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Chicken legs are underrated. They’ve got a bad rap for being too fatty, and health-conscious diners often shun them in favor of the leaner (ahem, drier) breasts. Even for dark meat-lovers, chicken thighs or drumsticks usually present the faster, cheaper alternative than a full leg quarter, so most chicken recipes comprise the individual parts of the chicken leg. And that’s a shame:
A full chicken leg (when cooked right, with crispy skin) is a mouth-watering affair that’s far more satisfying to devour than the awkward thigh, the paltry drumstick, or the dull old breast.
In our chicken legs recipe below, we’ll take you to the streets of Cambodia, where the legs are marinated in a fragrant sauce, then grilled and served with a side dishes such as pickled vegetables or a papaya salad. Our recipe for crispy chicken legs doesn’t require any exotic ingredients and shouldn’t take you long to prepare. And while at home we usually barbecue our chicken legs, you can use this same recipe for either the grill or the oven.
Barbecued Crispy Chicken Legs
- 1 Grill (affiliate link) — We use this grill at home, it's ideal for balconies. You can connect it to a large propane cylinder with an adapter hose or use the smaller propane bottle.
- 1 Basting brush
- 1 Instant read thermometer
- 7 Whole chicken legs Skin-on chicken works best if you want the crispiness
- 1 bunch Cilantro stems
- 1½ inch knob
- 1 teaspoon Salt Kosher salt works best
- ½ teaspoon
- 1 pod Palm sugar Use brown sugar or maple syrup as an alternative
- 1 teaspoon
Soy sauce(affiliate link)
- 1 tablespoon
Oyster sauce(affiliate link)
- 1 teaspoon
Kampot pepper(affiliate link) crushed or ground
- 6 cloves Garlic Garlic powder as an alternative
- 4 tablespoons Honey
- 1 tbsp Chili powder optional
- Cut stems out from a cilantro bunch and chop into 1/4-inch pieces.
- Cut the galangal into thin slices.
- Place garlic cloves, black pepper, salt, MSG, palm sugar, galangal, and cilantro into the mortar and pound with the pestle until you turn the ingredients into a paste, then move the paste to a mixing bowl.
- Add soy sauce, oyster sauce, and honey to the bowl and mix everything together. You've got your marinade!
- Wash the chicken legs and pat them dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture.
- Place chicken legs into a dish where you will marinate them, cover with the marinade, and mix thoroughly to ensure that the sauce smothers the chicken legs completely.
- Allow the chicken to marinate for at least 1 hour.
- Preheat on low, and brush the grill with cooking oil or olive oil.
- Place the chicken legs onto the grill with the skin side up.
- Depending on your grill's heat output, you may or may not want to close the lid. If the heat yield is low or normal, go ahead and close the lid. But if the grill produces a higher temperature than normal, you may want to close the lid periodically — doing so will speed up the cooking process and put out any grease fires on the grill as you starve the fire of oxygen. However, keeping the lid closed for too long on a grill that gives off lots of heat will cause your chicken legs to dry out and possibly get charred.
- Baste the chicken legs with a single layer of the marinade sauce.
- Turn the chicken legs onto the skin side after the first 10 minutes, then flip them back 2 minutes later (so the skin doesn't burn). Continue flipping the legs at the same interval and baste the legs a couple of times more between flips. For best results, adjust the number of flips based on the heat output of your grill.
- Continue to cook until the meat has reached temperatures of 165°F or higher before serving the chicken legs (ensure you have a meat thermometer handy when you grill). The cooking time will vary depending on the size of the legs and the grill's heat output.
What are chicken legs called?
Chicken legs are called “chicken legs” or “chicken leg quarters.” If you slice a chicken’s leg at the joint, you’ll end up with two distinct parts that have separate names — chicken thighs and chicken drumsticks. Chicken thighs are the upper, larger and juicier part of the chicken leg, while the drumstick is the lower, slightly drier (yet no less delicious) portion of the leg.
Are drumsticks the same as chicken legs?
No, drumsticks are not the same as chicken legs. Drumsticks are often mistakenly referred to as “legs” because they are indeed part of a chicken’s leg. However, drumsticks are merely one of two parts of a chicken leg, the other one being the thigh.
Are chicken legs cheaper?
Yes, chicken legs are cheaper than other parts of the chicken — notably the breast. Legs are cheaper than the breast because they’re widely considered to be less healthy because of their higher fat and cholesterol content. When sold separately, the two parts of the chicken leg (the thigh and the drumstick) are also not priced equally. The thigh, which is meatier and juicier than the drumstick, commands a correspondingly higher price point than the drier, bonier drumstick. That said, you may find chicken thighs that are comparable in price to breasts — if they’re deboned and skinless. With the bones out, there’s more meat on offer, so the buyers get more bang for their buck. And since the skin is thought to be more fatty and harmful, skinless thighs are more popular among health-conscious buyers.
Are chicken legs dark meat?
