Grilled Chicken Drumsticks

Here’s how to make great Grilled Chicken Drumsticks every time!

Here’s how to make great Grilled Chicken Drumsticks every time!

You may be thinking, “how complicated can it be?” I mean, grilled chicken, we’ve all done it a million times, right?

But I think that mostly when we make chicken on the grill, especially whole pieces of dark meat chicken, it turns out pretty much blackened on the outside and pretty much undercooked on the inside. I’m not saying your chicken is like that, I’m just saying it’s pretty common. So maybe grilled chicken isn’t that simple after all.

In fact, dark meat chicken can take a little longer to cook. And we tend to grill over pretty high heat, which can definitely lead to overcooked outsides and undercooked insides. We also tend to cook dark meat chicken with the skin on, and that skin is fatty, so prone to burning.

(An advantage of dark meat? Its extra fat makes it a little more forgiving. In other words, there’s a little more of a window between juicy, perfectly cooked chicken and dry, overcooked chicken.)

(Prefer chicken breasts? Read how to grill chicken breasts that are soo juicy.)

My point being—while it’s not rocket science, maybe grilled chicken deserves a little more thought.

Strategies for perfectly grilled chicken

I’ve come up with two strategies. One is to cook my chicken until it’s pretty much done in the oven, where I can better control the heat. Then I just finish it on the grill, brushing it with barbecue sauce and getting some nice grilled flavor and color. That method is described in this post for how to grill chicken perfectly, and would work great for any type of chicken pieces, including drumsticks.

My other strategy is a two-step cook on the grill, and that’s the one I’m using in the recipe below. I set up the grill for two kinds of cooking—direct heat and indirect heat—then basically use the grill like I use my oven in the first strategy. That is, I put the chicken over indirect heat and leave it there until it’s pretty much cooked through. Then I brush it with barbecue sauce, move it to direct heat, and cook it for just a few minutes per side, to get some flavorful color and caramelization.

I should mention that, with either of these methods, you can actually do the first cook in advance, let your chicken cool, refrigerate it if you‘re doing the first cook way in advance, and then finish it on the grill whenever you’re ready. Nice if you’re cooking for a crowd and would rather spend the party with people than with chicken!

Another advantage of pausing between cooks is, if you prefer skinless chicken, it’s a lot easier to remove the skin from the cooled chicken after that initial cook than when the chicken is raw.

When to add the sauce

But wait. There’s another reason, besides cooking it too quickly, that grilled chicken sometimes ends up overly charred on the outside. Barbecue sauce.

Why? Because most barbecue sauce contains sugar, and sugar burns easily. So if you slather on the sauce when you start to cook, that sauce will be blackened before the chicken is done. Even if you start over a lower or indirect heat.

The solution? Add the sauce at the end, when you’re finishing the chicken over direct heat. My rule of thumb is that I never want a sugary sauce over high heat for more than 5 minutes.

While we’re on the subject of barbecue sauce, you might want to try my homemade barbecue sauce or this sweet, spicy, smoky barbecue sauce.

Here’s to perfectly cooked, perfectly delicious grilled chicken drumsticks every time!


Christine :)



Grilled Chicken Drumsticks

  • Author: Jill Hough
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 6 servings


Here’s how to make great Grilled Chicken Drumsticks every time!


  • 12 chicken drumsticks (about 3 pounds)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. pepper
  • 3/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • About 1/2 cup barbecue sauce (optional)


  1. Prepare a grill to medium heat, with areas for direct and indirect cooking, and lightly oil the grate.
  2. Sprinkle the chicken on all sides with the salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
  3. Cook over indirect heat with the lid closed to an internal temperature of 165°F, 30 to 40 minutes. While you’re cooking, check the grill every 10 minutes or so and adjust the heat as needed to maintain an “oven” temperature of about 325°F.
  4. Brush the chicken with the barbecue sauce, if using.
  5. Move the chicken to direct heat and cook until it has nice grill marks, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Brush on more barbecue sauce halfway if desired.
Grilled Chicken Drumsticks

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