This recipe for grilled chicken drumsticks couldn't be easier! Simple spices and BBQ sauce are all you need for this less-stress way to make grilled chicken legs.
It's that time of year when I eye up whatever protein I have and consider scrapping all recipe plans to cook it on the grill. Not that grilling doesn't benefit by having an actual recipe (this is a post about one, after all), but things go a little loosey goosey-er out there, in a good way.
Grilled chicken wings have long been a favorite, as are boneless skinless chicken thighs in this crave-worthy chicken thigh marinade. These grilled chicken drumsticks are the epitome of a straight-forward, delicious main dish recipe that has plenty of wiggle room for you to make your own.
Why This Recipe Works
- Grilling drumsticks requires very little prep time. There's no marinade needed for juicy, tender meat here. Just a sprinkling of basic spices to start and a baste of BBQ sauce at the end.
- The way I make grilled chicken drumsticks may be the opposite of many recipes out there, but I think this way has less stress and more reliably achieves perfectly cooked meat with a balanced outside char (without burning the exterior or risking undercooked spots).
- That grilling flavor just can't be replicated with other methods of cooking. Your favorite BBQ sauce almost caramelizes over direct heat and forms the best kind of char marks on the surface, with juicy, never-dried-out meat inside.
- Chicken drumsticks: Skin-on is my choice for grilled chicken drumsticks as the skin helps ensure the meat stays nice and moist. As written this recipe calls for two pounds, which is usually about six drumsticks, but the ingredients are easy to adjust for less or more. I increased the yield when I made them for the photos in this post, if you notice more than six drumsticks in the grilling pictures.
- Spices: You don't need to season the chicken with anything wild as much of the flavor comes from basting with BBQ sauce. Salt, pepper, and garlic powder are what I usually use, but you can mix and match seasonings as you please. Ground cayenne would bring some heat.
- BBQ sauce: Nothing complicated here - use your favorite! Usually I'll use a store-bought variety, but if looking for something a little different on the homemade front, maple bourbon BBQ sauce is always a winner.
- Stir together salt, pepper, and garlic powder (or whatever spices you're using) in a small bowl.
- Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel, then generously season all sides of the drumsticks with the spice mix.
- Clean and grease your grill grates so that the chicken doesn't stick. To do this, dip a paper towel into a neutral flavored oil suitable for high-heat (such as canola, corn, or vegetable) and rub the paper towel along the grill grates. It's easier to do this before turning the grill on so you don't have to battle the heat, but if you've already turned it on, wear oven mitts and/or use long tongs so you don't burn yourself.
Please do not use cooking sprays on a hot grill as that can cause flare ups!
- After greasing the grates, heat the grill to within the 400-425°F range, turning one side on and leaving one side of the grill off. Once the grill is heated, add the chicken drumsticks in an alternating fashion to the side of the grill that's off to cook over indirect heat.
- Let the chicken drumsticks cook for 45 minutes or so, turning them 3-4 times throughout, until the center of the thickest part of meat reaches 165°F.
- Once that happens, brush BBQ sauce onto the top sides of the chicken drumsticks, then transfer them to the other, lit side of the grill with the sauce side down. Now brush the other side with the remaining BBQ sauce.
- Let the basted drumsticks cook over direct heat for 10 or so minutes, turning once or twice throughout, or until they have browned and formed little caramelized and "charred" spots to your liking. Serve right away.
A note on temperature: finishing the chicken with BBQ sauce over direct heat will raise the internal temperature of the drumsticks above 165°F, but still produces perfectly juicy meat. I've checked the temperature after doing so and have seen the temperature go above 185°F with tender, absolutely delicious results. With the skin intact and chicken drumsticks being dark meat, you won't risk dried out chicken.
- Patting the chicken dry with a paper towel will help the skin crisp up while it cooks. Although true crispy skin isn't practical with these grilled chicken drumsticks as they're finished with BBQ sauce, I still pat them dry as I find they will still have some crisper spots.
- An instant-read meat thermometer is key with a recipe like this. Every grill cooks differently and it would be impossible to call out a specific time in which everyone's drumsticks would hit 165°F.
- While grilled chicken drumsticks take a bit longer to cook starting with indirect heat and finishing with direct, the cook time is less finicky. You don't have to turn the drumsticks as frequently, and you don't run the risk of charring the outside too much before the inside cooks through. Ensuring the drumsticks hit 165°F for food safety before basting and hitting them with direct heat means you can focus simply on browning them as you like them.
Grilling the chicken drumsticks with the skin on helps ensure the meat ends up juicy by preserving moisture during the cooking process. You can remove some of the skin after they've been cooked if you prefer.
Per the USDA, grilled chicken may still have a pinkish tinge after reaching 165°F, the minimum safe temperature for poultry. Because of this, an instant-read meat thermometer is key in taking the guesswork out of knowing precisely when chicken is fully-cooked.
A cool Greek yogurt kale caesar salad is a refreshing match for grilled chicken, as is lemon quinoa salad. Both of those can be made ahead of time. If you're looking for a veggie pairing that can be thrown on the grill for efficiency, I make spicy sauteed asparagus on the grill all the time with great results.
If you’ve enjoyed this recipe, I’d love for you to leave a star rating in the recipe card and/or a comment review below!
Easy Grilled Chicken Drumsticks
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder optional
- 2 lbs chicken drumsticks (6 drumsticks - see note)
- High-heat oil for oiling grill grates
- ½ cup BBQ sauce (your favorite variety)
- Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder, if using, to a small bowl and stir to combine evenly.
- Pat chicken drumsticks dry with a paper towel, then seasons all sides evenly with the spice mix.
- Dip a paper towel into a high-heat, neutral-flavored oil such as canola, vegetable, or corn, and using tongs, rub it along the grill grates to prevent sticking. It's easier to do this before turning the grill on.
- Heat one side of the grill to the 400-425°F range, then arrange drumsticks close together on the turned off side of the grill to cook over indirect heat. Alternating the fat and thin sides of the drumsticks allows them to fit on the grill more compactly.
- Cook with indirect heat for 45 minutes, turning the drumsticks over every 15 minutes or so, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 165°F.
- Baste BBQ sauce onto the top sides of the drumsticks, then transfer them, sauce side down, to the other side of the grill to finish cooking over direct heat. Baste the remaining side with sauce and cook for an additional 10 minutes, turning them once or twice, or until the drumsticks have browned and charred to your liking. Serve warm.
- Patting the chicken dry with a paper towel helps the skin crisp up during cooking. Basting with BBQ sauce means the whole drumstick won't be crunchy crisp, but it will help some areas be crisper than they would otherwise.
- You know your grill best, so you may have to adjust the timing or temperature as needed. Drumsticks can hold up to a longer, slower cook time without drying out so it's not an ultra-finicky process. Using an instant-read thermometer is key in hitting the most important step: registering 165°F in the middle of the thickest part of the meat before switching over to direct heat.
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