Roasted Turkey Legs

A fantastic dinner option, or great for a small Thanksgiving feast.

Roasted Turkey Legs
Photo: Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox
Active Time:
15 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 55 mins
Servings:
4

Turkey legs, or drumsticks, are often a prized part of a whole roasted turkey at Thanksgiving, but rarely do folks think of them as their own meal. Like the chicken wing, or even the chicken drumstick, a turkey drumstick doesn't get as much credit as it should—but we're looking to change that with this recipe for roasted turkey legs.

When roasted alone (that is, not as part of the whole bird), turkey legs can be moist and juicy, with crispy, succulent skin. When roasting a whole bird, sometimes the two major parts (breast and legs) are incompatible in total cook times, and one turns as dry as a desert while the other struggles to climb to temp.

Solve that issue—and give the dark meat lovers at your table a reason to rejoice—with these roasted turkey legs.

Why Pick Turkey Legs Over A Whole Turkey

We have nothing against a whole turkey, or even a turkey breast, but sometimes you don't have the two to three hours of cook time to dedicate to a big turkey. And who really has time to worry with brining and basting during the week?

Roasted turkey legs are a great option for families or friend groups getting together for Thanksgiving who don't want the hassle of a whole turkey but still want that specific breed of bird on their table. (A roast chicken is another great option.)

Turkey legs cook in about an hour and a half, depending on size. Smaller ones will cook even faster, so if you're planning a family dinner or a holiday feast, you can save loads of time in your day by picking turkey legs over other parts.

There's also the dollars and cents of it all. Turkey legs might be a bit more expensive pound for pound than a whole turkey, but you'll ultimately pay significantly less with just a few drumsticks versus the weight of a whole turkey. And as long as you don't need the giblets for gravy, you'll get all the flavor satisfaction you're looking for while keeping a few bucks in your wallet with turkey legs.

What You'll Need

Another good thing about roasting turkey legs is you don't need big roasting pans or racks. A classic baking dish will work just fine. It's among the ingredients and equipment you'll need for making roasted turkey legs:

roasted turkey legs ingredients
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

- Turkey legs: Look for ones that average about 10 ounces per drumstick. Getting equal-sized drumsticks will make sure everything cooks as close to evenly as possible.
- Herbs and spice: This recipe has a combination of classic herbs and spices, like parsley and thyme. We added a little smokiness with paprika. But this is a place where you can absolutely try different variations if you want.
- Butter: Instead of basting or brining, you'll just rub the turkey down with room temperature butter so that it penetrates the turkey as it melts. It also helps adhere the herbs and spices to the poultry.
- Carrots, potatoes, and lemons: These form a bed under the turkey legs, and the carrots and potatoes will tenderize as the turkey legs cook. The lemons will steam slightly, too, lending some freshness to the turkey, and they'll help create a delicious gravy when mixed with the turkey drippings right in the pan.
- Baking pan: You don't need a high-sided roasting dish for this turkey leg recipe. A regular baking dish will work fine. But it does need to have sides; a sheet pan won't work.
- Thermometer: A probe thermometer will help you get a read on how well cooked the turkey legs are. You'll want to insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh meat, being sure to avoid the bone.

Instructions

If you've roasted a whole chicken, pork tenderloin, or a beef shoulder before, you'll know the name of the game is low and slow in the oven. But before the turkey legs start to cook, you'll want to get them flavored. Here's a quick overview of how to make roasted turkey legs:

Step 1. Make the butter spread

In a bowl, combine the room temperature butter with the herbs and spices. If you want to mix up the flavorings, do that here. Just keep in mind you want this butter to still be fairly thick so it'll stick to the turkey. If it's too thin and runny, it'll just slide right off and not give the turkey legs any flavor.

mixing herbs and butter
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Step 2. Coat the turkey legs

Divide the butter mixture evenly among the four turkey legs, and rub it into the skin and meat. You're probably going to want to use your hands for this. A spatula won't cut it for making sure every centimeter is buttered up.

turkey legs coated in herb butter
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Step 3. Make the bed

Place the carrots and onions in the bottom of the roasting pan or baking dish. (We added some celery here, too.) Add the lemon slices, and make sure everything is in as close to a single layer as possible so the turkey legs can rest on them.

carrots, onions, and lemon slices in roasting pan
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Move the turkey legs onto the carrots, onions, and lemons. You may have to alternate directions so that they all fit into the same pan.

turkey legs on onions and carrots
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Step 4. Bake

Place the pan into the preheated oven, and bake for 1 1/2 hours. If the turkey legs are on the smaller side (less than 10 ounces each), you might start checking the temp of the drumsticks after 60 minutes. Bigger pieces may take longer.

Remember: Limit how much you open and close the oven as best you can. Each time you swing open the door, you slow down the roasting.

Roasted Turkey Legs
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Step 5. Let rest

Once the turkey legs reach 165°F at the thickest part of the leg (just make sure to avoid the bone with the thermometer's probe), bring the dish out of the oven. Tear off a piece of aluminum foil, and pinch it at the middle to create a tent. Place the tent over the chicken, and lightly crimp the edges around the pan.

Let the chicken sit, with the foil tent, for at least 10 minutes before serving.

aluminum foil over baking pan
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Serving Suggestions

If you're making these turkey legs for a weeknight or Sunday dinner, a bowl of mashed potatoes and some fresh, crisp roasted asparagus would be great to finish off this dinner.

But if these turkey legs will be the centerpiece of Thanksgiving dinner, you'll want all the classic: cornbread dressing, cranberry salad, and, of course, turkey gravy.

Editorial contributions by Kimberly Holland.

Ingredients

  • ½ tsp. dried sage

  • ½ tsp. dried parsley

  • ½ tsp. dried thyme

  • ½ tsp. dried rosemary

  • ¼ tsp. smoked paprika

  • 1 ½ (12 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, softened

  • 4 turkey drumsticks

  • 1 sweet onion, sliced into rings

  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped

  • 1 lemon, sliced into rings

  • ½ tsp. kosher salt

  • ¼ tsp. freshly-ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

  2. In a small bowl, mix the first 6 ingredients (through butter) until well combined. Spread the butter mixture on the turkey drumsticks, evenly coating each one.

  3. Place the onion, carrots, and lemon slices in a roasting pan. Spread evenly into a single layer. Rest the drumsticks on top of the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper.

  4. Roast the drumsticks in preheated oven 90 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Place a sheet of aluminum foil to make a loose "tent" over the top. Allow the drumsticks to rest under the tent for 10 minutes before serving.

Updated by
Kimberly Holland
Kimberly Holland
Kimberly Holland is a writer and editor with 15 years of experience in food, lifestyle, health, and nutrition content. She has been published in Southern Living, Real Simple, Allrecipes, EatingWell, Cooking Light, and other publications.
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