I find that many modern BBQ recipes place a lot of emphasis on special sauces, special ingredients or ludicrously lengthy lists of spices. Sometimes those recipes reward you handsomely, sometimes not so much. As for me, I like simple recipes and the recipes that provide clean and balanced flavors. I think simple recipes come to perfection the closest, like this recipe for grilled chicken legs that I created in an effort to find a very quick but very tasty grilled chicken leg recipe.
Secrets to making the best grilled chicken legs
This recipe is an improved version of the old one I posted on this page. There were two obvious reasons for the change. One is that the recipe had brown sugar and it made it almost impossible to properly brown the skin without some burning here and there. Not a huge problem but I’d rather avoid it if I could. The other one is aesthetics and visual appeal. Somehow plain dry rub without any oil does not look so appetizing on grilled chicken legs. Here is the picture of the product of the old recipe, see the difference? So, in a nutshell, brown sugar is out and is substituted by dark soy sauce for some sweetness and color. Olive oil is in for better browning and visual appeal.
A quick rub to flavorize chicken legs
The key phrase here is ‘quick’. I am a big fan of marinating chicken, because it works and helps attain deep, balanced flavor profiles. If you’ve tried my Killer chicken thigh marinade you know what I am talking about. But, despite what some recipes claim, marination needs at least 2-4 hours to be effective, and preferably longer, like overnight and up to 24 hours. That’s not always possible. More often than not I don’t plan ahead and tend to look for a quick recipe that does not require a lot of prep time.
In this recipe all it takes is 5 minutes to prepare the rub and apply it on the chicken, which is immediately ready to go on the grill. This is it! All you have to do is mix together some granulated garlic and onions, black pepper and salt, add some dark soy sauce for sweetness and some cayenne for a little kick, rub the chicken with the spice mix and throw on the grill.
Then, magically, the cheapest part of the chicken becomes some of the best ‘que you’ve ever had. I think what makes these grilled chicken legs so special is the balance of sweet and salty, subtle pepper, garlic and onion flavors and a nice kick from the cayenne pepper. There are no overpowering ingredients, and the flavors are clean.
Getting the crispy and caramelized skin
Nicely caramelized and crispy skin is the icing on the cake. It’s the best part. You get it by grilling at a fairly high temperature of about 300F-350F at the grate level. Lower and you won’t get proper skin crispness. Higher and you will burn the chicken skin.
Specifics are important in getting the right result. I don’t like guesswork and like the simplicity of using a good BBQ thermometer. It makes grilling a joy, without any stress. I even use my BBQ thermometer when I roast chicken in the oven.
The final important part is the internal meat temperature. USDA recommends cooking chicken to 165F internal temperature. A lot of recipes I’ve seen blindly follow that advice. For example, cooking a chicken breast to 165F makes a perfectly cooked breast. Cooking a wing or a leg to to that temperature makes for a juicy, yet stringy and tough piece of meat, that feels under-cooked when cooked to 165F.
Chicken wings and legs are much more forgiving. I like them ‘overcooked’. For legs, in my opinion, 180F-190F is more appropriate as it gives you tender, fall-off-the-bone meat that is still very juicy.
Looking for more great chicken leg quarters recipes? Check these out:
- 4 chicken legs drumsticks with thighs attached
- 1 tsp kosher salt plus more to taste
- 1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
- 1 tsp granulated onions
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper plus more for a stronger kick - see my notes
- Start preheating the grill to medium high, about 300F-350F at the grate level.
- Meanwhile, combine all of the ingredients except chicken in a medium bowl and mix well.
- Pat dry the chicken legs with paper towel, then evenly apply the rub all over the chicken legs. The rub should stick to the chicken fairly easily without adding any oil. If not, rub the chicken legs with a small amount of oil then apply the rub. Set aside and let sit at room temperature until the grill is ready.
- Brush the grill grate with a little bit of oil to prevent chicken legs from sticking. Place the legs on the grill, skin side down, and close the lid. Grill covered for about 30 minutes, flipping every 8-10 minutes and moving around to account for hot spots and ensure even browning. The legs are ready when the chicken legs are nicely browned and the internal temperature is reading about 180F-190F.
1 tsp - medium kick
1 1/2 tsp plus more - a lot of kick.
We finally are seeing some warm weather up here in Canada. I was lucky enough to find this recipe today. Since I had everything on hand I gave it a shot. I will using this as a go-to from now on. Absolutely delicious and so simple. Thank you!
You are very welcome. Enjoy!
Hi! Is this dish keto friendly? And what dark soy sauce brand do you use? I have kikkoman soy sauce on hand, will this be ok? Thank you! I can’t wait to try this!
Hi Michelle, yes, this recipe is keto-friendly. Enjoy! I use Lee Kum Kee Dark Soy that’s available locally. Pearl River Bridge brand is good too. Regular Kikkoman soy sauce is considered dark as it contains sugar but it’s not as thick and ‘saucy’ as the soy sauce marketed as ‘dark’, which is thicker, darker, and sweeter. I like using it for grilled foods over other types. Good luck!
