Butterflied chicken drumsticks are an obvious solution to make crispier, more flavorful chicken drumsticks with much less cooking time. Take a few minutes to split open the meat, season, and grill. You’re never going to stress about those high prices of chicken wings again.
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Food prices are out of control. Part of my content strategy for this year was to start creating new recipes using cheaper cuts. Chicken drumsticks are always the cheapest, given that they take way less time to process than the rest of the chicken. I had just made a recipe for a spatchcock chicken, so it just hit me: Will this work for drumsticks? I didn’t know honestly, but I recorded the process and posted it on Instagram.
Nothing happened at first, my followers are generally very supportive and thought it was neat. Suddenly I was being tagged, over and over again by others trying out the process. Weeks went by, and everyone was making these. The recipe caught on TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook, and suddenly I realized I better write this down. Maybe I’m on to something.
I’ve seen chicken drumsticks split open before but never used in this application. Further research showed that this really hasn’t been published before, this new alternative to the expensive chicken wings. Could I actually be the first person to publish this grilling technique for butterflied chicken drumsticks? More meat, a little more effort, but a lot less money. Bingo.
Why should you butterfly chicken drumsticks?
Grilling chicken drumsticks are tricky for many reasons. The thick meat around the bone tends to cook unevenly, many times leaving unappetizing streaks of pink and red inside. Too high of heat and the skin will burn before the chicken is fully cooked. Using the butterflied method addresses these issues, but it takes a little time to prepare. The term “butterflied” refers to slicing the meat on the drumstick revealing the bone inside. Opening up the meat this way creates a larger cooking surface, providing a means to cook the chicken evenly, and much quicker. Are butterflied chicken drumsticks really worth it?
Whole drumsticks on the grill can take anywhere between 30-45 minutes, depending on the process you use. Slowly smoking them will increase that time by at least another 30 minutes, which ends up being quite a long cook for chicken. Slicing open the meat to a wider surface area instantly cuts down cooking time, most of the time by half. Right over the coals, these butterflied chicken drumsticks can be cooked in about 15 minutes, flipping every few to ensure even cooking. Smoking can add a little time, but your family will definitely be eating within an hour.
Have you ever grilled a chicken drumstick and accidentally charred the skin, long before the meat is done? Suddenly you need to move the chicken to a cooler side of the grill, doubling down on the cooking time to slowly cook the inside of the chicken.
One of the main benefits of butterflied chicken drumsticks is even cooking temperatures. Slicing the meat open creates a larger surface area with an even layer of meat, eliminating one of the biggest frustrations with thick drumsticks. The added bonus is that you won’t see the odd discoloration of pink and purple meat in the middle after it’s cooked.
Trust me, this isn’t a trick – opening up the meat from the bone will absolutely add more flavor. Wrapped up tight, the meat in a chicken drumstick is insulated, touching the bone while hiding away from your seasonings. Once the meat is exposed and spread out, it is able to be seasoned.
Another element of flavor is the Maillard reaction, the process which causes the meat to brown and crisp up. The savory, sweet crispy bits add another level of complexity to the chicken. If you’re a person that enjoys glazing chicken with BBQ sauce, this is your opportunity for more sticky caramelization and flavor.
Don’t forget the wood-fired flavor notes that will hit the chicken as well. A larger surface area means the drumsticks are catching more smoke, spread out across the grates. You don’t enjoy this flavor component if you’re using a stove-top range or air fryer.
How to Butterfly Chicken Drumsticks
The process is pretty straightforward, much easier than splitting chickens. You’ll need a very sharp knife, a cutting board, and your chicken.
- Flip the chicken drumstick to the side with the meat exposed at the top. This is the side to cut.
- Using a sharp knife, make 1 slice in the meat along the side of the bone. Be careful not to cut all the way through. Make a second cut along the other side of the bone, separating the meat so that it opens up flat. The bone should be completely exposed. Make sure to keep the meat attached to the bone, do not slice off the top, or the meat from the back of the bone.
- Open it up and it’s ready to be seasoned for the grill!
Disadvantages of Butterflied Drumsticks
Quicker cooking time, additional flavor, and crispier chicken… what could be wrong?
Well, there is the time needed for prep. Slicing open the chicken takes a few minutes, but after you get the hang of it the process speeds up. It’s MUCH faster than making chicken lollipops. Just be prepared for 10 minutes extra for preparation.
It’s pretty minor, but the other disadvantage I’ve found is the appearance. One side of the chicken has a nice, crispy skin while the other side has charred, sliced chicken. It’s not the most photogenic piece of barbecue, but the benefits greatly outweigh the appearance. One bite into a crispy side of the drumstick and you’ll forget what it looked like.
Prepping and Cooking
There are many ways to cook these butterflied chicken drumsticks, pretty much all of the same ways that you would cook a regular drumstick. There are a few important tips that I’d like to point out to make sure you have the most success:
Dry-brine your chicken. This is known as seasoning ahead of time, and placing the meat in the fridge on a wire rack, uncovered. If you’re in the “crispy skin” team like myself, you want as little moisture as possible on the skin. I recommend seasoning all sides and resting in the fridge for at least 2 hours, up to overnight.
Don’t have much time to prep? Pat dry and add oil before seasoning. This will make sure the chicken doesn’t stick to the grill (you should be cleaning your grill) but also helps the skin crisp up a bit more. Just a light amount will do the trick.
Use the lid of your grill. The first half of cooking chicken is all about making sure you can get the temperature higher in the meat while drying out the surface for crispy skin. Closing the lid creates an oven, air rushing around all sides of the meat to achieve this. Don’t walk away though, you’ll need to flip your chicken every 5-7 minutes depending on how hot the grill is.
Baste with something. BBQ sauce, vinaigrette, garlic butter, just anything. The chicken is a boat, waiting for the flavor passenger to jump aboard so it can sail into your mouth. Seriously though, all of those incredibly crispy crevices are the perfect place to add layers of flavor. Baste at the end right before you focus on crisping up the skin.