Yes, chicken legs are dark meat because they are from the thigh and leg of the chicken, which are darker in color than the breast. Dark meat is higher in fat and calories than white meat, but also has more flavor, is more tender, and far less dry after cooking than white meat. Because of the higher concentration of fat (and thus cholesterol), chicken’s dark meat is considered to be less healthy than white meat. And since the public views white meat, like the breast and leg, as the more healthy cuts of chicken, white meat typically costs more than dark meat.
Are chicken legs fatty?
Chicken legs are fatty compared to chicken breasts, but lean compared to other meats. While cooked, skinless breasts have on average 3.6 grams of fat per 100 grams of meat, cooked and skinless legs (drumstick and thigh together) have 8.5 grams of fat per 100 grams of meat. Chicken wings are a close second, with 8.1 grams of fat per 100 grams when skinless (and no one really eats chicken wings without skin). Meanwhile, red meats, like beef, lamb, and pork, have far higher fat count. Below is how much fat you’ll find in 100 grams of beef, lamb, and pork.
- Beef: 10 grams of fat per 100 grams
- Pork: 20 grams of fat per 100 grams
- Lamb: 20 grams of fat per 100 grams
As you can see above, even the fatty chicken legs are relatively lean compared to other types of meat (when skinless, anyway). And note that the fat content differs depending on the part of the chicken leg you’re eating. Drumsticks, which are known for being leaner and drier than thighs, only have 5.7 grams of fat per 100 grams. In contrast, chicken thighs are packed with 10.9 grams of fat per 100 grams, which makes them more comparable to beef in fat content.
What’s the healthiest part of a chicken?
Chicken breast is the healthiest part of a chicken, based strictly on fat content. Chicken breasts have the lowest fat content of all chicken parts, weighing in at a mere 3.6 grams of fat per 100 grams. That’s three times less fat than chicken thighs and beef, and more than 6 times less fat than pork or lamb. So, if you’re trying to avoid consuming excessive amounts of fat, opting for leaner meats — like the chicken breast — is a good idea.
That said, chicken legs are slightly more nutritious than breasts. Notably, chicken legs have more Vitamin A, Vitamin B-12, Selenium, and Potassium — nutrients that are essential for human health.
Is chicken skin unhealthy?
There’s much debate as to whether chicken skin is unhealthy. Chicken skin mostly comprises unsaturated fat, with only 1/4 of the total fat content being the unhealthier, saturated fat. In this article from the Harvard School of Public Health, Myrdal Miller, a Registered Dietician, states that because the fat in the chicken skin is mostly unsaturated, there’s no need to remove the skin when cooking or eating the chicken. From this statement, we can gather that chicken skin is not unhealthy, at least in moderation. That said, the seemingly small percentage of saturated fat can add up quickly if you eat chicken with the skin on regularly (as you would with chicken wings). So, if you want to be safe, you can either eat the chicken skin in moderation, or remove it completely after cooking (leaving the skin on helps the chicken retain moisture as it cooks).
Which is better, chicken leg or breast?
There is no definitive answer as to whether chicken leg or breast is better — it depends on personal preferences. Chicken breast meat is generally more mild-flavored and easier to chew, making it a popular choice for many people. What’s more, chicken breast has a lower fat content, which may appeal to more health-conscious individuals. That said, many prefer the taste of chicken leg meat, which doesn’t dry out as much during the cooking process as chicken breast meat does.
Why do chicken legs bleed when cooking?
The reason chicken legs bleed when cooking is that there’s blood inside the chicken’s bone marrow, and this blood expands and escapes when heated. It’s also possible that the chicken’s femoral artery still has some blood in it, and this blood begins to leak out while you’re cooking the chicken. If you’ve cooked the chicken legs to the correct internal temperature — 165°F per the FDA — a little blood should not be a cause for concern.
What is the red liquid coming out of chicken legs?
The red liquid coming out of chicken legs when cooking could either be blood or myoglobin. Myoglobin is an integral part of circulation, as it supplies oxygen to muscle cells. As the chicken’s muscles contract in response to being heated, myoglobin starts to leak out, and appears as a red or pink liquid. So, if the liquid you’re seeing is light red or pink, and almost indistinguishable from the juices that normally leak out, it’s likely myoglobin. However, if the red liquid coming from the chicken is thick and dark, chances are that it’s blood escaping from either the chicken’s bone marrow or femoral artery. In either case, make sure that you’ve cooked the chicken legs to an internal temperature of 165°F or higher before eating the meat.
Is a little pink or red in chicken legs OK?
Yes, a little pink or red in chicken legs is OK, but ONLY as long as you’ve measured the internal temperature and it’s 165°F or higher. The easiest way to check the temperature of your chicken legs while they’re cooking is with an instant-read thermometer, which will give you an immediate and accurate temperature reading. If the thermometer shows temperatures lower than 165°F, you should continue cooking even if you’re not seeing pink or red in the meat.
Parting Words on Grilled Chicken Legs
We hope you’ll enjoy our recipe for grilled chicken legs!
If you’ve made chicken with this recipe, please let us know what you thought in the comments below. Likewise, please go ahead and share your favorite way of making chicken legs.