Learn how to make the best smoked chicken legs with crispy skin using a Pit Boss pellet grill!
We take you step-by-step through preparing and seasoning your smoked chicken drumsticks, setting up your Pit Boss for the cook, and smoking them to perfection.
Alright gang, we've now done our Pit Boss Whole Smoked Chicken, Spatchcocked Chicken on the Pellet Grill, Smoked Turkey Legs, juicy Pit Boss Smoked Chicken Breasts, and the always fun and popular Beer Can Chicken.
But today we are keeping it simple and budget friendly with some delicious smoked chicken legs, or drumsticks, right on our trusty Pit Boss pellet grill!
First we are going to do an easy overnight dry brine to make sure they are moist and flavorful and that the skin stays nice and crispy.
Overnight Dry Brining is NOT at must-do if you don't have the time or the desire, but it WILL give you crispy skin on your Pit Boss Smoked Chicken drumsticks.
Then, we will season them up with one our all time favorite BBQ rubs for chicken and smoke them on the Pit Boss with medium heat indirectly until they are perfectly cooked.
Then you can eat your Pit Boss smoked chicken legs crispy and smoked "as-is" or brush on one of our favorite BBQ sauces to finish them off saucy.
How to Get Crispy Skin
The problem with "most" smoked chicken is that while the meat inside gets tender and delicious, the skin is usually a little rubbery and unappetizing.
Smoking your chicken legs at a high enough temperature on the Pit Boss to render out the fat underneath the skin is important, but so is the seasoning and the way you do it.
So if you want the crispiest skin possible at the end, it all starts with dry brining at the beginning.
This is what will separate you from all those wannabe chicken smoking amateurs out there.
It works on all cuts of skin-on chicken...and turkey too.
After rinsing and drying, simply coat the outside of your chicken legs with kosher salt, or your favorite BBQ rub that has already salt in it.
Do NOT use oil to help the rub adhere.
As you apply the rub the skin will start to get more wet as the salt in the rub pulls the moisture up to the surface.
This is all the moisture you need to get the salt or rub to adhere.
Place the chicken drumsticks on a wire rack set on top of a baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight.
We like this wire rack and baking sheet combo because you want maximum airflow around every side of each chicken leg.
This overnight seasoning does 3 things:
- That salty moisture that formed on the surface will work its way BACK into the meat to help flavor the interior of the chicken legs.
- The salt inside will help the chicken retain moisture and not dry out while it smokes on the Pit Boss.
- It pulls moisture OUT of the skin allowing it to dry out before you smoke it and therefore crisp up better while it cooks.
Moist meat, and dry crispy skin.
Exactly what we want.
The next day the skin should look kind of powdery and very dry.
This is good.
It means the salt has penetrated into the meat where you want it to be and has taken all the moisture with it.
The skin will now crisp up nicely on the Pit Boss while the inside meat stays moist.
In the morning, if there is still A LOT of salt or seasoning on the outside, wipe it off with a dry or only slightly damp paper towel.
If you need to add MORE BBQ rub, go ahead and do this before putting them on the Pit Boss.
Pro Tip: DO NOT use cooking oil to help additional rub adhere to the chicken skin. The more oil you apply, the less the skin will crisp up when it cooks.
If really are having a hard time getting your BBQ rub to adhere, use the smallest amount of cooking oil possible to make it stick.
"What about Spraying or Spritzing my Pit Boss Smoked Chicken Drumsticks?"
Don't be tempted to spray butter or apple juice or cola or any of the other spritzes you might see cooks use on BBQ cooking videos.
No basting, and no spraying poultry.
Not if you want crispy skin.
If you want to put BBQ sauce on your Pit Boss Smoked Chicken Drumsticks, great.
But it goes on at the very end, AFTER the skin has already gotten nice and crispy.
If you put BBQ sauce on while the chicken skin is still raw it will NEVER crisp up.
Our Favorite Rubs
Now, you can use ANY of your favorite BBQ rubs for smoked chicken.
Since we are only smoking these at 300°F we don't need to worry about burning any sugary rubs.
So choose any rub you like and sprinkle it on generously on all sides of each chicken drumstick.
Again, no need to oil them up, this will just inhibit the skin from getting crispy.
Three Little Pigs Touch of Cherry is one of our personal favorite rubs for smoked chicken, and their Kansas City Championship Rub will give you a good hit of garlic, onion, and some heat if you like more of those flavors.
You can always mix it in with a more balanced rub like Blues Hog if you just want to add a little of those flavors.
If you want a quality rub without ANY sugar, we are big fans of Bad Byron's Butt Rub Seasoning.
Although we typically use it on cuts of beef and steaks where we are going for a more savory flavor, there is no real reason you can't apply it to your Pit Boss smoked chicken drumsticks if you are looking for big flavor without all the sugar.
