What Are Turkey Legs?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Smoked turkey legs

bhofack2 / Getty Images

Turkey legs consist of the leg of the turkey from the thigh to the meat just below the knee. Aside from Thanksgiving, this dark, flavorful meat is typically served at fairs and amusement parks on-the-bone to be eaten as a handheld meal. But turkey legs can also be a budget-friendly option for everyday meals. 

Fast Facts

  • Originated in North America
  • Find in supermarket meat aisle or pre-order from local butcher 
  • Typically served roasted, grilled, or slow-cooked in soups or stews
  • Store in the coldest part of the fridge for up to two days before cooking

What Are Turkey Legs?

A turkey leg is technically comprised of the bird’s thigh and the drumstick (the part of the leg below the knee joint), though in many recipes the term is used to refer to just the drumstick. Skin-on and bone-in, a full leg typically weighs between one and two and a half pounds. Like most dark meat, turkey legs are less expensive than white meat turkey breast, which is more popular in the U.S. Turkey legs are delicious and hearty roasted or grilled, but can also benefit from slow-cooking and braising. 

How to Cook Turkey Legs

Roasting, grilling, and smoking are the most common methods of cooking turkey legs. For these methods, keep the skin on; this helps keep the meat stay juicy while being cooked over high heat, and the leg’s crispy, salty skin is not to be missed. Pat the legs down with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Coat in fat, like a flavorful compound butter, oil, or ghee, and season with salt and other seasonings. For the best flavor, make sure to season the flesh underneath the skin. Cook until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F. Turkey legs can be served on-the-bone or sliced.

When braising or slow-cooking — which works particularly well for gamier wild turkey — you can choose to keep the skin or remove it and trim any excess fat. Brown the meat before adding braising liquid or adding it to the slow-cooker. For fall-off-the-bone tenderness, cook anywhere from 2 1/2 hours to overnight in the slow-cooker. Skim any fat from the cooking liquid before serving. 

Raw turkey leg
 
Roasted Turkey Legs
The Spruce 
Festival smoked turkey legs
bhofack2 / Getty Images
Slow Cooker Island Barbecued Turkey Legs
The Spruce Eats / Katarina Zunic

What Do Turkey Legs Taste Like?

Turkey legs’ fatty dark meat tastes more like duck legs than chicken legs, featuring full-bodied, juicy, umami flavor and a little gaminess. Depending on how they’re cooked, turkey legs may have crispy, salty skin. Additional flavor and texture nuances will differ based on whether the turkey is farm-raised or wild, as the legs of wild turkeys are a bit tougher and gamier than their typical supermarket counterparts. This flavor can be tamed with "low and slow" cooking methods.

Turkey Legs vs. Chicken Legs

Turkey legs are larger than chicken legs and have a deeper, richer flavor that is more akin to pork or duck. Off-the-bone, you can swap turkey and chicken leg meat in recipes like soups and stews.

Turkey Leg Recipes

Turkey legs make simple, satisfying meal roasted or grilled and served on-the-bone or sliced. Turkey legs can also be braised, simmered in stews, or shredded and added to tacos, casseroles, or sandwiches.

Where to Buy Turkey Legs

Turkey legs can most often be found in supermarkets around Thanksgiving time, typically sold with the thighs and drumsticks separated. Because the legs are not as popular as the breasts in the U.S., they’re not always sold year-round in the supermarket, so you’ll likely need to head to your local butcher and may even need to pre-order. Depending on your needs, you can request the full leg, the thighs and drumsticks separated, or get one or the other. Thighs run from half a pound to a pound and a half each, and drumsticks run from half a pound to one pound. Plan to have about 1/2 to 3/4 pounds of meat (minus the bone) per person.

Storage

Fresh turkey legs should be stored at 33-38 degrees F in the coldest part of the refrigerator, which is usually the meat drawer. Put the package on a plate or tray in the fridge to catch any residual moisture. Store turkey no longer than two days before cooking or freezing. To freeze, wrap raw turkey legs in freezer paper or vacuum seal them. They’ll last up to six months in the freezer.

Nutrition

Turkey legs, like the rest of the bird, are high in protein and vitamin B. The dark meat found in the legs is higher in calcium, iron, niacin, and other minerals than the white meat found in the breast. However, they’re also higher in saturated fat and cholesterol.