How to Grill Chicken Legs on a Charcoal Grill: Step-by-Step Guide

Published By Kevin Turner

Last Updated Feb 5, 2024 is reader-supported. If you buy something using the links on our site, we might earn an affiliate commission at no added cost to you. This helps us pay our staff to keep making awesome content for you!

Table of Contents

    Ah, the quest for grilling flawless chicken legs on a charcoal grill has been my personal kitchen battlefield. Like so many others, I’ve faced the disappointment of pulling off drumsticks that were more jerky than juicy – certainly not the stuff of barbecue legend.

    But through trial, error, and plenty of patience, I’ve honed the artistry of cooking up chicken that’s as succulent as it is savory. You’re in luck; because now I’m going to show you just how simple creating mouthwatering grilled chicken can be.

    Fire up that grill—it’s time to turn those BBQ dreams into reality!

    Key Takeaways

    • Before grilling, marinate the chicken legs in BBQ sauce and spices for at least 2 hours to enhance the flavors and tenderness of the meat.
    • Set up your charcoal grill by creating an indirect heat zone; light charcoals and position them on one side of the grill, achieving a surface temperature between 350-400°F before cooking.
    • Use long – handled tongs to flip chicken legs over direct or indirect heat every 5 minutes, ensuring they reach an internal temperature of 165°F for safe consumption.
    • To prevent dryness and add flavor, brush the drumsticks with additional BBQ sauce during grilling—this builds layers of savory glaze on the crispy skin.
    • Serve grilled chicken legs with a variety of sides such as fresh salads, grilled vegetables, rice, or mashed potatoes to complement their smoky taste.


    Ingredients & Equipment

    For grilling chicken legs on a charcoal grill, you will need some basic ingredients and equipment. Gather your chicken legs, BBQ sauce, spices, and tongs for flipping. And of course, don’t forget your trusty charcoal grill for that smoky flavor!

    Chicken legs

    Chicken legs are the star of any BBQ, with their juicy meat and potential for crispy skin. Before grilling, I like to season them generously with spices or marinate them to ensure every bite is packed with flavor.

    On my charcoal grill, I’m careful to create both direct and indirect heat zones; this technique helps me control the cooking temperature and prevents the chicken from burning.

    Once everything’s set up, it’s time to get those drumsticks on the grate. I use tongs for precise handling, placing each leg carefully over indirect heat first. This strategy allows them to cook through without charring on the outside too quickly.

    As they sizzle away, I keep a close eye on their progress, flipping each one every five minutes until they reach a perfect internal temperature – tender inside and beautifully browned out.

    After that’s done, it’s just a matter of adding your favorite BBQ sauce for that finishing touch if you prefer sauce before moving onto preparing the sides or accompaniments as outlined in our next section: Ingredients & Equipment.

    Charcoal grill

    I place the charcoal in a pyramid shape on one side of the grill. Then, I light it and allow the coals to heat up for about 15-20 minutes until they turn ashy gray. I spread them out evenly using long tongs.

    This creates a two-zone fire with direct heat on one side and indirect heat on the other. The direct heat will give that nice char and crispy skin, while the indirect heat will cook the chicken through without burning it.

    Once my grill is set up, I’m ready to start grilling my chicken legs over direct or indirect heat based on how I want them cooked. Direct heat ensures a crispy outer layer and beautiful grill marks, while cooking over indirect heat allows for slower cooking, ensuring juicy and flavorful chicken legs.

    It’s time to get those drumsticks onto the hot grates.

    BBQ sauce

    I brush the chicken legs with a generous coating of tangy BBQ sauce, infusing them with delicious flavor as they grill. The sweet and smoky notes from the sauce caramelize on the crispy skin, creating a mouthwatering glaze that enhances the overall taste of the grilled drumsticks.

    As the chicken cooks, I baste it with additional BBQ sauce to build layers of rich, savory goodness.

