Give your Thanksgiving main course a fall twist with these maple-braised turkey legs and thighs! After slow cooking in the oven, these ultra moist turkey pieces turn fall-off-the-bone tender, and the real maple syrup adds a slight sweetness to complement the rich dark meat. For an easier, quicker alternative to roasting an entire bird, you will love this braised turkey recipe, especially if hosting a small crowd for Thanksgiving.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
If you've never braised turkey legs and thighs, you're in for a delicious time. Don't be surprised if this becomes your new favorite way to prepare turkey.
- That slow cook. Thanks to the long braise at a low temperature, the meat's connective tissues break down, leaving you with turkey that's fall-off-the-bone tender and super moist.
- The maple syrup braising liquid: Maple syrup along with some aromatics makes for a much more flavorful turkey compared to roasting.
- Very little hands-on time and quicker than roasting: Although it takes some time to cook, it's still much quicker than preparing a whole turkey and only requires two hours in the oven.
- Perfect for a small holiday gathering or Friendsgiving: When you're serving just a few people, cooking an entire turkey is a lot of unnecessary work. This option is perfect for six or fewer people. It's also great if you're looking for a turkey twist for a low-key Friendsgiving celebration.
- Mmmm ... leftovers: You can use the leftovers in so many ways, and they freeze beautifully.
Bonus: If you’re looking for more holiday main courses, my Christmas roast duck is another festive option!
As if you needed another reason to love this braised turkey legs recipe — it only takes a handful of ingredients to make an ultra flavorful turkey dish.
Just make sure you use real maple syrup, not pancake syrup. Real maple syrup is much richer and more complex. Pancake syrup will not give the right results.
Let's walk through the steps, so you can be on your way to making these easy, tasty maple-braised turkey legs and thighs.
Step 1: We start by patting dry the turkey skin, sprinkling with salt and pepper, and dredging in flour (photo 1).
Step 2: We now use our trusty Dutch oven to brown the turkey in hot oil, which is a crucial, must-not-skip step (photo 2). Browning the turkey will start to crisp up the skin. Otherwise, we'll be left with gummy skin covered in flour, and no one wants that.
Step 3: Once the skin is perfectly browned, we cook onion slices for a few minutes (photo 3) and then add apple cider vinegar to deglaze the pan (photo 4). That's basically a fancy way of saying we pour in some liquid and use a wooden spoon to loosen up cooked bits in the Dutch oven.
Step 4: From here, we finish the braise with maple syrup and chicken stock along with some fresh thyme, sage and dried bay leaves. Plop the turkey back into the Dutch oven with the skin facing up and bring to a boil (photo 5).
Step 5: Now let’s pop our turkey uncovered into a 275-degree oven and cook for about two hours. We’ll know when the turkey is ready because the meat will easily fall off the bone. And let’s be real -- any time meat falls off the bone, we know we’re about to experience something magical.
Absolutely! Our braising liquid makes a delicious gravy.
Strain 2 cups braising liquid and set aside. Melt ¼ cup butter in a large skillet over medium heat and then whisk in ¼ cup all-purpose flour. Whisk continuously for about three to four minutes. Then, slowly pour in the braising liquid, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Continue to cook until it thickens to your liking.
The gravy will have a bit of a sweet flavor because of the maple. However, if you'd rather have a standard gravy, simply substitute the braising liquid with regular chicken stock.
There are three methods recommended for thawing turkey. One is to leave the turkey in its packaging and then place it in a bowl of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes. This cold-water method helps speed up the process, and your turkey should thaw in about two or three hours.
The other method is to simply place the frozen turkey in the refrigerator in either cold water or without it. Water will make the process go even faster. While 24 hours should thaw the turkey, I like to give it 36 hours to be safe.
Many microwaves also come with a thaw setting you can use in a pinch. Just make sure you keep an eye on it. If you let it thaw too much, the microwave will start to cook the turkey, and we definitely don't want that.
Important note: Do not thaw turkey in room temperature unless it's in cold water and you change it as mentioned above. Otherwise, the turkey could become a breeding ground for bacteria.
