Learn how to make the best smoked chicken leg quarters on ANY grill or smoker, whether its a Traeger or Pit Boss pellet grill, a Masterbuilt electric smoker, or just a simple Weber kettle!
Smoked chicken leg quarters are affordable, easy to make, easy to serve, and delicious!
Let's get started!
We love smoking poultry around here.
Whether it's a Whole Pellet Grill Thanksgiving Turkey, the fool proof Spatchcocked Turkey and Spatchcocked Chicken, Easy Smoked Turkey Legs, our Garlic Butter Injected Smoked Turkey Breast, or the "Are you OUT of your MIND?" Trash Can Turkey. Yes, you read that right. We love chicken and turkey cooked on the grill...or smoker...or trash can.
Today we are keeping it simple with some perfectly smoked chicken leg quarters.
First we are going to do an easy overnight dry brine to make sure they stay moist and flavorful throughout the cook and that the skin gets nice and crispy.
Then, we will season them up with one our all time favorite BBQ rubs for chicken and cook them over medium heat indirectly until perfectly cooked and colored.
Then you can eat them crispy and smoked "as-is" or brush on one of our favorite BBQ sauces to finish them off saucy.
You can do this on your Traeger or Pit Boss pellet grill, a charcoal or gas grill, or even in an electric smoker. We have details for each method below so no one gets left behind today.
Trimming the Chicken
Chicken leg quarters only need a little bit of trimming before smoking them but it makes a BIG difference.
Flip the chicken leg quarters over so the bottoms are exposed and trim away the loose flabby skin that is likely hanging off each one.
This loose skin will never get crispy while tucked under the chicken in the smoker and is best to just discard.
It also exposes more area for our seasoning to get on the bottom of each chicken quarter.
Leave the top skin in place.
We are going to smoke these chicken leg quarters fairly hot so that it gets nice and crispy up top.
A chicken prep method you'll read about a lot is brining.
Wet brining consists of soaking the chicken overnight in a solution that includes salt, water and possibly some aromatics.
But, what does it do? Well, the salt naturally penetrates overnight and helps to not only flavor the meat but help it retain moisture throughout the cooking process.
Do you need to brine your chicken leg quarters before smoking them?
The answer is, it depends.
If you want maximally juicy chicken and you have the time, a brine is a good idea, especially if you have chicken that is not already prebrined from the store.
You can use one of the many brining recipes online (Alton Brown's is a classic) or save a bit of effort with a premade chicken brining solution.
Brining for a good 24 hours before you smoke them will yield more flavorful, juicier chicken leg quarters, so the time in the brine can be worth it.
A much easier way to achieve similar results is by dry brining your chicken leg quarters instead.
Simply coat the TOPs and BOTTOMs of your chicken leg quarters with kosher salt and pepper, and/or your favorite BBQ rub for chicken. (We list out our favorites below).
Store them on a drying rack set on top of a baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight.
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 taken all the moisture with it.
The skin will now crisp up nicely on the pellet grill while the inside meat stays moist.
The day of the cook you can add some crushed herbs or a low salt BBQ rub if you wish, but go easy on adding any additional salty rubs at this point.
With dry brining, you get all the benefits of salt penetration and moisture retention without having to deal with a giant bucket of salty raw chicken water when you're done!
Pro Tip: DO NOT use cooking oil to help your rub adhere to the chicken skin. The more oil you apply, the less the skin will crisp up when it cooks.
The exterior will get a little wet as you first apply the salt and water is drawn out of the chicken up to the salt. This paste is all the moisture you need for the salt or rub to stick to the bird.
Best Store Bought 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 anything you like and sprinkle it on generously on all sides of each chicken leg quarter.
Again, no need to oil them up, this will just inhibit the skin from crisping up.
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 smoked chicken leg quarters 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 smoked chicken leg quarters before throwing them in the smoker, then we've got you covered with this simple rub recipe with seasonings most people have on hand in the pantry:
- Dark Brown Sugar
- Smoked Paprika
- 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.
