Sometimes a chicken leg is just that.. a chicken leg. But sometimes, a chicken leg is a smoked chicken lollipop. In this recipe, I am going to show you how to turn an ordinary chicken drumstick into something that is fun and exciting to eat for kids and adults alike.
These make great appetizers or they can be served with sides as an excellent entree for lunch or dinner.. breakfast too I suppose.
Let's get started!
- Prep Time: 45 minutes
- Cook Time: 2 hours
- Smoker Temp: 225°F
- Meat Finish Temp: 165°F
- Recommended Wood: Cherry
- 12-14 chicken legs/drums
- Jeff's rub (purchase recipes here)
- Jeff's Sauce (purchase recipes here)
- Cherry juice for the glaze (optional)
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Rinse the chicken legs under cold water. Lay one of the chicken legs on the cutting board or other hard surface to begin turning it into a lollipop.
Using a sharp knife, make a cut all the way around the chicken, down to the bone, just below the knuckle.
This is how it looks once your cut is made. Holding the bone in one hand, pull all of the chicken meat down to one end away from the knuckle.
Clean up the bone just a little bit removing any stray fat or meat and snipping off any tendons that might be sticking out beyond the ball of meat.
The first couple of chicken legs might be a little slow going but you'll get the hang of it quickly and the rest of them should go a lot faster.
Place all of the “cleaned up” chicken legs into a bowl or large ziptop bag for seasoning.
If you want to use a sticking agent, mayonnaise works really well on chicken. I just used the rub by itself in this particular batch but I often use mayonnaise, olive oil or mustard to create a nice sticky surface that the rub can adhere to.
Once you are ready for the rub, pour on about ¼ cup of Jeff's rub and stir the chicken around to make sure it's well coated.
A more methodical way to season these chicken legs is to lay a single layer of chicken legs into the bowl, sprinkle with seasoning, flip them over and sprinkle the other side with seasoning.
Lay down a 2nd layer and repeat.
Continue this same process until all of the chicken has been thoroughly coated with rub.
Place a lid on the container or zip it closed and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to seep into the skin and meat of the chicken.
You can also leave the seasoned chicken in the fridge overnight if time allows.
Once the chicken is done marinating, remove from the fridge and proceed.
To keep the handles (bones) from burning and turning dark, cover them with foil.
It is easier, in my opinion, to cut enough squares of foil before you get started wrapping.
Wrap each handle in foil and lay the finished legs onto a bradley rack or cookie sheet for easy transport to and from the smoker.
The cool thing about the bradley rack is you won't have to remove the chicken from the rack as long as it will fit in your smoker.
The chicken is now ready to cook!
This step can easily be done while the chicken is marinating in the fridge.
Fire up the smoker (or plug it in if you have an electric model) and set it up to smoke cook at about 225°F.
You can definitely cook hotter if you want to but as with most small things, I like to cook low and slow to make sure and get plenty of smoke flavor time.
If your smoker has a water pan installed from the factory, be sure to use it. It helps to keep the temperature stable and creates a barrier between the heat and the food.
Once the smoker is up to temperature and holding steady, it's time to cook.
Place the chicken directly on the smoker grate or if you used the bradley rack, just lay the entire rack of chicken on the smoker grate.
Maintain 225 °F for about 2 hours or until the thickest part of the chicken reads 165 °F using a digital meat thermometer.
There are 3 main thermometers that I like to use, one is the Thermapen for quick and easy checking of each piece. I also like to use the Maverick ET-732 when I am using a smoker that is a long ways from my kitchen (more than 100 feet or so). A third option which I have been using recently, is the new iGrill2 which I have been very impressed with so far. It does not have the range of the Maverick ET-732 but it connects with my iPhone/iPad via bluetooth and, not only does it keep me informed of the temperature of my smoker and 3 other food items, it also charts my time and temperature for me.
There are lots of options when it comes to thermometers, but these are the 3 that I use and recommend to anyone who really wants to get serious about smoking meat.
The first thing you learn about smoking meat is that you don't cook by time very much, it's usually more about temperature. The folks I've talked to who brag that they don't need no stinkin' thermometer, tend to overcook or undercook food all too often for my taste.
If you like it that way, more power to you. I like to know that I am right on the mark and that I created a perfectly finished product for my family and friends.
I used cherry wood for this chicken and kept the smoke going the full 2 hours. You can use any smoking wood and it will work fine. Some of my favorites are Mesquite, Pecan, apple and of course cherry.
There is no reason, in my opinion, to soak wood chips/chunks before using them. I get better results and better smoke flavor by using the wood completely dry.
Saucing the Chicken
If you want to sauce the chicken, brush it on about 30 minutes before the chicken is finished cooking.
To glaze the chicken while it cooks, take 1 part Jeff's sauce and add it to 1 part beer, wine, water, juice (cherry juice is great if you can find it), or other liquid. Mix well to make a really flavorful and beautiful glaze.
These chicken legs were glazed several times during the cooking/smoking process:
Once the smoked chicken lollipops have reached 165 °F, remove them from the smoker and remove the foil from around the handles.
Serve the smoked chicken lollipops immediately or you can also place it in a pan covered with foil and into a warm oven to hold it for an hour or so until dinner.
- For smoked chicken, lots of folks complain about rubbery chicken. Using this method, you will usually get chicken skin that has good “bite through” but it won't be crispy. Crisping the skin can be done on the grill or under the broiler of your oven but you risk burning the rub and/or sauce.
- These smoked chicken lollipops can be used as an appetizer or as a main entree making them very versatile.
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- 12-14 chicken legs/drums
- Jeff’s rub
- Jeff’s Sauce
- Cherry juice for making a glaze (optional)
- Rinse chicken legs under cold water
- Lay one of the chicken legs on the cutting board or hard surface.
- Make a cut through skin, meat and tendons all the way around the chicken leg, just below the knuckle
- Push meat all to one end leaving at least half of the bone on the knuckle end as a handle.
- Snip off any extruding tendons, meat, fat, etc. to clean it up.
- Repeat process on all chicken legs.
- Apply mayonnaise to outside of chicken to create a stick surface for the seasoning to stick to.
- Sprinkle Jeff's rub onto each chicken leg making sure to coat all sides thoroughly.
- Place all of the seasoned chicken into a lidded bowl or ziptop bag and place it in the fridge for 2 hours minimum. You can also marinate overnight if desired.
- After marinating time is complete, remove chicken from fridge.
- To prevent the handles from getting too dark or burnt, cut a square 4-inch pieces of foil for each chicken leg.
- Wrap the foil around the handle (bone) of each chicken leg.
- Preheat smoker to 225 °F
- Place chicken directly on smoker grate
- Let chicken cook for about 2 hours or until it reaches 165 °F in the thickest part.
- If you want to add sauce to the chicken (highly recommended) do so during the last 30 minutes of the cooking time.
- Remove foil from chicken and serve immediately.