Smoked Chicken Legs are the perfect go-to meat for outdoor cooking. They take on a ton of smoked flavor, but take half the time to smoke as some meats, like brisket or pork shoulder.
Smoked chicken legs are an age-old favorite that continues to bring joy to our dining tables and backyard gatherings. If you’ve ever been mesmerized by the mouthwatering aroma wafting from a smoker or grill and wondered how you could replicate that scrumptious taste at home, you’ve come to the right place.
In this blog post, we will embark on a delicious journey through the art and science of smoking chicken legs. We’ll explore various smoking methods, flavor nuances, and even a couple of secret tips from seasoned pit masters.
Why Chicken Legs Are Great for the Smoker
Smoked chicken lets are a popular and tasty option for cooking on the smoker for several reasons. For one, they are a relatively inexpensive cut of meat, which makes them a great choice for a large gathering or if you are on a budget.
You can easily feed a crowd. And everyone is happy with a nicely smoked chicken leg.
While some cuts of chicken can dry out on the grill, like chicken breasts, the fat in chicken legs (which is the thigh and drumstick) keeps the meat moist and juicy, even when exposed to the high heat of the grill. This means that you can cook the chicken for longer without worrying about it becoming tough or dry.
- Chicken drumsticks – I usually buy these in a large pack, so they are all pretty uniformly shaped. That will ensure they all cook at the same time and some don’t dry out while others take longer to cook.
- Dry Rub: salt, garlic powder, smoked paprika, ground black pepper
» Try this Carolina Gold Sauce on these drumsticks for some extra flavor.
- Smoker – I use a Z Grills 700 series smoker for most of my smoking, though I also have a Traeger grill. You can use whatever smoker you have – they all work the same.
- Wood pellets – There are many types of pellets available. If you’ve already got pellets in your smoker, use whatever you have. I really like Hickory pellets for chicken.
- Meat thermometer – Many smokers have a thermometer built in, but if yours doesn’t, get an instant-read thermometer. I love this Thermapen.
Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Grill
For this recipe, I used my Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Grill, which is a new offering from the kitchen appliance brand that makes our beloved favorites, the Ninja MaxXL Air Fryer and the Ninja Creami. The Woodfire Grill is a portable outdoor grill with 7 functions: grill, smoke, air fry, bake, roast, broil, and dehydrate.
Why I Like It
- It imparts an amazing amount of woodfire flavor into the food with just 1/2 cup of pellets.
- It’s incredibly fast and efficient.
- It cooks faster and with more smoker flavor than my full-size smoker – by far.
- There’s no guessing, especially with the built-in temperature probe available on the Pro version.
- The food comes out with a perfect crispy or seared exterior that’s both gorgeous and super tasty.
- It’s very portable and can be set up anywhere on a sturdy surface with a power outlet nearby.
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What Temperature Should Chicken Legs Be Smoked At?
We are pretty passionate about this discussion. Everyone has their own idea of what temperature you should smoke meats, like chicken, at. We have ours. It’s 225°F. You can read our full article about this subject, if you want to learn more.
The reason we choose 225°F for smoking chicken is because it’s low enough that the chicken has time to soak up a lot of smoke flavor and aroma. Since chicken cooks relatively quickly, if you turn it up to 250°F, you might find that the chicken is done before it’s had much chance to take on smoke.
How Long Does It Take to Smoke Chicken Legs?
To smoke your chicken legs, it will take around 2 hours at 225°F. You will need to make sure to flip them once during smoking so they cook evenly on all sides.
It’s important to use a meat thermometer to ensure the chicken is cooked through and safe to eat. The internal temperature of the chicken should reach 175°F when tested at the thickest part of the meat, without touching the bone.
If you don’t test them with a thermometer, it’s very easy to undercook drumsticks. They will end up being slightly pink in the middle or when you poke them with a fork or knife, the juices will run pink.
How to Smoke Chicken Legs
- Preheat your smoker to 225° F.
- Mix together all of the seasonings and season the leg pieces. You might also like this dry rub recipe for chicken. It is one of our favorites.
- Place the legs on the smoker and cook for about 2 hours, flipping them once during smoking, until the internal temperature reads 175° F. If you want to baste them with BBQ sauce, you can start doing that when the internal temp reaches 165° F. This will keep the sauce from scorching.
- Remove the legs from the smoker and allow them to rest for about 10 minutes before serving. I like to tent them on a plate with some tinfoil to keep them nice and warm.
