Everything about hunting wild turkey is a plus. They are challenging birds to hunt; they make us look silly far more often than we are successful. They are vocal and send shivers up and down the hunter’s spine every time they let out a gobble. They are beautiful birds to look at (if you discount from the waddles up.) And they provide terrific fare for the table.
Particularly from a big old gobbler, most folks consider the breast meat when they think of wild turkey. Yes, prepared right turkey breast is fantastic. Just don’t dry it out. And be sure to add some flavor highlights through marinating or careful seasoning while cooking.
However, I think “the best” meat of a wild turkey to be the thighs—the dark meat. The thighs are big, meaty and flavorful. Love those thighs!
Then there are the drumsticks. The flavor of the leg meat is great, but there’s darn little of it—and it’s encased between tendons and sinew making it mighty difficult to get at.
So the legs and thighs of wild turkey are often discarded. It’s a shame because there are great ways to make use of these precious parts. For years, we used them just in turkey soup. We’d stew the thighs and legs to make a stock then pull the meat from the bones and shred it to put back into the soup with vegetables and noodles. Great stuff in the middle of winter or any time. For an old timey German treat, spoon the steaming hot soup onto a bed of raisins in the bowl, then give them a few minutes to plump.
Recently, I tried smoking the wild turkey legs and thighs in my Camp Chef Smoke Vault, and they are out of sight. This makes great eat-on-its-own-meat (like those smoked turkey drumsticks you get at the County Fair) or for use in adding great flavor to salads or other dishes.
Here’s the recipe I found is great.
Thighs and drumsticks from as many turkeys as you get in the spring—or can fit on your smoker. (The amounts described here are for thighs and drumsticks from one turkey, so two of each.)
- ½ cup Morton’s Tender Quick
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 2 Tablespoons black strap molasses
- 5-6 good dashes of hot sauce (like Tabasco, Red Hot, etc.)
- 4 cups cold water
- Thaw turkey thighs and legs thoroughly.
- Dissolve Tender Quick and brown sugar in the water in a large, non-metallic container like a crock or mixing bowl.
- Add molasses and hot sauce. Stir in to liquid.
- Submerge turkey legs and thighs in the mixture and weight with plate or lid to keep submerged.
- Place container in refrigerator and allow the mixture to brine for at least 12 to 24 hours. Be certain all meat is held under the brine at all times.
- Remove the meat from the brine and rinse thoroughly under running water.
- Lay out the meat to dry and come to room temperature.
- Prepare smoker with your favorite wood. Soak wood chunks and chips well ahead of time.
- Start smoker on high setting to get the wood smoking. Then lower to bring temp down to about 200-225 degrees.
- Lightly oil the top grate in smoker, and arrange leg and thigh pieces on it.
- Smoke at 200-225 degrees for 2-3 hours.
- Raise temp in smoker to about 275-300 and add more soaked wood chips.
- Smoke for another 1 – 1 ½ hours.
- Remove meat from smoker. Allow to cool and serve or store.
- Keeps very well in zip lock freezer bags in refrigerator, but chances are when your family tries them, they won’t be around for long.