Ah the Mighty Drumstick. If you’re a fan of meat on the bone, then you’ve gotta be a fan of the chicken leg. They have a ton of flavor, are tender and juicy and just look really cool! They are also perfect for slow cooking on the grill over the open flame. Because of the bone itself, chicken legs need to be cooked a bit differently than boneless chicken breasts or thighs. Rather than very intense heat for a short period of time, with chicken legs, you want to use indirect heat, over a longer timeframe. That technique allows you to get the chicken legs cooked all they way through (raw meat next to the bone is NO good), without burning the outside of the chicken.
Here I show you how to grill some BBQ chicken legs on a gas grill, but the same fundamental techniques apply for a charcoal grill too. In fact, you’d use just about all the same methods even if you were to cook them inside in the oven.
Now, the number one question I always get is, "HOW LONG DO I GRILL THE CHICKEN LEGS FOR?" The sad reality, is there is no magic number of minutes. The chicken legs, you're grilling may be a bit smaller or bigger than "average". Your grill might be a bit hotter or cooler, than mine. So, there's going to be some variablity in the time you need to cook them. That said, I typically find that I take about 35 - 50 mintues to cook them. I could get them cooked faster over direct heat, but I'd have to closely watch them; and of course you can go slower...and smoke them for hours. So...the safest way to judge the time is to use a meat thermometer and get them to an intermal temp of about 185. After you cook them a few times; you'll be able to judge by sight and feel.
How to Grill Chicken Legs
- The true “secret” to grilling chicken legs is to allow enough time to get the meat cooked all the way through to the bone, while getting the outside skin crispy, without over cooking or burning. We do that with a combination of indirect & direct heat.
- If you’d like to add a rub or marinade to the chicken legs you can do so up to a day in advance.
- I added a BBQ rub to these and let them sit for a few hours in the fridge; but salt and pepper right before cooking works great too.
- Prior to cooking, take them out and allow them to come up to room temp; if marinated pat them dry.
- Turn your grill on with one side lit and the other side off; if using coals, keep all the coals to one side. Ideally you want the grill about 400 degrees.
- Once the grill is ready, season the legs with salt and pepper and lay them down on the cooler side of the grill.
- This is the “indirect” part of the cooking.
- You’ll want to close the grill lid, with an ideal temp in the grill of about 400 – 450 degrees
- Allow the chicken to cook for about 45 minutes
- By that time, the legs will be cooked through and just lightly browned on the outside
- No it’s time to finish them off, and crisp up the outside
- Move the legs to the hotter side of the grill
- Over higher heat, you’ll need to watch them more closely so they don’t burn…but this part only takes about 10 minutes
- You’ll want to rotate them every few minutes as they brown; at the same time, you could baste them lightly with a BBQ (or some other) sauce.
- As they cook, the sauce will caramelize, and seep into the meat, giving the chicken legs another level of great flavor
- Once browned, remove the legs from the grill to a clean cutting board
- You’ll want to let the chicken legs rest for a minimum of 5 minutes….I actually let them rest for more like 10 – 15 minutes; in fact they may even be best, just above room temperature
- Enjoy them!