Are you someone eats a lot of chicken? I admit to eating chicken at least 4 nights a week. The trick for me is to continually find creative ways to cook chicken. Of course, grilling and smoking chicken is a preference when the weather is nice.
Smoking wings and bone-in split breasts are family favorites. Being partial to dark meat, I think smoking whole chicken legs is an awesome way to go. I am talking about smoking chicken thighs and legs still in one piece. These are fairly large portions. But, there is so much more flavor when you smoke the legs whole.
Brining isn’t necessarily required for smoked chicken legs. Dark meat is naturally moister and less lean than white meat. However, it doesn’t hurt to try a simple smoked chicken legs brine a few hours prior to cooking. The brine will add even more moisture and flavor.
Pro tip #1: When brining whole chicken legs, 3 to 5 hours is all the time that is needed.
Chicken legs are reasonably priced portions of poultry, making them a great option for feeding a crowd or for loading up your smoker for a week of chicken dinners. You can even shred the meat off the bone and freeze it to use in soups and casseroles later.
Pro tip #2: If you can afford to spend a little more on poultry, look for free range and organic. The flavor and texture of the meat is astonishing compared to commercially raised chickens.
The recipe described here is one of the easiest smoker recipes. So, don’t over think it. These legs are amazing. The instructions are for smoked chicken legs on a Traeger pellet grill. This will also work on an electric, gas, or charcoal smoker. Just follow the manufacturer’s directions for preparing your smoker. If using charcoal, be mindful of the flame and the temperature.
Amazing Smoked Chicken Legs: a Step-by-Step Guide
This recipe is for brined and then seasoned smoked whole chicken legs. You will need approximately 15 minutes to prep, 4 hours to brine, and 2-1/2 hours to cook to an internal temperature of 165°F. This recipe will easily serve 8 people.
Tools and Equipment:
- Large glass or plastic container
- Whisk or large spoon
- Plastic wrap
- Paper towels
- Sheet pan
- Mixing bowl
- Pellet grill
- Apple or maple wood pellets
- Digital meat thermometer
- Cutting board
- Tin foil
- Carving knife
- 8 whole chicken legs
- 2-1/2 quarts filtered water
- 1/2 cup coarse salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons dried thyme
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons dried basil
- 2 tablespoons dried rosemary
- 4 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Step 1: Pour the water into a large container. Add the salt and sugar and stir until they have both dissolved. Add the peppercorns and bay leaves.
Step 2: Place the chicken legs in the brine mixture. Add more water to cover, if needed. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. Place the container in the refrigerator. Allow the chicken to brine for 4 hours.
Step 3: While the chicken is brining, whisk together the thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary, garlic powder, lemon zest, and cayenne in a small bowl. Set this aside.
Step 4: After 4 hours, remove the chicken legs from the brine and rinse them under cold running water to remove most of the salt. Dry the chicken completely with paper towels and place the legs on a sheet pan. Rub the legs all over with the herb mixture. Set this aside for 30 minutes.
Pro tip #3: The chicken needs to come to room temperature before placing it in the smoker. This will take 30 to 40 minutes.
Step 5: Preheat the Traeger pellet grill. Fill the hopper with enough wood pellets to last for 3 hours. Then, turn the smoker on with the top open until you see a flame, approximately 5 minutes. Close the top. Set the temperature for 250˚F. Preheat the smoker for 10 minutes.
Step 6: Place the legs, skin side up, on the grill rack. If there is a probe thermometer attached, insert it into one of the chicken thighs. Close the lid and smoke for approximately 2-1/2 hours or until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. The skin will have browned.
Step 7: While the chicken is smoking prepare the rest of your meal. Suggestions for beverages and side dishes follow.
Step 8: Remove the cooked chicken to a clean cutting board and loosely cover with foil for approximately 10 minutes before serving.
Step 9: Cut the rested legs to separate the thighs from the drumsticks. Place the leg portions on a platter and serve with the recommended side suggested below.
Smoked chicken legs are intensely flavored. I like pairing these with a classic elbow macaroni salad and a platter of sautéed red, yellow, and green bell peppers with onions. Beverages that compliment the chicken are a dry rosé wine, a creamy ale, or even homemade lemonade.
Elbow Macaroni Salad
- 1 pound box of elbow macaroni
- 2 cups mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups thinly sliced celery
- 1 cup shredded carrots
- 1/2 cup chopped red onion
Step 1: Cook the macaroni according to package directions. Drain and set aside to cool.
Step 2: Whisk together the mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large serving bowl. Add the celery, carrots, and onion. Stir to coat everything with the dressing. Add in the cooled macaroni and toss gently to combine. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator to chill.
Sautéed Peppers and Onions
- 4 bell peppers of different colors, seeded and sliced into strips
- 3 cups sliced Vidalia onions
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Step 1: In a large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes. Add the peppers and cook until the onions are wilted and the peppers are tender and just starting to brown.
Step 2: Season with the salt and pepper and serve.
That was pretty easy. Now you have the tools you need to brine, season, and smoke amazing chicken legs. Remember to keep the legs whole for maximum flavor and juiciness. You can skip the brining step if you are pressed for time. If you do skip it, add salt and pepper to the seasoning mixture.
This tutorial is fit for both the novice and the seasoned smoker. Try this chicken out on friends and family. Make a big batch of these legs so that you have some leftovers for more meals. You can freeze smoked chicken in portions for use in future dishes.