Grilled butterflied turkey legs with lemon butter sauce – crispy, buttery, handheld meat on a stick. Who doesn't love that?
5 from 1 vote

By Christie Vanover | Published July 20, 2022 | Last Updated August 10, 2022

Home | Recipes | Grilled Butterflied Turkey Legs

Disclosure the National Turkey Federation compensated me for this recipe.

Just look at the crispy turkey skin with touches of paprika, lemon pepper and garlic butter. These are right up there with smoked amusement park turkey legs, but they cook much faster due to the butterfly technique.

grilled butterflied turkey legs on platter with lemons.

Butterflied Turkey Legs Ingredients

  • Turkey legs: This recipe is for two legs, but you can double or triple it to feed a crowd.
  • Kosher Salt, Lemon Pepper, Smoked Paprika: this trio of spices create a great rub that complements the lemon butter sauce.
  • Cooking Spray: You can either brush the legs with olive oil and then apply the seasoning or give them a quick spritz with cooking spray.
  • Butter: Use salted butter as a base for the lemon butter salt. If you only have unsalted butter, add some salt to taste.
  • Lemon: You’ll use juice and zest from half of a lemon. You can use the other half as garnish.
  • Garlic: Mince fresh garlic for the best, freshest taste.

Substitutions: Instead of the salt, lemon pepper and paprika rub, you can apply your favorite poultry rub. Try my Turkey Rub recipe or grab a bottle of my Chicken Rub.

bottles of BBQ rubs on black background

Equipment Needed

  • Cutting Board and Boning Knife: To butterfly the turkey legs and remove the tendons.
  • Grill tongs
  • Small Pot: Make sure it’s safe to use on the grill.
  • Basting Brush
  • Instant Read Thermometer: My preference is a Thermapen One. It will give you a read out in one second.

How to Butterfly Turkey Legs

First, I have to start by giving credit to my buddy Brad over at Chiles and Smoke. He showed the world how to butterfly chicken legs, and the technique went viral. I just knew I wanted to try this with turkey legs.

The advantage of the butterfly technique, is that you create more surface area on the meat, which allows the meat to cook more evenly, quicker and delivers more crispy, tasty bits.

two raw turkey legs on black board.

One main difference between a chicken leg and turkey leg, other than the size, is that the turkey leg has several thick tendons inside. That’s what makes this technique another bonus, because butterflying make them easy to remove.

Start by placing the knuckle up like the top leg in the picture above. Use a boning knife to gently slice along each side of the leg bone. Then, press the meat flat to create the butterfly effect.

pulling tendons from turkey legs.

Feel around inside for the harder pieces. These are the tendons. You can lift them up from the meat and slice them right off with your knife or a pair of scissors.

tendons removed from two turkey legs.

You’ll see that each leg will have several tendons inside. If you miss one, it’s not the end of the world. But removing them provides a better eating experience, because they’re hard and won’t break down during the cook.

Now they’re ready for seasoning.

How to Season Butterflied Turkey Legs

I’ve kept this seasoning recipe super simple. You probably already have the ingredients in your pantry.

butterflied turkey legs seasoned.

For two legs, you’ll need one teaspoon kosher salt, one teaspoon lemon pepper and one teaspoon smoked paprika.

The lemon pepper gives the legs a pop of citrus, and the paprika is mostly used to provide a beautiful ruby color.

Season both sides and let them rest on the counter while you heat the grill. Just before grilling, give them a spritz with cooking spray to keep them from sticking to the grill.

How to Grill Butterflied Turkey Legs

These can be cooked on a charcoal, gas or pellet grill. Just heat your grill to 400-425F degrees with a direct heat zone. If you’re using wood chunks, chips or pellets, pecan and cherry woods provide a nice accent to this flavor profile.

butterflied turkey legs on grill.

Once your grill is heated. Place the legs on the grill skin side down. This will allow the skin to start crisping up immediately, forming a barrier to protect the tender meat.

You’re going to cook these for about 35 minutes, flipping every 5 minutes.

pot of lemon butter on grill next to turkey leg.

