The best way for How to Air Fry a Whole Turkey Leg is going to depend on how big your air fryer is! Cook it whole with a larger fryer or in two parts like me if needed. With a cooking time of only 45 minutes, whole turkey leg quarters are surprisingly meaty, extremely moist and really very economical. Plus I’ve included the easiest herb butter to make it extra delicious.
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This was a really tricky recipe to work out how to make in a smaller air fryer. But I was determined to work out a way to show you how to cook one regardless.
Turkey legs are such good value compared to a whole bird and especially compared to a crown. They yield a surprising amount of meat, although saying that, turkey legs themselves are surprisingly massive! Which is what makes cooking them in a small air fryer a bit more problematic.
Like with my traditionally oven roasted and brined turkey crown recipe, I’ve created a herby butter to add extra flavour and to ensure extra moisture as the leg cooks. The leg meat is so moist anyway it is merely gilding the lily really.
I write the vast majority of my air fryer recipes using a smaller 3.8L air fryer wherever possible. The reason for this is that if it will fit in a fairly small one, with very few exceptions, you’ll likely be able to fit whatever I’m cooking into your air fryer. Its easier to scale up than down.
But for larger pieces of meat where that simply isn’t possible, I use a 4.7 litre fryer. I think this is still on the smaller side, or at most average size for most standard air fryers. Even the two drawer machines don’t tend to have baskets too much bigger than that.
So what I’ve done is cooked the drumstick and thigh parts of the turkey leg separately. If you do have a large air fryer, you can of course cook it all as one piece. Equally if you only want to air fry a turkey drumstick or air fry a turkey thigh, this recipe should still help you.
How to Serve
Naturally most people’s first thoughts for serving turkey turn to Christmas or Thanksgiving, depending where in the world you’re from. Although our American cousins are much more predisposed to eat turkey in some form or another year round much more than here in the UK.
This recipe really can be seasoned and flavoured however you wish and served in numerous ways. Think about adding some Mexican or Tex-Mex seasonings, shredding the meat and serving as tacos with all the fixings like guacamole and salsa.
For Christmas, I like to keep things classic and mix up air fried recipes and regular. Try some of the sides and trimmings that I’ve served in the images in this post:
Whole Turkey Leg
What is a Turkey Leg?
First lets clarify what I mean by leg. Just like with chicken and any other poultry, the leg is made up of the thigh and the drumstick.
But the confusion comes where a lot of people refer to just the drumstick as the leg. Turkey leg is especially susceptible to this mislabelling. But that’s fine, like I said before, if you are just looking to cook the drumstick, this recipe will still help you. Just cut the quantity of herb butter in half.
Where and how to buy
In the UK, it is often quite hard to buy fresh turkey outside of the run up to Christmas. But some of the supermarkets do stock it. Morrisons usually has the best selection including full legs. And the other supermarkets mostly at least stock drumsticks if not full legs. A good butcher should be able to help too.
The other time when you might find yourself with whole turkey legs to cook is if you buy a whole turkey but have it butchered into the crown and the legs separately. This is often what I do at Christmas and its not difficult to do yourself with a sharp knife and some confidence.
My how to roast turkey post is what you’ll need to cook the rest. It’s not an air fryer recipe because you’d need heck of an air fryer!
Skin on or skin off?
I can’t see a scenario where you’re going to buy turkey legs without the skin on but just in case this is a possibility, don’t! Even if you don’t eat the skin, it’s really essential to keeping the turkey meat moist during cooking.
Turkey Leg Size and Weight
Gosh they’re large, I don’t know why I’m always so taken aback but I am. The whole leg that I used for this recipe was 2kg/4.5lb. The weight was split 50/50 between the drumstick and thigh. So if you are looking to cook just one part, the timings in this recipe will work for a 1kg/2.2lb thigh or drumstick.
If your leg/thigh/drumstick is substantially smaller or larger than this, you will need to adjust the cooking times accordingly.
Butter & Oil
The butter is for flavour and the oil is there to stop the butter from burning and to make the butter mixture a little looser. This makes spreading the butter under the turkey skin easier.
