Smoked turkey tails are so indulgent they're like the pork belly of the bird. Here's everything you know about how to smoke them.
5 from 3 votes

By Christie Vanover | Published August 25, 2022 | Last Updated August 26, 2022

Home | Recipes | Smoked Turkey Tails

What are turkey tails?

A turkey tail is the muscle above the rear of the turkey that holds the bird’s symbolic tail feathers. Every bird has one, and sometimes you’ll find it still attached to the whole turkey that you buy for Thanksgiving.

According to the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council, the tail is dark meat. The thigh and drumsticks are also dark meat, so you’ll find the taste and texture will be similar to both of those cuts.

Where it differs however, is in its fat content. A 4-ounce portion of turkey tail contains 36 grams of fat, making it very rich and indulgent.

By comparison, the same serving size turkey thigh has about 10 grams of fat; whereas 4-ounces of pork belly has around 60 grams of fat.

So, in essence, you can say the turkey tail is like the pork belly of the bird.

Ingredients

There are several ways to prepare turkey tails. Many popular recipes include boiling them or braising them, but today, I’m going to show you how to smoke them.

The recipe includes an optional honey soy glaze that you can add at the end. It really helps crisp up the skin. You can also use BBQ sauce or any other type of glaze or sauce that you prefer.

turkey tail ingredients: water, white vinegar, turkey rub, garlic, turkey tails, honey, soy sauce, dijon.
  • Turkey tails: These are a little easier to find in some areas of the country than others. I buy mine at Wal-Mart. Foster Farms sells them in 2.2-pound packages. You may also have luck finding them at an Asian or Latin market.
  • White vinegar: This is used for the quick marinade.
  • Water: Water is used in the marinade to help dilute the acidity of the vinegar.
  • Garlic: Use fresh garlic for both the marinade and soy honey glaze.
  • Turkey rub: You can season the turkey tails however you’d like. My homemade turkey rub is a great option.
  • Honey: The glaze at the end uses honey as a sweetener and to give it that nice gloss.
  • Soy sauce: The glaze also includes soy sauce to provide saltiness and a mahogany color.
  • Dijon mustard: The mustard is added to the glaze to help emulsify it.

Substitutions: The honey soy glaze at the end is completely optional. You can serve them without glaze, use your own favorite glaze or event brush them with barbecue sauce.

bottles of BBQ rubs on black background

Cookin with Cowboy Charcoal

These turkey tails can be smoked up on any type of grill, but for today’s recipe, I used my PK Grill with Cowboy Charcoal hardwood briquets.

You want to set your grill up with an indirect heat zone to allow the tails to smoke slowly.

I find the briquettes add plenty of smoke flavor, but if you want you can also add 1-2 wood chunks. Cherry, pecan and oak all would work great.

bag of cowboy charcoal by grill.

How to prepare turkey tails

Let’s take a closer look at the turkey tail. It’s kind of an odd looking piece of meat.

The first thing that stands out are the pieces sticking out of the sides. These are the feather shafts. Most of the time they’re fully removed, but you might find a piece or two with a few left inside.

feather shafts poking out of turkey tail.

The easiest way to remove these is to take a small piece of a paper towel and then grip them and give them a pull. They’ll pop right out.

Turkey tails also have a gland attached to them, but fortunately those are removed during processing before they reach your grocery store.

If you happen to be buying turkey tails from a local farmer, be sure to ask them to remove that part. It can cause the meat to have a tainted taste.

paper towel holding feather shaft pulled from tail.

Quick marinade

This step is optional, but because I wasn’t familiar with the taste of turkey tails, I decided to give them a quick marinade in vinegar, water, garlic and turkey rub.

This is a tip I learned from my husband’s grandpa. He always used this marinade with chicken wings, and they were awesome.

Place them in a zip-top bag and keep them refrigerated for about an hour. You can go a little longer, but I wouldn’t go past 4 hours. Otherwise, the meat will start to get chewy.

This is a great time to light the grill.

zip-top bag with turkey tails in vinegar.

After they’re marinated, remove them from the bag and pat them dry with paper towels.

patting tails dry with paper towel.

Seasoning turkey tails

The meat has been seasoned on the inside – thanks to the marinade. Now, it’s time to season the outside.

My turkey rub recipe works great for these, as does my Chicken Rub from Spiceology. Feel free to use your favorite poultry blend or just some simple salt, pepper and garlic.

seasoning turkey tails.

The temperature for smoking turkey tails

When setting up your grill, shoot for a grill temperature of 250-275F degrees with an indirect zone.

At this temperature, the turkey tails will take about 2 1/2 hours to smoke.

If your temperature is lower (say around 225F degrees), they’ll take longer and the skin may not get as crispy.

You can speed up the process by raising the temp to 300F, but I haven’t tried cooking them hotter than that, because we’re smoking them, not grilling them.

five raw turkey tails on grill.

