Smoked Chicken Quarters with Crispy Skin
Smoking chicken quarters with our special dry rub is an easy way to make your next backyard barbecue a hit.
Slowly smoked chicken quarters have a rich smoky flavor and warm buttery texture that melts in your mouth.
What makes chicken quarters an excellent choice for smoking is how well they absorb the flavors from the smoke while staying moist and juicy inside. One of the most straightforward cuts of meat to smoke, quarters are ideal for backyard barbecues, big parties, summer picnics, and family dinners.
This smoked chicken quarter recipe includes a versatile dry rub and everything you need to know to get the chicken tender and juicy on the inside with crispy golden brown skin on the outside.
In this Piece
One of the things we like about smoking chicken quarters, compared to thighs or drumsticks on their own, is that you get the best of both worlds. You get the most flavorful part of the bird with the thigh along with an easy-to-use handle in the drumstick.
What are Chicken Quarters
Whole chicken legs, sometimes called quarters or leg quarters, are a great choice when cooking for groups. One of the most inexpensive cuts of chicken, quarters are packed with flavor and are easy to cook.
Aptly named, quarters include slightly less than a quarter of the meat from a whole bird and include the thigh, drumstick, and a part of the back. Considered dark meat, the advantage of quarters is that they cook up nice and juicy, have lots of flavors, and handle the smoke much better than breasts which can dry out when smoked.
The advantage quarters have over other cuts is they’re relatively inexpensive, develop great flavor when cooked low and slow, and come with a handle that makes them easy for people to eat at picnics and barbecues. They’re also are big enough that one per person is usually enough for a meal.
It’s worth noting that many places sell legs that are almost identical to quarters but only include the thigh and drumstick.
In many recipes, the terms leg and drumstick are used interchangeably. This recipe works equally well for quarters, legs, and drumsticks.
When picking out chicken, look for fresh pieces that have a clean smell and don’t feel gummy to the touch. Avoid pieces with a grayish or off-color tinge, have a strong odor that sticks in the back of your nose, or has skin that leaves a sticky residue on your fingers.
Smoking Chicken Quarters
One of the things that we like about smoking quarters is that they’re simple to prep, easy to smoke, and not very expensive, making them ideal for big parties and for people just getting started using a smoker.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when smoking chicken leg quarters.
Using a smoking temperature of 250℉ (121℃) gives the quarters time to develop layers of flavor while keeping the chicken juicy and delicious.
The most commonly recommended temperatures for smoking chicken range from 225℉ (107℃) to 275℉ (135℃). Throughout our testing, we found that using 250℉ (121℃) allows the chicken to develop flavor without drying out as it can at higher temperatures or having the skin come out gummy, which sometimes happens at lower temperatures.
Quarters are moist enough and have enough natural flavor that there is no reason to brine them before putting them into the smoker. It is ok to marinate them if it’s done to infuse them with flavor. They can be prepped up to a day in advance and should be allowed to come up to room temperature before going into the smoker.
The quarters should be placed skin side up in the smoker and do not need to be turned while they cook.
We recommend smoking chicken quarters at 250℉ (121℃) for an hour and a half or so until they have cooked all the way through and their internal temperature reaches 165℉ (74℃).
For those that prefer their meat to be a little more fall off the bone, the quarters should cook until the internal temperature is closer to 175℉ (79℃).
There is so much variation in smokers that internal temperature is a better way to tell when the quarters are done than time alone. For planning purposes, we set aside a couple of hours of cooking time when we’re smoking the quarters at 250℉ (121℃).
To take the meat’s temperature, put the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. Using a wireless meat thermometer makes the process a lot easier and lets you lounge in the backyard with a beer or get other things done without having to constantly check on the smoker.
The best type of wood chips we’ve found for smoking chicken are hickory and mesquite. Hickory and mesquite bring out the meat’s natural flavors while adding the rich smoky flavor that defines perfectly smoked chicken. Other good choices are apple, maple, or pecan, which gives the dark meat a lighter smoke flavor, with more fruit notes.
