I used to not be a fan of chicken drumsticks, the cheapest and the least healthy part of the chicken. In my family we either boiled or roasted whole chickens. Boiled chicken makes a fantastic chicken soup, but the meat itself comes out pretty bland and rubbery. Drumsticks from a whole roasted chicken always felt a bit under-cooked and tough – 165F internal temperature is perfect for chicken breasts, but not for chicken legs and drumsticks. Those need 180F-190F for best results. Combine that with smoky flavor, crispy skin and complex flavors, and any non-fan can easily become a big fan. That’s what happened to me. I became a huge fan of grilled chicken drumsticks.
To me what makes great grilled chicken drumsticks is the balanced flavor, tender, fall-off-the-bone texture, and a nicely caramelized, crispy skin. Tender meat is a product of marination. If you want that, you need to marinate. Fall-off-the-bone texture is the result of grilling to 180F-190F internal temperature. Chicken drumsticks grilled to the recommended safe temperature of 165F will be tough and will feel under-cooked.
Getting crispy skin on your grilled chicken drumsticks is easy – you grill over direct heat. Though, for some time my results would vary. Sometimes I would get my drumsticks too charred and burnt. Sometimes I would get perfectly crispy skin. This can get pretty frustrating, especially if you cook for guests.
I started having consistent results when I lowered the heat and started grilling the chicken covered to avoid raising the heat and causing flareups. 300F – 350F at the grate level is the optimal temperature. I’ve also been getting much better results when I started avoiding sugary marinades and rubs – sugar burns too easily and the results will mostly be far from great.
Marination tenderizes the meat and adds complex flavors. A great marinade enhances the flavor of the meat, and the smoky flavors acquired by grilling. A bad marinade overpowers all other flavors. I find that barbecue marinades tend to be overpowering, though some are quite great if used in moderation.
In this recipe I am using a slightly modified classic spicy barbecue-style grilled chicken marinade recipe from Professional Cooking, 7th Edition by Wayne Gisslen. I have a feeling that this recipe was tested and perfected thousands of times – it’s that close to perfection. It’s well balanced, it’s not overpowering and it tastes great. It gives the grilled chicken drumsticks very nice color and does not encourage burning as it has very little sugar in it.
Though the marinade is called spicy in the book, there is only a hint of spiciness. If you want to feel spiciness you need to increase the amount of chili powder or add your favorite hot pepper, like cayenne pepper.
- 8 chicken drumsticks
- For the marinade:
- 4 Tbsp / 60 ml Worcestershire sauce
- 2 Tbsp / 30 ml sherry vinegar (alternatively, use red wine vinegar)
- 4 tsp paprika
- 2 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp dry mustard (Coleman's mustard is recommended)
- 1 tsp crushed garlic
- 1⁄2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- Combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a Ziploc bag and mix well. Add chicken drumsticks and toss by hand so they are well coated. Expel as much air from the bag as you can and seal. Refrigerate overnight and up to 24 hours.
- Preheat the grill to medium heat, about 300F-350F at the grate level.
- Place chicken drumsticks on the grill, close the lid and grill for about 30 minutes, turning every 8-10 minutes and moving around the grill to account for hot spots, until the internal temperature has reached 180F-190F.