Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Eastern North Carolina Chopped Turkey Barbecue Recipe

While I grew up in the foothills of southwestern Virginia, I've become an eastern North Carolina girl through and through. I realized about a year ago that I had now lived in coastal NC, longer than I had lived in Virginia growing up (how time flies).

One of the first foods I ever tried when I moved to eastern NC was chopped pork barbecue. It's one of the most popular foods at locally owned restaurants all around the North Carolina region. In eastern NC, the sauce is primarily a vinegar-based sauce, while if you head to western NC (or states west of NC) the main sauce seems to be a sweeter tomato-based sauce.

I personally prefer the savory tartness of the vinegar sauces. The vinegary sauce, combined with the slightly sweet (and very simply made) coleslaw makes for an incredible taste combination that I often crave.

The picture above is actually what you'll get if you head to Ayden, North Carolina for some barbecue at The Skylight Inn. You have 4 menu choices... chopped barbecue, cornbread, and coleslaw -OR- you can get that barbecue on a sandwich if you're not a fan of cornbread (but oh you should be!) That's it folks. It's simple straight forward food. Michael and I are huge fans of Skylight Inn and while you won't find much else in Ayden, NC...that wood-smoked barbecue is completely worth the drive. (And guess what? Their cornbread? It's gluten-free! The owner told me it was only made with cornmeal, salt, and water... I tell ya... it's good stuff!) And just a tip... BRING CASH... they don't accept debit cards!!

After our last trip there I decided I was going to try to make barbecue at home, but I wanted to try it with turkey legs. Turkey legs are a great source of cheap protein. You can get 3-4 pounds of turkey legs for about $1 a pound.  I only had to make one batch of this chopped turkey barbecue to declare it a winner. It's the most ridiculously easy recipe you'll ever make and if you're a fan of the hearty chopped pork barbecue, (while I don't know the exact numbers) I'm pretty sure this version is a bit healthier and definitely just as delicious!

Eastern North Carolina Chopped Turkey Barbecue
Free of gluten, soy, dairy/casein
Created by Carrie of Gingerlemongirl.com
Makes: a whole lot!
Printer-friendly recipe.

3-5 pounds of turkey legs (about 3-4 large turkey legs)

Eastern NC BBQ Sauce: 
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce (like Tobasco)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes

Cook & Prepare the Turkey Barbecue: 
Place turkey legs in a 4-6 quart slow cooker. Cook on low for 8-10 hours until meat is "falling off the bone" tender. Carefully remove turkey legs from the slow cooker and place on a large platter. Remove fat surrounding turkey meat. Remove bones & tendons from the turkey meat (this can be a bit tedious depending on the turkey leg). Chop meat as fine as you prefer. In eastern NC, the meat is often chopped quite fine. Place in a large bowl for storage.

**Carrie's Notes: Make sure to strain and save all the broth leftover in the slow cooker from the turkey! That's instant bone broth you can use in recipes through the rest of your week!

Make the Eastern NC BBQ Sauce: 
To make the sauce, simply place all sauce ingredients into a large mason jar. Place the lid on the jar and shake vigorously to combine. Pour desired amount of sauce over the prepared turkey barbecue and stir to combine. Use as little or as much as you desire... we LOVE a lotta sauce!! Store any remaining sauce in an airtight jar or container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Serve the barbecue with homemade coleslaw and cornbread or use as a sandwich filling!

Pin It!


  1. This sounds so good! I am officially an Eastern Carolina bbq girl too. I especially love turkey bbq!! I have to try this, and the skylight inn too! Sounds like a perfect Saturday afternoon trip!

  2. I'd love for you to share this! My name is Cindy and I blog over at Vegetarianmamma.com I wanted to invite you to link up your recipe at our Gluten Free Fridays Recipe Link up party! It happens every Friday and we'd love to have you join us with some of your awesome recipes! You can find this week's link up here: http://vegetarianmamma.com/gluten-free-fridays-recipe-party-2/
    Also be sure to link up your blog on our Gluten Free Bloggers directory. You can reach the directory by clicking the "glutenfree bloggers" tab on our blog! Thanks, Cindy :)

  3. I live in the Piedmont, there's REALLY good BBQ place called Carter Brothers, unfortunately they use Eastern NC sauce, uggh, being born in Georgia I like the tomato based sauce. They have killer desserts as well.

  4. is there another way to cook the turkey legs without the slow cooker over the stove?? I don't have one but I would love to make this for my fiancé because he doesn't eat pork :/ lol any who I want to thank you for the recipe because I have never tried to make my own bbq and I am from eastern north Carolina. Oh and I agree on how good that bbq is we call it Pete Jones bbq lol the restaurant you are talking about in Ayden NC and I'm from Greenville.

    1. I would slow cook them in the oven wrapping each leg in foil to seal in the moisture.

  5. Hello all... Turkey bbq is really bombing around here in Wilson, NC. Everyone now is learning how to get the actual smell and flavor of pork into the turkey. It is GOOD. As far as I know, you can only accomplish this by using a smoker or some type of pit and believe me the pitmasters are keeping their lips sealed!

  6. Barbecue lodge in Raleigh has this on menu and the pit in Raleigh does too

  7. Just made this! I love bbq and was looking for a healthy alternative. THIS Recipe is perfect!

  8. Thanks for sharing! Im going to try it out really soon! I want to learn to make it myself instead of paying others $25 and $35 to do it for me. Ill pay myself lol! Deidre, Kinston NC

  9. Recipe is excellent and it has an awesome taste. On second batch since Christmas. I am an eastern girl as well and could not tell it was turkey instead of pork. Husband and kids loved it.Thanks

  10. I'm from Eastern N.C. too, but now I live in France. And I make pulled turkey BBQ every year. I made a batch yesterday and wondered if any restaurants in Eastern N.C. make turkey BBQ. I think N.C. is a big turkey production state. And I agree with you that it's hard to tell the difference between this pulled turkey and the traditional pulled pork. I bring back to France BBQ sauces like Wilber's in Goldsboro or Scott's, which I can find at Food Lion in Morehead City, my home town. I'm glad to find your blog and this post.

    1. Hi Ken! Yes, several places in Wilson (Parker's) and I believe Wilber's does as well! It's good at the restaurants, but I actually like it better at home! I don't know why!