Homemade "In a Pinch" Rub
Sometimes, you forgot you ran out of your favorite rub, or don't have all the ingredients on hand to make a complex one from scratch.
If you just want to get a good classic BBQ rub on your Pit Boss smoked chicken legs before throwing them in, then we've got you covered with this simple rub recipe with seasonings most people have on hand in the pantry:
- Dark Brown Sugar
- Coarse Ground Black Pepper
- Kosher Salt (Or ½ tablespoon table salt, go easy, you can always add more salt later)
- Chili Powder
- Granulated Garlic or Garlic Powder (adjust to taste)
- Onion Powder (adjust to taste)
- Cayenne Pepper (optional)
Mix thoroughly, (using a re-usable plastic shaker works best), and then sprinkle directly on your chicken.
If you don't want that much sugar, you can replace with more paprika, smoked paprika. or increase the amount of chili powder and other savory seasonings.
Our Favorite BBQ Sauces
Blues Hog again wins the day here with their amazing lineup of sauces. While their rubs are great, their sauces are WORLD CLASS.
Their Original BBQ Sauce is VERY thick, VERY sweet, and incredibly heavy on flavor, so a little goes a LONG way.
In fact, we actually like to cut it with their Tennessee Red Sauce, which is a thinner, more vinegar based sauce, that is our hands down favorite sauce to use on our Pit Boss pulled pork as described here.
You can pick up both and mix them like we do, or mix some Blues Hog Original in with one of your other favorites (we'd suggest more savory sauces to balance the sugar, like this one from Aaron Franklin.)
Our Favorite Wood Pellets
Poultry, like fish, absorbs smoke very quickly and a little goes a long way.
The best woods for smoking chicken include the fruitwoods like apple, cherry, and peach, but also the milder smoking woods like pecan, oak and alder.
Mesquite and hickory will give a very aggressive smoke flavor and should only be used if mixed in with some of the other types mentioned above.
For the best results, store your unused pellets in a sealed room temperature container like this 20 lb pellet container rather than in the Pit Boss hopper outside.
Pellets do not last forever, but will definitely last a LOT longer if stored indoors in a quality airtight container.
Setting up the Pit Boss
We have previously covered how to season a Pit Boss, how to start a Pit Boss, as well as how to troubleshoot the smoke level of your pellet grill.
So if you need a more in-depth review on how to use your Pit Boss for the first time, check those articles out first!
You will need to watch both your cooking temperature and internal temperature carefully when smoking the chicken drumsticks on your Pit Boss.
We recommend setting up the grill or smoker for indirect heat to cook at 300°F.
Any lower, your smoked chicken legs will not only take forever, but the skin likely won't crisp up.
Any higher, and you risk burning the sugar in your BBQ rub.
If you find the skin still isn't getting crispy enough for your liking when cooked at 300°F, smoke the chicken at this temperature until the internal temperature is roughly 160°F.
Then, crank the heat on the Pit Boss for the last 10-15 minutes and bring the cooking temperature up to 350-375°F to really crisp the skin.
This is what's so great about the Pit Boss!
If brought to this range for only the last 10-15 minutes, you should avoid burning your sugary rub but still render most of the fat out of the chicken skin.
However, if you are using a no-sugar rub like Bad Byron's, feel free to smoke the chicken legs the whole time at 325-350°F.
Target Internal Temperature
You HAVE to use a good instant read meat thermometer to know where the internal temperature is of your smoked chicken legs on the Pit Boss.
If your smoked chicken drumsticks are big enough, you'll could use a good leave in probe thermometer like the Thermopro as well as a second instant read thermometer to spot check as you get close to pulling them off the Pit Boss.
If you don't yet own an instant read thermometer, ThermoPro makes a good one of these too.
While we have used and recommended ThermoPro for years, lately we have also become big fans of the MEATER leave in thermometer.
It has a 165 foot Bluetooth range and works right with your smartphone so you don't need to carry a separate controller around with you.
It has a free app that is constantly being updated and even has an algorithm to predict how much longer your type of meat will take to cook based on cooking temperature, target temperature, current internal temperature.
It's like a GPS for your meat!
We are going to bring the internal temperature of our smoked chicken legs up to 175*F.
Since the smoked chicken legs are dark meat, they need to cook up a little higher than say a white meat chicken breast that only needs to hit 165°F internally.
We also think the meat just tastes better when cooked that high as all the fat renders out completely.
Make sure not to touch the bone with your instant read thermometer when checking your temperatures.
You'll want to monitor the internal temperature of the chicken thighs closely for doneness.
Remember, we are bringing them all the way up to 175°F on your instant read thermometer.
In a 300°F Pit Boss, it will take roughly 1 to 1.5 hours to smoke chicken drumsticks.
