"Chicken wings have earned their place on the Mt. Rushmore of tailgate appetizers, but what if you upped the ante to chicken legs instead? And what if you made them devilishly spicy, with just the right amount of counteracting sweetness? "
10-12 chicken legs
For the Chicken Seasoning:
Olive oil (enough to lightly coat chicken)
2 Tbsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp paprika
For the Mango Habanero Hot Sauce:
8 habaneros (with stems removed)
1 small yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 mango, chopped
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup mango nectar
Juice of 1 lime
4 Tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp salt
½ stick unsalted butter, melted
For the Dunking Sauce:
1 stick unsalted butter, diced
1 cup mango habanero hot sauce
Gloves (for protecting hands when handling habaneros)
Chimney starter (optional)
Heat deflector accessory (optional)
Temperature Probe (optional)
- Pat the chicken legs dry with paper towels. This will make them a little easier to handle while trimming.
- To trim the chicken legs into a lollipop shape, use a sharp knife to make a cut where the meat hits the bone near the bottom of the leg. Work all the way around the leg, making sure to cut through to the bone.
- Once you have the lower portion of skin and tendons separated, peel it down until you can remove it from the end of the bone. If there are any stubborn bits that you can’t remove by hand, scrape a knife over them until they come off. It’s also a good idea to keep a pair of kitchen shears nearby to trim any lingering tendons. The goal is to have totally clean lower leg bones for presentation
- Once the lower bone is cleaned to your liking, turn each chicken leg upside down and pull the meat downard and away from the bare bone to form a base. The legs need to sit up vertically while they smoke, so it’s important that they have a solid base. If you’re having trouble getting them to sit upright, just cut off any skin or meat that needs to be flattened.
- After trimming the legs, stand them up in a pan or dish and lightly coat with olive oil. Season all sides with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika, being sure to rub in the spices so they can better stick to the meat.
- If you have the time, let the seasoned chicken sit in the fridge overnight. This gives your seasoning the chance to act as a dry brine, which will bring out better flavors in the final results.
Making the Mango Habanero Hot Sauce:
- Preheat your gas grill to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and include a smoker box if available. Apple wood or your favorite fruit wood chips will add just a touch of smokiness to the peppers.
- Roast the habanero peppers for just a couple minutes per side, enough to caramelize slightly. This will bring out the natural sweetness of the peppers and inject a subtle layer of smokiness to the sauce. Set aside when finished.
- Place a saucepan on the grill, then toss in the chopped yellow onion with a bit of olive oil. Cook it down until it starts to caramelize, then add the minced garlic.
- Saute until the garlic becomes fragrant, at which point it’s time to add the chopped mango. Saute for another minute.
- Deglaze the pan with the apple cider vinegar. Follow that with the mango nectar, roasted habaneros, lime juice, brown sugar, and salt.
- Let the sauce simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes, then allow to cool.
- Using a standard blender or immersion blender, blend the sauce until smooth. Taste and add salt if desired.
- If you want a thinner hot sauce, you can pass it through a strainer.
- Once you’ve reached your preferred taste and consistency, bottle the sauce and keep it in the fridge until it’s time to be used.
Smoking the Chicken:
- When the chicken and sauce are fully prepped, put a base layer of unlit charcoal in the bottom of your grill.
- Fill a chimney starter about a quarter of the way with coals. Light the chimney starter, then pour the lit coals over the bed of unlit coals in your grill.
- Add 3 or 4 wood chunks of your favorite fruit flavor to the coal bed, placing them in various spots because the charcoal will gradually ignite in different areas.
- Arrange for indirect heat in your grill. You can either use a heat deflector between the coals and the cooking surface, or simply bank the coals opposite of where you’ll place your chicken. (For added control, you can place a temperature probe at grate level near where you plan to set the chicken. It’ll help you know when your grill is preheated and if temperatures are consistent while smoking.)
- Target a preheat temperature of 275 degrees. Once preheated, place your chicken lollipops on the portion of the grill exposed to indirect heat. Stand them upright, with the clean bone facing upward.
- Let the chicken smoke for an hour before checking in. Baste each chicken leg with melted butter.
- Let the chicken smoke for another 15 minutes, then place a cup of the mango habanero sauce on the grill alongside the chicken and let warm. We recommend warming the sauce in a tall container like a coffee cup so the chicken will be easier to dunk.
- Once the sauce is warm, blend in the diced butter until the mixture is smooth.
- When the chicken reaches an internal temperature of about 160 degrees, grab each chicken leg by the exposed bone and dunk it into the sauce one at a time. Ensure all sides are coated before placing the chicken legs back on the grill. When all have been coated, remove the cup and close the grill.
- Raise the grill’s temperature to about 325 degrees and let the chicken cook for another 10 minutes or so. This extra bit of cooking time allows the sauce to properly bind with the chicken.
- When the internal temperature reaches 175 degrees, remove the chicken legs from the grill and let them rest for at least 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy the chicken lollipops as they are, or serve extra mango habanero sauce on the side for the truly bold!