By Christie Vanover | Published August 25, 2022 | Last Updated August 26, 2022
Disclosure: I am a paid ambassador for Cowboy Charcoal.
- What are turkey tails?
- Cookin with Cowboy Charcoal
- How to prepare turkey tails
- Quick marinade
- Seasoning turkey tails
- The temperature for smoking turkey tails
- How long to smoke them
- Saucing turkey tails
- What is the meat on the turkey tail like?
- What to do with smoked turkey tails
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Other turkey dishes
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After they’re marinated, remove them from the bag and pat them dry with paper towels.
Seasoning turkey tails
The meat has been seasoned on the inside – thanks to the marinade. Now, it’s time to season the outside.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Frequently Asked Questions
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.
Yes. There is a Y-shaped bone that runs down the middle of the tail.
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.
Smoked Turkey Tails
- 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
- 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.
This estimate was created using an online nutrition calculator