Grilled Chicken Legs


Serve this easy chicken dinner with a tangy white barbecue sauce.

Southern Living Grilled Chicken Legs on a platter to serve with white barbecue sauce

Victor Protasio; Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn; Prop Stylist: Christine Keely

Active Time:
40 mins
Refrigerate Time:
12 hrs
Total Time:
13 hrs 25 mins

We’re not sure of the science behind it, but what we do know is that mayonnaise yields incredibly juicy and deeply flavorful grilled chicken legs that are pretty much impossible to overcook. The fat in the mayo also prevents the chicken from sticking to the grill, for crispy skin with a clean release. Plus, the marinade for these chicken legs doubles as a serving sauce.

Aside from mayonnaise, the pickle brine in the marinade adds incredible flavor and helps tenderize the chicken. We use Wickle’s, a Southern staple, but it can be found all over the country. If you can’t find it, use your favorite pickle brine instead.  

How Long To Marinate Chicken Legs

Unlike leaner cuts, chicken legs (aka dark meat) can benefit from a longer maraination, which is why we recommend letting the legs sit for 12 hours in this recipe. That seems like a long time, but dark meat can take it. We don’t recommend exceeding 24 hours though, as the meat can start to break down too much, and become mushy.

Another important note: The marinade in this recipe doubles as serving sauce, but that does not mean you can reuse the marinade that has had raw chicken in it; that would put you at risk of getting sick.

Instead, make sure to set aside a 1/2 cup of the marinade before it ever comes in contact with the chicken, and that you can later use as a serving sauce. For the same reasons, we have you separate a few tablespoons of the reserved marinade to brush on while grilling.

For more information on best marinating practices check out our complete guide on How Long To Marinate Chicken.

Grill Tip

The combination of mayonnaise and rendered chicken drippings can cause flare ups on the grill, so our Test Kitchen recommends moving the chicken towards the gentle heat of the front of the grill before covering. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to grill chicken legs?

    It takes about 30 minutes to grill chicken legs, but cook time will vary depending on your grill and how hot it is. Make sure to have an instant-read thermometer on hand to check the temperature of the chicken before pulling it off the grill. When inserted in the thickest part of the thigh, it should register 165°F. 

  • How do you grill chicken legs without drying them out?

    A good marinade, like the one in this recipe, or a brine can help lock in the moisture, so that your chicken doesn’t dry out. Cooking the chicken according to the proper time and temperature will also help. If you cook the chicken legs too much beyond 165℉, they’re more likely to be dry. Like any piece of meat, letting the chicken rest will also help keep it juicy. 

  • Should you season chicken legs before grilling?

    Yes! In general, you want to season any kind of meat before cooking it, including chicken legs. Here, we accomplish that two ways: with the marinade and then seasoning with salt right before grilling. 


  • 1 cup mayonnaise

  • 3 Tbsp. dill pickle brine

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. white vinegar

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 tsp. garlic powder

  • 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar

  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

  • 2 tsp. kosher salt, divided

  • 1 tsp. black pepper

  • 4 (12-oz.) chicken-leg quarters


  1. Make sauce and marinate chicken:

    Whisk mayonnaise, pickle brine, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon water, garlic powder, sugar, smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper together in a small bowl until smooth. Transfer 1/2 cup of the sauce to a large ziplock plastic freezer bag, and add chicken. Seal bag; massage to distribute marinade. Chill 12 to 24 hours. Refrigerate remaining sauce in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

  2. Grill chicken:

    Remove chicken from refrigerator; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Preheat grill to high (450°F to 500°F). Remove chicken from marinade, letting excess drip off; discard marinade. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with remaining 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Place chicken, skin sides down, on oiled grates; grill, uncovered, until grill marks appear and skin starts to turn golden, about 4 minutes. Flip chicken; close grill. Reduce heat to medium (350°F to 400°F), and cook, undisturbed, until a thermometer inserted into thickest portion of thigh registers 155°F, 15 to 20 minutes.

  3. Spoon 2 tablespoons of reserved sauce into a small bowl, and brush over skin sides of chicken. Flip chicken, and continue to cook until a thermometer inserted into thickest portion of thigh registers 165°F, 2 to 4 minutes.

    Remove chicken from grill, and let rest 15 minutes. Serve with reserved sauce. Suggestion: serve with Sweet Potato-and-Cabbage Slaw.

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