I only ever use salted butter. I most often actually make my own homemade butter. If you insist on using unsalted, please add a little extra salt to the mix.
Olive oil has a flavour profile that works with the herbs but you can use any cooking oil that you prefer.
Herbs and Seasonings
I’ve opted to use oregano, thyme and parsley in my herb butter but this is really just a guide. You can use any herbs or herb mix you prefer.
Just bear in mind that dried herbs are usually more potent than fresh so I use half the amount of dried vs fresh.
The only other seasoning I’ve added is sea salt. I prefer to use Maldon sea salt flakes. If you are a black pepper lover, feel free to add this too. I’m personally not a fan as I think it is overused and can easily overpower other flavours.
This recipe is free from egg, gluten and nuts.
Dairy Free: To make a dairy free version of this recipe, simply substitute the dairy butter for a dairy free alternative. Look for a sold block type butter and something that intends to be buttery in flavour.
Please note that this recipe may contain other allergens not referred to above and any variations suggested have not been tested unless otherwise stated. For more information regarding any dietary information provided on this website, please refer to my Nutritional Disclaimer.
How Long to Air Fry Turkey Leg
The turkey leg cooks in just 45 minutes.
To ensure maximum moistness all throughout the meat, I recommend turning it after 30 minutes.
You must leave the meat to rest for a good 10 or 15 minutes before carving so you should allow an hour in total.
If you need to cook the drumstick and thigh in two shifts you will need to allow longer for this. I’ve included how to do this in the step-by-step recipe below.
Leftovers – Storage & Reheating
Leftovers can be well covered and stored in the fridge for a good 5 days. It can also be frozen.
If freezing I would recommend slicing and cutting it first rather than freezing on the bone. Allow to defrost before attempting to reheat.
I wouldn’t generally choose to air fry leftovers. Microwaving on a covered dish with drop of water (or gravy) is the best way of getting piping hot but still moist reheated turkey.
If you don’t have a microwave, the best thing to do is make a loose package of the turkey pieces in some foil. Again add a drop of water or gravy and then air fry until piping hot. This will effectively steam the turkey.
Ways to Use Leftover Turkey
Its worth cooking the turkey especially just to make that pizza!
How to Air Fry Turkey Legs From Frozen
I don’t recommend cooking turkey legs from frozen. Whilst I will happily cook chicken from frozen in the air fryer, the size of turkey and its propensity to dry out means that this just doesn’t work well with turkey.
Common Air Fryer Questions – A Brief Guide to Air Frying
- What exactly is an air fryer?
- What are the benefits of using an air fryer?
- Are all air fryers the same?
- Is an air fryer always better to use than an oven?
- Do air fryers need to be pre-heated?
- What is the best temperature to air fry at?
- Can food be cooked from frozen in an air fryer?
- Can I reheat food in an air fryer?
- Are air fryer liners a good idea?
The Air Fried Feast Community
Come on over to Facebook and join my community discussing all things air fryer. Get involved in sharing your experiences and trials, help out others and find out what wonderful things everyone is cooking in their air fryers!
What Exactly is an Air Fryer?
Very simply, an air fryer is a small convection (fan) oven. The benefit is that the hot air is circulated all around the food being cooked which speeds up the cooking time and cooks the food more evenly.
What are the Benefits of Using an Air Fryer?
Size, time and energy usage. Air fryers are ideal for cooking smaller quantities. Heating up a space that the food just fits into requires less energy and means that the heat source is much closer to the food. Combining these two things can speed up the cooking time.
Are all air fryers the same?
Nope! The term air fryer is now used very broadly. I consider there to be 4 main types:
Basket Air Fryers
These are what I would consider to be the most common, especially in the UK. A boxy type unit has a pull out drawer/basket. Food isn’t usually visible whilst cooking.
Some larger models have two drawers so different items can be cooked at different temperatures or for different times.
This is the type that you’ll see in the images in this recipe. I mostly use a Cosori Lite 3.8L (CAF-LI401S) with a 3.8 litre capacity. The square(ish) shaped basket is 21cm x 21cm and 24cm on the diagonal. It isn’t an overly expensive or fancy model.
