Grab a hold of these Smoked Chicken Drumsticks with crispy skin, juicy meat, and classic barbecue flavors. These are simple to prepare, easily customizable, and incredibly affordable – it’s no wonder they are a huge hit for the crowd!
If you’re looking for one of the simplest meats to cook on your smoker, you’re in the right place. Smoked chicken drums are very straightforward, consistent, and relatively cheap. Not to mention, generally a huge hit with kids – which you know is a plus if you’re also a parent.
Why This Process Works
Packed with flavor. Juicy dark meat, insulated with a blanket of crispy skin on the outside is hard to beat. Add in wood-fired smoke flavor to take it over the edge.
Affordable. When it comes to purchasing meat, this is something important to consider. Chicken drums are the least desired cut in general, making them an ideal replacement for chicken wings on the smoker.
Easy to time. Unlike smoked chuck roast, brisket, or pork shoulder, there’s no cooking stall with smoking drumsticks. You can count on them to be done within the same 15-minute window, every time.
Chicken is one of the easiest meats to season, and it can take any type of flavor you can throw at it. Unlike beef, it’s easy to switch from sweet, spicy, sour, salty, or any combination in between.
- Signature Sweet & Smoky Rub – This rub was originally designed for chicken, a combination of brown sugar and smoky chiles to create a mild heat with a well-rounded profile. It also gives the chicken a great color.
- Smoky Southwest Dry Rub – If you’re looking for a flavor that leans more towards Mexican food, this is the one. The profile is darker, earthy, savory, and much less sweet than other rubs.
- Korean BBQ Seasoning – Yes, chicken pastrami. Don’t be fooled, that doesn’t mean the chicken is cured pink! We’re borrowing the aromatics from a classic pastrami rub and adding a few twists, made to boost the savory flavors of poultry.
- Pumpkin Spice BBQ Rub – Look past the latte crazy and focus on the warming spices of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove, and allspice. Toss in some smoky chipotle with a few other ingredients and you have a warm, savory rub that’s perfect on smoked chicken drumsticks.
BBQ Sauce Choices
Choosing a BBQ seasoning is half of the fun, but there is another way to layer flavor. Glazing, tossing, or dunking the drumsticks in a homemade sauce adds a third layer of delicious flavor (after seasoning and smoke) which you can mix and match. Try out one of these:
- Maple Chipotle BBQ Sauce – This mustard-based golden sauce is tangy, spicy, and sweet. It’s designed for both basting during the cook as well as dunking.
- Buffalo BBQ Sauce – Take the classic buffalo flavors and fortify them with ketchup, sugars, and aromatics to make a full-bodies BBQ sauce that kicks.
- Mexican Buffalo Sauce – Using a spicy Mexican hot sauce as the base, this fusion of flavors is new yet familiar. Bring on the heat and make this fiery sauce!
- Korean BBQ Sauce – Hit the chicken with a glaze of spicy strawberries, ginger, and honey. This sauce is irresistible and fiery.
- Teriyaki BBQ Sauce – Sweet and thick, this sauce comes together quickly and is one of my favorite ways to glaze chicken drumsticks.
Prepping the Drumsticks
Remember how I said this was easy? Yeah, there’s not much to do here, but there are a few tips to consider.
- Use a little oil. Oiling the surface of the wings helps to prevent them from sticking on the grill, and also promotes crispy skin. Use a neutral flavor such as canola oil, grapeseed oil, or vegetable oil.
- Season your chicken generously. Don’t worry, the sugars won’t burn as we are smoking the drums, not grilling them directly. Feel free to season to your preferences.
- Dry-brine for crispier skin. This is a great strategy regardless, but if you’re not planning on saucing the drumsticks then it’s a must. Allowing the salt to draw out excess moisture while drying out the skin in the fridge will give you much crispier skin compared to seasoning right before. I recommend seasoning the drumsticks and allowing them to sit on a wire rack with a baking sheet for at least a few hours, up to overnight.
Smoking the Drumsticks
This process is simple, all you need is a smoker or indirect setup for your charcoal grill to pull this off.
