BBQ Turkey with Mustard Sauce


Turkey thighs and legs slow cooked on low heat on a grill or BBQ, with a South Carolina mustard barbecue sauce.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

We’ve introduced South Carolina barbecue sauce and now here is a great recipe you can make with it, barbecued turkey legs and thighs.

I grew up with plenty of meals made with turkey legs because they feed a lot, and they’re an inexpensive source of protein.

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But no matter what time of year we’re having turkey legs, as much as I love turkey, the taste always reminds me of Thanksgiving, which is not necessarily what you want in say, June.

BBQ Turkey with Mustard Sauce

In this preparation however, slowly cooked on a grill, and basted with a tangy, strong, sweet, sour yellow mustard-based barbecue sauce, the turkey doesn’t taste anything like Thanksgiving turkey, in a good way.

It just absorbs the smokiness from the grill and the tang from the sauce. Outside of the holiday bird, this is hands down the best turkey I’ve ever had!

BBQ Turkey with Mustard Sauce Recipe

  • Cook time: 3 hours
  • Yield: Serves 4-8

Turkey breasts, like chicken breasts, tend to dry out with the long cooking times required for this barbecue recipe. We strongly recommend thighs and legs here. Not only will they be less likely to dry out, the strong flavors will work well with the strong flavors of the barbecue sauce.


  • 4 to 6 turkey legs and/or thighs, trimmed of excess fat
  • Salt
  • Extra virgin olive oil

South Carolina Mustard BBQ Sauce:

  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 onion, grated (use a box grater or cheese grater)
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup yellow mustard
  • 1 Tbsp dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt to taste


1 Salt the turkey pieces, let sit at room temp: Pat the turkey pieces dry with paper towels. Salt the turkey pieces well all over. Let sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes.

2 Make the sauce: Sauté the onions in butter until soft (but not browned), about 3-4 minutes on medium heat. Add the other sauce ingredients and simmer slowly, stirring occasionally, for at least 30 minutes.

3 Prepare the grill: Prepare your grill for high direct heat on one side, and quite low indirect heat on the other side. To do this using a gas grill turn on only half of the burners. If using a charcoal grill, leave one side of your grill free of coals. If using a gas grill, preheat covered for at least 15 minutes.

When the grill is hot, clean the grill grates with a grill grate scraper. Wipe down the grates with a paper towel soaked in oil.

3 Sear the turkey pieces: Rub oil all over the turkey pieces. Lay the turkey pieces down on the hot grill, skin side down, to get an initial sear on the turkey.

Pay attention because the fat in the turkey may cause flare ups. If this happens be prepared to move the piece to a cooler side of the grill temporarily, or have a spay bottle of water on hand to douse the flames a bit if they get too high.

Sear the turkey on the skin side for 3-4 minutes.

4 Move turkey pieces to cool side of the grill: Once the skin of a piece starts to get browned, move the piece to the cool side of the grill, turning it over so that the skin side is now up. This way the fat under the skin will melt into the meat, basting it, during the next slow-cooking phase.

5 Cover and slow cook: Once you've moved all the turkey to the cool side of the grill, cover the grill and let the turkey slow-cook for 20 minutes without looking.

Check every 15-20 minutes after that, because everyone’s grill is different. The turkey should cook for at least 1 1/2 hours after the initial sear, probably longer. (I think we cooked these pictured for 2 1/2 hours.) Barbecue by definition must be slow cooking over low heat.

6 Brush with BBQ sauce: After about an hour, start to paint the turkey with the barbecue sauce. Paint only the top part (skin side) to start. Cover and wait another 20 minutes or so. Then flip the turkey over and paint the undersides.

Why wait? You want the sauce to sink in, adhere to the turkey and solidify a little; this way it will not drip down into the grill as much.

Cover and wait another 15 to 20 minutes.

7 Test for doneness: Depending on how big your turkey pieces are, and your specific grill set up, the time it takes for your turkey pieces to be done will vary. To test for doneness you can insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, not touching the bone.

Take the turkey off the grill at 170°F to 175°F for thighs and legs, 165°F for breasts when tested with a meat thermometer. Or if you don't have a meat thermometer, cut into one of the pieces with a knife. The juices should run clear. If they run pink, the meat needs to be cooked longer.

You can continue to baste with the sauce every 15 minutes or so until the meat is done.

8 Do a final sear on the skin-side: When the meat is just about ready to take off the grill, you can do a final sear on the skin side. Just place the pieces skin side down on the hot part of the grill. Watch it so that it just browns, not burns. It should take 1-2 minutes.

Serve with extra sauce, and plenty of napkins!

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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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16 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. joanna

    these were very good!! mine were done in about 45 minutes so I definitely recommend checking them after 30 minutes with a thermometer to make sure they are done or else you will end up with very dry meat. mine were a little burnt since i wasn’t expecting them to cook so fast.

  2. PS

    Elise, you wrote “If I were to make this without a grill, I would sear the turkey pieces on a hot cast iron pan on the stove top first to get good browning. Then I would arrange the pieces in a foil lined roasting pan and slow cook them in the oven at 200°F to 225°F for as long as it took.”

    After arranging the pieces in a foil lined pan, do you then cover the pan with foil or leave it uncovered? Won’t they dry out if left uncovered?

    I’m dying to try this recipe after reading so many great reviews. But, I’d like to do it right but I don’t have a grill so I’ll be using the cast iron sear and oven slow cook method.

    Show Replies (1)
  3. Erika

    Could you do this in a smoker instead of a grill and with chicken thighs rather than turkey?

    I would say yes on both counts. ~Elise

  4. Heather

    Do you think this recipe/flavor combo could also be used in the slow cooker instead of the grill?

    Yes, and this idea is the basis of our slow-cooked turkey with mustard. ~Elise

  5. Shalome

    I have made this several times for small dinner parties and the response is always the same; LOVE! We’re a family that loves turkey and this is a superb recipe. My father despises mustard barbeque sauce but he devours this turkey like it’s his last meal.


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