The image of a Viking sinking his teeth into a large cut of charred meat, conjures primal urges within even some of the most devout vegans. Admit it or not, we still love our meats. And despite the bad rap meat sometimes gets from more “health conscious” people, a properly prepared piece of our Thanksgiving mascot provides plenty of healthy, natural nutrition. Yet we’ve all seen unsuspecting consumers turning their noses up at real food, opting instead for a plastic-
wrapped meal full of chemical concoctions the average layman can’t even pronounce. We’ve traded real food for fake food, natural food for factory food and time-honored, traditionally prepared food for instant food. Even turkey legs sold by some fair vendors come already smoked, likely mass-produced in a factory somewhere on the other side of the country. To add insult to injury, the meat is often dry as well. After all, it is getting cooked again and turkey meat is already notoriously easy to dry out. But there’s a really cool way to get smoky, tender, juicy turkey meat, without cutting corners. It’s called self-basting.
To learn more about self-basting, consider these Memphis pit-masters who are doin’ it right. Marcus Harts with his bbq buddies, Leo Payne and Reginald Randolph, formed Turkey Leg Kings in Memphis. TLK smoke their meats in such a way that allows the pieces of meat to literally baste each other with their own juices. I’d heard about Marcus’ turkey legs for years from co-workers and recently ordered my own to see what all the fuss was about. In the past, you just had to know him to get one. He sells them to local law enforcement, correctional staff and personal acquaintances. He serves the heroes who serve our community. But word is getting out. People around Memphis are discovering Turkey Leg Kings and Marcus is consistently selling out. I wanted to hear from others, so I
asked around. There was no shortage of TLK. fans. People talked a lot about the tenderness of the meat and, “that old-school barbecue taste.” But Julius Stokes’ comment tells the tale. “I don’t even like turkey legs, but I like his. They’re just that good.” TLK has honed the skill of pit-cooked turkey legs. But they’re not limited to turkey drumsticks. They also smoke pork butts, smoked sausages and barbecue bologna among other things. Marcus even offers a really cheesy seafood mac-n-cheese. But it’s his careful treatment of turkey legs that got him the reputation. So what about this self-basting technique? How does it work and can I do it at home? If you’re an aspiring pit-master, read on to pick up a few tips for smoking amazing turkey legs of your own.
We haven’t asked Marcus or his partners to reveal any of TLK’s bbq secrets, but through a little observation, we can unveil some of their awesome bbq techniques. In a nutshell, what sets their turkey legs apart can be narrowed down to the following: First, the meat has only been bathed in the smoke of Marcus’ pit. No pre-smoked products come from his smoker. So…get fresh meat. Then, because he has a custom-built rotisserie smoker, his turkey legs pass above and below each other, catching the meat drippings from the ones above, producing succulent and flavorful pieces of meat. That’s why these types of pits are sometimes referred to as self-basting smokers (Don’t miss the video below to see Marcus’ rotisserie pit in action). The meat is essentially basting itself. Finally, the tasty TLK season blend and sweet-n-tangy bbq dipping sauce adds yet more layers of flavor. The result is moist, freshly cooked turkey legs with a beautiful mahogany color, crisp exterior skin and deep wood-smoke flavor. They smoke up large batches of these and they’re gone within a few short hours. So there’s your secret. It’s called self-basting. But how, you ask, can I reproduce this at home without a really expensive rotisserie smoker? No worries. Let’s break it down.
So you don’t have a gargantuan smoker that nearly resembles a WWII submarine. To recreate self-basted smoked turkey legs at home, simply start with fresh turkey legs. Don’t skimp on this. Fresh, quality meat does make a difference. Also, if you have time to brine the night or even a few hours before the cook, it will add yet another layer of protection to help ensure your meat comes out moist. Next, wash, dry and season them. I like to rub them down with olive oil first to help seasonings adhere and to help with browning. Then into a wood-stoked pit they go. Hickory, oak and apple woods are all popular. I favor pecan. To duplicate the rotisserie effect, you’d need to have at least two racks-one positioned above the other. After placing meat on both racks, simply use tongs or heat-resistant gloves to rotate the meats a few times throughout the cook so that both layers of turkey legs get basted by the meat drippings of the ones above. Not only will the meat be juicier, but it’ll cook more evenly too. If you don’t have two racks, just place a couple of bricks on either ends of the grill grates and place a cheap, $10 replacement grill grate on top. Now you have two levels. Temperatures within the smoker typically range anywhere from the low 200’s to the low 300’s for poultry. The main idea is to cook low and slow, keeping it steady. Once the turkey legs have had plenty of time to pick up some good smoke (anywhere from an hour to a few, depending on pit temps and thickness of meat) it’s perfectly fine to wrap the legs in foil to hold in the juices. Finally, serve with a homemade bbq sauce, or you’re favorite store-bought bottled sauce, with a little lovin’ added to it, such as lemon juice, garlic or brown sugar. Adding some hot sauce for a little sweet-heat will also compliment the smoked bird.
So now that you have the tools to smoke up your own Viking food, it’s time to tap into your inner carnivore and fire up that pit! Or, if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on one of TLK’s smoked turkey legs, you’ll get to bypass all the labor and go straight to the rewards. I dare say that if the Viking gods of Norse mythology were real, Thor himself would gladly stand in line for one. And while the God of Thunder and the rest of the Avengers look on in envy from the pages of comics, Marcus Harts and TLK will be serving real food to real heroes.
Thanks for visiting my Memphis bbq blog! Don’t forget to check out the video below. Also remember to hit that Like button and comments are always welcome below. Now it’s time to go fire that pit up! Tim Shirley
Photos and Video Were Courtesy of Marcus Harts.