STEP 1: Preheat the Grill
Warm up your smoker to 275°F. If you’re using a charcoal grill, build a 2-zone setup with a warm and cool zone. You’ll be placing the chicken drumsticks on the cool side and cooking them indirectly.
Think about your choices for wood flavor and how it would pair with your seasonings. My favorite types for smoked chicken drums would be apple, mesquite, hickory, or maple. Use what you love!
STEP 2: Smoke the Chicken Drumsticks
Smoke the wings for about 80-90 minutes. Don’t mess with them! They will be just fine on their own, I promise.
Typically chicken is cooked til 165°F for safety, however, with wings and drumsticks, I’ve found it’s best to push that higher. Cook them until about 180-185° and the skin will be crispier, and the meat will no longer be chewy.
STEP 3: Sauce Them to Finish
Glazing the smoked chicken drumsticks with BBQ sauce is an optional step, but if you’re going to do it now is the time. When the chicken reads 165°F internal temperature, go ahead and add your sauce.
If the BBQ sauce you’re using is too thick, add a splash of apple cider vinegar to thin it out. It should be a nice glaze, not a thick gloopy mess.
Cook the wings for another 15-20 minutes until they register about 180-185°F.
Does dark meat need to be cooked to a higher temperature?
Yes, for the purpose of eating and enjoying it. While it’s safe to eat chicken at 165°F the dark meat cuts such as thighs and drumsticks end up being more tender and crispier when cooked up to 175-190°F.
You’ll notice that all of our chicken wing recipes on the site also reflect instructions to cook this way.
Searing is Also Good
Using a charcoal grill, or do you enjoy crispier skin? Right after you sauce the wings, move them over the direct heat for a few minutes. Make sure the coals are warm, but not blazing hot. Spread them out a little if needed or the skin will burn quickly. See these Korean BBQ Drumsticks above.
STEP 4: Rest and Serve
Yes, even chicken needs a little rest after cooking. Thankfully only about 5-10 minutes and you’re good to go. By the time you’ve pulled them off and taken them into the house to set the table, they are practically ready to grab.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, and the best way to do that is actually over the grill. Preheat your grill to medium heat and cook them indirectly to warm them up, and then sear them off to crisp them up.
Actually yes it can. I do use similar temperatures for smoked bone-in chicken thighs as well. Competition-style chicken thighs are another discussion, which I am not referring to.
The drumsticks should take about 90 minutes at 275°F, give or take a few depending on their size.
Sauces to Try with Smoked Chicken
- Sweet Honey Bourbon BBQ Sauce
- Spicy Buffalo BBQ Sauce
- Maple Chipotle BBQ Sauce
- Hatch Chile Chimichurri Sauce
- Pat the drumsticks dry, and rub in the oil to coat the surface. Sprinkle a generous amount of seasoning on each. Place them on a wire rack with a baking sheet in the fridge, uncovered, for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
- Preheat the smoker to 275°F. Remove the drumsticks from the fridge and allow them to come to room temp while the smoker warms up.
- Place them in the smoker when preheated, allowing them to cook for about 80-90 minutes undisturbed. Check on them after an hour, the target temperature we’re looking for is just about 165°F or slightly higher.
- Glaze the drumsticks with your choice of BBQ sauce and get ready to crisp them up.
Pellet Grill – Turn the heat up to 400°F and cook the drumsticks, flipping as needed to crisp up both sides.
Charcoal Grill – Make sure the coals are warm, but not blazing hot. Spread them out a little if needed or the skin will burn quickly. Sear the chicken on each side for a couple of minutes, flipping as needed.
- Remove the drumsticks when they reach about 180-185°F. They tend to be a little more crispy, falling off the bone, and easier to eat at this higher temperature.
- Allow them to rest for 5-10 minutes and serve.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 90 minutes
- Category: Chicken & Poultry
- Method: Smoking
- Cuisine: Dinner
Keywords: smoked chicken, chicken drumsticks, smoked chicken drumsticks, smoked chicken drums, chicken legs