For barbecue, would you recommend par-boiling the chicken legs before marinating?
Al, that’s not necessary, you can marinate and grill as is. However, your approach sounds interesting too.
Thanks Victor, reason being that on a bbq, sometimes the heat burns the outside but leaves the inside nit quite done, which for chicken us not good. Thank you for your prompt reply. All the best
That’s what I figured, Al. Enjoy!
Although Par Boiling will ensure a safe final temp I would strongly discourage it because it does change the texture of the meat. Not a big change, but enough for me that I do notice the difference. All the way on the BBQ does taste better for Chicken Legs!
BTW Sous Vide Instead of Par Boiling when done at the correct temp will ensure perfectly cooked meat. Then a finish on the BBQ, or Smoker, or Cast Iron Pan with most meats, Well a very pleasant dinner.
Chicken legs tho, I think BBQ all the way.
Love this recipe. Have made at least a half dozen times this summer since finding it. Tried rub with grilled pork chops as well to make pork fried rice and also enjoyed
Glad to hear it. Enjoy!
You, sir, are a genius. My family can’t get enough of this recipe!!!!!! That soy sauce did some magic in the chickens. Each time I cooked this, my cats went crazy and they would drool. It’s so funny. This recipe is so good that I made it about 4 times this week already. Thank you for posting this!!!!!!
You are very welcome. Thank you for the kind words. Enjoy!
Sir, I’m holding YOU accountable for making me gaining weight with this simple yet delicious recipe. I made it 3 nights ago and everyone inhaled it, so I decided to cook it for dinner again tonight.
LOL Happy to hear that you like my recipe. Weight gain, well, hope you can find a way to manage it. I have the same challenge. And every time I say I should stop making tasty food because of that, my daughter says – No, daddy, please don’t, without tasty food life would be so boring. LOL
I sub olive oil for sesame oil and added some paprika and only bones were left great recipe
Happy to hear it, Eugine. Glad you liked it.
Definitely the best grilled chicken legs I have ever had. Juicy on the inside, super crispy skin on the outside. Thank you for sharing this perfect recipe!
You are very welcome. Enjoy!
I tried this recipe tonight for dinner along with my four cheese macaroni and cheese and it was very delicious and went great with my macaroni and cheese.
Glad you liked my recipe. Enjoy!
This has been my fav go to BBQ chicken recipe this summer. Everyone loves it.
Really, really good! The cayenne was a good addition but the second time we subbed smoked chipotle and loved it even more. Thanks for this great rub recipe!
You are welcome. Enjoy!
Thanks for the recipe! I followed all directions and my chicken leg quarters turned out beautiful. My family loved them so much that I’m making them again today. Thanks again
You are welcome. Enjoy!
Pretty good when used on thick cut Iowa chops to.
Nicely done. Followed this recipe to the letter . Very good flavor .
These were the best BBQ legs I have ever had! Moist and tasty. I will use this recipe over and over again.
Glad you liked them, Barb. Enjoy!
I added fresh Rosemary and they were delicious. Marinated 2 days.
I’d consider myself an experienced cook but had never heard of dark soy sauce so thank you for that introduction. This marinade is hands down the BEST marinade I’ve come across. We make this once a week. When it’s too cold to grill, we air fry it and it comes out sooooo good.
You are welcome. Enjoy!
The Wellness Evolution
These were amazing. I didn’t think it seemed like enough of the rub but it was perfect.
This was so tasty, tender and jucy.. 180 degrees was the magic temp too. I’m definitely making this again.
The BEST bbq Chicken we have ever had!! Amazing, tasty crispy chicken. An simple easy to follow recipe. This is definitely our new favorite!! We actually put the chicken a brine the day before. We used whole legs. Going to try it without the brine next time.
You have to try this recipe 😋
This is a great recipe, and easy. Chicken was delicious. Instead of soy sauce, I used coconut amino’s. My family does not eat soy sauce. All other ingredients were the same. My daughter had seconds which is very rare!! Thanks for sharing!
You are welcome, enjoy!
Made this chicken tonight on the gas grill. It was perfect!! Made it without the onion but was still delicious.
This recipe was so easy and fast to make. I had marinated it in this sauce for a few hours before I got to grill. It was delicious. I will definitely make this again.
This recipe is awesome! My husband usually does the BBQ but since he went to bed early, I decided to bbq myself for the first time and it turned out perfect. I now have my go to person (you) to help guide me. Thank you….
You are very welcome. Enjoy!
Can you use teriyaki sauce instead of soy sauce?
You could, but grilling will be trickier as it’s sweet and burns easily over direct heat.
I’m not a fan of grilled chicken, but this turned out really good! The skin was crispy, the color was beautiful, it was tender and juicy… I would definitely make this again!
How long and what temp in the oven? Can’t wait to make it. Thanks for the comment of tripling the recipe. I have to do that too.
Check out this chicken leg recipe for cooking them in the oven.
Made this for supper. It was delicious
Easy, quick and delicious as promised! I like moderate heat. Surprisingly, 1/2 tsp Cayenne did not deliver the punch I expected. More next time, which will be soon!
