Biting into a smoked chicken leg brings back all the warm fuzzies of childhood with all of the sophisticated taste of an adult. It’s the best of both worlds in one bite. Our recipe for smoked drumsticks is perfect for a crowd or dinner for two.
🍽️ Why This Works
Fast | You can expect to finish smoking your drumsticks in about two hours or less.
Incredible Smoke Flavor | The size and thickness of the meat will allow the smoke to fully permeate the chicken and amp up the flavor.
Fun | Everyone loves a chicken drumstick. A perfect finger food, the chicken leg is easy to eat, full of rich dark meat, and cooks perfectly tender without drying out in the smoker.
📝 Ingredient Notes
Chicken Legs – Plan on two to three chicken legs per person. Make a few extra because these are very popular!
Dry Rub – Use your favorite! We used Spiceology Black and Bleu if you want something new to try.
Dipping Sauces – There are so many to choose from: blue cheese, honey mustard, ranch, BBQ sauce, sweet and sour sauce, or teriyaki, to name a few options.
⏲️ Equipment and Tools
Smoker – You can use a gas, charcoal, or pellet smoker such as a Traeger. Other types of smokers will also work. I used my Big Green Egg with a plate setter. Turn off the center burners if using a gas grill or a charcoal grill. You’ll also need a smoker box for the wood chips or chunks.
Apple Wood Chips – This is a mild fruity wood that plays nicely with poultry, fish, pork, and cheese. It’s a great neutral wood to keep on hand.
Grilling Tongs – Chicken legs are small and will roll easily. You will need tongs to move them around or take them off the grill grate. I recommend the grilling kind because the long handles will help prevent singed arm hair.
Step One: Preheat your grill for indirect heat and pat your chicken legs dry with a paper towel. We used apple wood chunks for smoke, a favorite for poultry.
Step Two: Season with your favorite dry rub. Finding and trying new rubs is addicting!
Step Three: When the smoker reaches the desired temperature, place all of the legs on the grill grate.
Step Four: Smoke until the internal temperature is 160ºF in the thickest part of the drumstick. Remove from the smoker.
Step Five: Heat the grill to about 400ºF and place the legs on the grate for about 2 minutes per side to sear them. This will make the skin crispy.
Step Six: Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes. Optionally, tent with aluminum foil. Serve with dipping sauce or toss them in your favorite sauce.
❗ Recipe Tips and Tricks
Pat dry the chicken legs using paper towels to avoid excess moisture. This will help the smoke penetrate, help the meat cook evenly, and will also help ensure you end up with a nice crispy skin once you put them on the grill.
You can even air-dry the chicken legs in the fridge overnight if you like. Season the drumsticks with the dry rub and place them on a cooling rack and then on a baking sheet and place them in the refrigerator to dry if you choose this approach.
Make sure you place your wireless instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of one chicken leg. The probe shouldn’t touch the bone. This will allow you to get the most accurate temperature read.
🧑🍳 Storage and Reheating
Keep leftover chicken legs in the refrigerator for 3-4 days after they are cooked. Reheat them fast in a skillet or throw them back on the grill. Toss reheated legs in your favorite sauce.
If you prefer to use the leg meat in a new recipe, remove the meat from the bone and store it in an airtight container for up to two days in the refrigerator or up to three months in the freezer.
I don’t recommend freezing cooked chicken legs with the bone since this will make safe reheating difficult.
Toss your chicken legs in seasoning using the bag method. Place all of the legs in a large plastic bag, add dry rub, seal the bag, and shake until all of the chicken is coated.
Season the chicken legs the night before you plan to smoke them for a dry brine effect that infuses the meat with flavor.
Additions and Substitutions
These smoked chicken drumsticks can be a new experience every time if you season them differently.
You can even create new spice blends for your dry rub. Here are some common dry rub ingredients that will work great for chicken. I’m sure you have at least some of them in your pantry:
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Brown sugar
- Cayenne pepper
- Chili flakes
- Dried thyme
- Dried oregano
- Dried sage
After you pull the crispy smoked chicken drumsticks off the grill, toss them with your favorite barbecue sauce. You are going to love the result.
