Chicken lollipops. Juicy, rich, dark meat. A lacquered, zesty exterior. Easy and fun to eat. And our dear friend Diva Q‘s famous chicken lollipops are sweet and tangy at the same time. This fun and simple addition to your grilling repertoire is a snap to get right, as long as you pay attention to the thermal principles at play.
Lollipop Chicken Challenges
Chicken pops are so fun and easy to eat because you have a bare bone to hold on to and you have all that tasty meat in one place. But that ball of meat had better get cooked to the right temperature! To make sure we get things right, we paid attention to the following…
The perennial problem for grilling is getting your grill heat right. Get it wrong and you could scorch your food or maybe never cook it through. So how do you get the heat just right?
Some suggest holding your hand over the heat and counting the seconds until it hurts, but there is a much better way. You can check the temperature of a grill with an infrared thermometer with a little extra preparation.
We heated our Pit Barrel Cooker with a small cast iron pan on the rack so we could get the temperature at the surface. When our chicken was ready to go, we opened the lid, and pointed our Industrial Infrared Thermometer (IRK-2®) at the little pan. That way, we KNEW our grill was at 365°F (185°C). Perfect!
Higher Pull Temperatures for Dark Poultry
The USDA recommends chicken be cooked to 165°F (74°C) or held at slightly lower temperatures for longer periods for food safety. But, dark meat has a lot more connective tissue than tender white meat, and connective tissue requires a little extra time and higher temperatures to break down. Cooking our chicken lollipops to 165°F (74°C) would technically be safe, but the legs would not end up the juicy, tender, silky morsels of delight we want them to be. So we kept an eye on them with our trusty Thermapen, gave them a basting at 160°F (71°C) and then continued grilling to a pull temperature of 172°F (78°C).
Collagen broken down = juicy chicken, but only if the muscles can retain all that newly-released moisture. That’s where a rest comes in. We rested the drumsticks just so the muscle fibers could relax and hold on to their juice. They continue to rise a few degrees in internal temperature, as well, during the rest.
With all this accomplished, we dove right in. The kicky sriracha sauce, the sugary rub, the smoky chipotle…it all came together like a dream.
Sweet and Sassy Chicken Lollipops Recipe
*Recipe from Danielle Bennett’s Diva Q’s Barbecue
- 1 cup Diva Q competition Sauce (or sub your favorite barbecue sauce):
- 1 C ketchup
- ½ C light brown sugar
- ½ C cider vinegar
- ½ C apple cider
- 2 Tbsp ground mustard
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 1.5 tsp granulated garlic
- 1.5 tsp granulated onion
- 1.5 tsp chili powder
- 1.5 tsp tamarind paste
- ¾ tsp ground black pepper
- ¼ tsp ground ginger
- ¼ tsp chipotle powder
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- ⅛ tsp vanilla
- ¼ cup Sriracha sauce
- 2 lbs. chicken drumsticks
- ¼ cup Diva Q pork and Chicken Rub (or sub your favorite chicken rub):
- ½ C brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp sweet smoked paprika
- 1.5 Tbsp kosher salt
- 1 Tbsp black pepper
- 1 Tbsp chili powder
- 1 Tbsp gran. garlic
- 1 Tbsp gran. Onion
- 1 tsp piri piri or chipotle powder
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp ground thyme
- 1 tsp. chipotle powder
- Mix together the Diva Q sauce ingredients and the Sriracha sauce in a small bowl, set aside.
- Mix together the DivaQ rub ingredients in another bowl, set aside.
Prepare the Chicken Drumsticks
- With a small, sharp knife, very carefully cut around the thin, bony end of each chicken drumstick—cutting through the skin, meat, and tendons until you reach the bone.
- When you have cut to the bone all around, push the meat and skin down toward the thick end of the drumstick to form a “lollipop” end.
- You can trim the top joint bone off at the hinge for a more pleasing presentation.
- Lay the lollipops down on their sides and sprinkle generously with the chipotle powder and rub.
Prepare the Grill
- Next, prepare the grill for direct cooking and heat it to 365°F (185°C).
- We used a small cast iron pan and an IRK-2 to make sure our temperature was where it needed to be. The IRK-2 comes with a circle laser so you can be sure you are measuring just the surface of the cast iron pan and not sampling the grill grates and the fire behind the grill grates, as well (for more on this, see our post Infrared Thermometer Basics & Best Practices).
- Clean and oil the grill grates.
Grill the Chicken Lollipops
- Grill the chicken, turning often.
- We used a TimeStick® to remind us to turn the chicken lollipops every 6-10 minutes.
- Cook until the thermal center of the drumsticks reads 160°F (71°C) as measured on a Thermapen (about 20 minutes).
- Glaze the chicken with the sauce mixture.
- Continue grilling, turning often, until the internal temperature reaches 172°F (78°C). Verify this doneness temperature with your Thermapen. If you see a reading in any of the drumsticks below 172°F (78°C), return that drumstick to the grill and continue cooking.
- The connective tissue in the chicken legs will begin to break down at these higher temperatures giving a silky smooth texture to the dark meat.
- The glaze will also set during this time.
- Remove the chicken from the grill, tent loosely with foil and let rest for 10 minutes to allow the muscle fibers to relax before serving.
- The internal temperature of the chicken will continue to rise slightly during the rest, and should finish near 175°F (79°F).
Serve and enjoy!
Diva Q’s Barbecue, by Danielle Bennett