These melt-in-your-mouth Grilled Chicken Drumsticks with homemade habanero BBQ sauce are a match made in heaven. If you’ve been looking for a grilled chicken legs recipe, you’ve come to the right place!
🍽️ Why This Works
Simple, direct heat grilling instructions. You won’t need any special equipment, complicated steps, or hours of time to make these bbq chicken legs. Just a grill. Any grill.
A little heat, please. The habanero sauce adds just the right amount of heat without sacrificing at all incredible bbq flavor.
Inexpensive. Because they are considered less desirable, you can often get a package of chicken legs for very cheap. We don’t know why anyone thinks less of them, because this recipe is incredible. But saving money is nice!
Chicken Drumsticks – Find these at your local grocery store in a value pack. Because the chicken legs are small pieces of dark meat with a high surface area ratio they will absorb more flavor from the rub and sauce. And the skin crisps up too. Oh my.
Dry Rub – We recommend this all-purpose dry rub recipe for grilling.
Habanero Sauce – The sauce is made from habanero peppers, onions, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, minced onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, chili pepper flakes, white pepper, and molasses.
⏲️ Equipment and Tools
Grill. Even if you live in a cold-weather climate, you can use your grill year-round to keep a mess out of the kitchen.
Blender or Food Processor. I highly recommend a stick blender to puree the sauce.
GrillGrate. This is optional but comes in very handy to reduce flareups and concentrate flavor.
Instant Read Thermometer. An essential grilling tool, a thermometer will allow you to grill your meat to exactly the right temperature to be safe without overcooking your meat.
Step One: Carefully mince the habanero peppers wearing gloves. Do not touch your face.
Step Two: Combine vinegar, peppers, onion, garlic, red pepper, chili pepper, white pepper to the pan and bring it to a boil. Add in brown sugar, ketchup, and molasses to pan and bring to a boil for 15 minutes, stirring constantly. Turn the stove to low and allow it to simmer and thicken for 30 minutes.
Step Three: Heat up the grill to 450º F. Apply the BBQ dry rub to the drumsticks and place the chicken legs on grill over direct heat.
Step Four: Grill the meat until the legs are close to the internal temperature of 165ºF. This takes about 50 minutes, turning every 15-20 minutes.
Step Five: For the last 10 minutes, brush the sauce onto the grilled chicken legs.
Step Six: Remove the grilled drumsticks when the internal temperature reaches 165ºF.
❗ Expert Tips
With so many pieces of bone-in meat, you will have a lot of fat dropping into your grill. Use a GrillGrate to reduce flaring and get a beautiful sear on your meat.
Let the sauce cool significantly if you plan to puree it. Puree the sauce with a blender or food processor if desired. A stick blender works great and will puree your sauce directly in the pan.
I recommend you pull the meat off of each bone, remove the skin, and place the meat in a freezer-quality zipper bag. You can then either refrigerate the meat for two or three days or freeze the meat for up to three months. Depending on what you will use the meat for, you might want to also dice it up before bagging.
Leftover chicken legs can be used in so many other recipes! When you need chicken for stir fry, tacos or tortilla soup, chicken noodle soup, salad protein, or a quick sandwich you’ll have the meat cooked and ready to go. If frozen, quick thaw in the microwave will have it ready to toss in your recipe.
Grilled Chicken Drumsticks Substitutions
If you don’t want to make your own dry rub, any bbq dry rub will work. You can change the flavor up for this recipe by trying different rubs.
Sometimes habaneros are hard to find depending on the area of the country you live in and your grocery store manager. You can substitute with fresh serrano peppers or fresh jalapenos if needed even though the flavor is slightly different. The serrano pepper is the best choice if you can find those. Both of these two substitutions are milder than the habanero so if you want to get more heat, add a dash of ancho chili powder.
Try one of these other grilled chicken recipes to change things up:
If you can’t find chicken legs, use this same recipe for wings or thighs.
Do not overcook your meat! Dark meat makes it super hard to tell when the meat is finished and it may remain slightly pink since you are cooking the meat on the bone. I highly recommend you invest in an inexpensive instant-read thermometer probe for grilling and remove your grilled drumsticks when the internal temperature reaches 165º.
Crispy, flavorful grilled drumsticks as a main dish go well with so many different side dishes. You can whip up a green salad, grab a nice crusty bread from your store’s bakery and have a meal. Or you can get more elaborate with corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, and biscuits. Try a few of these recipes:
You can also serve these grilled chicken legs as an appetizer for your next party!
Dark meat will be the muscles used for walking, running, or flying. In the case of chicken that includes legs and thighs. Wings are actually white meat because chickens don’t use them much. The color comes from a chemical called myoglobin in these muscles and will darken even more as the meat cooks.
Dark meat has more flavor and moisture.
In this recipe, we recommend direct heat, which will result in a nice crispy skin. You will find other recipes where indirect heat is recommended. It depends on your desired end result.
Related Chicken Recipes
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Grilled Chicken Drumsticks with Habanero BBQ Sauce
Habanero BBQ Sauce
- 2 cups Apple Cider Vinegar
- 2 Habanero Peppers minced (always wear gloves!)
- 1 tbsp Minced Onion dried
- 3 tbsp Onion fresh
- 2 Garlic minced
- 1 tbsp Red Pepper Flakes
- 1 tbsp Chili Pepper dried
- 2 tbsp White Pepper
- ½ cup Brown Sugar
- ½ cup Ketchup
- ½ cup Molasses
- 4 lbs Chicken Drumsticks
- ½ cup BBQ Dry Rub
Habanero BBQ Sauce
- Combine vinegar, peppers, onion, garlic, red pepper, chili pepper, white pepper to pan and bring to a boil.
- Add in brown sugar, ketchup and molasses to pan and bring to a boil for 15 minutes, stirring constantly. Turn stove to low and allow to simmer and thicken for 30 minutes.
- Turn off the stove and allow to cool.
- Two options for using sauce. Serve as is or use blender/food processor to blend AFTER IT COOLS ONLY to make the sauce smooth from the onion and peppers.
- Heat up grill to 450 degrees. If you have a GrillGrate, this is the time to use it. If not, you can cook straight over the coals.
- Apply rub to drumsticks and place them on the grill over direct heat.
- Grill them until they are close to the internal temperature of 165 degrees. This takes about 40-50 minutes, turning every 15-20 minutes. (Always cook to temperature, not time with poultry)
- During the last 10 minutes, brush on the sauce to the drumsticks. Remove drumsticks when internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.