How long to smoke them

After the first hour, you’ll see the fat start to rise to the surface and glisten.

By hour two, they really start to develop the dreamy mahogany color.

Then, about 30 minutes later, they should be perfect.

While they’re technically safe to eat at an internal temperature of 165F degrees, it’s important to render the fat as much as possible, I take them to 205-210f degrees.

Saucing turkey tails

You can technically remove them from the grill and eat them just like this, but I like to add one more layer to the skin by adding a glaze.

Place a small pot over the charcoal and add honey, soy sauce, dijon mustard and garlic. You can also add a couple dashes of hot sauce if you like.

spoon over pot with honey soy glaze.

Let this boil and thicken and then brush it all over the tails. Remove the pot from the grill, close the lid, and let the glaze set for about 10 minutes.

basting turkey tail with glaze.

What is the meat on the turkey tail like?

The first time I cooked these, I had no idea what to expect. I knew there was meat, fat and a bone, and that’s about it.

The shape is kind of like a football and the bone lies right in the middle with two very juicy pieces of meat on each side.

You’ll also find some meat resting at the front end of the bone.

turkey tail bone next to turkey tail.

Once you pull off one of the sides, that’s when you get into that lusciously juicy meat.

You can see in the picture below that the meat is coated with a glaze of turkey fat. That’s why it’s so important to take these smoked turkey tails to a higher temperature.

You want that turkey fat to virtually melt in your mouth as you bite into it.

And look at the picture below. Look how the skin is like glass. That’s the work of that honey soy glaze.

meat pulled away from turkey tail bone, showing crispy skin and fatty meat.

What to do with smoked turkey tails

You can serve smoked turkey tails whole as a main dish, or you can pull all of the meat and skin and chop it up to make tacos or sandwiches.

plate of glazed smoked turkey tails.

If you pull the meat, it’s especially good cooked up in a skillet or broiled in the oven, because then the fat renders even more, giving it the consistency of carnitas.

You can also add the chopped meat to collard greens or baked beans.

pulled smoked turkey tail on a tortilla with cabbage.

GCG Pro Pitmaster Tips

  • Remove any feather shafts using a paper towel
  • Marinade in vinegar or a turkey brine
  • Look for the tails to develop a rich mahogany color
  • Cook them to 205-210F degrees to render the interior fat
  • Add a glaze to crisp the skin

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to boil turkey tails?

No. Not if you’re smoking them. If you do want to boil them, you can finish them on the grill or smoker, but they won’t get quite as much smoke flavor.

Do smoked turkey tails have bones?

Yes. There is a Y-shaped bone that runs down the middle of the tail.

Are smoked turkey tails healthy?

Not really. Turkey tails are high in fat, with 36 grams of fat per 4-ounce serving. They do have 13 grams of protein and meet 4% of your recommended daily allowance for iron and calcium.

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Five smoked turkey tails on a grill.

Smoked Turkey Tails

Smoked turkey tails are so indulgent they're like the pork belly of the bird. Here's everything you know about how to smoke them.
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Servings 5

Ingredients
 

  • 5 turkey tails
  • 1 1/2 cups white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 5 cloves garlic minced
  • 4 tsp turkey rub divided
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 2 cloves garlic minced

Instructions
 

  • Prep: Inspect the turkey tails. If you see any feather shafts, pull them out, using a paper towel to help grip them.
  • Marinate: Place the tails in a zip-top bag. Add the vinegar, water, 5 minced garlic cloves and 1 teaspoon turkey rub. Remove all of the air and seal. Place in a large bowl and refrigerate for an hour.
  • Heat Grill: Heat your grill to 250-275F degrees with an indirect heat zone.
  • Season: After an hour, remove the tails from the marinade and pat dry with a paper towel. Season all over with about 1 tablespoon of turkey rub.
  • Smoke: Add the turkey tails to the smoker over indirect heat skin-side up and smoke for about 2 1/2 hours. You want the skins to have a mahogany color and the internal temperature to reach 205-210F degrees.
  • Glaze: Place a small pot over the coals. Add the honey, soy sauce, dijon and 2 minced garlic cloves. You can also add a dash of hot sauce. Bring to a simmer. Then, brush onto the tails. Remove the pot form the grill. Close the lid, and let the tails smoke for 10 more minutes.

Video

Notes

You can serve the turkey tails whole or pull the meat from the bones for tacos or sandwiches. 

Nutrition

Calories: 820kcalCarbohydrates: 31gProtein: 25gFat: 65gSaturated Fat: 18gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.1gMonounsaturated Fat: 0.2gCholesterol: 63mgSodium: 854mgPotassium: 71mgFiber: 1gSugar: 28gVitamin A: 47IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 38mgIron: 1mg
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