You can feel free to adjust each ingredient to your own diet and taste preferences.
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.
You can pick up both and mix them like we do, or mix some Blues Hog Original in with one of your other favorites.
In fact, so many professional pitmasters were mixing Blues Hog Original and Tennessee Red that the company actually now makes a Blues Hog Championship Blend of the two popular sauces!
Best Wood Pellets and Wood to Use
For chicken we generally go for a milder smoke flavor by choosing oak or fruitwood pellets, chunks, or chips.
Pecan, apple, beech and cherry all give great results.
We like Bear Mountain brand pellets.
If you're smoking the chicken on a pellet grill but want more smoke flavor, check out our articles on how to use a pellet tube or a smoker firebox. The smoker box uses charcoal and real wood chunks for maximum smoke flavor!
We particularly like apple wood chunks with poultry.
For fun, you can choose your woods seasonally, using beech and cherry in spring and summer and pecan and apple into the fall and winter.
You will need to watch both your cooking temperature and internal temperature carefully when smoking the chicken leg quarters.
We recommend setting up the grill or smoker for indirect heat to cook at 300°F.
This seems to be the best temperature for smoking chicken leg quarters.
Any lower, your smoked chicken leg quarters 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.
However, if you are using a no-sugar rub like Bad Byron's, feel free to smoke the chicken at 325-350°F.
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 165°F.
Then, open all the vents or crank the heat for the last 10-15 minutes and bring the cooking temperature up to 350-375°F to really crisp the skin.
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.
Target Internal Temperature
You HAVE to use a good instant read meat thermometer to know where the internal temperature is of your smoked chicken leg quarters.
If your smoked chicken leg quarters are big enough, you'll want 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 smoker.
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 is extremely accurate and has an incredible 165 foot Bluetooth range and works right with your smartphone so you don't need to carry a separate controller around with you like many other remote thermometers require.
It's got a great 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 leg quarters up to 175°F.
Since the smoked chicken leg quarters are dark meat, being thighs and legs, 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.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke Chicken Leg Quarters?
You'll want to monitor the internal temperature of the chicken leg quarters closely for doneness.
Remember, we are bringing them all the way up to 175°F on your instant read thermometer.
In a 300°F smoker or grill, it will take roughly 1.5-2 hours to smoke your chicken leg quarters.
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.
Depending on the size of your chicken quarters, how consistent your smoker temperature is, the humidity outside, as well a number of other factors, your cooking time may be more or less, so be prepared.
Pro Tip: If you want the crispiest skin possible, avoid basting or spraying the chicken leg quarters 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.
Pro Tip #2: 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 sauce. This is because they did not allow the skin to crisp up before gently applying the sauce.
Don't serve flabby chicken.
Setting up your Grill or Smoker
Vertical or Offset Charcoal Smoker
Fill your firebox or lower charcoal basin with about ¼ of a bag of unlit charcoal and create a small hollowed out depression in the center where you can add your lit briquets.
If your smoker comes with a water pan, like the Weber Smokey Mountain, don't bother filling it. This may inhibit the skin crisping up on our chicken leg quarters.
Light a charcoal chimney about ¼ way with charcoal and wait about 20 minutes for it to fully ignite. You don't want TOO many lit briquettes initially or the temperature will get too high too fast and be unmanageable.
Add the lit briquets to the center depression you created.
Keep the smoker dampers about ½ way to ¾ open until the temperature is up to about 275°F. Then slowly close them down until you are maintaining a temperature of 300°F.
This will obviously take longer on a cold winter day than a hot summer one.
Add 1-2 chunks of smoking wood once the smoker is up to temperature and put your chicken leg quarters on the cooking grates.
Propane and Electric Smokers
Propane and electric options are some of the easiest smokers for beginners to start with.
For Propane: Open your gas valve and light the bottom burner. Adjust it to keep the temperature constant at 300°F.
Need a refresher? Check out our Ultimate Guide to using a Masterbuilt propane smoker here.
