What Are the Different Ways of Cooking Chicken Legs?

J. Beam

Chicken is a versatile meat source, especially since it can be cooked whole or in pieces. Aside from the breast, the second most popular piece of chicken is the leg. While chicken legs do not provide as much meat as the breast, they are meatier than the thigh or wing and chicken legs can be prepared a number of ways. The chosen method of cooking chicken legs depends on the desired flavor and nutritional outcomes.

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, barbecuing and grilling are two different methods used to cook chicken.
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, barbecuing and grilling are two different methods used to cook chicken.

When it comes to flavor, perhaps the most favored method of cooking chicken legs is frying. Frying is also the unhealthiest method of cooking chicken, due to the oil. The fat from oil can be reduced by frying in chicken in liquid oil rather than solid shortening and by choosing a cooking oil low in saturated fats. Another option is to oven "fry" the chicken using a prepared oven mix or making your own.

Use a meat thermometer to confirm that the chicken has reached an internal temperature of 180 degrees.
Use a meat thermometer to confirm that the chicken has reached an internal temperature of 180 degrees.

An equally tasty method of cooking chicken legs is grilling. Grilling is a healthier option and most any flavor can be added by either marinating the chicken, preparing it with a spiced rub, or simply basting it with sauce while cooking. Larger chicken legs may need to be par-boiled prior to grilling to make the meat more tender and avoid drying out the meat – especially without basting. Experimenting with different barbecue, bourbon, or mustard-based sauces can help to create a variety of meal experiences.

If neither frying nor grilling is desired, another method of cooking chicken legs is to roast them. Roasting can be done in the oven or a roaster. If roasting in the oven, the meat will either need to be prepared with a liquid for occasional basting or covered with foil or a roasting bag to avoid over-drying. Roasted chicken is often preferred as a lower-calorie and reduced fat method of cooking chicken. To further reduce the calorie and fat content, remove the skin prior to cooking chicken legs.

An alternative similar to roasting is smoking, but a smoker is necessary. Some grills have this capability and wood chips that provide good flavor and aroma are widely available. Choose hardwoods or fruit and nut woods like hickory, maple or apple. Using soft woods like pine or cedar will infuse meat with bitter, tarry flavors that are undesirable.

Chicken is not always an easy meat to cook. When barbecued or smoked, it is not always possible to check for doneness by looking at the color. Cooking times and safe temperatures vary slightly depending on whether the chicken is whole and which pieces are being cooked. Cooking chicken legs to a minimum internal temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit (82.2 degrees Celsius) is necessary to kill potentially dangerous bacteria. When checking for food safety temperatures use a meat thermometer inserted through the thickest part against the innermost bone.

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Discussion Comments


@pleonasm - I'm not sure I've ever come across a child yet who had never had a chicken leg. The drumstick is so easy for kids to hold and nibble on that it's usually the first thing they latch onto when they are young. I think that's why it's popular and will continue to be popular. I can't imagine the whole roast chicken no longer being a staple family food any time soon.


@browncoat - I wonder if the days of children quarreling over who gets the favored parts of the bird are over now. I was talking about it with a friend of mine recently and she told me that it's becoming more and more common for supermarkets to try and package chicken so that there is no bone involved at all. Children are so used to just having nuggets or fillets of chicken and other meat at restaurants that they will actually be quite dismayed when they come across anything with the bone still in it.

Which is pretty awful actually, because we're already far too divorced from the origins of our food without completely erasing its identity. Kids need to understand where food comes from so they can get involved in improving the process when they get older.


I've never been a big fan of chicken legs, because I don't actually think they have that much meat on them. I never understood why my sisters fought over the legs when there were bigger pieces of chicken available anyway.

The leg tends to taste slightly different to the other pieces, so I guess if it's your preference that makes up for the fact that it's relatively small.

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