If you’re wondering how long to smoke chicken leg quarters at 250 degrees, you’ve come to the right place. Our ultimate guide will tell you all you’ve ever wanted to know about this succulent cut of meat—and how to cook it to perfection.
How Long to Smoke Chicken Leg Quarters at 250 Degrees
When you set the smoker to 250 degrees, you can expect chicken leg quarters to take 2-1/2 to 3 hours to reach the optimum serving temperature. At this temp, the meat will take on a nice dose of smoke flavor. We prefer to dial the heat up to 400 for the last stage of the smoke, though, in order to crisp up the skin.
About Chicken Leg Quarters
Just what is a chicken leg quarter, anyway? And why is it called that?
A chicken leg consists of the thigh, which is the upper segment of the leg, and the drumstick, which is the lower portion. It’s sometimes called a “quarter” or “leg quarter” because it makes up roughly one-fourth of the chicken.
The thigh is the portion that connects the leg to the body. It has a square, compact shape and plenty of meat on the bone. It may be sold with the bone in and the skin on, but boneless and skinless thighs are readily available.
Chicken drumsticks make up the bottom part of the leg, stretching toward the foot. Their meat-to-bone ratio is lower than that of the thigh, but the long bone provides diners with something to grip in one hand, making them a lot of fun to eat.
Chicken leg quarters make a good main course for a more formal gathering, as they’re definitely knife-and-fork food. They have an impressive appearance, but bear in mind that they offer roughly twice as much meat as the standard recommended serving size.
Serving Temperature for Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters
In many ways, smoking chicken leg quarters is easier than smoking whole chickens.
For one thing, they’re smaller, which means they won’t have to cook as long. That can save you a ton of time when you’re entertaining. As a bonus, they have a great deal of surface area, which translates into a high ratio of crispy skin to juicy meat.
More importantly, the thighs and drumsticks can cook to the same internal temperature without drying out. When you smoke a whole chicken, there’s always the concern that the breast meat will overcook while the dark meat is attaining the proper texture.
We prefer to cook chicken leg quarters until they’ve reached an internal temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. After they rest, they should have achieved a serving temp of 185 degrees.
Unlike the breast, which will become dry and chalky if it cooks past 165 degrees, chicken legs have a rich, meaty texture when they’re allowed to “overcook” slightly. In fact, they can take temps up to 195 without becoming stringy.
Ideal Smoker Temperature for Chicken Leg Quarters
When smoking chicken leg quarters, aim for a smoker temperature of 250 degrees. If you set it any lower, the chicken will take too long to cook through. But if it’s much higher, the meat won’t have the smoky flavor you’re aiming for.
Note that in the recipe below, we advocate cranking up the heat for the last 30 minutes or so of the smoke. This allows the skin to crisp up, sealing all the juices and flavors inside. If you opt not to take this step, the process will take longer.
How Long To Smoke Chicken Leg Quarters at 250 Degrees
At this temperature, the chicken leg quarters should take 2-1/2 to 3 hours to cook to 180 degrees. Keep an eye on the smoker temperature periodically to ensure that it isn’t dipping too low or climbing too high, as this will affect the cooking time.
A number of things can affect the smoker temperature. It could be that the auger feeds the pellets into the firebox too slowly, or too quickly. Or maybe the weather outside is especially chilly or windy that day.
Whatever the cause, you’ll want to adjust the settings to make up the difference. Remember to leave the lid closed as much as possible while the smoker is doing its work—this should help to keep the temperature stable.
How To Make Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters
You’ll need to plan ahead to account for the extra step of brining the chicken, but doing so gives the meat a more vibrant flavor and a juicier texture.
- 2 pounds of chicken leg quarters
- Cooking spray or vegetable oil
For the Brine
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 gallon (8 cups) water
For the Seasoning Rub
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1-1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1. Start by making the brine. Combine all ingredients in a stock pot and bring to a boil. Stir until the salt, sugar, and cayenne have all dissolved, then remove from the heat and let the mixture cool completely.
2. While you’re waiting for the brine to cool, remove the chicken from the packaging and pat it dry. You can speed the cooling process by adding a few ice cubes to the mixture, but don’t add too many, or you’ll dilute the brine.
3. Submerge the chicken in the brining liquid and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours, or overnight.
4. Make the seasoning rub. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.
5. Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry using paper towels. Apply a thin layer of cooking spray or neutral oil to the skin to help the spices adhere.
6. Coat the chicken pieces all over with the seasoning rub, then set the meat aside. At this point, you can refrigerate the chicken uncovered overnight, or proceed to the next step.
7. Set the smoker to 250 degrees. Clean and oil the cooking grates.
8. When the smoker is hot enough, arrange the chicken leg quarters on the cooking grates. Close the lid and smoke the chicken for about 2 hours, testing the internal temperature at the 1-hour mark.
9. When the chicken legs have cooked to 150, reset the smoker temperature to 400 degrees. Let the chicken continue to cook until it’s achieved an internal temp of 180 degrees, about 20 to 30 minutes more.
10. If desired, brush a little barbecue sauce on the meat during the last few minutes of cooking. Don’t add it any sooner, or the sauce will burn, giving the chicken a bitter taste.
11. Pull the chicken leg quarters from the heat and let rest, loosely tented with foil, for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve hot, with additional sauce on the side if desired.
Smoking chicken leg quarters will give them superb flavor. It will be even better if you brine and season the meat properly beforehand. Though setting the smoker to 250 will translate into a fairly long process, the results will be well worth the wait.
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!