Juicy and tender smoked chicken leg quarters recipe

Hey, let me spill the beans on smoking chicken – leg quarters are like the chill friend of the smoker game. Unlike chicken breasts with their tricky “done and juicy” window, leg quarters are more laid-back. They need a higher internal temperature, and the space between ‘done’ and ‘dry’ is way more forgiving.

Now, why leg quarters? Well, they’re not just budget-friendly; they’re like the superheroes of collagen. That stuff breaks down during the low and slow smoking dance, making them the MVPs of the smoker world. The only catch? Crispy skin can be a bit elusive without a quick grill sesh after the smoky party. But hey, flavor-wise, they’re the bomb!

A container of chicken rub and in the background chicken leg quarters

I’ve got a little secret to share – dry brining is the game-changer for the juiciest smoked chicken! It works like magic, pulling out moisture and waving goodbye to rubbery skin. We’re all about those air-chilled chicken leg quarters, keeping things moist without the traditional water bath fuss.

Now, for the dry brining fun: start with a dry surface (cue paper towel action), and then shower those leg quarters with your favorite spice blend. Oh, and a little under-the-skin love is optional – I’m more of a top-seasoner myself.

Pro tip: If you’re not quite ready to season, hit ’em with some salt first. Let it work its moisture-pulling charm. Today, I went with the Chik N Rib Rub from Tango Spice company – it’s got this awesome flavor that dances perfectly with juicier cuts of meat. Flavor town, here we come!

Link to my homemade rub for smoked chicken.

Chicken leg quarters seasoned with dry rub
Chicken leg quarters all seasoned up and ready for smoking

Check out how these chicken pieces are rocking their seasoning! Hooks are slyly nestled under the thigh bone – no accidental somersaults in the smoker. Of course, if you’re feeling ground-level vibes, throw them on the grate, and the hooks can take a break. Your call, no hooks needed for that grate life!

pit barrel cooker, charcoal, wood chips and a chimney starter being used to light the charcoal.

Time to set the stage for smoky goodness! I’ve got this outdoor cooking ritual down to a science – knowing exactly where my wood chips, paper towels, and BBQ sauce are before lighting the smoker just makes the whole experience more zen. And today’s star: charcoal briquettes. They’re the VIPs of my smoking game – longer burn, cooler vibes, and way fewer flare-up dramas.

Enter the Pit Barrel cooker, our trusty sidekick for a few years now. It’s like the rockstar of vertical drum smokers, close kin to the DIY ugly drum smoker. What sets it apart? That lighter touch of smoke showers on the meat, making every bite a flavor symphony.

But hey, if you’re more of a pellet grill or electric smoker maestro, those are low-stress champs. Pop in your pellets set the temp, toss in your meat, and let them do their thing. Easy peasy. Now, offset smokers? They’re like the wild child of the smoking family. Indirect cooking is their jam, but they demand a bit more babysitting. The plus side? They play nice with any fuel, including logs. For that true-blue, hardcore smoking vibe, an offset cooker with logs is the ultimate choice – just don’t forget the adult beverages. Cheers to the smokin’ journey ahead!

This is a video I made for YouTube just after buying the smoker.

Let’s get this Pit Barrel party started! Fill up that basket with charcoal, but sneak out just enough to give your chimney some love. Drop the basket in the belly of the cooker. Now, here’s the magic trick: tuck some paper under the chimney, set it ablaze, and watch the charcoal catch the spark. Once it’s dancing with the flames, sprinkle it on top of the basket, lid on, and let the temperature tango begin!

Now, I’m all about that sweet spot for dark meat chicken – a cozy zone between 250F to 325F. Today, though, my Pit Barrel had a wild side, aiming for 325 to 335F. Quick fix? I played cool parent and dialed down the air to mellow it out a bit. My guess? Those wood chips were in party mode, cranking up the heat more than the usual chill session. Gotta love it when the smoker has a mind of its own!

Chicken leg quarters cooking inside of a pit barrel cooker
Notice the thermometer monitoring the temperature of the meat and the cooker.

