The drumstick has a low meat-to-bone ratio. As such, it can be difficult to get an accurate temperature readout, since bone has different thermal properties from meat. Here’s how to tell if chicken drumsticks are done cooking or not.
How To Tell if Chicken Drumsticks are Done
Chicken drumsticks are safe to eat when they’ve cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. However, we prefer to wait until they’ve cooked to 180 degrees. At this point, the juices should run clear when pierced with the thermometer probe, and the probe should slide in and out easily.
About Chicken Drumsticks
Confusingly enough, chicken drumsticks are sometimes referred to as “chicken legs.” But the fact of the matter is, they only make up one portion of the leg.
Chicken legs can be divided into two segments. The top portion, the one that connects to the main part of the chicken’s body, is the thigh. The drumstick is the lower segment, closer to the foot.
When sold whole, chicken legs may be labeled as chicken quarters or chicken leg quarters. The breast is usually split in half, making up the other two quarters of the bird.
Both parts of the leg, including the drumstick, are considered dark meat. They contain more myoglobin—the protein that gives meat its reddish color—than the breast. That’s because these muscles get more exercise, and myoglobin delivers oxygen to the muscles.
Dark meat is sometimes portrayed as being unhealthy, owing to the fact that it’s fattier and richer than white meat. While this is true enough, the meat also has more flavor and is better at retaining moisture.
Chicken drumsticks are a good source of protein. The meat is also high in iron, potassium, and zinc. If you eschew high-fat cooking applications like deep-frying and roast or smoke the drumsticks instead, they’re not necessarily an unhealthy choice.
How To Tell if Chicken Drumsticks are Done
The only way to be sure whether chicken drumsticks are done is to test the internal temperature of the meat. You can do this using a reliable instant-read meat thermometer.
It’s imperative not to touch any bone when you’re checking the temp. Insert the probe into the meatiest portion of the drumstick, toward the end that was originally connected to the thigh. Should you brush up against bone, remove the probe and wait a moment before trying again.
The meat is done when the internal temperature hits the 165-degree mark. Since the drumsticks are dark meat, though, we like to bring them to 180 degrees before taking them off the heat. That way, the meat will be succulent and tender.
Over time, you’ll get a feel for when the drumsticks are approaching doneness. The probe will slide in and out easily. If you meet with too much resistance, then the meat is probably not fully cooked.
When the drumsticks are fully cooked, their juices should run clear, without any pink or red liquid showing. Bear in mind, though, that some of the meat might still be pink, especially near the bone. That’s fine, as long as it’s cooked to a safe temperature.
Why It Matters
You always want to make sure that your food is cooked to perfection. But when it comes to poultry, there’s more at stake than mere quality.
Raw chicken can harbor dangerous bacteria. Salmonella, E. coli, and campylobacter are some of the best-known ones, but there are others. If you were to eat the chicken before cooking it to a safe temperature, these bacteria could make you sick.
You can get away with cooking red meat like beef to medium-rare because the flesh is denser. The bacteria dwell on the surface, so searing the outside should be enough to eradicate them.
With white meat, though, the bacteria can burrow deeper beneath the surface. That’s why you have to cook chicken all the way through before it’s safe to consume.
Tips For Even Cooking
To ensure that the drumsticks cook through within a reasonable time frame, take them out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you plan to start cooking.
There are a few different reasons for this. First and foremost, bringing the meat to room temperature allows the meat to cook more evenly. If there are cold patches, it might be fully cooked in some places and undercooked in others.
It’s technically safe to cook chicken straight out of the fridge. In fact, you can even start cooking it from a frozen state, as long as it heats to a safe temperature within 2 hours. But the results might not be as impressive as you’d hoped.
Starting with room-temperature chicken has another benefit: it allows the meat to absorb seasonings and marinades better. Just remember not to leave it out for longer than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the weather is especially hot that day.
Pitfalls to Avoid
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your chicken drumsticks are done just because they appear to be. You should never judge based on appearance alone.
For one thing, the outsides might look lovely and golden brown, with well-defined grill marks. But if you cooked them too quickly over high heat, the insides might not have had a chance to achieve the desired temperature.
On the other end of the spectrum, you may be tempted to think that the chicken is still undercooked because it’s still pink near the bone. But as we mentioned earlier, that’s not necessarily the case. You’ll risk overcooking if you wait for the pink to disappear.
A reliable meat thermometer is your only safe bet. It will take a little bit of practice to get an accurate readout, but it can be done. Following our suggestions for cooking time and temperature will also help.
How To Grill Chicken Drumsticks
- 8 to 10 chicken drumsticks (about 2 pounds)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, or the seasoning rub of your choice
1. Heat the grill to 350-400 degrees. If yours runs on the hotter side, use the lower setting. If it tends to run cool, set it to 400.
2. Pat the drumsticks dry with paper towels and season as desired. Let them sit out at room temperature while the grill heats up.
3. Clean and oil the grilling grates.
4. Grill the drumsticks over indirect heat for 15-20 minutes. Don’t be tempted to flip them during this time, or the skin might become stuck to the cooking grate.
5. Turn and let cook for another 15-20 minutes, or until the drumsticks have cooked to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’d like crisper skin, let them cook over direct heat for a minute or two when they’re nearly done.
6. Remove the chicken from the heat and arrange on a platter. Tent with foil and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
7. Serve the drumsticks while they’re hot. If you’d like, you can brush them with a bit of barbecue sauce before serving, or put the sauce in a bowl on the side.
Don’t skimp on the salt. In addition to providing flavor, salt helps the muscle fibers retain moisture, preventing the chicken from becoming too dry.
Use a marinade. This boosts the moisture content even further while giving the meat the flavor profile you want.
Cook over indirect heat. If you grill drumsticks over direct heat, the skin will char while the insides remain undercooked.
Avoid overcooking. If the meat cooks past 195 degrees, it will begin to toughen up.
There are a few ways to tell when chicken drumsticks are approaching doneness. The meat will yield more readily to the pressure of the thermometer probe, and the juices should run clear. But you should still test the temperature, just to be sure.
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!