Making butterflied chicken legs is a fun and quick way of serving chicken drumsticks. They are crispy and tender, flavorful, and they cook faster.
Learn how to butterfly chicken legs and cook them in the oven, on the grill, or in the air fryer: it’s easy, fast, and delicious! All you need are the legs, some oil, and some spices.
And the results are incredibly flavorful drumsticks, tender and juicy on the inside, with a nice char and crispy skin on the outside.
Table of contents
Reasons to love this recipe
- Just a few simple ingredients: chicken legs, 2 tablespoons of oil, and some spices.
- Budget-friendly: Drumsticks are a cheap cut compared to the more expensive chicken wings. They taste just as impressive and have more meat on them.
- Three cooking methods: You can bake, air fry, or grill the butterflied chicken legs.
- No need for forks and knives, a bunch of paper towels will be enough.
- Drumsticks: Those I had weighed between 3.5 oz – 4.2 oz/ 100 - 120 g, so medium ones. If they are seriously larger, adjust the cooking time accordingly and check that they are cooked through before serving.
- Oil: Olive oil, canola, or vegetable oil are all fine.
- Spices: I mixed my own spices, including cumin, smoked paprika, turmeric, cayenne pepper, fine sea salt, and ground black pepper.
- However, this spice mixture is just a suggestion; use whatever you like or have. Your favorite store-bought chicken spice rub is excellent, and if all you have is salt and pepper, that will be enough as well, the butterfly chicken drumsticks will still be delicious!
- Ingredients for the glaze: BBQ sauce: Use your favorite kind. I recently discovered one created for poultry, and I love it! That’s why all the delicious BBQ chicken recipes lately… Check out these Baked BBQ Chicken Thighs, the Baked BBQ Chicken Breast, or the Air Fryer BBQ Chicken Thighs, for instance.
- Sriracha or another hot sauce: Optional for hot drumsticks. Use to taste; one tablespoon added to the BBQ sauce makes for quite spicy food.
How to butterfly chicken legs?
You will need a sharp knife and a stable cutting board.
Caution: The meat is slippery, so ensure it’s dry and the cutting board is stable. Be careful when cutting so that the knife won’t slip.
- Place the legs on the cutting board with the side showing less skin up. Start cutting at the base of the leg; I find it easier than starting up where there is less meat on the bone; it's less slippery. But you can try both ways and decide what works best for you.
- Cut all the way through to the bone to reveal it on that side (1).
- Flip the meat open, pulling apart the two slices of meat you’ve just released from the bone, and flatten it on the cutting board, so the leg is flayed open and flat with the cut part still facing you. Make a few more careful cuts on the side of the bone to reveal it a bit more.
- Make sure you don’t cut all the way through or at the top; the meat should remain attached to the bone there; otherwise, it will fall off.
- Butterfly the chicken legs as instructed above.
- Season the legs: Pat them dry with a paper towel and place them in a large bowl. Rub them well with the oil. Mix the spices in a small bowl and rub the meat.
- Marinate the butterflied chicken drumsticks in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or a couple of hours. If you have the time or need to prepare them ahead, you can leave for up to 24 hours (2).
- Bake in the preheated oven on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper for 30 minutes or until crispy and cooked through.
- If glazing, brush the legs with the glaze after 20 minutes and cook them to the end (3).
- Air fry in the preheated air fryer in a single layer for 15-18 minutes, flipping halfway through or until cooked through. If glazing, apply the glaze during the last 5 minutes of the cooking time.
- Grill with the lid in the preheated grill for 20-25 minutes, flipping every 3-5 minutes or so until the meat is almost done. Baste the legs with the sauce and grill for another 5 to 10 minutes, without the lid, flipping the legs frequently. The meat should be cooked through and slightly charred.
- Check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer; it should be 165°F/74°C (Amazon affiliate link).
Butterflying or spatchcocking is a method of splitting a whole chicken, a breast, or legs in the middle. It allows the meat to cook faster and more evenly as it lays flat on the cooking surface.
Why should you butterfly or spatchcock the chicken legs?
- It ensures faster and more even cooking. I find the method particularly useful when it comes to whole birds or huge drumsticks and when I decide to grill these large parts.
- The method saves time when cooking and ensures that the grilled pieces are cooked all the way through without any “surprise” red streaks in the meat when you think the meat is actually done.
