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​How to make Saucy Air Fryer Drumsticks

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Get ready to up your chicken game with these crispy chicken drumsticks in the air fryer. It’s a super fast way to make the juicy chicken legs with crispy skin and tender, meat and is such a delicious, easy dinner. These air fryer chicken legs are the next best thing to chicken cooked on the grill (and so much faster!)

BBQ chicken Thights on a white serving board, with a bowl of coleslaw to the side.

What you’ll love about this chicken recipe:


  • 20 minute Recipe – These chicken legs go from the fridge to your plate in 20 minutes flat, with no need to par boil. 
  • Affordable  – Drumsticks are one of the most affordable items you can find in the meat section of the grocery store — the organic chicken legs pictured here were under $3 per pound! 
  • VersatileUse your favorite barbecue sauce, marinade, or spice rub.

How to Air Fry Chicken Drumsticks Like a Boss

Pop quiz, foodies! 

What’s crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, brimming with flavor, and a total win for the low carb and health-conscious among us? If your mind immediately jumped to air fryer chicken drumsticks, you’re not just correct, you’re in for a treat.

You already know I love air fryer recipes. From making frozen chicken breaded chicken breasts in the air fryer to using it to make frozen sweet potato fries, my Ninja gets quite the workout.  

I especially love using it for chicken drumsticks! They’re so much more flavorful than chicken breasts, plus they’re super affordable! 

They come out with crispy, charred skin outside and super juicy meat inside. The skin reminds me of chicken cooked on a grill, while the meat reminds me of roast chicken…it’s really the best of both worlds! 

If you’re calorie-conscious, you can even use skinless chicken drumsticks. 

Overhead view of raw chicken legs with salt and pepper shakers, parsley, and a container of bbq sauce.

What you’ll need to make chicken drumsticks in the air fryer

  • Chicken drumsticks. Any bone-in, skin-on chicken drumsticks will work well with this method, but I find that organic chicken tends to be smaller and fits into my air fryer basket better. The meat also has a milder flavor and isn’t as greasy and conventional chicken legs (which is great if you’re more accustomed to eating white meat) 
  • Neutral Oil. Brushing the chicken with a little bit of oil will help the skin get nice and crispy as it cooks. I use oil olive oil, avocado oil, or vegetable oil. Spray oil helps you get an even layer! 
  • Seasoning or Sauce. Your options here are endless! Choose a marinade, rub, or sauce based on whatever flavor you’re craving or whatever you happen to have around. I’ll list some of my favorites below. 
raw chicken drumsticks in an air fryer basket.
Brushing bbq sauce on chicken drumsticks in the air fryer basket.

Seasoning Ideas:

Here are some of my favorite ways to season air fryer chicken drumsticks. They’re all delicious, so you really can’t go wrong!

Sauces

Marinades

  • Italian dressing
  • Spiedie marinade
  • Buttermilk marinade (1 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt, mixed with 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon paprika)
  • Honey Mustard

Here are some more easy homemade marinade ideas!

Spice Blends

Dipping a chicken drumstick into BBQ sauce.

Recipe Tips

  • If you’re using a marinade, I love to prep the chicken the night before I plan to cook it so it has time to take on lots of flavor. Let the chicken legs marinate in the refrigerator, then shake off any excess marinade before placing the drumsticks into the air fryer to cook. 
  • If you’re using a spice rub, you can prep your chicken either the night before and let it hang out in the fridge, or you can add the spices just before cooking. Rub the spice mixture into the chicken skin, then spray or brush the oil over top of it. 
  • If you’re using a sugary sauce, like barbecue sauce or wing sauce, season the chicken with salt and pepper and air fry for 15 minutes before adding the sauce. Sugars caramelize really quickly in the air fryer, so adding them for the last 5 minutes will prevent the sauce from burning. 
  • Always cook your chicken in a single layer. This allows the air to fully circulate around it, giving you the crispiest results! 
  • The cooking time may vary depending on the size of your drumsticks and your specific air fryer. Use a meat thermometer in the fattest part of the meat to ensure it reaches an internal temperature of 165ºF. If it’s too cool, pop it back in the air fryer for another minute or two. 
  • Let the chicken rest before serving. Letting the chicken rest for a few minutes before you cut into it gives the juices a chance to redistribute throughout the meat instead of running all over your plate. 

Frequently asked questions

How should I store leftovers? 

Store your sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Reheat gently so you don’t overcook the meat, or eat the leftovers cold! They’re great chopped or shredded on a salad or in a wrap. Note that the skin will lose its crisp texture once refrigerated. 

What should I serve with chicken drumsticks?

Anything you want! A few of my favorites are mac and cheese or smashed potatoes. For an easy warm weather meal that you can prep ahead, try pasta salad, potato salad, coleslaw, or a hearty grain salad. 

Can I double the recipe? 

Yes, but you’ll want to cook in batches so you don’t overcrowd your air fryer basket. Be sure to leave room for the hot air to circulate around the chicken. 

Is a Chicken Drumstick the Same as a Leg?

Chicken drumsticks are technically part of the leg, with a chicken leg including both the drumstick and the thigh. But almost everyone I know also uses the word leg to refer to just the drumstick portion! 

Can I make this recipes with chicken thighs instead?

Yes! Follow the same instructions. 

Other crispy chicken recipes you might like:

A white plate with two chicken legs and a side of coleslaw.
A white plate with two chicken legs and a side of coleslaw.

Air Fryer Chicken Drumstick Recipe

Crispy, flavorful chicken drumsticks form your air fryer in under a half hour! The whole family will love this versatile chicken recipe. I love making bbq chicken drumsticks with my sweet and spicy guava bbq sauce.
5
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 2 people
Calories 380 kcal

Equipment

Ingredients
  

  • 1 ½ pounds chicken drumsticks
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil or other neutral oil or spray
  • marinade, sauce, or seasoning of your choice

Instructions
 

  • Pat the raw chicken dry with a paper towel.
    If using a marinade: refrigerate the chicken in marinade for up to 48 hours. Shake off excess moisture.
    If using a dry rub: Coat the chicken with seasonings, then brush or spray with oil.
    If using a sauce: Brush or spray the chicken with oil; season with salt and pepper.
  • Heat your air fryer to 360ºF.
  • Place the chicken in the preheated air fryer in a single layer; do not overcrowd the basket.
  • Cook for 15 minutes.
  • Flip the drumsticks. If using a sauce, brush the sauce onto the chicken now.
  • Cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until the chicken reaches an internal temp of 165ºF on an instant read thermometer. Let rest before serving.

Notes

Note nutritional values do not include sauce or marinade. 

Nutrition

Serving: 0.5recipeCalories: 380kcalCarbohydrates: 0.3gProtein: 40gFat: 23gSaturated Fat: 6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 5gMonounsaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0.1gCholesterol: 210mgSodium: 237mgPotassium: 508mgVitamin A: 105IUCalcium: 23mgIron: 1mg
Love this recipe?Mention @TheBusyFoodieLauren or tag #busyfoodie!
By on August 15th, 2022
lauren

Hi, I'm Lauren!

I love to cook -- but even more importantly, I really like to eat! I have a demanding day job that keeps me busy, so time is precious. I'm a culinary school graduate and five-time cookbook author who's all about finding ways to make delicious, restaurant-quality meals at home on a tight schedule. Read more...

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