The Pit Barrel Cooker does throw in a grill grate, but if I have my way, it’s hanging time! Leg quarters take the spotlight, gracefully suspended. I sneak a thermometer probe into the meatiest nook (careful not to hit bone) and another to vibe with the cooker temp. Wires? They elegantly shimmy out through the rebar holes. With wood chips in the mix, I seal the deal with a tightly closed lid.

a digital thermometer monitoring the tempature inside of the cooker and internal tempature of the meat.
The cooker is running a little hotter than normal

Let me spill the beans on my thermometer game! So, those probes? They’re like secret agents, sneaking back to this cool receiving/monitoring unit. You can boss it around, set min and max temps, and when things get wild and exceed limits, bam! It alarms like a rockstar.

Here’s the sweet part – this unit isn’t a loner. It whispers secrets to a remote unit. Yep, I grab that bad boy, head to the house, and play the ultimate cooking maestro. If a flare-up decides to join the party, beep, I get the heads up. And when the meat is groovin’ at its perfect doneness, another sweet alert. Not gonna lie, it’s not a must, but it turns cooking into a pure chill fest. Peace of mind, one beep at a time!

Chicken leg quarters with sauce on a pan with a brush
Just added a layer of sauce, time to crank up the temperature

When those leg quarters are flirting with perfection, I pull them out to add the magic touch – sauce time! Now, you can go with your trusty store-bought BBQ sauce or get your DIY vibes going. The sauce is like the optional glitter on the already sparkly dry rub, but hey, I’m all about that saucy life. And here’s my golden rule: brown sugar in the sauce is a non-negotiable. It’s my flavor jam, but hey, personal preferences, right?

Once the sauce is on, it’s game time. I dial up the heat to a cozy 325 to 350 degrees F. Why? To turn that sauce into a caramelized masterpiece and bless us with some slightly crispy skin. But here’s the deal – I’m on high alert for any flare-up shenanigans. Gotta keep a close eye on the magic unfolding!

Finished smoked leg quarters on a sheet pan
Time to enjoy smoked leg quarters

When are chicken leg quarters done?

Let’s talk chicken perfection, my friend! When we’re in the realm of smoking, forget the clock – “done” is all about that internal temperature dance. Cue the instant-read food thermometer, our trusty guide on this flavorful journey!

Now, leg quarters, those dark meat delights, are the stars of the show. Safety says 165F, but trust me, we’re after more than just safety. At 165, they’re a bit rubbery, not my vibe. My sweet spot? A golden 175F to 180F. Yeah, there’s a bit of carry-over cooking, but that’s the magic range where collagen starts its melting dance. Result? Juicy, textured perfection.

Once they waltz out of the cooker, give those leg quarters a breather – a chill time of 10 to 15 minutes. This lets the juices shimmy back into the meat, sealing in the flavor.

Now, the million-dollar question: why’s smoked chicken sometimes pink? It’s like a Gordon Ramsay nightmare, right? Well, blame it on myoglobin – it hangs around when cooked low and slow. Pink meat? Totally cool. But if you spot those overly dramatic bloody-looking juices, maybe it needed a bit more time. Shh, don’t tell my BBQ buddies, but a quick microwave moment and we’re good to go. Gordon Ramsay who?

You might also like my recipe for dry-rubbed chicken.

Finished smoked leg quarters on a sheet pan. this is a pin for pinterest

Hey, if this chicken masterpiece brought a smile to your taste buds, why not spread the love? Share this flavor-packed recipe with your friends, and let them savor the goodness too! Food is best enjoyed together.

If you are looking for a great recipe for smoking a turkey using a Traeger grill check out this recipe by Jenn.

Finished smoked leg quarters on a sheet pan

Smoked chicken leg quarters

How to smoke chicken leg quarters using a pit barrel cooker
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: leg quarters, smoker
Servings: 4
Calories: 369kcal
Author: James Strange


  • 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.


Calories: 369kcal | Carbohydrates: 11g | Protein: 25g | Fat: 24g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 142mg | Sodium: 670mg | Potassium: 319mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 139IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 22mg | Iron: 1mg
Tried this recipe?Mention @james_strange_eats or tag #james_strange_eats
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5 stars
Mmmmm … this succulent chicken is absolutely delicious! Thanks for a simple recipe we can enjoy again and again.

5 stars
So much good here! Not sure I’ll smoke chicken any other way after trying this recipe. Thanks so much. It’s a winner!

5 stars
Pretty darn delicious! We served with a great big salad and it was a great meal. Thanks for the step by step!

5 stars
My husband will love this recipe. Saving it for Sunday.

5 stars
These were the juiciest chicken leg quarters I have ever had! They turned out wonderful. I’m definitely doing it again!

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