A burn-proof method for grilling chicken legs

Barbecue chicken

Grilling up a batch of chicken thighs, drumsticks or whole legs can be a wonderful alternative to the overused chicken breast. The dark meat is full of flavour and doesn’t dry out as quickly as it’s white counterpart. But chicken legs can burn easily if you don’t know how to cook them properly. 

Here are some quick tips for grilling succulent chicken legs without scorching them.  

Even it out

Before you even hit the grill, you can increase your chance of chicken success by manipulating your meat so it will cook evenly 

  • Size: Try to purchase chicken legs that are relatively the same size so you can trust they’ll all cook at the same speed and not worry about babysitting smaller pieces 
  • Temperature: If you’re grilling frozen chicken, make sure it thaws completely before you throw it on the grill so the heat will penetrate to the centre. If you’re working with fresh meat, you should let it come to room temperature. 
  • Thickness: To even out bone-in thighs, lay them on a flat surface and press them down with your hands. Boneless thighs will have a thin piece at one end that you can fold under to create an even thickness. 

Trim the fat

Chicken skin has a nasty habit sticking to the grill, so you might want to consider going skinless to avoid the risk. Not only is skinless chicken easier to work with; it’s better for marinating because you can score the flesh so the flavours really soak in. But if you’re absolutely addicted to crispy chicken skin, you don’t have to lose it entirely. Just make sure you trim your chicken legs very carefully to get rid of any excess pieces that are hanging off. Extra skin will start to burn quickly, causing flare-ups that can scorch the rest of the meat. 

Grease it up

One of the best ways to prevent burning is to make sure your meat doesn’t stick to the surface of the grill. So make sure you brush the grill with oil or cooking spray before you heat it up. It’s also a good idea to brush some oil on all sides of your chicken or soak it in an oil-based marinade before grilling. 

Watch the heat

A lot of BBQ-ers make the mistake of cranking up the heat and placing their chicken directly over the flames. The result is a leg that’s burnt and bitter on the outside and undercooked on the inside. For perfectly cooked meat, the best method is a two-step, two-temperature approach. If you’re using a gas grill, turn half (or even just one) of your burners on high and leave the other ones off. Place your chicken legs or thighs directly over the heat for a few minutes on each side, searing them beautifully. Then move them to the indirect heat, close the lid and cook them low and slow until they’re done. If you prefer a charcoal grill, you can achieve the same effect by stacking on all your charcoal on one side of the grill.  

Hold the sauce

If you’re coating your chicken legs in BBQ sauce, don’t start basting until the chicken is partially cooked and has about 10 minutes left on the grill. Most BBQ sauces are high in sugar, which burns really easily. When they’re applied too early, they dry out and burn, coating your meat in a blackened, sticky mess. Even if your chicken is cooked perfectly on the inside, the first taste will be a mouthful of overcooked glaze. 

So how long should you cook your chicken legs for? Unfortunately there’s no hard and fast rule. But if you’re using the proper method and your heat is low enough, thighs can take up to 30 minutes to cook through and full legs can take as long as an hour. Use a meat thermometer to determine when they’re done. The recommended temperature is 180 degrees for chicken legs, but many chefs suggest pulling them off the grill when they reach 165 to 175 degrees. The meat will continue to cook while you rest it before serving.