Better BBQ Chicken Legs

Better BBQ Chicken Legs

The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 45 mins
Brining Time: 4 hrs
Total: 5 hrs 5 mins
Servings: 2 to 3 servings
Yield: 2 pounds
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
814 Calories
33g Fat
54g Carbs
74g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 2 to 3
Amount per serving
Calories 814
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 33g 42%
Saturated Fat 8g 41%
Cholesterol 384mg 128%
Sodium 19273mg 838%
Total Carbohydrate 54g 19%
Dietary Fiber 3g 10%
Total Sugars 49g
Protein 74g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 104mg 8%
Iron 5mg 29%
Potassium 1005mg 21%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Over the years you've probably had your share of barbecued chicken legs—drumsticks cooked on the grill, coated with sauce—and some may have been better than others. Once you taste this recipe, though, it will be the only one you will use when making barbecue chicken on the grill.

These drumsticks are brined first to create optimal moisture and tenderness, and then are slowly grilled and basted with a classic BBQ sauce at the end of cooking time. While this recipe contains ingredients for making a homemade sauce, feel free to use your favorite bottled sauce if you prefer.

“A keeper recipe! Tender chicken legs with a tangy, slightly spicy, sweet homemade BBQ sauce. Truly, a fabulous sauce. Next time I will double the entire recipe because it was such a hit. Brining is easy and worth the effort. I used my small stock pot to brine.” —Mary Jo Romano

Better BBQ Chicken Legs/Tester Image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


For the Brine:

  • 1/2 cup salt

  • 1/2 cup white sugar

  • 1 cup hot water

  • 2 quarts cold water

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional

  • 2 pounds chicken drumsticks

For the BBQ Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup white vinegar

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

  • 2 tablespoons paprika

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder

  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more to taste, optional

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Better BBQ Chicken Legs ingredients

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  2. To make the brine, combine salt, sugar, and hot water in a large plastic or glass container that you can cover. Stir until the salt and sugar dissolve. Add the cold water and cayenne, if using. Continue stirring to dissolve.

    combine salt, white sugar, and hot water in a bowl

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  3. Add chicken drumsticks, cover, and refrigerate for 4 hours or up to overnight.

    chicken and brine in a bowl covered with plastic wrap

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  4. Meanwhile, gather the ingredients for the BBQ sauce.

    gather the ingredients for the sauce

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  5. In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, paprika, oil, chili and garlic powder, and cayenne pepper, if using.

    Make barbecue sauce by combining ingredients in a medium saucepan

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  6. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat to a simmer and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture reduces slightly and the flavors meld, about 15 minutes.

    sauce cooking in a saucepan

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  7. Remove from heat and let cool.

    sauce in a saucepan

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  8. Remove the chicken legs from the brine and discard brine. Rinse chicken thoroughly to remove all traces of the brine from the surface. Pat dry with paper towels. 

    chicken in a baking dish

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  9. Prepare a medium (350°F to 375°F) gas or charcoal grill fire.

    Grill chicken legs, turning every 5 minutes to make sure all sides cook evenly, 25 to 30 minutes.

    chicken cooking on a grill

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  10. During the last 15 minutes, start brushing the BBQ sauce over the surface every 5 minutes, rotating the chicken to coat evenly, until the chicken is done (an internal temperature of should be at least 165 F/75 C, but you may want to get closer to 180 F/82 C), and the sauce has cooked down to a sticky consistency.

    bbq chicken cooking on a grill

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  11. Remove chicken from heat, place on a large serving platter, and tent loosely with aluminum foil. Let drumsticks rest for 5 to 7 minutes. Serve with the remaining BBQ sauce.

    Better BBQ Chicken Legs covered with aluminum foil

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi


  • While using a brine is great for creating moist, tender drumsticks, it also leaves you with very wet chicken legs. Chicken skin that has moisture on its surface will not crisp up well when cooked (no matter the cooking method), so it is crucial that you dry the drumsticks thoroughly after removing from the brine. If you have time, after patting with paper towels, you can place on a cooling rack over a baking sheet and let sit on the counter (or the refrigerator if a longer period of time) until the skin is completely dry.
  • Why Brine? You may have heard of brining a whole turkey for Thanksgiving, but barbecued drumsticks for the grill? They are both poultry on the bone, so why not? A brine—which is essentially a mixture of salt and water, often with seasonings—tenderizes the flesh, breaking down any tough fibers, resulting in a really moist meat once it is cooked. And when spices are included in the brine, the liquid mixture will infuse flavor deep into the chicken meat, perfect when you are making BBQ chicken on the grill and only adding sauce at the end of cooking time.
  • Whether you use this recipe or your favorite bottled barbecue sauce, sugar is most likely an ingredient. Sauces and marinades that include sugar can cause flare-ups on the grill, so it is important that once you begin applying the sauce you keep a close eye on the chicken. If you do get a flare-up, quickly move the chicken legs to another part of the grill, rotating them as you do to assure even cooking and no burnt skin. 

Recipe Variations

  • You can easily change the flavor of this recipe by altering the ingredients in the brine and/or barbecue sauce. From pickling spices to hot sauce to citrus to pineapple juice, there are several ways to season a brine
  • The same goes for BBQ sauce; depending on where you are in the United States, barbecue sauces range in ingredients and tastes, from sweet to spicy to smokey. Try new ingredients to make your own favorite BBQ sauce.
  • The brining and sauce method will work for other cuts of chicken. You may need different grilling times for thicker breasts. You can also use this BBQ sauce on any protein, including grilled salmon or pulled pork.

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