What Are Chicken Legs

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

chicken legs

Lindsay Kreighbaum / The Spruce Eats

Chicken legs are a delicious and easy-to-eat protein to serve with a meal. Learn all about this simple, versatile cut that absorbs marinade nicely, stays juicy, and is a budget-friendly way to serve chicken any night of the week.

What Are Chicken Legs?

A chicken leg comes from the leg of the chicken, all the way from claw to what would be the animal's hip. It comes in two parts — the drumstick and the thigh — either attached together or as separate cuts (called a leg quarter). Like the wing, this part of the bird gets a lot of exercise in comparison to other muscles, which is why chicken legs have darker meat. This also means a bit more fat, an addition that adds to the leg's flavor and juiciness.

How To Cook

Chicken legs are hard to overcook, thanks to their extra fat. The whole leg is in fact the juiciest part of the bird, which makes it perfect for any application from smoking and barbecuing to braising, roasting, and slicing up to add to stir-fries.

When it comes to taking the leg off a chicken, start with a very sharp knife. Slice the blade between the body and thigh, popping the hip bone out in the process. Once the leg has been cut away, you can cook it as a leg quarter or separate the drumstick from the thigh by cutting through the joint that connects them. Try and keep the skin intact along the way so your dish can have the pleasing crackle of cooked chicken skin to go along with the tender meat.

Keep in mind poultry can carry salmonella, which is why all chicken should come to a cooking temperature of 165 F. That doesn't mean you need to overcook this meat, however. Keep your chicken thighs and drumsticks juicy by searing the skin so the moisture stays in while the meat cooks. This is best on on the grill or in a hot pan on the stove, though you can bake or roast chicken legs in an oven. Dredging, breading, or battering and frying drumsticks is also a popular preparation, and marinating or dry-rubbing creates a good depth of flavor.

Raw chicken
Raw chicken drumsticks. Getty Images 
chicken leg
Grilling a drumstick. Getty Images 
Chicken dinner
Winner, winner, chicken dinner.  Getty Images
Fried chicken
A fried chicken drumstick ready to be eaten. Getty Images 
Prepping chicken legs
One way to prepare chicken legs.  Getty Images

What Does It Taste Like?

Everyone knows the phrase, "tastes like chicken," and that's exactly what chicken legs taste like. They tend to have a more unctuous texture and mouthfeel thanks to the dark, fatty meat. You'll also find the flavor a little stronger than chicken breast. For the best flavor, source chicken from farms that raise them in a pasture.

Recipes

Spruce up your next chicken dinner with new techniques and spices and discover the full range of this versatile cut.

Where to Buy

Chicken legs may be one of the easiest proteins to find at the supermarket, especially if you want them separated into thighs and drumsticks. Finding whole leg quarters may be a little harder, but they're still fairly common to find. Chicken legs also come vacuumed sealed and frozen, and can often be bought in bulk.

what are chicken legs
Hugo Lin / The Spruce Eats  

Storage

Remove chicken legs from supermarket packaging (unless they're vacuum sealed) and place in an airtight container. If refrigerating, use within three days or freeze for up to six months. When defrosting frozen meat, make sure to place it in a bowl or on a plate to catch any moisture that might leak out.