Wonderful recipe. Is my go-to recipe for bbq’d chicken. I might tone done the onion powder since it makes it a slightly too sweet
I just made this a few days ago for my wife. She was very skeptical at first, but then she tasted it. Today she asked me to make it again for dinner tonight! This chicken is SOOOO good! It really reminds me of “county fair” or “VFD” chicken. I followed the recipe exactly, except I did put it on the chicken about a hour in advance since I had time. DO NOT TRUST the temperature gauge on your grill. Use a meat thermometer. My chicken took about 45 minutes to reach 190 because (I believe) my grill thermometer is faulty (as most are). Also I doubled the recipe for my 4.6 pounds of chicken. The recipe above would not have been enough for me.
Can I use chicken quarters?
Yes, you can.
Hey, will using the recipe to marinade over night make it too salty?
Hi Marvin, there isn’t too much salt to make the chicken salty so you will be fine.
These are the best chicken legs I have ever eaten. I have passed your recipe to two of my friends. Is there a recipe for chicken breasts or pork chops?
Hi Mary, I assume you are asking about grilling recipes. Here is my favorite grilled pork chop recipe. As for my favorite grilled chicken breast recipe, I don’t have it posted but I will in the near future.
Are these cooked on direct or indirect heat if I am using a gas grill?
Direct heat. Like it much better that way.
I sear without oil but adding some won’t hurt if only add a bot of smoke.
Super easy and super delicious. My family loved it.
It was so easy and delicious. Everyone hates my cooking boy did I surprise them with this chicken. They want it all the time now. Thank you can’t wait to try more of your recipes.
Most delicious. I’m wondering about adapting it to a spatchcocked/butterflied chicken or even rotisserie?
It Will work great, I tried several times.
This was amazing! I marinated the chicken for a half-hour before putting on my UDS and my family loved it.
WOW ! This was amazing! I’m making it again tonight. Such a nice break from a heavy BBQ sauce. Thanks
You are welcome.
This was delicious!! I did double the recipe the 2nd time I made it and did let it marinate for a couple of hours for greater flavor. Will definitely be one of my new go-to recipes. Thanks!
The best grilled chicken I have ever made!
Extremely moist and tender and crisp skin.
The only way I’ll grill chicken again!
Great flavor! Had to triple the recipe for a few more people. Worked great!
Is this a dry rub or wet. Seems to me the soy would keep this from being a dry rub.
Recipe doesn’t specify where the soy is comes into play. What I am I missing here
with how to properly use the soy in this recipe?
Wet since it has soy sauce and oil in it. Just mix all of the ingredients except the chicken in a bowl (see picture in the post above), then apply on the chicken and grill.
Follow the directions closely and you’ll have an amazing chicken dinner. The flavor is great, the chicken is moist, and the skin is perfectly crispy.
This is bar-non the best & quickest way to prepare great tasting drums and thighs-Thanks! We use this on both que & in oven. One suggestion is to pierce the skins on the chicken prior to brushing on marinade this allows oils to drain crisping the skin more. We also had to play around while using oven between bake & convection roast to obtain correct crisp. Also 190 F internal gives the best pull of the bone doneness.
#flavour #simplicity #cravingtasty
Happy to hear that you liked my recipe, Luchiano.
I’m confused…does the tbsp oil go in the rub? Or.just for grates?
Chris, it’s for the grates only.
Hi Victor. This needs to be clarified….just made the “rub” with the ingredients listed as the recipe states – including Olive oil in the rub. Hope it is ok…lol
Hi Cary, sorry for the delayed response. Yes, this is fine.
I used this recipe and adopted it to my Breville air fryer toaster oven. 10-12 minutes at 390 degrees air fryer setting. flip over and 10-14 minutes at 390 degrees. I’ve also Cooke on my gas grill. The air fryer was as good or better.
I use my air fryer a lot lately, I actually bought a second one so I can cook more at the same time. Love the taste of the food that comes out of it.
This is now my favorite go-to recipe for chicken leg quarters, thighs or drumsticks. I have a big easy SRG Grill and this recipe come out fantastic on it.
Ha! Just realized I didn’t start from the beginning when I “reread” so I get it now. I had actually read it all before making the recipe. Unfortunately I totally forgot by the time I was done.
No worries. Enjoy!
Hi, you say add some sugar but I’m not sure how much to add. I made the recipe with the ingredients in the list which didn’t list sugar and didn’t catch the sugar part until after I finished cooking and reread your intro. I liked this recipe and would like to try again with the sugar next time.
Thanks for the recipe…perfect!!
You are very welcome!
Hey there, these look great! Could you smoke these at a lower temp and then just put them in the oven/broil to get the skin browned? New to smoking.
Yes, you can. You can finish by broiling, pan searing or grilling over high direct heat.
Tried these grilled chicken legs today and was quite impressed. Simple recipe yet the taste was anything but simple. The crispy skin perfectly contrasted the juicy, fall-off-the-bone meat. I did mine on the egg as well, I think that makes a difference.