Grilling Chicken Drumsticks – The best grilled chicken

When it comes to poultry, people lean one of two ways. Either they don’t care much for the dark meat, or they go in early for first bites on a drumstick. If you’re the type of person who never really reaches for a chicken leg, one bite of a grilled chicken leg might change your mind about what hits your fork first.

Because there isn’t much meat on the bone, chicken legs are often sold in packs of 8, 10, 20 or more. Weighing about 4 ounces each, they are usually the most economical part of the bird. You can find legs for about a dollar a pound and sometimes nearly half that price on sale, making them a great value. But even though they’re not the meatiest or most expensive part of the chicken, when cooked properly, they may be the most flavorful. Perfect for cooking on the grill, especially on occasions like the 4th of July.


How long do you cook drumsticks on the grill?

When cooking chicken, it’s important not to watch the clock, but to cook it to a safe internal temperature.

The safe internal temperature for chicken thighs is 165 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use an instant-read thermometer or a digital probe thermometer to check the doneness of the chicken, but you should always check the temperature to avoid getting sick, or worse, someone else getting sick.

A 400-degree Fahrenheit grill can cook drumsticks in about 25 minutes. But just because it’s possible to cook them in less than half an hour doesn’t mean you should rush the process.

Chicken legs are a muscular piece of dark meat. The meat is firm, flavorful and packed with collagen. The collagen will begin to slowly melt and turn into gelatin (think concentrated chicken broth) at 160 degrees Fahrenheit and will continue to melt and add flavor until it reaches an internal temperature of about 180 degrees Fahrenheit.

Another great benefit of grilling chicken legs or other dark chicken meat is that it is more forgiving to cook than the breast or white meat. Dark meats are not as prone to drying out over the dry heat of the grill. This is a good thing because when you cook it to make it well done, it concentrates and intensifies the flavor of the meat, making it irresistible to some.

Cooking crispy chicken legs on a gas grill

How do you grill drumsticks without burning them?

After grilling chicken hundreds of times, I can confidently say that the flames are not your friend when cooking chicken drumsticks.

Don’t get me wrong, grilling is still my favorite method of cooking chicken, but cooking it directly over blazing flames can burn the chicken’s skin and make it unappetizing with the interior barely cooked through.

Most gas grills have a bun rack that is rarely used. But it’s the perfect place to roast and grill chicken legs at the same time. The bun rack is usually about six inches above your grill’s grates, so it’s the perfect distance from the flames.

If you don’t have a bun rack, we’ll discuss a method called “dual zone cooking,” which is the most effective way to grill drumsticks without burning them.

Step 1: Find a spot on the grill, such as the bun rack, where the chicken thighs can still get enough heat without being kissed by the grill’s flames.

Step 2: If your gas grill doesn’t have a bun rack, light only one or two burners and place the chicken over the area where the other, unlit burner would normally burn.

Step 3: With a charcoal grill, push the charcoal to one side of the grill and cook the chicken on the side opposite the hot coals.

Step 4: Turn the chicken legs frequently during grilling to ensure even cooking.

Step 5: Save the sauce for the end. If you must add barbecue sauce, do so in the last 3 to 5 minutes of cooking and keep an eye on it, as the sugars in barbecue sauce can burn quickly.

Do I need to cook drumsticks before grilling?

There’s really no good reason to cook drumsticks before grilling.

The whole point of cooking drumsticks before grilling them is to make sure they are cooked to a safe internal temperature. We’ve already established that your chicken legs should be checked and cooked to a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, so no pre-cooking is necessary.

Other tips and tricks for grilling chicken legs

  • Pre-seasoning gives more flavor to the meat. Even an hour can make a big difference, but up to 24 hours is ideal.
  • Look for rubs and seasonings that are less likely to burn. Anything containing sugars will eventually burn unless you are extremely careful.
  • Marinating overnight in Italian salad dressing is a great way to add extra flavor to grilled chicken.
  • Grilled chicken legs are great when made ahead of time. Once cooked, they keep well in the refrigerator for up to three days, making them ideal for meal prep.

Hopefully, you’ll consider grilling chicken drumsticks the next time you fire up the grill, like this July 4 holiday. If you still prefer light meat to dark meat, once you learn how to grill chicken breasts, you’ll be a blast at grilling all things chicken.

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