in

How to Make Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters

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!

a smoked chicken leg quarter

We love smoking poultry around here.

Whether it’s a Whole Pellet Grill Thanksgiving Turkey, the fool proof Spatchocked Turkey and Spatchcocked Chicken, Easy Smoked Turkey Legs, our Cajun Butter Injected Smoked Turkey Breast, or the “Are you OUT of your MIND?” Trash Can Turkey...yes you ready that right…we love chicken and turkey cooked on the grill…or smoker…or…trash can.

But 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.

Let’s Go!

 

Trimming the Chicken Leg Quarters

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 loosy flabby skin that is likely hanging off each one.

trimming fat from a chicken leg quarter before smoking

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.

separating the fat from the chicken leg 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.

 

Brining the Chicken Leg Quarters

Wet Brining

A chicken prep method you’ll read about a lot is brining.

At its most basic, this is just soaking the chicken overnight in a solution that includes salt, water and 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.

Now, if you have a standard supermarket chicken that’s already been injected with a brine solution, don’t bother wet brining at home. It won’t do anything.

If, on the other hand, you have some natural chicken leg quarters without additives, you could take the time to brine them.

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.

 

Dry Brining

a table full of salt for brining a turkey breast before using on a pellet grill
Skip the mess of the wet brine and try DRY brining instead!

However, 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.

 

Our Favorite Seasonings and Sauces for Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters

Best Store Bought Rubs for Smoked Chicken

Now, you can use ANY of your favorite BBQ rubs for smoked chicken.

seasoning chicken leg quarters before smoking

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.

seasoning chicken leg quarters for the smoker

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.

mixing the rub ingredients for traeger smoked baby back ribs

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:

  • 1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Paprika
  • 1 Tbsp Coarse Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt (Or 1/2 Tbsp table salt, go easy, you can always add more salt later)
  • 1 Tbsp Chili Powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp Granulated Garlic or Garlic Powder (adjust to taste)
  • 1/2 Tbsp Onion Powder (adjust to taste)
  • 1 Tsp 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 for Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters

Blues Hog Original BBQ Sauce 16.0 OZ (Pack of 3)

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 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.)

Kosmos also makes a great lineup of BBQ sauces that work great on chicken, especially if you want to try some more adventurous flavors such as their Peach Habanero or Honey Jalapeno.

 

Best Wood for Smoking Chicken Leg Quarters

smoking wood on lit charcoal

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.

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.

 

Best Times and Temperatures for Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters

You will need to watch both your cooking temperature and internal temperature carefully when smoking the chicken leg quarters.

smoking chicken leg quarters on a traeger pellet grill

Smoker Temperature

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 for Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters

You HAVE to use a good instant read meat thermometer to know where the internal temperature is of your smoked chicken leg quarters.

internal meat probe reading 110 degrees

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!

Anyways, back to our smoked chicken…

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 turkey legs closely for doneness.

 

checking the temperature of chicken leg quarters on a smoker

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.

brushing sauce on smoked chicken leg quarters

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 for Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters

Vertical or Offset Charcoal Smoker

Weber 22-inch Smokey Mountain Cooker, Charcoal Smoker
The Weber Smokey Mountain is a CLASSIC Charcoal Smoker.
See the Weber Smokey Mountain on Amazon

Fill your firebox or lower charcoal basin with about 1/4 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 1/4 way with charcoal and wait about 20 minutes for it to fully ignite.  You don’t want TOO many lit briquests initially or the temperature will get too high too fast and be unmanageable.

a charcoal chimney lit

Add the lit briquets to the center depression you created.

Keep the smoker dampers about 1/2 way to 3/4 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 grate.

Want to see a list of our FAVORITE Vertical Smokers for 2021?  Check it out here!

 

Propane and Electric Smokers

Masterbuilt MB20073519 Bluetooth Digital Electric Smoker with Broiler, 30 inch, Black
The Classic Masterbuilt Electric Smoker

 

See Masterbuilt Reviews on Amazon

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.

While it comes up to temperature, add smoking wood chips, not pellets, to the smoking wood tray.

Do NOT fill the water tray if there is one.

Place your chicken leg quarters on the rack and close the door.

Debating whether to buy a propane or electric smoker?  Check out our COMPLETE Comparison Guide HERE.