    After grilling, the BBQ sauce adds depth and complexity to each juicy bite of chicken, providing a perfect balance to the natural flavors of the meat.


    I brush the chicken legs with a mixture of paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and black pepper. Then I let them sit for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse into the meat.

    Next, I sprinkle on some cayenne pepper for a bit of heat and depth of flavor without overpowering the other spices.


    I use long-handled stainless steel tongs to handle the chicken legs on the grill. The design helps me keep a safe distance from the heat while still having precise control over flipping and moving the drumsticks around.

    With a secure grip, I can easily maneuver the chicken legs for even cooking without piercing or damaging them.

    Using tongs is essential when grilling to ensure that you can safely and effectively handle your food. Whether it’s turning the chicken legs or moving them to different parts of the grill, having a reliable pair of tongs makes grilling much more manageable and enjoyable.

    Setting up the Grill

    First, I’ll show you how to set up your charcoal grill for grilling chicken legs. This includes creating an indirect heat zone and checking the surface temperature of the grill.

    Indirect heat zone

    I position the charcoal to one side of the grill, leaving the other side free from direct heat. This allows me to cook the chicken legs slowly without burning them. I create an indirect heat zone by placing the chicken legs over this cooler area and then cover with a lid, letting them cook evenly and thoroughly.

    Once set up, I monitor the grill surface temperature throughout the grilling process to maintain even cooking. This method ensures that my grilled chicken legs turn out juicy on the inside with crispy skin on the outside.

    Checking grill surface temperature

    After setting up the grill for indirect heat cooking, I position an instant-read thermometer on the surface to check the temperature. Once it reaches around 350-400°F (175-200°C), it’s ready for grilling the chicken legs.

    This ensures that the chicken cooks evenly and achieves that perfect crispy skin while remaining juicy inside.

    How to Grill Chicken Legs on Charcoal Grill

    To grill the chicken legs on a charcoal grill, it’s important to place them over indirect heat and flip them every 5 minutes for even cooking. Make sure to check the final internal temperature before serving to ensure they are cooked through.

    Placing chicken legs on the grill

    I position the chicken legs directly over the heat source and close the lid. Then, I cook them for 5 minutes on each side, flipping with tongs to ensure even cooking. I make sure they reach an internal temperature of 165°F before removing them from the grill.

    Once heated up, I carefully place the chicken legs onto the grates and let them cook for 5 minutes without disturbing them. After that, using a pair of tongs, I flip each piece over and allow it to cook for another 5 minutes until golden brown all around.

    Finally, when they reach an internal temperature of 165°F as measured by a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the leg without touching bone or gristle, they are ready to be taken off for serving.

    Flipping every 5 minutes

    To grill the perfect chicken legs, I position them on the grill and close the lid for 5 minutes. Then, using tongs, I flip the drumsticks to ensure even cooking and a crispy exterior.

    This process is repeated every 5 minutes until the chicken reaches its final internal temperature of 165°F. This flipping technique helps to seal in the juices and develop a deliciously charred crust on each side of the chicken legs.

    Adjusting my grip with tongs, I carefully turn over each chicken leg every 5 minutes to achieve an evenly golden-brown appearance across all sides. This ensures that no single part gets burned or undercooked while also allowing me to baste the chicken with any BBQ sauce during each turn.

    Final internal temperature

    I always check the internal temperature of the chicken legs using a meat thermometer. When they reach 165°F, I know they are perfectly cooked and safe to eat. This ensures that the meat is not undercooked and eliminates any risk of foodborne illness.

    Tips for the Best Grilled Chicken Legs

    Marinating the chicken legs beforehand can enhance the flavors and juiciness of the meat, while adjusting the recipe size to fit your needs can make grilling more convenient. Additionally, consider serving suggestions to elevate your grilled chicken leg experience.

    Marinating beforehand

    Before grilling, I marinate the chicken legs in a mixture of BBQ sauce and spices for at least 2 hours. This allows the flavors to infuse into the meat, resulting in juicy and flavorful grilled chicken legs.

