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Barbecued Chicken Legs

Scott Phillips

Servings: 6

The secrets to perfect barbecued chicken are to use dark-meat cuts like drumsticks and thighs, to cook the chicken slowly over indirect heat so the outside doesn’t burn before the inside cooks through, and to add the sauce just at the end to glaze the chicken (watch the video for step-by-step instructions). If you have a favorite barbecue sauce, feel free to substitute it.


For the sauce

  • 1 cup unsweetened apple juice
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbs. pure maple syrup
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. hot sauce, such as Tabasco
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

For the rub

  • 1 Tbs. light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. granulated garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

For the chicken

  • 6 chicken thighs
  • 6 chicken drumsticks
  • 2 cups hickory or applewood chips, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes and drained

Nutritional Information

  • Calories (kcal) : 600
  • Fat Calories (kcal): 280
  • Fat (g): 31
  • Saturated Fat (g): 8
  • Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 6
  • Monounsaturated Fat (g): 13
  • Cholesterol (mg): 320
  • Sodium (mg): 1300
  • Carbohydrates (g): 24
  • Fiber (g): 1
  • Protein (g): 55


Make the sauce and rub

  • In a medium saucepan, boil the apple juice and vinegar over medium-high heat until reduced by half, 5 to 7 minutes. Lower the heat to medium low and add the remaining sauce ingredients. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, mix the rub ingredients.

Grill the chicken

  • Trim any excess fat from the chicken, and season the chicken evenly with all of the rub.
  • Prepare the grill for indirect cooking over medium-low heat (300°F to 350°F): For a charcoal grill, ignite a chimney starter full of lump charcoal and burn until the edges of the coals look ashy, about 15 minutes. Carefully dump out the coals and use tongs to spread them over half of the charcoal grate. Put the cooking grate in place, close the lid, and let the coals burn down to about 350°F. For a gas grill, turn all the burners on high and close the lid to heat the grill. Then turn off all but one burner to create a cool zone and adjust that burner to maintain a temperature of 300°F to 350°F.
  • Brush the cooking grate clean. Scatter the wood chips over the lit charcoal, or for a gas grill put them in a smoker box, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • When you see smoke pouring out of the grill, arrange the chicken pieces skin side up over the cooler part of the grill. Close the lid and smoke the chicken for 45 minutes. (For a charcoal grill, if the temperature drops below 300°F, remove the chicken and scatter a layer of new coals on top of the old ones.)
  • Move the chicken to the hot side of the grill, and grill, uncovered, turning and moving the chicken regularly to manage flare-ups, until lightly charred on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes.

  • Move the chicken back to the cooler side of the grill, brush with a thin layer of sauce, close the lid, and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted in a thick part of the chicken registers 170°F, 10 to 15 minutes, brushing occasionally with more sauce. (The drumsticks usually take a little longer than the thighs.) Serve hot or at room temperature, with the remaining sauce on the side.

Make Ahead Tips

You can make the sauce up to a week ahead. Refrigerate in a covered container.


Rate or Review

Reviews (9 reviews)

  • Optera | 07/21/2020

    I never had much luck with bbq'ed chicken, this technique made such a huge difference. The recipe is great as it is, but it works really well as a base to try different rubs/sauces. On a mid-size gas grill, putting the wood chips in a foil packet under the grill on the hot side worked much better then the small cast iron smoker box. Having a good bbq thermometer would make it easier dial in the temperate, but the legs/thighs are forgiving if you're off. I usually only brush the bbq sauce on 1/2 the chicken, as the dry rub alone is really good (add a bit extra).

  • Jess44 | 05/06/2020

    Lord ALMIGHTY was this good! I even skimped and used store bought BBQ sauce and it was still the best BBQ chicken I've ever had. This was only the second time I've ever grilled chicken in my life, it did take quite a while, and I was good and drunk by the time it was done but holy cow was it worth all the screwing around. Please please do this. You won't regret it. A little foil packet of wood chips (unsoaked) worked just as well. Enjoy!

  • gte901m | 01/17/2018

    Excellent! I start the grilling season every year with this. The dry rub and apple/maple BBQ sauce are perfect.

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