This recipe will work with gas, electric, pellet, or charcoal smokers. If the smoker being used doesn’t include a water pan, set an aluminum foil pan filled with water below the chicken pieces to help keep them moist and help control the smoker’s temperature.
If you don’t have access to a smoker or in case of inclement weather, the quarters can be made in a 350℉ (177℃) oven, roasted on a baking sheet for 45 to 55 minutes. They’ll still have a nice barbecue flavor from the rub but won’t have the same deep smoky flavor that makes them so popular when they’ve been smoked.
The technique used here is similar to our Smoked Chicken Wings, which use a dry rub and hickory to infuse the juicy wings with a robustly smoky flavor.
If you’re interested in other delicious ideas for the smoker, check out The Best Meats to Smoke & How to Make them Taste Delicious.
How to Get Smoked Chicken Skin Crispy
One of the most common questions people ask about smoking chicken is how to get the skin crispy.
Over the years, we’ve tried, read, and dreamed up many different techniques for avoiding rubbery chicken skin, such as turning up the heat in the smoker for the last 30 minutes, air-drying the chicken in the fridge, and pan-searing the quarters before smoking.
The best way we’ve found to crisp up the skin on smoked chicken is to use a hot grill for a few minutes at the end of the cooking process.
To crisp the skin up on a grill, wait until the quarters have finished cooking, then place them skin side down on a medium-high grill for 2 to 3 minutes or until the skin has reached the desired level of crispness. It’s essential to watch the chicken and have a pair of long-handled tongs handy to move the quarters if they start to flame up.
The chicken should rest on a cooling rack for five minutes before being served.
Smoked Chicken Rub
The spice rub for this recipe has a little sweet and a little heat that helps the chicken develop complex flavors as it smokes. The rub uses brown sugar to add a little sweetness and promote caramelization, smoked paprika deepens the rub’s flavor, while the chili and chipotle powders add some heat and pizzaz.
If you like your smoked chicken with more heat, increase the chipotle by 1/2 tsp while reducing the brown sugar by 1/2 tsp.
The best way to infuse the rub’s flavors deep into the meat is to get it under the skin and into all of the nooks and crannies. The rub can be applied up to a day in advance, giving it and the bird time to bond.
This dry rub will work with whole birds, wings, thighs, drumsticks, breasts, and quarters.
How to Reheat Smoked Chicken Quarters
The best way to reheat quarters is on a medium grill. It usually takes 10 to 15 minutes over medium heat to warm them all the way through.
The quarters should be placed skin side up for the first 10 to 12 minutes. Once the chicken has been warmed through, it can be flipped over for the last few minutes to crisp the skin back up.
Quarters can also be warmed in a 350℉ (177℃) oven in a baking dish or roasting pan for 15 to 20 minutes.
What to Serve With Smoked Chicken
Quarters are easy to make for larger groups or backyard barbecues. The chicken has enough flavor that we usually serve it straight from the smoker with a nice barbecue sauce on the side for dipping.
It can also be coated with BBQ sauce for some extra sticky deliciousness. If you love traditional, sauce-forward barbecue, check out this Grilled BBQ Chicken recipe for a saucy way to cook thighs.
No matter what side dishes it’s being served with, there’s no better pairing for dessert than a slice of Homemade Blueberry Pie.
- 4 to 6 chicken quarters
Smoked Chicken Rub
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp chipotle powder
- Set up the smoker and preheat it to 250℉ (121℃). Let the chicken come up to room temperature before going into the smoker.
- In a small bowl mix the brown sugar, smoked paprika, cumin, chili, garlic, and chipotle powders along with the salt and pepper.2 tsp brown sugar, 1 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp chipotle powder
- Spread the rub on the chicken, taking the time to get it under the skin, around the legs, and into all of the nooks and crannies.4 to 6 chicken quarters
- Smoke the chicken quarters at 250℉ (121℃) for an hour and a half or so until the chicken has cooked all the way through, and the internal temperature has reached 165℉ (74℃).
- To crisp the skin up, place the quarters skin side down on a medium-high grill for 2 to 3 minutes per side.
- Let the chicken rest for a few minutes before serving it with a good BBQ sauce for dipping.