Smoked turkey legs are a visually appealing staple of theme parks, county fairs, and other festive outdoor arenas. But did you know you can buy pre-smoked turkey legs and reheat them, instead of waiting for them to cook through? Here’s how to do it.
How Do You Cook Already Smoked Turkey Legs?
To reheat pre-smoked turkey legs, brush them with oil, then set them on a grill over medium heat until they’ve reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This process should take 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how big the legs are. You can also use the oven, an air fryer, or a slow cooker to reheat the meat.
What’s The Difference Between Fresh and Smoked Turkey Legs?
When you purchase fresh turkey legs, you’re getting a raw meat product that needs to be thoroughly cooked before it’s safe for human consumption.
Smoked turkey legs, on the other hand, have already been cooked. What’s more, they’ve been prepared on a smoker, which gives them a rich, succulent flavor.
With fresh turkey legs, you have a blank slate as far as the taste is concerned. Dark meat has a more intense flavor than the white meat on the breast, but it still makes an excellent template for bolder ingredients.
If the turkey legs have already had a stint on the smoker, they’ll have a distinct flavor. You can use sauces or seasonings to complement the flavor, but you won’t be able to get rid of the smoky taste. Fortunately, anyone who buys pre-smoked turkey legs is bound to appreciate this.
Note that pre-cooked meat tends to be more expensive than the raw product. That’s because a lot of time and effort was put into the preparation. In essence, you’re paying for the convenience of having someone else do the cooking for you.
Where To Buy Smoked Turkey Legs
First of all, check your local grocery store. Many well-stocked supermarkets and even some smaller mom-and-pop establishments will carry smoked turkey legs, especially during grilling season.
If you don’t have any luck at the store, turn to online retailers. Kroger and Costco may have smoked turkey legs available by the case. Specialty retailers like Farmer’s Fresh Meat are also worth a look.
How To Select Smoked Turkey Legs
Take a look at the “sell by” date on the package. This is easy to do when you’re shopping in person, but may not be possible if you’re buying online. Fortunately, most online retailers sell these products in a frozen state, so it’s less of a concern.
Bear in mind that “sell by” dates are only in place to let the retailers know how long a product has been on the shelf. You can use it as a guideline, but it isn’t a reliable indicator of freshness.
In this case, checking the date will give you an idea of how long ago the turkey legs were smoked. If it’s been sitting on the shelf for too long, the meat won’t have the same appealing taste.
Also, look for plump turkey legs with a lot of meat attached to the bone. The color should range from bronze to deep mahogany, with a glistening appearance to indicate moisture.
It’s a good idea to check the price tag as well. As we mentioned, pre-smoked turkey legs are pricier than fresh ones. It’s not a good idea to buy the cheapest product on the shelf, as the quality will probably be in line with the cost.
Finally, take a look at the ingredient list. It should only consist of a few items, all of which you recognize. A long list of complicated ingredients indicates that the product is stuffed full of preservatives, which can affect the taste.
It’s natural for salt or sodium nitrate to be listed as an ingredient. If the sodium content is too high, though, the turkey legs might taste overly salty. Keep that in mind while you’re checking the list.
Do You Have To Cook Pre-Smoked Turkey Legs?
In theory, the smoked turkey legs are safe to eat because they’ve already been cooked to the proper internal temperature. To improve the texture, it’s a good idea to heat them up. Obviously, if the product arrives frozen, you’ll need to do this anyway.
The trick is to heat the turkey legs without cooking them so much that they dry out. You also don’t want the skin to turn rubbery in the process. Here are a few of the most popular methods.
On the Grill
To give the smoked turkey legs a sense of authenticity, we like to reheat them on the grill or smoker. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and the turkey will get a nice flavor boost.
To begin, preheat the grill to medium, or 350 degrees if using a pellet smoker. Using a silicone brush, coat the turkey legs with a bit of neutral cooking oil, such as canola.
When the grill is ready, put the turkey legs directly on the cooking grate. Let them heat up until they achieve an internal temperature of 160 degrees, turning a few times to prevent scorching. This should take 15 to 20 minutes.
During the last minute or two of cooking, brush the turkey legs with your favorite barbecue sauce. We would recommend a Kansas City-style sauce, as the sweet sticky glaze is the perfect foil for the smoked turkey.
Speaking of foil, you might want to use some to wrap the turkey legs after taking them off the heat, then let the package sit for 5 minutes. You can let them rest uncovered, but the foil wrapper will allow the barbecue sauce to further penetrate the meat.
After 5 minutes, unwrap the turkey legs and serve with additional sauce on the side.
In the Oven
Don’t want to take the time to fire up the grill? The oven works well in a pinch, and all you need are the turkey legs and a supply of heavy-duty aluminum foil.
First, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. While it’s heating, set the turkey legs on a long sheet of foil, then sprinkle them with water or chicken stock.
Wrap the foil around the turkey legs, creating a tight seal. If there’s not enough foil to fully enclose the meat, start over with a fresh sheet.
Set this package on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Place in the preheated oven and heat for about 30 minutes, or until the turkey legs are heated to 160 degrees.
If you want to apply a sauce, do so for the last 5-10 minutes. Otherwise, the sauce might burn, which would impart an acrid flavor to the meat.
Let the turkey legs rest for about 5 minutes before serving.
In the Air Fryer
If you’re really in a hurry, you can use the air fryer to reheat the turkey legs. This method works well if you just want to grab a snack before heading out the door.
After preheating the air fryer to 375 degrees, set the smoked turkey legs in the basket. Cook for about 10 minutes, rotating them halfway through to ensure even heating.
Once they’ve reached an internal temp of 160, the turkey legs are good to go. You don’t need to rest them when you’ve used this method, but you still might want to wait a few minutes before digging in, as the meat will be very hot. Add sauce if desired.
In the Slow Cooker
This is our least favorite technique, as it takes the longest and doesn’t contribute much in terms of flavor. However, it doesn’t require much attention, and the meat is virtually guaranteed to remain moist.
Set the turkey legs in the slow cooker and add just enough chicken stock to cover the meat. You can also use beer, apple juice, cider, or plain water.
Close the lid and set the slow cooker to low. Let the meat heat through for about 45 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees when inserted into the meatiest portion of the leg. Be careful not to touch the bone.
Serve with barbecue sauce on the side, if you’d like.
Always keep your smoked turkey legs in the original packaging until you’re ready to reheat them. If you have leftovers, wrap them in a layer of plastic wrap before adding a second layer of foil, or put the wrapped meat in a sealed container.
If the meat is exposed to air, it will dry out more quickly. Worse, it will deteriorate faster, so the leftovers might not last as long as you’d like.
Smoked turkey legs should keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. If they’re frozen, try to thaw and reheat them within a 6-month time frame.
The Bottom Line
When the turkey legs are already cooked, you don’t have to wait as long for the meat to heat through. Best of all, they’re usually sold in bulk. This makes them an ideal choice for casual backyard gatherings.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!