How to Make the Truly Best-Ever Barbecue Chicken Drumsticks

Brine + homemade sauce + grilling and oven combo method. This BBQ chicken drumsticks recipe combines all my barbecue secrets. You might think the steps are weird, but when you start eating them, you won’t care. Bonus, any leftovers are delicious straight out of the fridge.

A close-up shot of the finished BBQ chicken drumsticks on a plate, with the recipe ingredients and steps neatly listed next to the image.

Barbecue Chicken Drumsticks

These drumsticks are brined for juiciness, grilled for a smoky flavor, and baked to perfection with a tangy homemade sauce.
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 45 minutes
Serving Size 5 chicken drumsticks

Ingredients 

Chicken

  • 3 ½ pounds chicken drumsticks about 10
  • 2 quarts water
  • ¼ cup kosher salt
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • olive oil or other oil for greasing grates on the grill

Barbecue sauce

  • ¾ cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup chili sauce
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider or distilled vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon liquid smoke
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon coarsely-ground pepper
  • pinch of salt

Instructions 

  • Brine chicken. Stir together water, salt, and sugar in a large bowl and add chicken or transfer brine to an extra-large 2.5-gallon Ziploc bag, add chicken, and seal. Place chicken and brine in the fridge for one hour.
    Raw chicken drumsticks submerged in brine inside a large plastic bag placed in a bowl, showing the preparation step before grilling.
  • Make barbecue sauce. While the chicken brines, whisk together the barbecue sauce ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat slowly on low heat for about 15 minutes.
    A saucepan filled with rich, homemade barbecue sauce being whisked, showing the sauce preparation process.
  • Grill chicken. Drain water and pat the chicken dry. Preheat a gas grill to medium heat and the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour a little bit of oil on folded paper towels and using large tongs, use the folded paper towel to quickly grease the grates of the grill. Repeat if necessary. Place chicken on the grill and cook for 10 minutes, turning halfway through.
    Chicken drumsticks being grilled, with a light char and grill marks, part of the cooking process before adding the barbecue sauce.
  • Bake chicken and add sauce. Transfer chicken to a lined baking sheet. Bake chicken for 15 minutes, remove from the oven, and brush barbecue sauce all over the chicken. Return chicken to the oven and cook for 15 minutes, then remove chicken from the oven again and brush barbecue sauce on both sides of the chicken. Finish cooking the chicken for an additional 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit checked with a meat thermometer.
    BBQ chicken drumsticks on a foil-lined baking sheet after the first coating of barbecue sauce, ready to be baked further.
  • Serve. Brush chicken with additional sauce and serve immediately.
    BBQ chicken drumsticks on a parchment-lined baking sheet, freshly baked with a final coat of barbecue sauce, showing the completion of the recipe.

Notes

I used Hickory liquid smoke flavor. We love the slightly smoky flavor of this sauce.
If you only have 15 minutes to brine the chicken, even a little bit will improve the flavor of the chicken, but I wouldn’t brine it for more than 2 hours. The chicken can get too salty for long periods of time in the brine. 
The method for cooking the chicken comes from Tyler Florence at the Food Network. He grills first to sear the bone-in chicken and finishes cooking and basting in the oven. . 
I used a gas grill, but other grills could be used. An indoor grill would work great as well. Without a grill, this could be seared in a pan and finished in the oven. It could also be grilled and cooked completely on indirect heat in the grill.
Preheat the grill before applying the oil to help grease the grates and prevent food from sticking. The oil can be applied several times. It also helps to clean the grates by using a thick grilling brush before preheating.
I love the Hefty brand’s Storage Slider Jumbo 2.5-gallon bags.  They free up a lot of fridge space and are perfect for brining chicken in the fridge.
Calories: 505kcal | Carbohydrates: 43g | Protein: 38g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 8g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 196mg | Sodium: 6542mg | Potassium: 845mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 38g | Vitamin A: 422IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 91mg | Iron: 3mg

These drumsticks are always a hit, no matter how picky everyone can be. The brine keeps them juicy, and the homemade sauce is a family favorite. During our hot Virginia summers, this recipe is perfect because I don’t have to spend too much time outside by the grill. It’s a go-to for quick and delicious dinners.

