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The Incredible, Edible Leg

When I was in college, I worked at this record store (OK, so I’m old), and I would often get asked what my favorite album was. And I would generally answer Joy Division’s Closer (OK, so I’m an old, pretentious anglophile). And this was a belief I persisted in until very recently when I was confronted by the cold, hard facts of the “Played” column in my iTunes Library (this tracks the frequency that you listen to a particular song). According to the data, Closer isn’t even close to my favorite album. As it turns out, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Platinum is what I listen to the most. This makes sense, as it’s one of my default choices when I have nothing specific in mind, but I just want to jam some tunes. Similarly, ever since I’ve cooked professionally, I’m often asked what my favorite food is. Veal sweetbreads has been my stock response to this query, and like Closer, consumption of these little morsels when conditions are right is a sublime experience to be savored. Trouble is, as a working parent, the stars are rarely aligned (i.e. me and the missus getting gussied up and dropping a few hundred bucks on dinner and a babysitter) for sweetbread enjoyment

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So I got to thinking about what my real favorite food (i.e. the one I cook and eat the most) is, and I’m pretty sure that if there were a “Played” column on my dinner table, grilled chicken drumsticks would be topping the charts. Now there are a number of foods—pork tenderloin, shrimp, eggs--that deliver a healthy amount of bang-for the-buck as far as ease of preparation to level of eating experience goes, but the drumstick has a few unique things going for it. Much like CCR’s swamp-blues-rock, there’s a back-to-basics satisfaction to eating grilled meats in general, but drumsticks have the added bonus of being the original meat-on-a-stick. Yes, you could argue ribs here, but the one-handed ease-of-use factor pushes the drumstick over the top. Texting and driving? Major no-no. Texting and eating a drumstick? That’s just multitasking (in fact, I’m eating one right now). Sick of fighting with your 4-year-old about eating pasta with their fingers? Get young Odin’s elbows up on the table and let ‘em have at a chicken leg.

 


And between football practices, guitar lessons, and just general child maintenance, on-the-fly dinners are a major part of our family’s life. So not only is it’s ease of consumption working in it’s favor (it’s great for standing or even walking meals), grilled chicken also belongs to the pantheon of foods—along with pizza and brownieswhich are equally delicious served hot, cold, or anywhere in between. Now as busy as we stay during the school year, sometimes the application of heat to food is an option that goes right out the window, so a plateful of grilled chicken legs on hand in the fridge is not only great for dinner, but it also makes afternoon snacks and school lunches a breeze. And in the every-second-counts morning race against the tardy bell, throwing a couple of these in a sandwich baggie takes even less time than a PB&J. Oh, and you’re sending your precious angel(s) off to school with a healthy, home-cooked meal, blah, blah, blah…

 


And in these times of great economic uncertainty…OK, this isn’t going to turn into one of those columns. Seriously, though, you can get an absolute boatload of these suckers for cheap. Let kings and queens feast on their expensive chicken breasts, I’ll take the quotidian majesty of a drumstick any day. In fact, I never cook less than a dozen. You definitely don’t want to run out before you’re ready. I generally fire up the grill on a Sunday night, throw about 15-20 on, and that’s enough to get our family to about midweek. Honestly, the picked meat of that last, lonely one on top of a simple salad on Wednesday night makes a fantastic dinner.

 


Finally, as summer comes to a close (but tailgating season is just around the corner), I’d also like to say that in its capacity as a delicious, easy-to-eat, serve at any temperature, megacheap by the dozen, and top-quality leftover foodstuff, drumsticks make the ultimate party food for your next cookout. Just load up your grill with 20 or 30 or 40 (the sky’s the limit, really), throw together some quick and easy dipping sauces (see below), and you’ll have an international chicken buffet par excellence in no time. They’re a real crowd-pleaser much like (trust me on this one) CCR instead of Joy Division on the stereo. (Marinated Grilled Chicken Legs pictures here).


Notes on cooking: I just toss the drumsticks in a bowl with some olive oil, salt, and pepper and grill them on high with the longer side (the one with more skin) down for about 10 minutes to get the skin crispy, and then turn them over, reduce the heat to medium, and let them go with the lid closed 15-20 minutes to give them a good, slow roasting. You do have to pay pretty close attention, as the grill will definitely flare up occasionally with skin-on chicken.

 


Dipping sauces: All of these are super easy and will keep in the fridge for at least a week. Just whisk together the ingredients in whatever proportion you see fit. They’re almost impossible to mess up. The only thing you might do is get too much ginger in the Asian one, but I would just say that by the time you get sick of grating it, you’ve got enough.

Sweet and sour: sweet chili sauce, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sriracha, lime juice, scallions, grated ginger, minced garlic

Sunshine sauce: mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, sriracha, cider vinegar

Mexican: Mexican hot sauce, sour cream, cilantro, lime juice


BBQ: your favorite

 



For more easy, no-cook sauces, see 6 Simple Sauces for Chicken

 


And check out this article on busting Nutrition Myths where we explain how you can splurge with skin-on chicken from time to time.