For Electric: Plug your electric smoker in and turn the temperature to 300°F.
Do NOT fill the water tray if there is one.
Place your chicken leg quarters on the rack and close the door.
Fill the pellet hopper with your choice of smoking wood pellets.
Plug in the pellet grill and run it through its start up process.
Once it is creating smoke, turn the temperature to 300°F.
When the pellet grill has come up to temperature, place your chicken leg quarters on the grill grates. Make sure your pellet grill is NOT set to DIRECT heat.
Gas or Charcoal Grills
On a charcoal grill you can use wood chunks just like you would in a charcoal smoker.
On a gas grill you will likely need to use a smoker box filled with wood chips, or a pellet tube smoker filled with wood pellets.
Think you need a fancy smoker to smoke food at home? Think again. Great smoked food can be made right on your current gas or charcoal grill.
If you are unfamiliar with these gas grill smoking devices mentioned above, no worries, we have you covered!
In the case of smoked chicken leg quarters, we would opt for the pellet tube smoker since it will provide you with a longer smoking time without needing to refill multiple times like a smoker box.
However, either one will work just fine depending on what you have available.
Set up your gas or charcoal grill for indirect cooking with the burners or a small amount of lit briquets on one side and plan for your chicken to be on the other side.
Keep your vents closed about 75-90% on top and bottom to help maintain your temperature.
Once the temperature of your grill is about 250° F, place your wood chunks, smoker box, or pellet tube smoker over the coals or lit burners and once smoke begins coming out, place your meat on the opposite side.
Carving Chicken Leg Quarters
Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters can be served whole, or you can separate the thigh from the leg to make more manageable for folks to eat with their hands.
Use a good carving knife and wiggle it down to kind of find the joint between the two pieces, then slice back and forth and down to separate.
Looking for some more inspiration for things to smoke?
Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters
- Gas Grill, Pellet Grill, or Smoker
- Wood pellets, chunks, or a pellet tube smoker with pellets or a smoker box with wood chips
- Large Baking Sheet with Wire Rack
- Meat Carving Knife
- Paper Towels
- Instant Read and/or Leave in Probe Thermometer
- Basting brush
- Cutting Board
- 4 Chicken Leg Quarters skin on
- 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)
Wash and Trim the Chicken Leg Quarters
- Remove the chicken leg quarters from their packaging and rinse under cold running water. Pay dry with paper towels.
- Flip each chicken leg quarter upside down and carefully remove the excess skin on the bottom of each one with a good meat carving knife
Dry Brine Overnight
- Place the chicken leg quarters 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 the tops and bottoms of each chicken leg quarter. DO NOT use cooking oil to adhere or skin will not get crispy.
- Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 4-6 hours.
Remove the Next Day
- Take the chicken leg quarters 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 both sides of the chicken leg quarters. Or use your favorite BBQ rub for chicken.
Prepare the Grill or Smoker
- Light or turn on your smoker, grill or pellet grill and set up the temperature to 300°F. If using a grill, only light a small amount of charcoal or light a single burner on one side for indirect cooking.
- Add your wood chunks directly to the firebox of a smoker, or use chips in a smoker box, or pellets in a tube smoker or pellet grill.
- Once smoke is being produced and the grill or smoker is at 300°F, put your chicken leg quarters on the indirect side and close the lid.
Smoking the Chicken Leg Quarters
- Continue smoking the chicken leg quarters, turning occasionally, until the internal temperature reaches 160-165°F internally. This may take 1.5-2 hours.
- Mix the two types of Blues Hog BBQ sauce together in a small bowl, and once the skin on the chicken leg quarters is crispy, gently baset the sauce on with a basting brush. Close the lid and continue cooking.
- Once the internal temperature of the smoked chicken leg quarters reaches 175°F, remove them from the grill or smoker and place on a cutting board.
Rest, Carve and Serve
- Let the smoked chicken leg quarters rest for about 5-10 minutes, then optionally you can separate the legs from the thighs with a good meat carving knife.
- Serve immediately with extra sauce if desired.