    The marinating process is essential for tenderizing the meat and adding depth to the taste profile. Plus, it gives the chicken a nice caramelized char when cooked on the grill.

    The marinated chicken thighs or drumsticks can be refrigerated overnight for even richer flavor absorption. When ready to cook, bring them to room temperature before placing them on the grill over indirect heat.

    Adjusting recipe size

    When adjusting the recipe size, simply multiply or divide the ingredients based on the number of servings you want to make. If you’re making more chicken legs, double or triple the amount of marinade and seasonings.

    On the other hand, if you need fewer servings, reduce the quantities accordingly. This ensures that each piece of chicken is adequately seasoned and flavored for a delicious outcome.

    Adapting portion sizes might also require adjustments in cooking time. Keep an eye on smaller portions as they may cook faster than larger ones. Similarly, if grilling a large batch, you may need to allow extra time for everything to cook through evenly.

    Serving suggestions

    To serve the grilled chicken legs, I recommend pairing them with a fresh salad or some grilled vegetables. The combination of the smoky flavor from the grill and the crispiness of the chicken skin pairs perfectly with light and refreshing sides.

    Additionally, you can drizzle some extra BBQ sauce on top for an added burst of flavor.

    For a complete meal, consider serving the grilled chicken legs with some fluffy rice or buttery mashed potatoes. The savory taste of the chicken will complement these classic side dishes beautifully.


    In conclusion, grilling chicken legs on a charcoal grill is a delicious and rewarding experience. The smoky flavor from the charcoal adds an extra dimension to the juicy, crispy drumsticks.

    Remember to monitor the grill temperature and flip the chicken every 5 minutes for even cooking. With these simple steps, you’ll be able to enjoy mouth-watering BBQ grilled chicken legs that will impress your family and friends at your next outdoor gathering.


    1. What’s the best way to grill chicken legs on a charcoal grill?

    Grill juicy chicken legs by using grilling techniques that include cooking them over direct heat first and then finishing them over indirect heat to get crispy chicken skin.

    2. Can you also cook chicken thighs the same way as drumsticks on a charcoal grill?

    Absolutely! You can grill both BBq grilled chicken legs and thighs using similar steps, adjusting cooking time for thicker pieces like thighs.

    3. How long does it take to grill BBQ chicken drumsticks on a charcoal grill?

    It typically takes about 25-30 minutes to fully cook grilled chicken drumsticks, flipping occasionally for even grilling and checking until they’re perfectly done.

    4. Is it possible to achieve smoky-flavored grilled chicken without a smoker?

    Yes, when cooking on a charcoal grill, you can add wood chips alongside your coal which creates smoke that gives your BBQ-grilled Chicken Legs that sought-after smoked flavor.

    5. Are there any special tips for grilling with charcoal versus gas?

    For outdoor cooking with charcoal, make sure your coals are hot and create separate zones for direct and indirect heat; this method is ideal compared to gas grills which have different heat settings.

    Learn More About Grilling

    If you want to learn more about grilling, check out these other helpful resources!

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    Types of Ribs (Your Ultimate Guide)


    What Type of Meat to Use for Beef Jerky?

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    How to Grill Filet Mignon on Charcoal: A Perfect Steak Guide


    How to Keep a Charcoal Grill Lit: Proven Tips for Steady Heat

    Kevin Turner
    Hi there, I'm Kevin Turner, Founder and CEO of I started this website to share my passion and knowledge with you. You can leverage my years of experience as a pit master and professional to grill great food!

    About The Grilling Master

    Hi there, I'm Kevin Turner, Founder and CEO of

    My passion has always been grilling, smoking and BBQ delicious meats that satisfy my inner carnivore!

    I started this website to share my passion and knowledge with you, the hungry reader who wants to prepare the perfect meal. 

    You can leverage my years of experience as a pit master and professional. 

    Send me a message and let's connect on Twitter here.

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