While the turkey legs are grilling, set a small pot on the grill next to the legs. Add the butter, lemon juice, lemon zest and minced garlic.

Once the legs have been on for 20 minutes, start basting them with that lemon butter.

brushing grilled turkey legs with lemon butter.

After about 30 minutes, the legs will reach an internal temperature of 165F degrees. I like to cook them for 5 minutes beyond that. Legs are dark meat, so they can handle more heat than turkey breasts.

USDA Safe Cooking Temperature for Turkey Legs

Poultry has reached its safe zone at an internal temperature of 165F degrees. Place your instant read thermometer into the meat without touching the bone to get an accurate reading. Because turkey legs are dark meat, you can cook them even longer without drying out.

DONENESSdone
TEMPERATURE165F / 74C degrees
RESTING TIME5 minutes

How to Serve Grilled Butterflied Turkey Legs

The best way to serve these is on a platter where everyone can just reach for one and dig in.

grilled butterflied turkey legs on platter with lemons.

We love walking around amusement parks carrying our huge smoked turkey legs. No plates needed.

These are no different other than they’re flavored with that glorious lemon butter and the skin is super crispy.

GCG Pro Pitmaster Tips

  • Remove the tendons from the turkey legs
  • Flip the legs on the grill every 5 minutes for even cooking
  • Baste with lemon butter for added flavor and moistness

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to grill turkey legs?

Because we’re using the butterfly effect, the legs will be cooked through in 30-35 minutes.

Can I use this method to make smoked turkey legs?

Absolutely. Instead of grilling them at 400F degrees over direct heat, set your grill up to 275F degrees with indirect heat. Then, place them on the grill skin side down and smoke them to an internal temperature of 170-175F degrees.

What can I do with the leftover turkey?

If you have any leftovers, remove the meat from the bone and toss it in a turkey salad or chop up the meat and serve it with mashed potatoes.

close up of grilled butterflied turkey legs.

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grilled butterflied turkey legs on platter with lemons.

Grilled Butterflied Turkey Legs

Grilled butterflied turkey legs with lemon butter sauce – crispy, buttery, handheld meat on a stick. Who doesn't love that?
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Servings 2

Ingredients
 

  • 2 turkey legs
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp lemon pepper
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • cooking spray
  • 4 tbsp salted butter
  • 1/2 lemon juice and zest
  • 1 tsp garlic minced

Instructions
 

  • Butterfly Legs: Place the leg flat on the cutting board with the knuckle facing up. Run a boning knife along each side of the bone and press the meat down. Don't cut all the way through.
  • Remove Tendons: Feel around the meat looking for the hard tendons. Pull them out with your fingers and the knife. There will be several in each leg. Discard the tendons.
  • Season: Sprinkle the salt, lemon pepper and smoked paprika on both sides of the legs. Let them rest at room temperature while you heat the grill.
  • Heat the Grill: Whether you're using a gas, pellet or charcoal grill, heat it to 400F degrees with a direct heat zone.
  • Grill: Spray the turkey legs with cooking spray and place them on the grill skin side down. Flip them every 5 minutes for 35 minutes.
  • Make Sauce: While the legs are cooking, place a saucepot on the grill. Add the butter, juice and zest from half a lemon and the garlic. Let that melt together.
  • Baste: After the legs have been cooking for 20 minutes, baste them with the lemon butter and continue cooking for 15 minutes, basting every 5 minutes as you flip them.
  • Rest: Once the turkey legs reach an internal temperature of 170-175F degrees, remove them from the grill and let them rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Notes

Removing the tendons is an important step to ensure the meat bites right through. 
Feel free to mix up the seasonings. You can use 3 teaspoons of any type of rub.
Instead of lemon butter, you can also baste the turkey legs with barbecue sauce or a Korean Sticky BBQ glaze

Nutrition

Calories: 1191kcalCarbohydrates: 4gProtein: 133gFat: 68gSaturated Fat: 28gPolyunsaturated Fat: 13gMonounsaturated Fat: 20gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 541mgSodium: 1846mgPotassium: 1935mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 1224IUVitamin C: 15mgCalcium: 139mgIron: 12mg

This estimate was created using an online nutrition calculator

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