I’ve also recommended to several friends and family the model with a slightly larger basket. This is the Cosori 4.7L (CAF-L501) with a 4.7 litre basket. The unit is no larger than the 3.8 litre model on the outside but does have a larger internal basket capacity. I’ve borrowed this air fryer for some recipes where my smaller model was just too small. I’ll always note this in the recipe.
Rotary Air Fryers
Round air fryers with a paddle in the centre that rotates to move the food. This is the type I’ve been using for years – the most common is a Tefal Actifry.
Rotary types are not usually good for recipes where the food is breaded, glazed, likely to break up or in a tray/container. They do however make the best chips and roasted veg.
My 2 in 1 version like the one I’ve linked does have a rotating tray for things that could be broken up by a paddle, but the height clearance with the lid isn’t deep enough to use it to cook some items like sausage rolls.
Multicookers with Air Fryer Functions
Some like Ninja 11 in 1 and some of the earlier versions with a few less functions, have an air fryer option. They mostly operate the same as a basket fryer but the basket drops in the top rather than sliding in like a drawer.
Some electric pressure cookers like Instant Pots can also air fry when used with a specific lid.
Is an air fryer always better to use than an oven?
As much as I do love air frying, the honest answer to this is no. And the more detailed answer is that it will always depend on what you’re cooking, how much of it you’re cooking and what type and size of air fryer you have.
Once you need to cook in more than 2 batches, it often makes more sense to use an oven. If you already have the oven on to cook other items, it may make more sense to throw one more item in rather than using an additional appliance.
I don’t think either method is necessarily better than the other. The important point to note is that there is absolutely no difference in the finished product.
Do Air Fryers Need to Be Pre-Heated?
The answer to this is rather annoying – it depends. It depends entirely on your model and type of air fryer. The best advice I can offer is to check your manual and follow their guidance. My Cosori model has a preheat function. I press a button and it heats at 205c for 4 minutes.
It’s also worth noting that regardless of whether you are supposed to pre-heat or not, if you are cooking in batches, it is quite likely that anything after the first batch will cook a little quicker because of the retained heat. It is best to check on them before the cooking time is completed.
What is the best temperature to Air Fry at?
It will always depend on what you are cooking and from what state. All of my air fryer recipes don’t use temperatures above 200c because many of the most common fryers in the UK don’t go above this. Mine goes to 230c and I use this temperature a lot but it is no help for me to share recipes which most people can’t use.
Can Food Be Cooked From Frozen In An Air Fryer?
Absolutely! To cook from frozen you usually will need to reduce the cooking temperature and increase the time to make sure your food is cooked right through to the middle.
It is best to check my individual recipes for cooking from frozen advice as some items are a little different.
Can I Reheat Food In An Air Fryer?
Yes. As a general rule I reheat food for roughly 1/3 of the original cooking time at the same temperature. Or at 10 degrees lower for half the time for larger items.
Are Air Fryer Liners a Good Idea?
Unless otherwise stated, I do not use liners when air frying. Basket and rotary type air fryers are designed to be used without liners. Mini oven types will generally require some kind of tray like with a regular large oven although some come with crisper racks to use.
There are many air fryer liners available including quite thick silicone ones. These will affect the cooking times and possibly temperatures of your cooking/baking. I also don’t like how cooking juices are prevented from dripping through the basket rack. This can stop food from crisping all the way around.
If you do prefer to use them, once you have got a feel for how they affect your cooking and baking, you may need to make adjustments to the recipe accordingly.
More Air Fryer Recipes
All my recipes with instructions for how to cook or bake them in the air fryer can be found in my Air Fryer Recipe Index.
Don’t forget to let me know in the comments if you try making this recipe – I want to know what you think and if you made any substitutions, how did it turn out?
Still Have Questions?
Simple! Just contact me and I will do my best to help as quickly as I am able. Head over to my Contact Me page, any of my social media channels or post a comment at the bottom of this page and I’ll see what I can do.
