There’s nothing like Thanksgiving turkey. There’s also nothing worse than eating Thanksgiving turkey… for 2+ weeks after Thanksgiving.so my attempt to solve this problem is to break down the turkey parts into manageable eye-catching pieces because as we well know people eat with their rice and if it’s small and quick people eat really fast.
In a previous post, I tackled turkey wing flats by smothering them and watching them soak in all of the gravy that we made for them. I cooked 4 of those, just in case someone got jealous of there only being 2 wings on the bird. I mean, after all, who’s going to blame them? I also made drums, but they don’t look as good on camera. That’s for another recipe, another time.
What DOES look good on camera…and looks great everywhere else in the mind of a dutiful State Fair attendee…is turkey legs. To be specific, smoked turkey legs. The kind that taste a little bit like a juicier version of Christmas ham, but with all the crisp bite of smoked meat.
PROBLEM is, it takes a good 4-6 hours to get those smoked turkey legs smoked, much less on the table. No one wants to tend that smoke and fire for hours. After all, it’s Thanksgiving, and I’m pretty sure that people would much rather have all their food waiting and piping hot when they walk in the door, or wish to watch the football game…
(NOTE: before you do anything else, make sure your smoker is pre-heated to 275 degrees. This will keep the low and slow feel of cooking the turkey but provide just enough heat for the required crispy outside. Don’t worry, we’re still going to get this done in 2 hours, and on time! And, before I forget, you get the best results for this recipe using cherry wood…)
SOLUTION: We have to get those whipped up quickly. And the best way to prepare turkey legs is smoked. At least, if you’re a veteran of various fairs, backyard BBQs, and other gatherings in which turkey legs come out. A combination of brining and poaching to get the inner meat partially cooked…and then a good rub that will take the smoke and make the legs look like they do at the fair.
ANSWER: for those of us who aren’t night owls but not quite morning people, we’ve simplified the process to a point where you can get these wings done and plated within 2 hours. Sounds a heck of a lot better than 4, right?
When it comes to poaching or simmering any meats, remember the idea is to make sure that the inside meat is cooked gently. The skin must remain on to hold the outer flavor of the smoker, but this will only take an hour as opposed to the normal 2-3 that it has to spend cooking. One can also find cheer in the fact that you’re not trying to cook an entire turkey. In fact, you can even prepare this dish Thanksgiving morning and plate it hot and fresh right before the family comes around.
NOTE: The simmering process was borrowed from Christopher Kimball and the wonderful staff at Milk Street. Do yourself a favor and check out the magazine!
The above process ensures very tender meat and saves you cooking time. The smoke itself will crisp the skin, as the meat will stay tender juicy like you remember from the fair – if not better. Keep your napkins handy, folks.
In a large pot of simmering water, combine the following:
- One white onion, peeled and quartered;
- One 4-inch ginger root, peeled and sliced into 1/8 inch nickels;
- 5 whole peeled garlic cloves;
- One bunch of scallions, halved with the roots removed;
- Handful chopped fresh basil
- Handful chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 thickly sliced green peppers
- Tablespoon of kosher salt
- One cup of potato vodka (preferably Tito’s, for my gluten-free friends)
- One cup of apple cider vinegar
- One cup of apple cider
Make sure the water is simmering, even gently boiling, before you add the turkey legs. They will drop the temperature, so bring it back up to a simmer after you lower the turkey legs into the bath.
Allow the turkey legs to rest, meat side down, in the bath for 25 minutes while maintaining a gentle simmer/boil.
Remove the turkey legs and allow them to cool off and dry – and take the broth off the heat as well, as you’re about to put it to use. Not only has it served as a warm brine, it will do double duty as a flavor injector!
Now the magic happens!
Take a marinade injector and fill the legs as much as you can with the broth/brine without spilling and punching too many holes. To avoid such, pinpoint a thick part of the turkey leg, and squeeze a little at a time while moving the needle inside and evenly distributing the liquid. This will maintain moisture and volume to the turkey legs without losing too much in the smoker.
While you’re waiting take 1/2 cup of honey, 1/4 cup of your choice of spirit, 1 tablespoon of finely ground kosher salt, 1 tablespoon of garlic paste and 1 tablespoon of onion paste (refer to previous posts). Here you can have fun with a mortar and pestle (which I personally find great for stress relief) or a food processor, but make sure that the mix is very smooth, almost liquid but just a little pasty.
Once the turkey legs cool off enough, paint a thin layer of this mixture on the turkey legs and rub some of it under the skin as well. The salt and the sweet in this brush will caramelize in the smoker and yield that crunch we’re dying for.
Remember to wrap the bone end of the legs with foil, so that the bone won’t burn and you’ll still have a handle to grip as the turkey leg cools.
Smoke the turkey wings at 275 degrees for about 90 minutes. The simmering/poaching process shaves the normal cooking time in half as the dark meat of the legs is already partially cooked and tender. This is important to make sure the smoke ring penetrates far enough into the already juicy meat for a truly smoky bite.
Occasionally, you can paint more of the honey glaze as you flip the legs. This glaze should be reminiscent of a HoneyBaked ham, as the turkey will always take on a slightly hammy taste in the smoking process. That will surely awaken memories of the state fairs we all attended!
Well, I promised you that I would get you in and out in two hours or less. Let’s review:
- 5 minutes to chop your vegetables and to bring your pot to a boil;
- 25 minutes to poach/simmer your turkey legs, allow to cool, and coat;
- 90 minutes for smoking time;
- However long it takes you to eat it – this may run into time going negative. I promise you, it will not remain on your table very long!