- For more butterflied chicken, look at Nando’s Butterflied Chicken Breast or Butterflied Roast Chicken (Spatchcock Chicken).
Wire rack: Using a wire rack is not mandatory, but it's a good idea. It allows the air to circulate and ensures that the meat doesn't sit in a pool of its own liquid.
You can. We like it, but the butterflied chicken legs will still taste great without it.
You can season the legs and refrigerate them for up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before cooking.
A great thing about spatchcocking chicken legs is that the possibility of them not being cooked through or of you not noticing is very low. The fact that the meat is open and flattened ensures even cooking.
The best way to check is with a meat thermometer; the internal temperature should be 165°F/ 74°C.
If you don't have one, check the meat near the bone; it should be white with no traces of red or pink.
Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for 3-4 days.
Reheat before serving. You can reheat them in the oven, air fryer, or microwave.
How to serve?
Make any side you would typically serve with barbecue chicken or any chicken dish.
- Starchy side dishes: We love to serve these butterflied chicken legs with Sour Cream Potato Salad and Feta Pasta Salad - Greek Style. Crispy Soda Yogurt Bread, Roasted Garlic Parmesan Mashed Potatoes, Crispy Garlic Smashed Potatoes, Simple Buttered Rice with Garlic, or BBQ Rice are all great side dishes.
- Vegetable side dish: How about a green salad with Yogurt Dressing or Raspberry Vinaigrette, Cucumber Salad, White Cabbage Salad, Green Beans with Garlic, or a nice Fiesta Corn Salad?
- Dips: You can also serve them with a sauce or dip. Try this Easy Mint Yogurt Dip, the Fresh Mint Chimichurri, the Sweet Chili Dip, or our favorite Garlic Sour Cream Sauce.
More chicken leg recipes
Spicy Butterflied Chicken Legs
- Cutting board
- Sharp knife
- Baking sheet OR
- Air Fryer OR
- Grill with lid
- 8 chicken legs (drumsticks), Note 1
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin Note 2
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
Glaze (optional), Note 3
- ½ cup BBQ sauce Notes 4, 5
Butterfly chicken legs:
- Caution: The meat is slippery, so ensure it is dry and the cutting board is stable. Be careful when cutting so that the knife won’t slip.
- Butterfly drumsticks: Pat them dry with paper towels. Place them on a cutting board. Cut the meat on the side with less skin to expose the bone. Carefully cut around the bone a little to expose it a bit more but ensure that the meat remains attached to the bone at the top so that it would not fall off the bone.
- Seasoning: Mix all the spices in a small bowl.
- Season: Place the drumsticks in a large bowl and rub them well with the oil. Add the spices and rub to coat the chicken all over.
- Marinate the chicken legs for at least 30 minutes or overnight. Bring to room temperature before cooking (it will take 20-30 minutes).
- Preheat the oven to 400°F/ 200°C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
- Bake: Place the marinated chicken on the prepared tray and bake for 30 minutes until cooked and crispy.
- Glaze: If you decide to glaze the drumsticks, remove them from the oven after 20 minutes, brush them with the glaze on both sides and bake them until cooked through.
- Preheat the air fryer to 390°F/ 200 °C. Spray it with oil. Arrange the drumsticks in the basket in a single layer.
- Air fry for about 18 minutes, flipping halfway through. Check that the legs are cooked through using an instant-read thermometer.
- Glaze: If you decide to glaze them, brush them with the sauce during the last 5 minutes of the cooking time.
- Preheat the grill to medium-high (400°F/200°C) for direct grilling.
- Grill drumsticks: Place the drumsticks on the grill with the skin side up. Place the lid on top. Grill for 20-25 minutes, flipping every 3-5 minutes or so until almost cooked through.
- Brush with the glaze and cook to the end without the lid, flipping often and brushing again when flipping.
- Check the internal temperature (165°F/74°C); the drumsticks should be slightly charred and glossy.
- The legs I had weighed between 3.5 oz – 4.2 oz/ 100 - 120 g.
- This spice mixture is just a suggestion. Use other spices if you like. Your favorite store-bought chicken rub is always a good idea, but if all you have are salt and pepper, that will be fine too.
- The glaze is great but optional.
- Use your favorite brand of BBQ sauce.
- To make the drumsticks hot add some Sriracha or another hot sauce to taste.