These juicy smoked chicken legs are the perfect meat to cook on your smoker this summer! Chicken legs and a few pantry staples are all it takes to cook up smoky chicken legs on a pellet grill! I love them almost as much as these slow-cooker chicken legs!
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The process of slow cooking smoked meat over low heat goes hand in hand with relaxing in the sun.
Pair your smoked chicken drumsticks with some tasty side dishes for a summer meal that will get rave reviews! Red-skinned potato salad, with its creamy texture pairs nicely with the smokey flavor of the chicken leg.
All you need are four simple ingredients to make smoked drumsticks. Here's what you need:
- Chicken Legs: You will need 8 chicken legs or about 2 pounds to feed four people. Make sure you are using skin-on chicken legs for the best results.
- Your Favorite Rub: Chicken rub is found at any grocery store or you can make your own.
- Olive Oil or Non-Stick Spray: This will enhance the crispiness of the skin while also helping the rub to adhere to the chicken skin during cooking.
- Barbeque Sauce: This is not essential as the smoke and the rub together will provide an excellent sweet smokey flavor. It makes a nice addition to enhance the contrast between the sweet and salty flavors of the chicken rub.
See the recipe card for the exact quantities of each ingredient.
Here are a few ways you can change up your chicken legs!
- Turkey legs: Though they are slightly larger and will take longer to cook they can be a great option if you are looking to make a bigger meal.
- Quail legs: If you want to be fancy these can be a flavorful alternative and they require less time to cook.
- Portobello mushrooms or tofu: Large portobello mushrooms and tofu make a great vegetarian option. They can be dry-rubbed and smoked just like meat and have a rich texture that can be very satisfying.
Just remember to be mindful of the cooking time which will change depending on which you choose.
If you're looking to change things up completely smoked chicken can be prepared in a variety of tasty and unique ways.
- Smoked Teriyaki Chicken Legs: A few hours before smoking, marinate your chicken legs in your favorite teriyaki sauce for a sweet and savory flavor.
- Honey Mustard Smoked Chicken Legs: For a sweet and tangy flavor, mix honey and mustard in a bowl and brush the mixture over the leg before smoking.
- Lemon Pepper Smoked Chicken Legs: Before smoking, rub chicken legs with lemon pepper seasoning for a citrusy zest that complements the savory smokey flavor of the chicken.
Here's an idea of what you need to make smoked chicken legs.
- Grab your favorite pellet smoker and smoking pellets. Personally, I find cherry, apple, and pecan pellets are ideal for smoking chicken legs but you can use any type of pellets you want and still get an amazing smokey flavor.
- You're going to want to have a good meat thermometer in order to check that the chicken is done cooking.
- Other utensils: A large tray or plate to prep up the legs, a basting brush, tongs, and a serving platter.
Check the recipe card for a full list of equipment and links to our favorite brands!
How to Smoke Chicken Legs on a Pellet Grill
Before you begin cooking, there is a bit of prep work to get the grill going and for the chicken legs. Here’s an overview of the steps involved.
Step 1: Make sure the pellet hopper is at capacity and then preheat your pellet grill to 225 degrees F.
PRO TIP: Be sure to check the manufacturer’s specifications for your grill for the preheat method and time. For example, I am using the Traeger Pro Series which requires 10 minutes of smoking prior even to pre-heating the smoker.
Step 2: Prepare your chicken legs. Make sure the skin fully covers the meat so that the meat stays juicy and cooks consistently. Then pat each chicken leg dry.
Step 3: Cover each leg with a thin layer of olive oil or apply a light coating of non-stick spray.
Step 4: Generously coat the legs with the rub you are using. Be sure to apply seasoning underneath the skin to season the meat.
Step 5: Allow meat to rest until it gets to room temperature for even cooking.
Step 6: Place chicken legs with the meat facing the perimeter of the grill and enough space around the legs to circulate the smoke and close the lid. Allow the chicken legs to cook undisturbed for 60 minutes then flip over and cook for another 60 minutes.
PRO TIP: At this point, the chicken should start to look slightly dark red, and burnt ends may begin to appear.
Step 7: At the end of two hours, place your meat thermometer in the thickest part of a chicken and look for a reading of a steady 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
PRO TIP: You can tell when your chicken legs are almost done because the thinner parts of the meat start to pull away from the bone while the thickest part plumps up and often peeks through the skin.
Adding the BBQ sauce? Baste the drumsticks with barbeque sauce you’re adding it and cook for another 10 minutes or until the sauce has thickened on the skin.