While there are many store-bought options, homemade sauces are so easy to make and totally worth the small effort. Looking for some heat? Go for this sweet and spicy BBQ sauce for chicken. Try our bourbon cherry BBQ sauce to enjoy some tangy flavors.
Whiskey BBQ sauce will also amp up the flavors in your smoked chicken legs. Last but not least, this smoked pumpkin bourbon BBQ sauce will have you enjoy the scent of fall perfectly blended with intense smokiness.
Place the smoked chicken in a mixing bowl and add the sauce. Cover it with a pot lid or kitchen plate. Shake until the legs are evenly coated. Remove them from the bowl and repeat until all of them are evenly coated in sauce.
This protein is fabulous with almost anything, and air fryer fries are one of the easiest traditional choices. You can also pair these smoked chicken drums with a smoked or grilled side dish for a true BBQ feast like smoked sweet potatoes, grilled mac and cheese, and grilled baked beans.
During summer, some of our favorite BBQ chicken sides are grilled corn on the cob in foil, grilled sweet potatoes, and grilled pineapple slices. It’s also a perfect time to pair your BBQ meats with this grilled corn and black bean salsa, or a salad like the grilled peach and arugula salad.
More Smoked Chicken Recipes
Use a similar approach for smoked chicken wings, smoked chicken thighs, and smoked chicken quarters. Plan on six whole wings per person. The wings will smoke faster, but your internal temperature goal remains the same.
When you’re in a rush, you can still smoke the whole bird and reduce the smoking time if you flatten the bird. You can see how we did it in our smoked spatchcock chicken recipe.
❓ Recipe FAQ
2 – 2½ hours. Your chicken needs to smoke until it reaches an internal temperature of 160ºF. The time it takes to reach a safe temperature depends on several variables. How thick are the chicken legs? How constant is your smoker’s temperature? How cold was the chicken when you started? Use a wireless internal meat thermometer for best results because you do not want to overcook them.
250ºF is the temperature we use. This level of heat sets a nice pace for getting the meat smoked without drying it out.
Smoke on indirect heat at 250ºF until the meat reaches 160ºF internal temperature. Then remove the drumsticks from the smoker and finish them off on a hot grill heated to 400ºF to crisp up the skin and finish off the legs. If you are using your grill as your smoker, remove the chicken legs to bump up the heat to 400ºF and then place the meat on direct heat to crisp them up.
No. You should remove the meat from the bones and freeze the meat. Freezing the meat on the bone is possible but makes reheating more difficult.
Always smoked chicken based on target internal temperature, not time. The meat is perfectly cooked when it reaches 165ºF but you can remove from the grill at 160ºF, as carryover cooking will increase the internal temp while it rests.
Other ways to ensure the chicken meat won’t be dry is to use a marinade, a dry brine, or a wet brine like we used for our smoked Cornish hens. All these methods work very well for tenderizing meat.
Yes. Let the chicken air dry for at least 1 hour before smoking. This will help the smoke better stick to the bird’s surface. If your goal is crispy skin, season the chicken with your favorite dry rub and let it sit on a baking sheet with a wire rack for 24 hours in the fridge uncovered. During this time, the chicken will dry brine and the skin will become a little dehydrated.
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Smoked Chicken Legs
- 12 Chicken Legs
- ¼ cup Dry Rub we used Spiceology Black and Bleu
- Dipping Sauce optional
- Set up smoker for indirect heat for 250°F. We used Apple wood chunks for the smoke.
- Remove the chicken legs from the refrigerator and pat them dry with paper towels. Sprinkle the dry rub evenly over all sides of the legs, or use a gallon Ziploc bag and coat the drumsticks using the shaking method.
- When the smoker reaches desired temperature, place all of the legs on the grill grate and smoke until internal temperature is 160°F. Remove from the smoker.
- Heat up the grill to about 400°F and place the legs on the grate for two minutes per side to sear. This will cause the skin to get nice and crispy!
- Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes. Optionally, tent with aluminum foil. Serve with dipping sauce or toss them in your favorite sauce.