Perfectly Perfect Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks
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Give your gas grill year-round exercise while grilling up these barbecued chicken legs made perfect by brining before grilling.
There is something about bbq chicken drumsticks that takes each of us back to childhood. You had to call it for example, “I get the drumstick!”
When I think back to picnics and cookouts, it seems silly now. For something that is such an easy recipe, a downright simple recipe, it definitely garnered the most attention from my whole family.
The key to the success of this chicken drumsticks recipe is a quick 30-minute 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.
Do Drumsticks Need to Be Brined?
In this recipe, I am focusing on the crowd-pleasing chicken drumstick. I mix dry spices that work on all kinds of slow smoked or off-set heat grilled meats and this chicken method is a great example.
Two things are happening here that make this recipe work. First, the brine.
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.
What Is the Best Way to Cook Chicken Drumsticks On the Grill?
Next, the cooking method matters. Regardless of gas or charcoal, this chicken is cooked completely over indirect heat or off-set heat.
A simple dry rub replaces 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 a thermometer.
Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks Ingredients
for the brine
- skin on chicken drumsticks
- cold water
- table salt
for the rub
- brown sugar
- chili powder
- smoked paprika
- garlic powder
- table salt
- black pepper
- cayenne pepper
How to Perfectly Barbeque Chicken Drumsticks
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 dissolve the salt, or this crucial step will be lost. I whisk for several minutes until the water is no longer cloudy from the salt.
A half cup may seem like a lot of salt. Salt is necessary to work at loosening the connective tissue around the bone.
Submerge the drumsticks and refrigerate. You can brine for as few as 30 minutes or for as long as one hour, however, not longer.
ProTip: 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. I linked to the one I like in the recipe card below.
The Dry Rub
These are 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.
Pour the rub into a pie plate. You will be coating each drumstick so will want a pie plate large enough to brush off excess rub without it scattering. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper for easy transport to your grill.
Remove from the brine and pat each leg dry with paper towels. Let them sit on a stack of paper towels for 15-minutes to come to room temperature.
Coat each drumstick, tapping off any excess. You do not need a ton of rub to effectively do the job in this recipe.
Prep the Grill
Fire up your gas grill with all burners on high. Close the lid. YOU WANT A HOT HOT GRILL. We need to establish an off-set heat grilling method.
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 vegetable oil. Arrange the drumsticks on the cooler side of the grill, the side where you have turned the burner(s) off. Close the lid.
Cooking time 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, flip. Close the lid and grill for another 20 minutes.
Hasten Some Grill Marks
Next, achieve a few grill marks. Make sure the grill grates on the HOT side of the grill are oiled with vegetable oil and transfer all to the HOT side of the grill. Do not walk away!
Turn 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. Follow this same method with lit coals spread over only half of the base of your cooker. Just be sure your coals maintain a consistent temperature throughout the cooking times.
What to Serve with BBQ Chicken Drumsticks
Chicken is economical. And since we’re talking firing up the grill for this method, who doesn’t embrace a grilled drumstick at backyard cookouts?
Serve with green onion sliced thin diagonally. 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.
My entire family loves, loves, loves these juicy chicken drumsticks and I kinda think they’ll be a huge hit with yours, too. Pull together everybody’s favorite sides and offer a store-bought favorite bbq sauce or better yet homemade bbq sauce for dipping and dunking tableside.
Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks
- gas grill or charcoal grill
- paper toweling for oiling grill grates
to brine the chicken
- 5 lbs fresh chicken drumsticks skin on
- 2 quarts cold water
- ½ 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
- ¾ teaspoon table salt
- ¾ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 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.
FAQs & Tips
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.
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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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!
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