Want crispy seared skin? Crank up the heat to 500° F and cook so sear the skin for about 2 minutes per side checking on the legs frequently.
Step 8: Remove the legs from the smoker grill and let them rest for five minutes before serving.
- Refrigerator: Store leftover smoked drumsticks in an airtight container for up to four days in the fridge. Be sure to let them cool to room temperature before storing.
- Freezer: Freeze leftovers by wrapping each leg individually in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Place them in a freezer bag or airtight container and store them for up to 6 months. Be sure to add a label with the date for reference.
- Reheat: Lay the smoked chicken drumsticks you want to reheat on a baking tray or pan and cover with foil. Heat in a 325° F oven for 20 minutes or until the chicken is heated through.
What to Serve with Smoked Chicken Drumsticks
Trader chicken legs scream to be served in the summer with all your summertime favorites but really I think you can enjoy them any time of year! Here are some ideas for serving them up for meals.
- Salads: Serve them up with fresh salads! I love this tortellini pasta salad and beetroot salad.
- Vegetable Sides: Honey butter skillet corn, Hasselback potatoes, and easy green beans all work great!
- Summer sippers: Serve up smoked drumsticks in the summer with refreshing beverages! I highly recommend this cranberry margarita or cranberry mojito! For the kids, this dragon fruit lemonade makes a tasty treat!
- Bring the chicken to room temperature before placing the legs on the smoker. This step promotes even cooking.
- Keep an eye on the temperature reading. Outside heat may have an impact on the temperature o the smoker so watch for any fluctuation.
- Add BBQ sauce in the last few minutes of smoking. The high sugar content can contribute to burning the chicken skin prematurely.
- Use a thermometer to determine when the chicken is finished cooking. You won't be able to use visual clues since smoking may alter the color of the meat. Cook chicken until it has an internal temperature of 165° F.
If you want nice crispy skin then it is important to remember to create a sear using high heat at the very end of the cooking process.
Once the chicken is done increase the temperature of the grill to 500 degrees and rotate them about every 3 minutes or so.
You want to be mindful of air circulation and place the legs far enough apart for the smoke to move around each leg.
For crispy skin, place the meaty side of the leg facing the perimeter of the smoker with the legs facing inward. This is the hottest part of the smoker and will allow the meat to cook more evenly. Or you can always purchase a chicken leg rack for smoking and place that in the center of the smoker.
No, not often. Once during the middle of the cooking time should be plenty. Of course, if you are planning on searing the skin that will require more attention.
You may have heard the phrase “low and slow” when it comes to smoking meat. Because the meat cooks slowly at a lower temperature a slight pink tinge is normal. This is why it is safest to rely on a meat thermometer to check for doneness which is a temperature read of at least 165F.
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Easy Smoked Chicken Legs
- 8 chicken legs around 2lbs
- ¼ cup of olive oil or your favorite cooking spray
- 1 cup of your favorite smoked chicken rub
- ¼ cup of barbecue sauce
- Begin by ensuring the pellet hopper is at capacity and then preheat your pellet grill according to the manufacturer’s specifications. For example, I am using the Traeger Pro Series which requires 10 minutes of smoking prior even to pre-heating the smoker.
- Pre-heat pellet grill to 225 degrees
- Prepare your chicken legs. First, check out the skin. If the skin of the legs has been crumpled below the meat during packaging, taking time to fix this will keep the meat juicy and ensure a consistent texture.
- Using a paper towel, pat each chicken leg dry.
- Cover each leg with a thin layer of olive oil or apply a light coating of non-stick spray
- Generously coat the legs with your rub, making sure to apply seasoning even under the skin to season the meat.
- Allow meat to rest until it gets to room temperature for even cooking.
- Place chicken legs with the meat facing the perimeter of the grill and enough space around the legs to circulate the smoke and close the lid.
- Allow the meat to cook undisturbed for 60 minutes. At the end of 60 minutes check on your chicken legs they should start to look slightly dark red and burnt ends may begin to appear. Using tongs, turn your chicken legs and close the lid. Set a timer for another 60 minutes.
- After this second hour is up, place your meat thermometer in the thickest part of a chicken and look for a reading of a steady 165 degrees Fahrenheit. You can tell when your chicken legs are almost done because the thinner parts of the meat start to pull away from the bone while the thickest part plumps up and often peeks through the skin.
- Baste legs with barbeque sauce if desired and cook another 10 minutes or until the sauce has thickened onto the skin.
- If you would like a sear, crank up the heat to 500 and let the skin sear for about 2 minutes a side checking on the legs frequently.
- Let your chicken legs rest at room temperature for about 5 minutes before serving