Roasted Turkey Legs
Easy, Flavorful and Low Cost
- Servings: 4.
Turkey legs are an overlooked ingredient when it comes to making dinner. It's not clear if it's because they're a little tricky to eat -- the long sinewy tendons can get in the way of slicing and biting into the legs. Or because turkey legs have become part of the state or country fair menu, comically referred to as "caveman pops," as if they'd be something Fred Flintstone would have as a snack.
But in fact turkey legs -- or drumsticks as we call them during Thanksgiving -- are an excellent choice for a weeknight supper. They're easy to cook, low cost, and full of flavor. The legs are dark meat, and thus have more fat than the far more popular turkey breasts. But the slightly higher amount of fat also means they have more flavor and can be cooked in different ways.
Because so many turkey breasts are needed to meet the demand for the sliced turkey breast sold by the pound, or for the volume of turkey sandwiches sold everyday at lunchtime, as a result there are many turkey legs left over (it's nature's rule: one turkey breast = two turkey legs). But the leg can't be easily sliced due to those long, tough tendons and ligaments that run its length and thus limits its commercial appeal.
That creates a prize for the home cook. Turkey legs are very inexpensive -- the last ones I bought at Whole Foods were 99 cents a pound, with each leg weighing about one pound, meaning I bought two generous legs for $1.81.
The legs can be slow braised in a little seasoned liquid, poached as if a confit, grilled, or stewed similarly to osso buco. But going back to those state fair caveman pops, one of the easiest ways to cook turkey legs is by roasting them.
Contrary to those who say anything turkey, including the legs, must be first brined, I think it's absolutely not necessary to do. Because of its higher fat content, the leg has much more juiciness and flavor than the often tasteless breast. Brining not only adds effort and time to the prep, but it also adds salt and sugar. So since added juiciness isn't necessary with the legs, why add work, time, salt and sugar?
However, what a turkey leg does need is time to cook. Many turkey legs, like the ones I recently bought, are huge. But it's poultry and thus must be thoroughly cooked -- right to the bone. This can take up to an hour, depending on the size of the legs.
To add flavor you can either use a dry rub made with salt you’re your favorite seasonings; the recipe below suggests a combination but you can use a mix you already like. Or you can use a favorite barbecue sauce that creates a tasty glaze on the finished legs.
Allow one turkey leg per serving. And serve each with a sharp knife and a big napkin to make it easy to eat either by slicing or mimicking a caveman and eating by hand.
- 4 fresh turkey legs; if using frozen legs, defrost completely before cooking
- 3 teaspoons olive oil
- 3 teaspoons salt
- Black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon hot or smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/8 teaspoon dry mustard
- Preheat the oven to 400° F.
- Pat the turkey legs dry with paper towels and place in a roasting pan.
- Rub the legs with olive oil so that the legs are just lightly coated; this helps the dry rub adhere.
- In a small bowl mix the salt, several grinds of black pepper, and all the spices until combined. Sprinkle over the turkey legs and rub so that each leg is well seasoned.
- Roast for 20 minutes at 400° F. Then lower the temperature to 325° F and continue to cook for 20 to 30 more minutes until the internal temperature is 170° F and the juices run clear.
- Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Note: if you prefer to use a barbecue sauce or glaze instead of a rub, follow this recipe omitting the dry rub completely. Instead sprinkle salt and pepper on the legs, brush with a thin coating of the sauce and cook for the initial 30 minutes; when you lower the temperature, apply the sauce again and continue to cook. Pass additional sauce when the legs are served.