrees to crisp the skin. This should take about 15 minutes. Watch carefully to make sure the skin does not burn.

Pull legs out and wrap each in foil for easy serving.

Be sure to check out the slideshow above for step-by-step pictures.

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