Grilled Barbecued Chicken Legs | Kitchen Explorers | PBS Food

Grilled Barbecued Chicken Legs


Barbecued chicken drumsticks are one of my favorite summertime dishes. The deep red caramelized sauce made up of sweet, savory, and smoky flavor is what summer grilling is all about. When barbecued chicken is done right, it can be love at first bite. In terms of popularity, the chicken drumstick often plays second or third fiddle to the breast. But the kid in me loves eating the drumstick – especially when it is covered in barbecue sauce. Who can resist licking the sticky sweet smoky sauce from their fingertips when enjoying barbecue chicken right off the grill? Impossible.

If you’ve ever tried grilling barbecued drumsticks straight from the package to the grill, then you may have experienced love at first sight but not at first bite. I remember being a newlywed 13 years ago and my husband flexing his barbecue skills at the grill. When he plated these beautifully deep red chicken legs which were charred just right, I was so excited to dig in and eat. That is until I bit into raw chicken. My excitement deflated into confusion and a form of hanger (hunger + anger). Seriously, how long does it take to grill chicken? You would think 15-20 minutes on the grill would suffice, but no… not even close.

Due to the thick bone in drumsticks, this part of the chicken takes a lot more time to cook. In fact, much longer than a large piece of boneless chicken breast. However, if you are willing to invest some time in preparing drumsticks you will be rewarded handsomely.


The key to great barbecued chicken legs is to soak them in a brine (salt bath) for 3-4 hours. The brine is made up of water, salt, sugar, and a touch of apple cider vinegar. Salt not only flavors the meat but it also helps to break down the muscle and tenderize the meat allowing the meat to soak up water producing a flavorful and moist piece of meat. The sugar helps balance the saltiness of the brine.



Brining and par-roasting the chicken in the oven then finishing them off on the grill on medium-low heat is my secret to great grilled chicken. I cooked them on the grill already basted with my favorite barbecue sauce just long enough for it to caramelize and char nicely. If you try grilling legs with sauce for more than 10 minutes you can (and likely will) burn and overcook the chicken.

My whole family loves eating grilled barbecued chicken drumsticks, and I know your family will love eating them too. Enjoy!


Grilled Barbecued Chicken Legs

A crowd family pleasing recipe. The secret to amazing grilled barbecued chicken legs is in the brine and par-roasting method. Never overcook or burn chicken legs again!



  • Brine Ingredients:
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups ice cubes
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • Ingredients for Grilled Barbecue Chicken Legs:
  • Approximately 8 cups brine
  • 4 lbs chicken drumsticks
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce


  1. To make the brine, bring 2 cups of water, salt, and vinegar to a boil in a medium pot then turn off the heat.  Stir the brine solution until all the salt and sugar has dissolved.  Add the remaining water, and ice cubes to cool down the brine solution.
  2. Once the brine solution is at room temperature, add the chicken legs.  Add more water if necessary so the chicken is completely submerged in brine.
  3. Cover the pot with a lid and refrigerate the chicken for at least 3-4 hours.
  4. One hour before you are ready to serve dinner, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  5. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and rinse the legs with water and pat each one dry with a paper towel.
  6. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.  Grease the foil with olive oil.  Place the chicken legs in a single layer unto the baking sheet.  Drizzle the chicken with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and massage each piece until each one is coated with oil.
  7. Lightly season the chicken with salt and pepper.
  8. Bake the chicken for 40 minutes.
  9. 10 minutes before the chicken is ready to come out of the oven, preheat an outdoor grill to high heat.  Prepare the grill by carefully pouring a tablespoons of olive oil onto a folded paper towel.  Using heat proof tongs, grease the grill grate with the paper towel, oil side down.
  10. When the chicken has baked for 40 minutes, baste it completely with barbeque sauce on all sides.
  11. Place the chicken on the hot grill and reduce the heat to medium-low or to an indirect heat spot on the grill.  Close the lid and cook the chicken for 7 minutes on each side until the sauce has caramelized and there are dark grill marks on the chicken.
  12. Total time on the grill should be no longer than 15 minutes.
  13. Serve immediately.

Prep Time: 4 Hours

Cook Time: 55 Minutes

Total Time: 5-6 Hours

Alice-Currah-169x215Alice Currah is the publisher of popular food blog, Savory Sweet Life. Her approachable everyday recipes are accompanied by beautiful step by step photos and have been featured online at Martha Stewart, Real Simple, The Pioneer Woman, Epicurious, Bon Appetit, Saveur, iVillage and many more. In March 2010, featured Alice as one of “Eight of the Very Best Food Bloggers.” You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

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