Cooking Temperature for Chicken
To ensure that chicken is cooked safely and properly, it should reach an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C). Using a food thermometer, insert it into the thickest part of the meat without touching the bone to accurately measure the internal temperature.
Chicken breasts, being leaner and containing less fat, cook relatively quickly and can become dry if overcooked, so you’d want to remove it from the grill when it reaches 160°F, then rest it so it reaches165°F.
On the other hand, chicken thighs have a higher fat content, which means they can be cooked longer without drying out and are often more forgiving in terms of cooking time.
To ensure meat at the bone is no longer pink, you’d want to cook bone-in pieces, like thighs and wings, to 165°F and let it rest to come up to 170°F.
Thermapen ONE (read our review)
» Reading in one second or less
» Accuracy of ± 0.5°
» 5-year warranty
» Auto-rotate display; motion-sensing
» Insanely long battery life (2000 hrs)
Tips for Smoking Chicken Legs
- It’s best not to use a dry rub that contains sugar since they will be under direct heat on the grill and that sugar can easily burn and scorch the outside of your drumsticks.
- Avoid opening the lid of the smoker too often while smoking, as this can cause the temperature to drop and result in longer cooking times. It will also cause the smoke to dissipate and you really want all the smoke to be concentrated on these chicken legs.
- For extra crispy skin, put the chicken legs on the grill at a high heat, like 425°F for a few minutes to crisp up the skin.
If you’re storing the chicken in the fridge, place it in an airtight container or wrap it tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil to prevent it from drying out. Store the chicken in the fridge for up to three to four days.
If you’re storing the chicken in the freezer, place it in a freezer-safe container or zip-top bag. Frozen grilled chicken can last up to three to four months in the freezer.
You can reheat leftover chicken drumsticks in the oven for 15-20 minutes or in the microwave.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to smoke chicken legs?
To smoke chicken legs, it will take around 2 hours at 225°F. You will need to make sure to flip them once during smoking so they cook evenly on all sides. It’s important to use a meat thermometer to ensure the chicken is cooked through and safe to eat. The internal temperature of the chicken should reach 175°F when tested at the thickest part of the meat, without touching the bone.
What is the best temperature to smoke chicken legs at?
Everyone has their own idea of what temperature you should smoke meats, like chicken, at. We have ours. It’s 225°F. The reason we choose 225°F for smoking chicken is because it’s low enough that the chicken has time to soak up a lot of smoke flavor and aroma. Since chicken cooks relatively quickly, if you turn it up to 250°F, you might find that the chicken is done before it’s had much chance to take on smoke.
How do I get crispy skin on my smoked chicken legs?
For extra crispy skin, put the chicken legs on the grill at a high heat, like 425°F for a few minutes to crisp up the skin.
Do I need to remove the skin from the chicken legs before smoking them?
You do not need to remove the skin from the chicken legs before cooking. Leaving the skin on helps keep the chicken moist and tender because it holds the juices in.
What to Serve on the Side
For sides, there is an endless array of salads and veggies that would make a good choice. Here are a few of our favorites:
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Smoked Chicken Legs
- 8 chicken legs thighs and/or drumsticks
- 1/4 cup (18 g) chicken dry rub
- 1/4 cup (59 ml) BBQ sauce
- Season the chicken with the dry rub. Allow it to rest for 10 minutes while you preheat the smoker to 250° F. Don’t forget to stock the hopper with your preferred pellets (we like apple wood pellets for chicken).
- Place the chicken on the smoker. Insert a temperature probe, if you have one. Close the lid and let it smoke for about 2 hours, until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 175° F.
- Remove the chicken from the smoker and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
- If you want a crispy skin, put the chicken directly on a hot grill for 3-4 minutes to crispy it up.
- Serve with BBQ sauce on the side, or baste the chicken with the BBQ sauce 10 minutes before pulling it off the smoker, depending on your preference.
🥧 If you’re interested in more great recipes, I share all my favorite recipes at A Food Lover’s Kitchen, Instant Pot recipes over at A Pressure Cooker Kitchen, air fryer recipes at Air Fry Anytime, and cocktails and drinks at Savored Sips. Check it out today!
Laura is a passionate home cook and grill enthusiast who has spent years perfecting her culinary skills, with a particular focus on grilling techniques and flavor combinations. Her fascination with the grill, smoke, and the mouthwatering results they produce has led her on an exciting journey to discover the best methods for grilling delicious and unforgettable meals.