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How to Air Fry a Whole Turkey Leg
- 2 kg Whole Turkey Leg – Drumstick & Thigh
For The Flavoured Butter
- 125 g Salted Butter - soft
- 1 tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 tsp Fresh or Dried Oregano
- ½ tsp Dried Thyme - double if fresh
- ½ tsp Dried Parsley - double if fresh
- 1 tsp Sea Salt Flakes
Prepare the Herb Butter
- Add 125g Salted Butter, 1 tbsp Olive Oil, 1 tsp Oregano, ½ tsp Thyme, ½ tsp Parsley and 1 tsp Sea Salt Flakes to a small bowl.
- Mix to combine everything really thoroughly.
Prepare the Turkey Leg
- If your air fryer requires pre-heating, start this setting now.
- Take a 2kg Turkey Leg out of its packaging and dry it well with a paper towel.
- If you can't fit the whole leg into your air fryer and it isn't already cut into two parts, use a sharp knife to cut through the joint and separate the drumstick and thigh.
- Use your hand to separate the skin from the flesh of the thigh. You are looking to create a pocket to put the butter, not remove it so do this gently.
- Repeat with the drumstick.
- Use a small spatula to put most of the herb butter under the skin of the thigh and drumstick.
- Spread the remaining butter over top of the skin and fleshy parts of the turkey leg.
- The turkey is now ready to cook. If you need to cook the drumstick and thigh one at a time, place one part back into the fridge until 15 minutes before you need to start cooking.
Cook the Turkey Leg – Scroll for Images
- Use tongs to place the leg into the air fryer.
- Cook for 30 minutes at 190c/375f.
- Use tongs to turn the leg over then continue to cook for a further 15 minutes at 200c/390f.
- Check the turkey is cooked through, you can see this by making a cut and checking that the meat is white in the centre of the thickest part. The juices should be clear and not have any sign of blood. Once you see this, its good. You don't need to panic cook it for longer. This is how we end up with dry turkey.
- Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Spoon over any juices that have collected in the bottom of the air fryer for extra flavour or add to your gravy.
Cook the Turkey Thigh
- Use tongs to place the thigh into the air fryer.
- Cook for 30 minutes at 190c/375f.
- Use tongs to turn the thigh over.
- Continue to cook for a further 15 minutes at 200c/390f.
Cook the Turkey Drumstick
- Use tongs to place the drumstick into the fryer.
- Cook for 30 minutes at 190c/375f.
- Use tongs to turn the drumstick over.
- Continue to cook for a further 15 minutes at 200c/390f.
To Cook In Shifts
- If you need to cook the thigh and drumstick separately but think you probably have enough room to finish the cooking at the same time once they have shrunk from cooking and spacing them out isn't so much of an issue, try cooking in this order:Cook the thigh for the initial 30 minutes then remove and keep warm wrapped in foil. Cook the drumstick for the initial 30 minutes. Turn over the drumstick and add the thigh back in upside down. You might need to do a little shuffling around to get both pieces in but it doesn't matter if they overlap some. Continue to cook at the higher temperature for the remaining 15 minutes of cooking time. Do be extra cautious checking that the thigh is fully cooked and add a further 5 minutes cooking time if needed. Rest and serve both pieces together.
- The air fryer version of this recipe is tested in a in a 4.7 litre capacity Cosori 4.7L (CAF-L501). The drumstick would not fit into my smaller Cosori Lite 3.8L (CAF-LI401S) – the square(ish) shaped basket is 21cm x 21cm and 24cm on the diagonal.
- As all air fryer models are a little different, you may find that you can fit more or less in at a time. Some models include stacking shelves which will increase capacity.
- Not all models advise preheating is required. Please follow the recommended instructions for your model. Mine has a specific preheat setting which is 4 minutes at 205c.
- Required cooking times and temperatures can also vary between models and brands. If you know that your air fryer runs a little hotter than most recipes suggest, use a lower temperature. And vice versa. Equally if you find that food cooks more quickly in your machine than instructions usually state, reduce the cooking time (or check it earlier) and vice versa.
- I don’t recommend cooking turkey legs from frozen. For the centre to be properly cooked, the outside will become overcooked.