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Perfectly Perfect Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks

This recipe makes the most perfect Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks. These are a staple of our family and the recipe is pulled out for every party, event and even mid week too!

The key to the success of this chicken drumsticks recipe is a quick 30-minute to one hour brine. This step is generally reserved for white meat to help achieve a juicier result.

But here, briefly brining the dark meat achieves a quickly cooked, fall-off-the-bone, crispy chicken skin, ultimate family barbecue favorite, the drumstick.

Here is how to grill perfect barbecued chicken drumsticks…

a grill, with barbecue chicken drumsticks cooking
All images and text ©Jenny DeRemer for Not Entirely Average, LLC

Two things are happening here that make this recipe work and frankly also make it among my favorites to prepare. First, the brine.

And trust me, there’s no point in skipping the step that ensures the success of the chicken. This step means juicy and tender meat, no bloody collegians that oftentimes collect around the bone, and perfectly rendered crispy skin.

Next, the cooking method matters. Cooked completely over indirect heat or off-set heat, there is time to arrange the chicken pieces, close the lid, and spend time focused on something other than being glued to the grill.

All this, while a simple dry rub consisting of pantry items takes the place of a classic bbq sauce. It’s honestly a little bit like cheating.

Have an instant-read thermometer or meat thermometer at the ready for testing the internal temperature of the chicken before pulling from the grill grates. Chicken is fully cooked when the temperature reads 165°F and the best way to gauge is by using a thermometer.

barbecued chicken legs on a copper platter

The Best Dry Spices for Grilled Chicken

I have finally found a combination of dry spices that I have been using almost exclusively for all kinds of slow smoked or off-set heat grilled meats.

In this recipe, I am going back to the crowd pleasing drumstick – the chicken drumstick this time, and a rather large family sized package of them. The key to the success of this recipe is a quick 30 minute to one hour brine.

Brining is generally reserved for white meat to achieve a juicier result, but here, brining the dark meat is going to yield the ultimate in what is to some, this lowly cut. You will need a large sterile brine bucket for this process depending on how many pieces you plan to grill.

hot chicken legs, with bbq sauce on a grill

The Best Brine Bucket

A brine bucket is an excellent one-time investment that can be used over and over and works especially well at Thanksgiving for the almighty turkey.

They are relatively inexpensive and can be picked up at your local hardware store or shipped direct from online outlets.

The brining step in this method is going to give us:

  1. Juicy and tender meat
  2. No bloody collegians that oftentimes collect around the bone
  3. Perfectly rendered crispy skin

Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks Ingredients

  • 5lbs fresh chicken drumsticks, skin on
  • 2 quarts cold water
  • 1/2 cup table salt
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon Paprika (I used smoked Paprika for this recipe)
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
raw chicken legs

How to Make Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks

  • Begin by making a brine for the chicken. If you are making the full amount of chicken indicated in my recipe card, you’ll need a very large container or a brine bucket.
  • Stir 1/2 cup table salt into 2 quarts cold water and whisk to dissolve. Make sure you really allow the salt to dissolve, or this crucial step will be lost. I whisk for several minutes until the water is no longer cloudy from the salt, rather turns somewhat clear. Now 1/2-cup may seem like a lot of salt. Salt is necessary to brine a protein. 1/2-cup of salt to 2 quarts water is the minimal amount of salt necessary that will still allow the flavors of the brine to penetrate the chicken.
  • Submerge the drumsticks into the brine and place the entire bucket into the refrigerator. This may take some doing, but clear the way and jam it in. You can brine for as few as 30 minutes or for as long as one hour, however, not for longer than one hour or the muscle will begin to break down.
salt and pepper, with bowls

Preparing the Chicken Drumstick Dry Rub

  • Prepare the dry rub while the chicken drumsticks are in the brine. These are super simple ingredients likely already in your pantry. Combine all the herbs and spices and whisk together ensuring you break up any lumps in the brown sugar as you incorporate.
  • Pour the rub onto a large plate and spread it out. You will be coating each drumstick on this plate and will want it large enough to brush off excess rub without it going everywhere. I also like to line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil or at the very least parchment paper for easy and CLEAN transport to my grill.
  • Once brined, remove all the drumsticks and pat dry very well with paper towels. I also let them sit on a stack of paper towels for 15-minutes to allow the chicken to come to room temperature.
  • One at a time, coat each drumstick completely, brushing or tapping off any excess. You do not need a ton of rub to effectively do the job in this recipe, as the sugar will melt during the grilling process and act as a sauce which will coat the chicken nicely.
a grill, with flames

How to Cook Drumsticks on the Grill

  • Fire up your gas grill by lighting all burners on high. Close the lid. YOU WANT A HOT HOT GRILL. This will help to establish an off-set heat grilling method momentarily.
  • Wait 10 minutes before raising your grill lid. Turn off at least one (if not two depending on the size of your grill) of your burners.
  • Using tongs and a paper towel, oil all of the grill grates thoroughly with olive oil or vegetable oil. Arrange the drumsticks on the cooler side of the grill, or the side of the grill where you have turned the burner(s) off. Close the lid. Cooking time on these is 25 minutes without opening the lid. My grill thermometer reads about 450°F for the entire 25 minutes in this step with two burners going, two burners off.
  • After 25 minutes, and using the same cooler side of the grill, turn the drumsticks over. Close the lid and grill for another 20 minutes.
chicken drumsticks cooking on a grill
  • To finish the drumsticks, they need a good char or at least a few grill marks. Using tongs and making sure the grill grates on the HOT side of the grill are oiled with olive oil or vegetable oil, transfer the drumsticks to the HOT side of the grill. Do not walk away!
  • Turn and grill and slightly char the drumsticks on all sides.
  • Transfer to a platter and tent with aluminum foil for 10 minutes.