We are attempting to slow cook them and crisp up the skin at the same time, and it takes time for that tougher dark meat to get fall off the bone tender and all the fat to render out from under the skin.
Now, if you crank the temperature up higher they will obviously cook faster, but the meat may be drier and they won't absorb as much smoke flavor.
Watch your sugar based rub for burning as well if you go above the 300-325°F range.
Pro Tip: If you want the crispiest skin possible, avoid basting or spraying the chicken legs with anything while they are smoking.
Keep the lid closed as much as possible, and use the temperature probes to tell you when they are done.
If you're going to apply a BBQ sauce at the end, wait as long as possible until the skin has fully crisped up. If you add sauce before the skin gets crispy, IT WILL NEVER GET CRISPY at that point.
We've all had BBQ chicken with rubbery, flabby, skin soaked in BBQ sauce.
This is because they did not allow the skin to crisp up before gently applying the sauce.
Don't serve flabby chicken.
Serve your smoked chicken drumsticks while they are still hot, with some extra warmed up BBQ sauce on the side if your guests wish.
Smoked chicken legs are great on their own, or you can pair them with our maple bourbon smoked pineapple for a Hawaiian theme.
If you want something a little richer, check out our Sticky Smoked Sweet Potatoes to cook and serve alongside your Pit Boss smoked chicken.
Pit Boss Smoked Chicken Legs
- Pit Boss Pellet Grill
- Wood Pellets preferably a fruitwood like apple or cherry; or oak
- Large Baking Sheet with Wire Rack
- Paper Towels
- Instant Read Thermometer
- Basting brush
- Aluminum Foil Tray
- 12 Chicken Drumsticks
- 4 tablespoon Kosher Salt
- 1 tablespoon Course Ground Black Pepper
- 2 tablespoon Three Little Pigs BBQ Rub or your favorite BBQ rub for chicken or our "In a Pinch" Recipe Below
- ¼ Cup Blues Hog Original BBQ Sauce
- ¼ Cup Blues Hog Tennessee Red BBQ Sauce
"In a Pinch" BBQ Rub
- 2 tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar
- 2 tablespoon Paprika
- 1 tablespoon Kosher Salt
- ½ tablespoon Course Ground Black Pepper
- ½ tablespoon Chili Powder
- ½ tablespoon Garlic Powder
- 1 teaspoon Onion Powder
- ¼ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper optional
- Remove the chicken drumsticks from their packaging and rinse under cold running water. Pay dry with paper towels.12 Chicken Drumsticks
Dry Brine Overnight
- Place the chicken legs on a wire rack placed on top of a baking sheet.
- Mix together the 4 tablespoon Kosher salt and 1 tablespoon pepper, or use your favorite BBQ rub, and sprinkle generously over all sides of each chicken drumstick. DO NOT use cooking oil to adhere or skin will not get crispy.4 tablespoon Kosher Salt, 1 tablespoon Course Ground Black Pepper
- Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 4-6 hours.
Remove the Next Day
- Take the chicken legs out of the refrigerator and wipe off any excess salt still remaining on the outside with a damp paper towel.
- Mix the "In a Pinch" BBQ rub ingredients together and apply some to all sides of the chicken thighs. Or use some more of your favorite BBQ rub for chicken.2 tablespoon Three Little Pigs BBQ Rub, 2 tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar, 2 tablespoon Paprika, 1 tablespoon Kosher Salt, ½ tablespoon Course Ground Black Pepper, ½ tablespoon Chili Powder, ½ tablespoon Garlic Powder, 1 teaspoon Onion Powder, ¼ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper optional
Start the Pit Boss
- Add your chosen pellets to the hopper, start the Pit Boss pellet grill and put it on the "Smoke" setting.
- Once the Pit boss begins to produce thick white smoke, let it run for about 5-7 minutes until the smoke turns more of a clearish blue color. This means the fire rod has fully heated up to burn the pellets more cleanly.
- Set the temperature on the control panel to 300° and clean the grill grates with a good grill brush and close the lid.
Smoke the Drumsticks
- Place the chicken legs on the Pit Boss. You can flip and rotate for even cooking as needed. You can even leave them on the wire rack if you wish.
- Mix the two types of Blues Hog BBQ sauce together in a small bowl, and set aside¼ Cup Blues Hog Original BBQ Sauce, ¼ Cup Blues Hog Tennessee Red BBQ Sauce
- Continue smoking the chicken legs, until the internal temperature reaches about 160°F internally. This may take 1 to 1.5 hours.
- Once the skin on the chicken legs is crispy, gently baste the sauce on with a basting brush. Close the lid and continue cooking.
- Once the internal temperature of the smoked chicken drumsticks reaches 175°F, remove them from the Pit Boss and place on a serving tray
- Serve immediately with extra sauce if desired.