For a simple yet crave-worthy dinner, put these very best smoked chicken leg quarters on the menu and watch everyone fall in love with every delicious, succulent bite! Coated in a flavorful, aromatic dry rub, these tender, juicy chicken quarters are infused with the perfect kiss of smoky flavor and then are finished under a blast of high heat to ensure you get that perfect crispy skin. Your next backyard BBQ will be one to remember when you serve these smoked chicken quarters.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
Made for dark meat lovers: A perfectly cooked chicken breast is always tasty, but you can’t beat the richness and deeper flavor of dark meat. With chicken quarters, everyone gets a thigh and leg serving to keep dark meat lovers satisfied. And if you have any white meat lovers among your ranks, you can always cook these quarters with this smoked chicken breast as well.
Impress your friends and family with your BBQ skills: Get ready for the compliments to pour your way after everyone tastes this chicken. You will look like a pitmaster, but it can be our little secret that this smoked chicken leg quarter recipe is incredibly simple.
Requires very little hands-on work: With its quick and easy preparation, these fuss-free smoked chicken quarters are perfect for entertaining. You’ll want to make this chicken a staple at your summer cookouts.
Chicken leg quarters: Pick chicken quarters with a light pink color and no discoloration. The skin should be smooth with no tears, and it should have a neutral smell. If possible, I also recommend opting for an organic or free-range chicken.
Dry rub: We use the same spice blend from my smoked whole chicken. This includes chili powder, brown sugar, garlic powder, black pepper, smoked paprika, onion powder, cayenne pepper, ground cumin and mustard powder. If you have your own spice rub, you can use that instead.
Salt: The salt is for dry brining to give us even better chicken leg quarters.
Olive oil: Before finishing the chicken, we brush the skin with olive oil to enhance that crispy texture.
BBQ sauce: If you'd like to sauce your chicken quarters, my coffee-bourbon BBQ sauce, jerk BBQ sauce and honey-sriracha BBQ sauce are great on this chicken. You're also welcome to use your favorite BBQ sauce if you'd like.
Dry Brine the Chicken
Step 1: The day before smoking, we pat the chicken quarters dry with paper towels, generously sprinkle the skin with salt and place the chicken in the refrigerator uncovered to dry brine (photo 1). Ideally, we want to dry brine the chicken for 24 hours, but if you’re in a time pinch, even four to eight hours of dry brining helps.
Season the Chicken
Step 2: When you’re ready to smoke, stir together the spices in a small bowl and rub the seasoning mix all over the chicken pieces (photo 2). Along with seasoning the outside, gently lift the chicken skin to coat the meat with the dry rub as well.
Smoke the Chicken
Step 3: Now we place the seasoned chicken quarters skin-side up in a 225-degree F smoker with a water pan and insert a leave-in meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh meat (photo 3). We close the lid and allow the chicken to smoke at that lower temperature until it reaches an internal temperature of 130-140 degrees F.
Pro tip: You can place the chicken directly on the grill grates or a wire rack inside a baking sheet. Since I use a vertical smoker, I didn’t have space to fit all the chicken quarters in one layer. The drippings would have fallen on the chicken in the bottom row, which would’ve made it difficult to get that crispy skin.
Step 4: From here, we remove the chicken from the smoker and crank up the heat to 400-425 degrees F. As the smoker heats, we brush the chicken with olive oil, reinsert the meat thermometer and finish smoking at that higher temperature (photo 4). If you’d like to sauce up your chicken, you can brush BBQ sauce on the skin in the last few minutes of smoking, though this is optional.
The chicken quarters are safe to eat at 165 degrees F, but that’s not the recommended final internal temperature. At minimum, the chicken quarters should reach 175 degrees F, but it’s even better if you can let them get to 190 degrees F. With thighs and legs, the connective tissues and collagen need time to break down for the juiciest, most flavorful meat, and that happens at a higher internal temperature.
After smoking, we let the chicken leg quarters rest for about five minutes. This allows the juices time to redistribute to the meat.
We’re now ready to devour the most delicious smoked chicken quarters. How good is that meat?
Recipe testing note: While I tested this recipe on a vertical pellet smoker, you can use any type of smoker, such as a charcoal grill, gas grill, electric smoker or offset smoker. If you don't have a dedicated smoking unit, here's a guide on how to turn your grill into a smoker.
Storing, Freezing and Reheating Leftovers
These smoked chicken quarters make amazing leftovers. You can enjoy the leftovers either as a whole chicken quarter or pull the meat to make smoked chicken tacos, nachos, enchiladas, Buffalo chicken dip — you name it. Here’s how to properly store your leftover chicken.
- Allow the chicken to fully cool.
- Store the chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- The chicken will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to three or four days, or you can freeze the meat for up to six months.
- To thaw frozen chicken, place it in the refrigerator for 24 hours. If you need it sooner, you can place it in a bowl of cold water in the refrigerator or at room temperature as long as you replace the cold water every 30 minutes until thawed. Do not use warm water — this encourages bacteria growth.
When you’re ready to reheat the chicken whether thawed from frozen or directly from the refrigerator, here’s your handy guide.
- Let the chicken sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the meat to reheat more evenly.
- Place the chicken in a baking dish with 1 cup water or chicken stock. Cover the dish with aluminum foil.
- Bake in a 350-degree F oven until heated through completely, about 15 minutes.
