Don’t Forget to Save the Turkey Legs

I know many folks (including F&S deputy editor Colin Kearns) have already hung their tags on some turkey legs, but much of the country's hunters are just hitting the peak of turkey season. This makes it the perfect time for my annual soapbox speech on saving the leg quarters from your turkey. I know so many hunters just pull the breasts from their birds and call it good, but that technique, which has sadly become culturally acceptable, leaves a lot of meat behind.

Good meat at that.

Yes, admittedly, turkey legs are tough, but they're also tasty and just require a bit of care and the right cooking technique. Removing them is fairly straight-forward. Just pull the plucked or skinned leg away from the body. You should hear the ball socket pop from the hip joint, but even if you don't, simply cut down between the thigh and the body, working around the ball socket until the thigh and leg come free. From here, you can either leave the quarter whole or separate the thigh from the legs. I typically leave mine whole, though they do fit in a Dutch oven better when separated.

Turning the tough quarters into tender meat requires cooking them low and slow, simmered in liquid. This can be done on the stovetop, but I prefer to braise them in the oven around 275 to 300 degrees.

As for the braising liquid, you can use just about anything, from water to wine. I've even used milk, as this recipe for a milk-and-mushroom gravy details. Pour in just enough to raise the level about halfway up the quarters. No need to submerge them. Then cover the Dutch oven or roaster, and let the heat and moisture do the work. After a few hours, the meat should fall off the bone. Use a fork and your fingers to pull out any tendons that will not have dissolved, then use the meat in any number of ways -- including as a spicy filling for burritos as shown in the photo above.