When it comes to smoking, chicken leg quarters are more forgiving than chicken breast. The breast has a tiny window that is done and juicy. Leg quarters have to be cooked to a higher internal temperature, and the window from done to dry is bigger.
Leg quarters are economical and loaded with collagen that breaks down during the low and slow smoking process. This makes them a perfect choice for smoking. The only drawback is it can be hard to get crispy skin without grilling after smoking.
I like to dry brine the chicken before smoking. Dry brining will pull moisture out and help prevent rubbery skin. We also buy air-chilled chicken leg quarters, which have less moisture than the traditional water bath method.
For the dry brining, use a paper towel to ensure the surface is dry, then generously season the leg quarters. If you want, you can also pull up the skin and season under the skin. Personally, I only season the top.
For this, use any spice blend that you like as long as it contains salt. If you are not ready to season, then add salt and let it pull out the moisture. Today I used Chik N Rib Rub from Tango Spice company. This rub has a great flavor and goes well with juicer cuts of meat.
This is how the chicken pieces looked after seasoning. The hooks are under the thigh bone. This way, they do not fall off when we hang them in the smoker. But you can also place them on the grate. In that case, you will not need the hooks.
So it's time to get everything ready and light the smoker. I find outdoor cooking more relaxing when I know where everything is. Before I light a fire, I know where the wood chips, paper towels, and BBQ sauce are. In this case, they are soaking in some water and ready to go.
For the most part, I use charcoal briquettes for smoking. They last longer, burn cooler, and I have fewer issues with flare-ups.
Today I will be smoking the leg quarters using a Pit Barrel cooker. We have had it for a few years now and love the results we get using it. This is a vertical drum smoker it is very similar to the DYI ugly drum smoker. It tends to give the meat a lighter smoke flavor than some of the other types of cookers.
Pellet grills can also very low-stress smoking. Add your pellets, set the temp and your meat, and forget about them. Same with electric smokers. Turn them on, add your meat, and walk away.
Offset smokers use indirect cooking but require the most monitoring. But they can also burn just about any fuel type, including logs. The best wood for flavoring comes from fruit or nut trees. Since you need to stay close by, they require lots of adult beverages when cooking if your real hardcore about smoking meat, an offset cooker with logs is the way to go.
This is a video I made for YouTube just after buying the smoker.
To light, the Pit Barrel cooker fill the basket with charcoal then take out enough to fill the chimney. Put the basket in the bottom of the cooker. Put some paper under the chimney and light the paper. When the charcoal is light, add it to the top of the basket, put the lid on the cooker, and let it come to temperature.
I like to cook dark meat chicken using medium heat, somewhere between 250F to 325F. Today the cooker wanted to run at 325 to 335 F, so I had to cut off some of the air to bring it down a little. I am going to guess that the wood chips made the temp run higher than normal.
The cooker does come with a grill grate, but when possible, I like to hang everything. I hang the leg quarters. Place a thermometer probe in the thickest part of one (trying not to touch bone) and put a probe sensing cooker temp. Wires from the probes are routed out thru the rebar holes. After that, I add the wood chips and close the lid.
The thermometer probes are routed back to a receiving / monitoring unit. On this unit, you can set min and max temperatures. When you exceed the limits the unit will alarm. The receiving / monitoring unit also sends a signal to the remote unit. I take the remote unit to the house and monitor the cooker. If there is a flare-up I get an alert. When the meat is done I get an alert. This is not required but makes cooking a lot more relaxing.
When the leg quarters are close to done, I take them out and add the sauce. For this, use your favorite BBQ sauce or make your own. Adding sauce is optional. The dry rub has plenty of flavors, but I got to have my sauce. Whether I make my own or use store-bought bbq sauce, the sauce needs to have brown sugar. But that is my personal preference.
After I add the sauce, then I raise the temperature to the 325 to 350 degrees F range. This will help to caramelize the sauce and give us slightly crispy skin. But at this point, I like to stay close by and watch for flare-ups.
When are chicken leg quarters done?
When smoking chicken, "done" is not decided by time. The internal temperature of the meat decides when it is safe and appetizing. To check the temperature, use an instant-read food thermometer.
Leg quarters are made up of a leg and a thigh. Both of which are dark meat. Dark meat is considered safe to eat at 165F. But at 165, they are rubbery and not pleasant. My preference is to pull them at 175F to 180F. They will get a little carry-over cooking after pulling but only a few degrees. This temperature range allows the collagen to start to melt. The leg quarters will be juicy and have a nice texture.
After taking the chicken out of the cooker, it is best to rest the meat for ten to fifteen minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute back into the meat.
Why is smoked chicken meat pink?
So you just spent a few hours smoking your chicken leg quarters to the correct temperature. You serve them your family cuts into them, and the meat is pink. You instantly hear Gordon Ramsay. It's RAW. Smoked is cooked at a low temperature, and the meat will be pink due to the myoglobin that has not broken down. Pink meat is fine.
However is you have bloody-looking juices, you probably needed more cooking time. Do not tell my hardcore BBQ buddies, but a few seconds in the microwave, and Gordon will never know.
- 4 Chicken leg quarters
- 1 Tablespoon Dry rub
- 1/2 Cup BBQ Sauce
- Using a paper towel, pat the chicken leg quarters dry. Season generously with dry rub
- Light a fire in the smoker and adjust the fire to achive a steady temperature from 250F to 325F
- Add soaked wood chips to the fire
- Place the leg quarters into the smoker and cook to desired doneness (175 to 180F). If a sauce is desired, add your favorite BBQ 15 to 30 minutes before the leg quarters are done.
- When the leg quarters are done, remove from the smoker and let rest 10 minutes before serving.