Air Fryer BBQ Chicken

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The air fryer gives chicken a char so good you'll think it was cooked on a grill.

Air Fryer BBQ Chicken on a plate with corn and salad
Photo: Alison Miksch
Active Time:
10 mins
Total Time:
35 mins
Servings:
4

An air fryer is a home cook's secret weapon. The countertop appliance cooks food so rapidly and perfectly, the big stove will be jealous. And despite its name, there's really no "frying" to it. The machine rapidly circulates hot air in a smaller, concentrated area, so the heat is focused on the food. The result? Crispy, crunchy foods that are ready faster, taste better, and don't require a whole lot of work.

Proof of that concept is found in these air fryer BBQ chicken drumsticks. A simple spice mix is rubbed all over the chicken, and it's cooked until the skin is crispy and nearly charred. That charred flavor will convince you this meal was cooked on the grill for sure.

To sweeten the deal, the drumsticks are brushed with a sticky-sweet barbecue sauce of your choice (or you can skip it entirely if you want). That'll quickly caramelize just a bit for the classic barbecue chicken flavor you love. All you need supply is a few sides like old-fashioned potato salad and baked beans.

If you try this air fryer BBQ chicken and love it, leave us a review so others can see why they should make it. Now, let's make some chicken.

How to Make Air Fryer BBQ Chicken

For this recipe, you will need just 10 minutes of active prep time. While you're preheating the air fryer to 400°F, stir together sugar, salt, smoked paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, dry mustard, and cayenne pepper. Now add the olive oil to form a paste.

spice rub for air fryer bbq chicken
Alison Miksch

Next, add the drumsticks to the spice paste you just made.

chicken drumsticks with spice coating
Alison Miksch

After they're evenly coated, place drumsticks in a single, even layer in the fryer basket. Cook the pieces for about 20 minutes, flipping halfway through.

air fryer bbq chicken on an air fryer tray
Alison Miksch

Last, brush the drumsticks all over with barbecue sauce if you wish (this step is optional). Finish by returning them to cook for about three more minutes until glazed.

brushing barbecue sauce on chicken drumsticks
Alison Miksch

You can make this recipe with or without the barbecue sauce glaze: The air fryer produces a char on the chicken similar to the grill, while the smokiness comes from the smokey seasonings.

Air Fryer BBQ Chicken Ingredients

To make BBQ chicken in the air fryer you will need chicken drumsticks. (You can also use thighs if you want. You may need to cook just a bit longer.)

Rounding out the rest of the ingredients are light brown sugar, kosher salt, smoked paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, dry mustard, cayenne pepper, and olive oil. Barbecue sauce is an optional ingredient. (You don't actually need it, but it thickens and glazes the drumsticks nicely.)

Can You Put Raw Chicken in an Air Fryer?

Yes, an air fryer can safely and effectively cook raw chicken—even from frozen. In this recipe, the air fryer gives the protein a grilled look, with charred and rendered bits. Even though it comes together in the air fryer rather than on the grill, this full-flavored dish is perfect to serve up alongside traditional BBQ fare: cornbread, salad, baked beans, and all the fixings.

How Long Should You Cook Raw Chicken in an Air Fryer?

To make sure air fryer-cooked chicken is safe and delicious to eat, cook until a thermometer inserted in the thickest portion registers at least 165°F internal temperature. For this recipe, expect a cook time of about 20 minutes (with three minutes for the optional glaze). Smaller pieces will require less cooking time, and larger pieces more.

What Temperature Do You Cook Chicken in an Air Fryer?

Whereas conventional oven recipes might call for a higher cook temperature (say, over 425°F) remember that air fryers use a convection cooking method. And because the heat comes evenly from all directions, air fryers cook effectively at comparatively lower temps. This recipe calls for a 400°F fryer.

Can You Use Sauces in an Air Fryer?

Yes, you can use the air fryer to cook dishes with sauces. But be aware that liquids can evaporate in the process, so in some recipes you may want to use foil as a moisture-retaining cover within the fryer. In other recipes, you may choose to add sauce just at the end of the cook time—as in this recipe's glaze finisher.

Editorial contributions by Alesandra Dubin.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. light brown sugar

  • 2 tsp. kosher salt

  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika

  • 1 tsp. black pepper

  • ½ tsp. garlic powder

  • ½ tsp. onion powder

  • ½ tsp. dry mustard

  • ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

  • 1 ½ Tbsp. olive oil

  • 2 ¼ lb. chicken drumsticks (about 8)

  • cup barbecue sauce (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat air fryer to 400°F for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, stir together sugar, salt, smoked paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, dry mustard, and cayenne pepper in a large bowl. Stir in oil, and make a paste. Add drumsticks, and toss to coat evenly with spice mixture.

  2. Place drumsticks in an even layer in fryer basket, and cook until chicken skin is rendered and charred in spots and a thermometer inserted in thickest portion registers at least 165°F, about 20 minutes, flipping drumsticks halfway through cook time.

  3. Brush drumsticks all over with barbecue sauce, if desired, and continue to cook until drumsticks are glazed, about 3 minutes.

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