A close-up view of BBQ chicken drumsticks coated in sauce, with a jar of extra barbecue sauce and a plate of corn and beans in the background.

I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Tips for Grilled Drumsticks

  • Preheat the Grill Properly: Make sure the grill is fully preheated before adding the chicken to get those beautiful grill marks and prevent sticking.
  • Pat the Chicken Dry: After brining, pat the chicken thoroughly dry with paper towels to help the skin crisp up on the grill.
  • Monitor Grill Temperature: Keep an eye on the grill temperature to avoid flare-ups that can burn the chicken. Medium heat works best.
  • Use a Meat Thermometer: Check the internal temperature to ensure the chicken reaches 165°F. This ensures it’s cooked through without drying out.

What You’ll Need for the Best Barbecue Chicken Drumsticks

Using the right tools and ingredients can make all the difference in this recipe. Here are a few important ones to make sure you have:

Raw chicken drumsticks on a white tray surrounded by small bowls containing various ingredients for the recipe, including ketchup, brown sugar, spices, and vinegar.
  • Kosher Salt. This salt is coarser than table salt and dissolves well in the brine, enhancing the flavor of the chicken.
  • Liquid Smoke. Found in the condiment aisle, this ingredient adds a smoky flavor without needing a smoker. The hickory flavor works well for this recipe.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar. This type of vinegar adds a tangy kick to the barbecue sauce. You can find it in the salad dressing aisle or substitute it with distilled vinegar if needed.
  • Dijon Mustard. This mustard provides a slight tang and depth to the sauce. It’s usually located near the other mustards and condiments.
  • Meat Thermometer. Essential for ensuring the chicken is cooked to the perfect temperature of 165°F, keeping it safe and juicy.

These items are key to achieving the best flavor and texture for your BBQ chicken drumsticks.

Serving Suggestions

Serve with coleslaw, cornbread, broccoli salad, and corn on the cob.

Troubleshooting and Help

Can I use chicken thighs or breasts instead of drumsticks?

Absolutely! You can use thighs or breasts, but keep in mind that cooking times might vary. Thighs will be similar to drumsticks, but chicken breasts might cook faster, so keep an eye on them and use a meat thermometer to ensure they reach 165°F.

What if I don’t have a grill?

No problem! You can sear the chicken in a hot pan on the stove for a few minutes on each side to get a nice crust, then finish cooking them in the oven as directed. Alternatively, an indoor grill works great too.

Can I make the barbecue sauce ahead of time?

Yes, you can! The barbecue sauce can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. Just give it a good stir before using it on the chicken.

What if I don’t have liquid smoke?

If you don’t have liquid smoke, you can skip it. The sauce will still taste great without it, but you might miss out on that extra smoky flavor. Another option is to add a bit of smoked paprika if you have it.

How long should I brine the chicken if I’m short on time?

Even a quick 15-minute brine will help enhance the flavor and juiciness of the chicken. However, if you have more time, aim for the full hour, but don’t exceed two hours to avoid overly salty chicken.

Can I use store-bought barbecue sauce?

Of course! If you’re short on time or have a favorite store-bought sauce, feel free to use it. This recipe’s homemade sauce is simple and flavorful, but the choice is yours!

Storing Leftovers

Refrigerating:

  • Allow the chicken to cool completely.
  • Place the drumsticks in an airtight container.
  • Store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Freezing:

  • Let the chicken cool completely.
  • Wrap each drumstick tightly in aluminum foil or plastic wrap.
  • Place the wrapped drumsticks in a freezer-safe bag or container.
  • Freeze for up to 3 months.

Reheating:

  • Thaw frozen chicken in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Place the drumsticks on a baking sheet and cover with foil.
  • Bake for about 20 minutes, or until heated through.

Note: The chicken may lose some texture and flavor when frozen, so it’s best enjoyed fresh.

I hope you enjoy making and eating these as much as we do. They’re a simple, flavorful dish perfect for any occasion. Try it with all your favorite sides and enjoy a great meal with your family or friends.

BBQ chicken drumsticks served with a side of baked beans and mashed potatoes on a white plate, ready to be enjoyed.
How to Make the Truly Best-Ever Barbecue Chicken Drumsticks

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