Cooking Over Charcoal?

This grilling step takes on a whole new meaning when using a charcoal grill. Simply follow this same method with lit coals spread over only half of the base of your cooker.

The aromas are incredible. Just be sure your coals maintain a consistent temperature throughout the cooking times.

What to Serve with BBQ Chicken Drumsticks

Chicken drumsticks are economical and can be prepared easily for a crowd. Since they are grilled over off-set heat, you have time to arrange them, close the lid, and spend time with your party-goers instead of being glued to the grill.

I like to serve mine with just some green onion sliced thin diagonally and sprinkled over them. You could also serve over a bed of homemade coleslaw. 

Served with fresh corn, tomato salad, and a hearty loaf of crusty garlic bread, this is a hearty summer supper if for nothing else.

a platter of barbecued chicken legs, with red napkins

FAQs & Tips

Can This Method Be Done with Boneless Chicken Breast?

Yes, and the results are great. You needn’t brine for any longer than 45-minutes when brining chicken that has no bone. The cooking time will be reduced by 5 minutes on the first and 5 minutes on the last making it lid down for 20 minutes, flip, then lid down for 15 minutes.

Use an instant-read thermometer to gauge; chicken must read 165°F when the thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the breast. Tent under foil for 10 minutes before serving.

How to Prevent Chicken Legs from Sticking to The Grill Grates?

Food is more likely to stick to your grill grates if the grate has residue from a previous cook, so always begin with a clean grill. Steam helps to deter proteins and metal from attaching, so always allow your grill to preheat FULLY before arranging anything atop those grates. Oiling the grates with a high smoke point oil is the easiest way to prevent sticking.

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Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks

Jenny from Not Entirely Average
This recipe makes the most perfect Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks. These are a staple of our family and the recipe is pulled out for every party, event and even mid week too!
5 from 1 vote
Servings: 10 servings, 2 drumsticks each
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 55 mins
Brine 30 mins
Total Time 1 hr 40 mins
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 10 servings, 2 drumsticks each
Calories 262 kcal

Equipment

  • gas grill or charcoal grill
  • Brine bucket
  • Kitchen tongs
  • paper toweling for oiling grill grates

Ingredients
 

to brine the chicken

  • 5 lbs fresh chicken drumsticks skin on
  • 2 quarts cold water
  • 1/2 cup table salt

for the dry rub

  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar light or dark
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Instructions
 

  • Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Set aside.
  • Stir 1/2 cup table salt into 2 quarts cold water and whisk to dissolve. Ensure the salt dissolves completely. Whisk for several minutes until the water is no longer cloudy from the salt and appears clear. Submerge the drumsticks into the brine and place the entire bucket into the refrigerator for 30-minutes to 1 hour, no longer.
  • Prepare the dry rub by combining the remaining ingredients. Whisk together ensuring you break up any lumps in the brown sugar as you incorporate. Pour the rub onto a large plate and spread it out. I like a pie plate for this step.
  • Once the chicken has brined, remove all of the drumsticks and pat dry with thick layers of paper toweling. Allow to sit between layers of paper toweling for 15 minutes to come to room temperature. Coat each drumstick with the rub, brushing or tapping off any excess. Place each onto the prepared baking sheet.
  • Transport the chicken to the grill via the baking sheet. Light all burners on a gas grill on high and close the lid. Wait 10 minutes before raising the grill lid and turning off at least one burner.
  • Using tongs and a paper towel, oil all of the grill grates thoroughly with cooking oil. Arrange the drumsticks on the cooler side of the grill or the side of the grill where the burner has been turned off. Close the lid and grill for 25 minutes without opening the lid. NOTE: as a point of reference, my grill thermometer reads about 450°F for the entire 25 minutes in this step with two burners going, two burners off.
  • After 25 minutes, and using the same cool side of the grill, turn the drumsticks over. Close the lid and grill for another 20 minutes without opening the lid.
  • Using tongs and making sure grill grates are well oiled, transfer the drumsticks to the hot side of the grill. Do not walk away! Turn and grill and slightly char the drumsticks on all sides. Use an instant-read thermometer to check for doneness. Chicken must read 165°F when inserted into the thickest part of the drumstick without touching the bone. It is fine to allow the drumsticks to climb to as high as 180°F which will only make them that much more tender.
  • Transfer to a platter and tent with aluminum foil for 10 minutes.

if grilling on a charcoal grill

  • Follow this same method with lit coals spread over only half of the base of your cooker. Be sure your coals maintain a consistent temperature throughout the first and second cooking times.

Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 262kcalCarbohydrates: 5gProtein: 27gFat: 14gSaturated Fat: 4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0.1gCholesterol: 140mgSodium: 6016mgPotassium: 387mgFiber: 1gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 674IUVitamin C: 0.1mgCalcium: 33mgIron: 1mg
Keyword Barbecue Drumsticks, Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks, Barbecued Chicken spices, Chicken Drumsticks
Tried this recipe?Let me know how it was!
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2 Comments

  1. Will the cook time differ if I make 1-2lbs instead of 5? Suggestions on reheating leftovers? Also anyway to make these in the oven or airfryer to a similar quality? They look amazing!

    1. Marcia, the cook time will be the same. Leftovers are ‘fall-off-the-bone’ and I generally do the meat only in the microwave briefly or in the oven in foil. I have not tried these in an air fryer, however, have done them in the oven. While they emerge similar, you’re never able to truly replicate that grill and/or smoke flavor in the oven. Still amazing though! If you do try them in your oven or air fryer, I know there are other readers who’d benefit from your guidance, so do let me know. x – Jenny