These smoked chicken quarters are going to be all the rage this summer at your cookouts and BBQs. A smokey sweet dry brine penetrates the meat ensuring crispy delicious skin and tender juicy meat every single time.
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Often I am looking for recipes that are quick and easy, especially when cooking for a family of six! But there is truth that good things do come to those who wait and these smoked chicken quarters are proof.
Low and slow cooking chicken quarters is a perfect way to savor the moment and take life easy!!
Since it's almost completely hands-off cooking, there's plenty of time to focus on preparing side dishes, perhaps a cocktail or two, and enjoy time with family and friends.
Don’t forget to treat yourself to a delicious cold cocktail like this refreshing Pineapple Margarita while you are taking your time.
Six simple ingredients are all it takes to cook up smoked chicken quarters are tender and juicy every time.
- Chicken quarters: Be sure to choose quarters marked air-chilled on the package. Water-chilled leg quarters are injected with a salt solution so when prepared with the dry brine in this recipe may be too salty.
- Brown sugar: The molasses added to brown sugar gives it more moisture, a lovely golden brown color, and greater depth of flavor than granulated sugar.
- Kosher salt: The saltiness of kosher salt depends on its structure and size of crystals. This recipe was tested and created using Morton's salt. If using Diamond Crystal kosher salt which has larger crystals and takes up more volume you will need to increase the salt to six teaspoons.
- Brine seasoning: We are using a combination of paprika, pepper, oregano, and garlic powder.
See the recipe card for the quantities of each ingredient.
Here are a few substitutions to use when making this recipe.
- Salt: Table salt is not the same as kosher salt. It has such small crystals so you will need to use less salt. Use three teaspoons of table salt to make the brine.
- Brown Sugar: Coconut sugar can be used as a 1:1 substitute for brown sugar with excellent results. I've also had good success with maple sugar and palm sugar.
If you're looking to change up the dry brine a bit here are some suggestions.
- More sweetness. Add a ¼ teaspoon of cardamom to the other ingredients. This spice is known for its smokey lemony flavor.
- More umami flavor. Add a ¼ of a teaspoon of cinnamon for a mellow earthy flavor to complement the fresher flavors of the dried herbs in the rub.
- Craving a bit of heat? Add ¼ teaspoon of smoked paprika or chipotle powder. Both of these spices are similar in color but smoked paprika is milder.
- Oregano. You can use a dry Italian herb blend.
Only have chicken legs? Try my smoked chicken legs recipe!
How to Smoke Chicken Leg Quarters
Let's look at the main steps for making smoked chicken quarters. Make sure to plan ahead so your chicken quarters have time to brine.
- Combine the salt and spices to make the salt brine for the chicken.
- Trim the excess fat from the leg quarters and pat the outside of the quarters dry with a paper towel.
PRO TIP: Be sure to remove the excess skin typically gathered beneath the thigh when trimming the fat. This will help smoke penetrate the exposed meat, as well as keep any excess moisture away from the skin.
- Rub the brine generously on the top of the pieces of chicken. Also, get some of it on the meat beneath the skin. This way you will infuse the chicken with more flavor.
- Place the brined leg quarters on a drying rack and refrigerate uncovered for at least 6 hours or all the way up to 24 hours.
- Place the leg quarters in your preheated smoker and close the lid.
- Temperature check #1. After the quarters have been smoking for an hour check each piece of meat with a meat thermometer. Move the pieces of chicken around as needed to accommodate for any hot spots on your smoker.
PRO TIP: Just about every smoker has hot spots that will cook faster than other areas of the smoker. Typically the hottest parts of a smoker are the edges around the drip pan and nearest to the pilot light.
- Temperature check #2. This should be done after the chicken has been cooking for two hours. At this point, quarters that are above 165 degrees F are ready to be taken out of the smoker.
PRO TIP: When checking the temperature be sure to probe the thickest part of the chicken quarter for an accurate read. For a darker crispier skin, feel free to leave them on the smoker on until they reach 175-195 degrees F.