You have so many options of holiday side dish favorites! Some brown butter mashed potatoes are wonderful, and don't forget the pumpkin mac and cheese, green bean casserole, sweet potato soufflé and brandy cranberry sauce.
Of course, you can cut up the turkey and serve as is in place of your traditional roasted turkey on Thanksgiving, which is what I suspect most of y'all will do. But there are so many other ways to use this maple-braised turkey legs and thighs!
For instance, I love it grilled cheese sandwiches. The maple gives this turkey a sweetness, so it contrasts nicely against the savory cheese.
I also love using this maple turkey in my Thanksgiving enchiladas with a red chile sauce. The spicy enchilada sauce against the sweet meat is a delicious combination with its contrasting flavors.
I’ve also used this turkey in nachos, which were fantastic. Feel free to get creative with how you use this turkey.
If you keep the turkey in an airtight container in the refrigerator, it should last three to four days. You can also freeze what you don't use.
- Make sure the liquid doesn’t cover the turkey. We want the skin exposed, so it can stay crisp in the oven. The braising liquid should come up about halfway on the turkey.
- Brown the skin in two batches. If the pan is too crowded, we'll just create a bunch of steam, which means no delicious browning.
- If you have some time, you can salt the turkey the day before and store uncovered in the refrigerator. The salt will pull out some moisture, making for crispier skin.
- This recipe works well for two thighs and two drumsticks. While you can serve four people with a single piece, you can easily serve up to six people if you carve the meat off the bones.
- Before cutting and serving, loosely cover the turkey with foil and let rest for about 10 minutes.
Between the richness of the dark turkey meat and maple syrup, I like a bold beer that can stand up to this hearty dish. A Belgian-style quad is perfect for the job with its dried fruit notes and thick mouthfeel. The clove flavor from the yeast also adds some contrast.
For your perfect wine pairing with braised turkey, look no further than a gewürztraminer. Like a Belgian-style quad, gewürztraminer has a thick body and touch of baking spice that I love with maple. Gewürztraminer is also a classic pairing with rich fowl dishes, so you really can’t go wrong here.
Or maybe you love your cocktails. These signature Thanksgiving cocktails would be perfect with this dish.
Whether these maple-braised turkey legs and thighs become part of your Thanksgiving dinner or just a fun fall meal, I hope you give them a try. You'll love that tender, flavorful meat.
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Maple-Braised Turkey Legs and Thighs
- Dutch oven
- 3-5 pounds turkey legs and thighs about 2 legs and 2 thighs
- Salt and pepper
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion sliced
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup real maple syrup
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1-2 fresh sage sprigs
- Several fresh thyme sprigs
- Heat oven to 275 degrees. Pat turkey legs and thighs dry with a paper towel and generously sprinkle with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour.
- Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add turkey skin-side down and cook until browned, about five minutes. Flip and cook until the other side browns, about another five minutes. You don't want to overcrowd the pan, so don't add more than two or three pieces at a time. Otherwise, the skin won't brown properly. If the Dutch oven starts to get too hot, you can turn the heat down to medium.
- After you brown all the turkey, turn the heat down to medium if you haven't already and place the browned turkey on a separate plate. If necessary, add a little more oil to the pan. Cook the onion slices for about four minutes. Pour in the apple cider vinegar and scrap up the brown bits.
- Stir in the maple syrup, chicken stock, bay leaves, sage and thyme. Add turkey and bring the mixture to a boil. Move the Dutch oven to the 275-degree oven and cook uncovered until the leg meat is fall-off-the-bone tender, about 2 hours. Loosely cover the meat with foil and allow it to rest for 10 minutes before carving and serving. Enjoy!
- While you can serve four people with a single piece, you can easily serve up to six people if you carve the meat off the bones.
- For the crispiest skin, pat dry with paper towels, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, and store overnight in the refrigerator uncovered. Dredge with flour the next day and proceed with the rest of the steps.
- The turkey shouldn't be fully submerged to encourage browning in the oven. The liquid should cover the turkey by about halfway.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.