 

Pellet Grills

Check out the ZGrills 1000E on Amazon

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.

Never used a pellet grill before? 

Check out this Ultimate Guide to Pellet Grills to learn why they are so easy and how to set one up for success every time.

Here is also a list of our favorite pellet grills priced under $500

 

Gas or Charcoal Grills

Weber Spirit E-310 Liquid Propane Gas Grill, 46510001 model - Black
The always dependable Weber Spirit E-310 Propane Gas Grill.
Read Weber Spirit Reviews on Amazon

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.

Check out our Ultimate Guide to Smoking on a Gas Grill HERE.

If you are unfamiliar with these gas grill smoking devices mentioned above, no worries, we have you covered!

Read everything you need to know about smoker boxes here, and see a selection of our favorite pellet tube smokers here.

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.

weber kettle charcoal grill set up for indirect cooking or smoking

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.

smoking wood on lit charcoal

 

Carving and Serving Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters

showing where to slice apart a smoked chicken leg quarter

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.

carving a smoked chicken leg quarter

 

Use a good carving knife and wiggle it down to kind of find the joint between the two peices, then slice back and forth and down to separate.

a cut open smoked chicken leg quarter

 

What Other Foods Can I Smoke?

Looking for some more inspiration for things to smoke?

Our Sticky Smoked Sweet Potatoes and our Smoked Asparagus go GREAT with Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters!

smoked sweet potatoes

Check out some of our favorite recipes below that can easily be modified to be done on any grill or smoker.

More Poultry

 

Pork

 

Beef

 

Seafood

 

Lamb

 

Other Odds and Ends

a smoked chicken leg quarter

Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters

These delicious smoked chicken leg quarters can be on ANY grill or smoker, whether its a Traeger or Pit Boss pellet grill, a Masterbuilt electric smoker, or just a simple Weber kettle!
First we dry brine them overnight to help them retain moisture and get the skin crispy. Then we season and smoke them at medium indirect heat. The they are optionally finished with a yummy bbq sauce glaze.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 2 hrs
Dry Brine Time 8 hrs
Total Time 10 hrs 30 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, Australian, barbecue, BBQ, Smoked
Servings 4 people
Calories 450 kcal

Equipment

  • 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

Ingredients
  

  • 4 Chicken Leg Quarters skin on
  • 4 Tbsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Course Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 Tbsp 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 Tbsp Dark Brown Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp Paprika
  • 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt
  • ½ Tbsp Course Ground Black Pepper
  • ½ Tbsp Chili Powder
  • ½ Tbsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 Tsp Onion Powder
  • ¼ Tsp Cayenne Pepper (optional)

Instructions
 

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
    trimming fat from a chicken leg quarter before smoking

Dry Brine Overnight

  • Place the chicken leg quarters on a wire rack placed on top of a baking sheet.
  • Mix together the 4 Tbsp Kosher salt and 1 Tbsp 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.
    seasoning chicken leg quarters for the smoker
  • 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.
    setting up grill for indirect heat
  • 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.
    charcoal grill set up for indirect heat
  • 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.
    smoking chicken leg quarters on a traeger pellet grill
  • 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.
    brushing sauce on smoked chicken leg quarters
  • 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.
    checking the temperature of chicken leg quarters on a smoker

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.
    carving a smoked chicken leg quarter
  • Serve immediately with extra sauce if desired.
    a cut open smoked chicken leg quarter

Video

Notes

Video courtesy of Food with Nick
Keyword barbecue chicken, BBQ Chicken, bbq chicken quarters, Camp Chef, chicken legs, chicken quarters, chicken thighs, dark meat, Dry Brine, Masterbuilt, pellet grill, Pit Boss, poultry, Smoked Chicken, smoked chicken leg quarters, smoked chicken legs, smoked chicken thighs, traeger, Weber

One Comment

Leave a Reply
  1. 5 stars
    These came out pretty good, my wife and I actually liked the ones without the sauce better. The skin stays crispier. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Recipe Rating




smoked baby back ribs in an electric smoker - masterbuilt

How to Smoke Baby Back Ribs in an Electric Smoker

a beef brisket smoking on a pit boss pellet grill

How to Smoke a Beef Brisket on a Pit Boss Pellet Grill