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Crisp, tender, and coated in a perfect sweet-tangy-savory-sticky glaze, baked BBQ chicken thighs and legs are as easy as they are memorable. You'll want to return to this meal over and over. Here's how to make it.
Why we love this recipe
This cozy, weeknight-friendly but company-worthy dinner has SO much going for it. Whether you simplify things with your favorite bottled BBQ sauce or make your own, it's easy, flavorful, and oh-so-satisfying. Baked BBQ chicken is:
- Quick to put together, with only about 10 minutes of total hands-on time
- Packed with flavor in every bite, from the dry rub to the tangy sauce
- Gorgeously shellacked with BBQ sauce, thanks to a couple of super-easy but next-level techniques
- Ready to play well with lots of your favorite comfort food side dishes
What you'll need
Here's a glance at the ingredients you'll need to make this recipe.
- Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and drumsticks. We like the combo (and they cook in a similar time frame on one sheet pan), but you can 100% make one or the other. The better your chicken, the better the final dish. See below for my favorite sources.
- Baking soda is highly alkaline. It raises the pH of the skin on the chicken parts, which causes the peptide bonds to break and the skin to dry and crisp up just the right amount to help the BBQ sauce form a gorgeous glaze. See the note in the FAQ section about baking soda vs. baking powder, and don’t substitute one for the other.
- Cornstarch serves two roles in this recipe. It helps dry out the chicken skin, leading to more crispness and perfectly sticky glaze, and it also acts as a vehicle to distribute the tiny amount of baking soda over the large surface area of the chicken.
- You can use your favorite bottled BBQ sauce or make your own.
Our favorite sources for meat
For years, we’ve been sourcing our meat from Butcher Box. We love this curated meat delivery service, which provides grass-finished beef, heritage breed pork, organic chicken, and more from small farms direct to the customer. You can learn more in our extensive Butcher Box review and unboxing.
More recently, we've also become big fans of Cooks Venture for chicken.
How to make it
Here's what you'll do to make this recipe great. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.
- First, mix together the dry rub ingredients very well in a large mixing bowl.
- Add the chicken and toss to coat as evenly as possible.
- Bake skin-side down (this makes more sense for the thighs than the legs, which have skin on all sides, but let's roll with it) for 25 minutes.
- You'll brush the chicken with BBQ sauce a total of three times. First on both sides, leaving the parts skin-side up. Then return to the oven for 10 minutes. Twice more, brush the tops/skin-sides and return to the oven for 5 minutes each time. (Total cooking time will be 45 minutes.) That's it!
Expert tips and FAQs
This recipe uses the same technique we know and love from our baked buffalo wings. The combination of baking soda and cornstarch helps dry out the chicken skin so it gets crisp (shatteringly so if you don't add sauce, but let's add sauce!) and behaves well.
You may have seen recipes for wings that use baking powder instead. I discuss this choice at length in the FAQs of the buffalo wings post, so hop over there to read it if you're curious.
This recipe is at its absolute best right out of the oven, but honestly, it works just fine for meal prep and leftovers. Keep it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week and eat cold or reheat in the oven, toaster oven, or at half power in the microwave.
Thighs and legs are my favorite for this recipe because they're more flavorful and less fussy — they're hard to overcook. You can use bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts instead if you prefer. Use the same technique, but lower the first cooking time from 25 to 20 minutes.
The USDA recommends cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 165°F, but in my experience this results in dry chicken breast. Another option is to buy good-quality chicken and pull it out around 150°. If you tent it with foil and keep it above 145° for 8 minutes, you'll achieve the same level of safety. Learn more about the science here.
How to serve it
This chicken is great with so many of our favorite side dishes. It's pictured here with our creamy mashed cauliflower (I used cheddar and parmesan) and simple kale salad (I added nutritional yeast) — and honestly, I can't stop thinking about it. Other great accompaniments include:
- Buttermilk cornbread muffins
- Steakhouse creamed spinach
- Southern-style collards
- Potato salad or mashed potatoes
- Mac and cheese (Instant Pot or baked)
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound chicken drumsticks (bone-in, skin-on)
- 1 pound chicken thighs (bone-in, skin-on)
- 1 cup barbecue sauce (bottled or homemade)
- Preheat oven to 425°F with a rack in the center.
- Line a half-sheet pan with parchment.
- In a large bowl, stir together cornstarch, baking soda, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, and pepper. Mix until very well combined.
- Dry chicken thighs and drumsticks very well with paper towels.
- Add chicken to bowl and toss to coat evenly.
- Arrange chicken parts skin-side down on baking sheet with some space between so the air can circulate.
- Bake for 25 minutes.
- Remove chicken from oven. Brush each piece with a generous amount of BBQ sauce, then flip and brush the skin side generously too. Bake for 10 minutes.
- Twice more, remove chicken from oven, brush tops with BBQ sauce, and bake 5 minutes more each time. You should use all of the sauce by the last brushing.
- You can use all thighs or all drumsticks if you like. If you prefer breasts, use bone-in, skin-on split breasts and reduce the initial 25-minute cooking time to 20 minutes.
- Be sure to use baking soda, not baking powder. See the FAQ section in the post to learn more.
- The paprika's bright red color will help you see when the dry rub is evenly distributed over the surface of the chicken parts.
- This recipe is at its absolute best right out of the oven, but honestly, it works just fine for meal prep and leftovers. Keep it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week and eat cold or reheat in the oven, toaster oven, or at half power in the microwave.
- A note on temperature: The USDA recommends cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 165°F, but in my experience this can result in dry chicken. If cooking legs and thighs, it's not as much of an issue since they stay juicy and tender and aren't so fussy. If cooking breasts, things can get dicier. An alternative to 165°F is to buy good-quality chicken and pull it out around 150°. If you tent it with foil and keep it above 145° for 8 minutes, you'll achieve the same level of safety. Learn more about the science here.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 584Total Fat: 26gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 17gCholesterol: 289mgSodium: 1985mgCarbohydrates: 31gFiber: 1gSugar: 24gProtein: 55g