Serving Ideas on the Side
What’s a backyard cookout without plenty of appetizers and side dishes? Since our smoker is already fired up, we might as well enjoy some smoked appetizers. Try some of these favorite snacks.
- Smoked salsa: Smoking our vegetables makes a world of difference. You’ll never make salsa another way.
- Smoked bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers: This is for the bacon lovers in your life.
- Smoked cream cheese: You’ll love how this takes about five minutes of prep time, and then the smoker takes care of the rest.
And then we need those beloved side dishes.
- Smoked mac and cheese: I can’t recommend this enough. It’s my absolute favorite.
- Smoked bourbon baked beans: Featuring bourbon and bacon, this is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.
- Pesto tortellini pasta salad: That herby pesto adds a fresh touch to the meal.
- Hawaiian potato salad: This salad features both potatoes and macaroni to make a carb lover’s dream side dish.
My favorite wood for smoking chicken quarters is hickory. With hickory, we get plenty of smoky notes without it dominating the chicken flavor. For a lighter smoke flavor, go with one of the fruit woods, such as apple wood or cherry wood. Pecan wood or maple wood also make nice lighter options.
This recipe calls for six chicken quarters, which can heartily feed six people. If you’d like to stretch the chicken because you planned an especially large meal with lots of appetizers, side dishes and dessert, you can always cut the chicken quarter into separate thigh and leg pieces after smoking.
Expect the cooking time to take between an hour and an hour and a half to reach 130 degrees F at the lower cooking temperature and then another 45 minutes to an hour to reach 175 degrees F and beyond at the higher cooking temperature. When you also take into account the time it takes to heat the smoker, about two and a half hours to three hours is a good estimate.
Keep in mind, you should always smoke to the internal temperature rather than time. So many factors can affect the smoking time, such as the weather, altitude, consistency of the heat and cut of meat, making it impossible to designate an exact time. I always recommend being flexible with your serving time when smoking meat and be sure to have snacks on hand in case it takes longer than expected.
While dry brining is technically optional, I do not recommend skipping this step for best results, so make sure you plan ahead. When dry brining, the salt draws out the moisture from the meat so that it sits on the skin. Eventually, the moisture dissolves the salt, which the meat reabsorbs. This dries out the skin to give us superior crisping and makes the meat ultra flavorful and juicy.
Let the chicken sit at room temperature before smoking: This takes off the chill to promote more even cooking.
Try to pick chicken quarters relatively close in size: Like any cut of meat, the size of chicken quarters can vary, so picking evenly sized pieces ensures everything cooks at approximately the same rate.
Use a water pan: A water pan helps maintain a consistent smoking temperature, and it even helps the smoky flavor better adhere to the meat. Some people are worried that a water pan can make for gummy, rubbery skin, but I’ve never found that to be the case with dry brining, and I’ve smoked a lot of chicken in my days.
Don’t let the meat thermometer touch the bone: The bone holds a different temperature than the meat, which skews the reading.
You’ll love sipping on an amber ale with these smoked chicken quarters. The sweet, caramel-like malt of the amber nicely complements the brown sugar and rich dark meat while adding contrast to the spices. An IPA is also a tasty option if you want to play up the spice notes.
If you’d like a glass of wine on the side, a pinot noir is a lovely option. A pinot noir is known for its earthy undertones that meld with the smoked meat, and its medium body stands up to the bolder dark meat.
Or maybe you’d like a cocktail. I just love this top-shelf Cadillac margarita with smoked chicken. This margarita features reposado tequila, which is aged in oak barrels, and that oak char is perfect with that smoked flavor while the zesty lime beautifully brightens those spices.
You'll also love sipping on this orange crush cocktail. Orange juice and warm spices pair together beautifully.
One bite of these smoked chicken leg quarters, and you’ll never want to make chicken any other way.
Enjoy More Smoker Recipes
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Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters
- Wood hickory, apple wood, cherry wood, pecan wood or maple wood recommended
- 6 chicken leg quarters
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon mustard powder
- Olive oil
- BBQ sauce optional
- To dry brine for crisp skin, pat the chicken dry with paper towels, and then generously sprinkle with salt and rub into the skin. Place the chicken in the refrigerator uncovered for at least four hours, though overnight is ideal. Do not wipe off the salt after brining.
- Prepare the smoker according to the manufacturer’s directions, fill the water pan and set the temperature to 225 degrees F. As the smoker heats, make the spice rub by simply stirring together the spices. Rub the spice mixture all over the skin. Gently lift the skin and rub some spices directly onto the meat as well.
- Place the chicken in the smoker with the skin-side up. Insert a leave-in meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone. Close the smoker and smoke the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 130-140 degrees.
- Crank up the heat to 400-425 degrees and remove the chicken quarters. As the temperature increases in heat, brush the skin with olive oil. Place the chicken quarters back in the smoker to finish cooking at that higher temperature. In the last few minutes, brush with BBQ sauce if desired. The chicken is done when it reaches at least 175 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh meat, though you can take it up to 190 degrees to allow the connective tissues and collagen more time to break down for better meat. Let the chicken rest for five minutes to allow the juices to settle. Serve with more BBQ sauce if desired. Enjoy!
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three to four days. You can also freeze it for up to six months for the best quality.
- Remove the chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes before smoking to sit at room temperature. This removes the chill and allows for more even cooking.
- Try to pick chicken quarters that are relatively similar in size.
- Hickory is best for a stronger smoke flavor. For a more gentle flavor, go with one of the other recommended woods.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.