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Harissa-glazed turkey legs with sweet potatoes deliver big flavor on a budget

(Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post/Food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)
Sheet Pan Harissa Turkey Legs With Sumac Sweet Potatoes 
Total time:1 hour 5 minutes, plus a few hours after salting the meat
Total time:1 hour 5 minutes, plus a few hours after salting the meat
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My trusty sheet pans have seen a lot of action at Thanksgiving over the years. I’ve used them to roast vegetables, make stuffing, toast nuts and more. Rarely have they pulled duty for the main course — in fact, the only time I can remember doing that is the year I ended up with a massive heritage turkey and only a flimsy disposable roasting pan to put it in. I placed a baking sheet underneath so that I could more confidently heave the 20-pound bird in and out of the oven.

This year, though, there will be no massive bird, no big family gathering. It will be a more subdued holiday for a lot of us when, let’s be honest, we may be just too drained to want to cook — or clean — all day.

The Thanksgiving sheet-pan plan: 5 recipes that bring big flavor for small holiday gatherings

My goal was to bring some of the spirit, and the flavors, of Thanksgiving to the table in a smaller, easier and even more affordable package. Having played around with turkey drumsticks last year as a way to generate drippings for a make-ahead gravy, I settled on a sheet pan supper that would make a delicious, eye-catching centerpiece on the holiday table.

This one-pan meal takes advantage of those inexpensive turkey drumsticks (mine were $2.79 a pound, and you’ll need about 3 pounds), complementing the rich dark meat with a spicy, sweet and vibrant red glaze made with harissa, a hot chile paste from North Africa, and brown sugar. I preferred the Cava brand here, as its thicker texture clings to the meat nicely. The Mina brand worked but didn’t form as thick or flavorful of a glaze.

Sheet-pan suppers are the easy and adaptable way to get dinner on the table fast

Along with the turkey is a stuffing-roasted veg mash-up featuring large, hand-torn croutons and cubes of sweet potato. The torn bread develops a mix of crispy and soft textures as the fat renders onto it before a quick run under the broiler, which also adds an enticing kiss of char to the potatoes. A dusting of sumac, a tart, deep-red spice common in Middle Eastern cuisine, adds one last punch of flavor.

You should feel free to use this template to mix up the flavors of the spices and the glaze. Cayenne and cinnamon can replace the sumac, for example. Gochujang, a richly spiced Korean chile paste, could sub in for the harissa, or you can even use your favorite barbecue sauce instead of the brown sugar-harissa mix.

How to make a no-stress, showstopping Thanksgiving gravy

The number of drumsticks makes for a tidy four servings, but it is a generous amount of food. Thankfully, leftover meat is great in a turkey salad. Combine three parts mayonnaise to one part harissa (or a ratio you prefer), add shredded turkey and season to taste with salt, lemon juice and any other additions (herbs, cranberry sauce, etc.) you like.

Just goes to show you that manageable can still be marvelous. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here.

Recipe notes: The turkey legs need to be salted and refrigerated for at least a few hours in advance or up to overnight.

Ground sumac is available at Middle Eastern markets and spice shops, as well as some Whole Foods Markets.


  • Four turkey drumsticks (3 to 3½ pounds total), patted dry
  • Kosher salt
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons harissa, plus more for serving
  • Two medium sweet potatoes (1½ to 1¾ pounds total), peeled and cut into one-inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 8 ounces crusty bread, torn into irregular chunks of 1½ to 2 inches
  • 1 teaspoon ground sumac

Step 1

Season the turkey legs on all sides generously with salt and place them on a platter or large, rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate for at least a few hours or up to overnight.

Step 2

Position a rack in the middle and another in the upper third of the oven. Place a large, rimmed baking sheet on the middle rack and preheat to 450 degrees.

Step 3

In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar and harissa. Set aside 3 tablespoons of the mixture to save for the final glazing.

Step 4

In a large bowl, toss the sweet potatoes with 1 tablespoon of the oil and a generous pinch of salt. Carefully remove the hot baking sheet from the oven and arrange the potatoes in a border around the edge of the pan. Return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes.

Step 5

Add the torn bread pieces to the bowl, tossing with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and a generous pinch of salt.

Step 6

Meanwhile, remove the turkey legs from the refrigerator and pat dry. Rub the remaining brown sugar mixture all over the legs.

Step 7

Carefully remove the baking sheet from the oven and fill the open area with the bread pieces. Arrange the turkey legs on top of the bread with the more attractive side facing down (you will flip them later for final presentation), alternating the direction in which the bone ends face to ensure they fit. Avoid having the legs touch each other. Reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake on the middle rack for 20 minutes.

Step 8

Flip the legs over, ideally using tongs, but take care not to tear the skin or meat. Bake for an additional 15 minutes (middle rack) or until the turkey is almost done. The temperature on an instant-read thermometer should be about 160 degrees. Remove the baking sheet and preheat the broiler.

Step 9

Apply the reserved brown sugar mixture to the top sides of the turkey legs. Return the baking sheet to the oven on the rack in the upper third and broil until the glaze is bubbling and slightly darkened, two to four minutes. The potatoes and bread pieces should have spots of char as well. The temperature of the meat should be at least 165 degrees (a little higher is fine, as dark meat is forgiving).

Sprinkle the sumac over the sweet potatoes (some on the bread and turkey is fine, too). Serve with additional harissa, if desired.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 715; Total Fat: 22 g; Saturated Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 190 mg; Sodium: 680 mg; Carbohydrates: 76 g; Dietary Fiber: 6 g; Sugar: 20 g; Protein: 53 g.

From Voraciously staff writer Becky Krystal.

Tested by Becky Krystal; email questions to

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