Amazing Smoke-Roasted Chicken Drumsticks: Tips and a Recipe

“I can last two months on a good compliment.” —Mark Twain

Not to brag, but I finally got recognized for my legs. It’s true: As I told Steven, men kept sidling up to me on Super Bowl Sunday requesting the recipe for the chicken drumsticks I’d barbecued for the party.

As one remarked, “This doesn’t even taste like chicken!”

That is the power of wood smoke. It adds color, flavor, and appeal to nearly everything.

So, about those legs. They’re simple enough, but we have a few tips for you.

  • Buy the best chicken you can find, preferably organic. One brand we like after using it on the set of Project Smoke is Smart Chicken. This Nebraska-based company was the first chicken producer in the country to sell a product that is certified organic by the NPO (National Organic Program) and certified humane by HFAC (Humane Farm Animal Care). The birds are cage-free and free range and eat only non-GMO grains. You can purchase chicken directly from the company or select retailers.

  • Smart Chickens are hand-cut and trimmed. But mechanically separated supermarket birds often present loose pieces of cartilage at the joints—bits that can be a choking hazard. Please remove any you find with poultry shears or a sharp knife. Also be on the lookout for pinfeathers the pluckers may have missed. Remove them with paper towels or kitchen tweezers.

  • Submerge the drumsticks in brine (1/2 cup of kosher salt per 2 quarts of water) for 24 hours before smoking or grilling. You can cut the time down to as little as 4 hours, but the longer soak allows the salt to really penetrate the leg muscles—tenderizing, flavoring, and lightly curing them.

  • If the skin has receded from the thickest end of the drumstick, gently coax it back before arranging the legs on the grill grate.

  • If you have smoked poultry from start to finish before in temperatures ranging from 225 to 250 degrees, you’ve noticed the skin is rubbery, almost inedible. Avoid that problem and achieve crisp, golden brown skin by using a technique Steven calls smoke-roasting. Dry the legs with paper towels after removing them from the brine. Place a cooling rack over a rimmed baking sheet, and if desired, air-dry the legs (uncovered) in the refrigerator for several hours. Set up your grill or smoker for indirect grilling and preheat to 375 degrees. The higher temperature will help render the fat under the skin. (Smoking temperatures just don’t get high enough.)

  • With indirect grilling, there is no need to turn the legs as the hot air circulates freely around them. Arrange the legs in a single layer on the grill grate, rounded side up (the flatter side is the side closest to the body).

  • Though the USDA recommends cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, we’ve discovered darker meat is better (more tender, less stringy) when cooked to a higher temperature—175 to 185. Use an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the leg, being careful not to touch bone with the tip of the probe.

  • Make the Maple-Sriracha Glaze while the chicken cooks. Keep warm. Apply during the last 10 minutes of cooking and again before serving. Serve any remaining glaze on the side.

  • Serve the chicken hot or at room temperature. Click here for the full recipe.

What’s your favorite way to grill or smoke chicken drumsticks? Share your ideas with us on the Barbecue Board, Facebook, or Twitter.

Get the recipe for Maple-Sriracha Glazed Chicken Drumsticks.

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