In our household, the chicken drumsticks vs chicken wings debate has advocates on both sides of the aisle. The main point of differentiation is the meat to skin ratio. Some are eloquent on the crispy skin with finger-lickingly delicious sauces associated with wings. Others argue for the succulent meat (not to mention bigger portions) on the chicken drumstick, which still comes with crispy skins, and a handle!
Chicken drumsticks are quick, easy, and cheap
There is no argument on the bottom line. Both chicken drumsticks and wings are affordable options. As the one doing the cooking, chicken drumsticks are one of the single easiest to throw together. They are a fun main dish for a crowd, are easy on the budget, and lend themselves to all kinds of flavor stylings. Cooking chicken drumsticks in a wood-fired oven is especially easy and surprisingly fast. As explained by Alton Brown in I’m Just Here for the Food, poultry works well started at high heat and finished at lower temperatures.
The cooking zones in a wood-fired oven make it easy to get beautifully crisp skin on your chicken drumsticks, and then finish them at lower heat (maybe while you put some Brussels sprouts in the high-heat zone.
Meat on the bone
Are there any reasons for buying bone-in chicken thighs and legs rather than bone-less? Are bone-in cuts of meat and poultry better tasting? Are they better for you? There’s some debate on health benefits and taste superiority of bone-in poultry, but there is agreement on economy. Bone-in chicken thighs and legs are price/pound cheaper because of the processing costs to remove the bones. It’s true that bones add a little weight to the purchase but the additional cost of the bones is less than the processing costs.
Good for you
Some studies show that most most bone-in cuts (which encompass most skin-on varieties) also contain significantly more zinc, vitamin B and B12. Some chefs state that bone flavor refers to the marrow trapped inside the bones, which can’t escape to create flavor unless the bones are cracked. One of the authors at Bon Appetite claims that the marrow inside bones “spreads out” during the cooking process to flavor the poultry.
Most everyone agrees that the advantages of bones in chicken thighs and drumsticks is in juiciness and moisture. Bones are superior conductors of heat as well as insulators of overcooking and dryness. The air spaces in bones insulate the meat closest to the bone and it tends to cook more slowly–that’s why a meat thermometer helps guard against underdone meat next to the bone. By conducting heat, bones shorten to some extent the overall cooking time. The fat attached to the ends of the bones keep the poultry moist. Thighs with bones are more likely to remain juicy, when properly cooked, than the boneless thighs which are more prone to dryness. “Having a bone keeps the meat juicier for longer and can create a better finished product when done correctly.”
Salt and milk
Chef Samin Nosrat is emphatic about properly salting poultry before cooking it. “Seasoning in advance gives salt plenty of time to diffuse evenly throughout meat. A small amount of salt applied in advance will make a much bigger difference than a larger amount applied just before serving” (p. 30, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking ). Combined with salting she soaks chicken in buttermilk overnight. The two work together to tenderize the meat, increase its moisture, and help with browning. She makes a brine of salt and buttermilk in a plastic bag, adds the chicken pieces, and soaks them, letting the marinade do its work overnight in the refrigerator.
Don’t throw away those leftover thigh and drumstick bones! Throw them into a pan and roast them in your oven. Put the roasted bones in a stockpot, cover with water, add a splash of apple cider vinegar and let the bones simmer away for hours–even up to 24 hours. A long slow simmer draws the marrow out of the bones and into the broth. The vinegar leaches minerals from the bones into the broth. With a little seasoning, you have a tasty, healthful broth that’s an antidote for joint pain, that soothes digestive inflammation, that encourages healthy hair and skin, and boosts the immune system. There’s some wonderful advantages in drinking bone broth.
Chicken drumsticks in your wood-burning oven
We have tried variations of these Buttermilk Soaked Chicken Legs and Thighs from Serious Eats and their Eat for Eight Bucks: Honey Mustard Chicken Legs Recipe. In terms of flavors, you can do just about anything with chicken drumsticks. I like to follow the overnight-dairy-with-salt prep and then roast them in a bit of oil with salt and pepper to season and then serve them with a variety of dipping sauces. Or, commit to a flavor profile and toss them in a sweet and spicy honey sauce to up their caramelization. These are a fantastic, affordable, fan favorite. As a bonus they are easy to eat out of hand if you’re standing around the fire taste testing.