- Allow the meat to rest at room temperature for at least 10 minutes to let the juices redistribute before serving
- Store leftover smoked chicken quarters in an air-tight container within two hours of removing the chicken from the smoker. It will stay fresh in the fridge for up to four days. You can also freeze it for up to 4 months.
- Reheat smoked chicken quarters in a 350 F degrees. Let the chicken come up to room temperature while the oven is pre-heating.
Place the chicken in a baking dish with about 3 tablespoons of water or chicken stock and cover with foil. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature and heat until your chicken sustains an internal temperature of 165 F degrees.
Keep these tips in mind when smoking chicken quarters so yours come out juicy and full of flavor.
- Make sure to follow this guide for using other salts in place of Morton kosher salt. Use 6 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 3 teaspoons of table salt to replace the 4.50 teaspoons Morton kosher salt in the ingredient list.
- Don’t forget to apply the brine underneath the skin directly to the meat. This will give the meat more flavor and make it extra juicy.
- Do not use oil. This may seem counterintuitive but the smoking process releases water vapor from the meat. Since bone in leg quarters have plenty of extra fat and liquid, adding oil or even bbq sauce can act as a barrier which prevents the liquid from vaporizing and resulting in chewy rubbery skin.
- Don't worry if the temperature of your smoker doesn’t quite hit 225° F. It just means your leg quarters will take longer to cook.
- Always use a meat thermometer when smoking meats. Smoking discolors the meat making it very difficult to tell by sight when the meat is properly cooked so you must use temperature as your guide.
- Avoid using a meat thermometer that has an attached probe and remains in the meat while its cooking. Not all the leg quarters will cook in the same amount of time due to hot spots in your smoker which means you must check the temperature of each piece individually.
If you have leftover salt brine store it in an airtight container for up to 6 months at room temperature. However, the spices diminish over time so it will taste best if used within 2 months of making it.
No. The meat will not be overly salty and the added water will negatively affect the entire process and prevent browning.
No, it’s not ideal, but you can certainly cover it loosely if the thought of raw meat sitting in your refrigerator sounds too unappealing.
No, it's not a good idea. The skin acts as a barrier to moisture. Despite the dry brining, it is likely that a significant amount of juices will be lost during the cooking process. If there is someone who prefers not to eat the skin for health reasons, it's best to remove it after it comes out off the smoker.
Yes, if using a dry brine, this is the minimum amount of time you want to allow the chicken to brine. You can use a water brine for a slightly faster brining method. Combine 2 quarts of cold water with ½ cup of table salt and submerge leg quarters for 30 minutes to an hour in the refrigerator. While it's definitely faster, unfortunately, you will sacrifice some of the browning and crispiness of the skin.
More Easy Chicken Recipes
Did you try this recipe? Please leave a star rating in the recipe card right below! You can also write a review in the comment section further down the page I always appreciate your feedback. And don’t forget to tag me @freshcoasteats in your photos on social media, I'd love to see your results!
The Best Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters
- Pellet Smoker and pellets Webber Grill charcoal and wood chips
- Mason Jar or small bowl
- Wire Rack
- Cooking Gloves
- 5 chicken quarters look for air-chilled on the packaging
- 3 Tablespoons brown sugar packed
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons pepper
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- Combine salt and spices to make the salt brine
- Trim excess fat from leg quarters
- Clean and pat dry with a paper towel
- Rub brine generously on top and beneath the skin
- Place leg quarters on a drying rack and refrigerate uncovered for 6-24 hours
- Preheat your pellet smoker to 225F according to the manufacturer's instructions.
- Place leg quarters in the smoker and close the lid
- At the one-hour mark, check each portion of meat individually with a meat thermometer, be sure to probe the thickest part of the chicken quarter for an accurate read.
- At the two-hour mark take another temperature reading. Quarters that are above 165F degrees are ready to be taken out of the smoker. If you would like darker crispier skin, feel free to leave them on until they reach 175-195 degrees
- Allow meat to rest at room temperature for at least 10 minutes to let the juices redistribute before serving