If you’re hosting a more intimate Thanksgiving feast this year and don’t want to bake a whole turkey, these caveman-sized Brined and Roasted Turkey Legs are a delicious option.
Not only are roasted turkey legs fun to eat, they are perfectly tender and juicy on the inside with a little kick from a homemade chili spice rub on the outside.
A sugar and salt brine is the secret to ensuring turkey legs cook up tender. After brining, coat the turkey legs with the spice rub and roast them in the oven until cooked through.
The exact baking time required will depend on the size of your turkey legs, but most should cook for just 40 minutes. That’s a lot faster than roasting a whole turkey!
This simple turkey leg brine recipe can also be used for turkey wings, chicken drumsticks, or even a turkey breast if you like.
What are the benefits of brining?
During the brining process, salt will dissolve some the turkey’s muscle proteins so that it contracts less and retains more moisture as it cooks for tender, more flavorful meat.
- Water — The turkey legs need to be completely submerged in the liquid
- Kosher salt — to break down the muscle proteins and tenderize the meat
- Brown sugar — adds flavor and promotes better browning of the skin
- Bay leaf — for flavor
- Seasoning blend — like Emeril’s Essence or Montreal Steak Seasoning, for flavor
How long do you brine turkey legs?
For the best results, leave the turkey legs in the brine solution for a minimum of 4 hours. For me, it’s easier to prepare the brine and let the turkey soak in it overnight. Do not brine more than 24 hours, though.
Preparing the brine ahead of time
The brine solution should be chilled before adding the turkey. Since this particular brine recipe is boiled first to dissolve the ingredients, you may wish to make it ahead of time and store in the refrigerator to use the next day.
- In a large pot over high heat, bring water, salt, brown sugar, seasoning blend, and bay leaf to a boil. Stir to make sure the salt and sugar has completely dissolved, then remove from the heat source and let cool. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- To use right away, let the brine cool slightly, then fill a large container with ice. Pour in the brine and swish it around until it is chilly.
- Submerge the turkey drumsticks in the brine and refrigerate overnight, or for at least a minimum of 4 hours.
- Drain and discard the brine, then dry the turkey legs with paper towels.
Dry rub ingredients
- Chili powder
- Paprika — smoked paprika or regular
- Seasoning blend
- Onion salt
How to roast turkey legs
- Once the turkey legs have finished their swim in the brine, it’s time to cook! Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a rimmed cookie sheet with cooking spray.
- Remove the legs from the brine and discard the brine. Pat the turkey legs dry with paper towels.
- In a small bowl, combine the rub ingredients. Sprinkle the rub evenly over the turkey legs, even under the skin at the top.
- Place the turkey legs on the baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes uncovered.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 325 and continue baking for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the internal temperature registers 165 degrees.
PRO TIP: If your turkey legs are on the larger side they may require more baking time. Check the internal temperature and continue baking in 5 minute increments until the desired temperature is reached. If your turkey legs do require more cooking time, add a little water to the pan during the additional bake time.
How do you know the turkey is done?
The most accurate way to test whether the turkey is done is by using an instant read digital thermometer. The recommended minimum safe internal temperature is 165 degrees. Also, when pierced with a fork or knife, the juices should run clear, not pink.
Is slightly pink turkey meat safe to eat?
According to the USDA, slightly pink turkey is safe to eat as long as it has been cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Meat on turkey drumsticks is naturally more pink than breast meat. Smoked turkey is always pink.
Storing leftovers and reheating
- Do not leave cooked turkey out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
- Refrigerate leftovers tightly covered for up to 3 to 4 days.
- Leftover cooked turkey legs may be eaten hot or cold.
- Reheat turkey legs in the oven or in the microwave.
- To reheat in the oven, place the turkey leg in a shallow pan with a small amount of water in a 350 degree oven until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
- To reheat in the microwave, place the turkey leg on a plate and cover with a damp paper towel. Consult your microwave oven owner’s manual for recommended times and power levels.
Brined and Roasted Turkey Legs are just the thing for a massive appetite—Just look at how these bad boys hang off the plate!
For easier handling and eating, wrap the end of the drumsticks with aluminum foil after they come out of the oven.
- 10 whole turkey legs
- 4 quarts water
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons steak seasoning blend (or Emeril's Essence)
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons steak seasoning blend
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons onion salt
- In a large pot over high heat, bring water, salt, brown sugar, seasoning blend, and bay leaf to a boil. Stir to make sure the salt and sugar has completely dissolved, then remove from the heat source and let cool.
- Fill a large container with ice. Pour in the brine and swish it around until it is chilly. Submerge the turkey drumsticks in the brine and refrigerate overnight, or at least a minimum of 4 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat rimmed baking sheets with cooking spray.
- In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, steak seasoning blend, paprika, and onion salt for the dry rub.
- Drain and discard the brine, then dry the turkey legs with paper towels.
- Sprinkle the dry rub all over the turkey legs and place on the prepared baking sheets.
- Roast for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees and roast for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the turkey is cooked through and reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Original recipe by The Pioneer Woman
- For easier handling and eating, wrap the end of the drumsticks with aluminum foil after they come out of the oven.
- If your turkey legs are on the larger side they may require more baking time. Check the internal temperature and continue baking in 5 minute increments until the desired temperature is reached. If your turkey legs do require more cooking time, add a little water to the pan during the additional bake time.
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Serving Size:1 Servings
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 209Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 31mgSodium: 12988mgCarbohydrates: 40gFiber: 1gSugar: 38gProtein: 8g
Sheila Thigpen, author of Easy Chicken Cookbook and The 5-Ingredient Fresh and Easy Cookbook, is a recipe developer, food photographer, and food writer. She spent 20+ years as a business manager in the publishing industry before she retired in 2018 to focus on her passions — cooking, photography, and writing. Living near the beautiful Smoky Mountains, Sheila and her husband have two adult daughters and two fine sons-in-law, are active in their church, love to travel, and have a precious little granddaughter who has stolen their hearts. Follow Sheila on YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!