Chicken drumsticks are generally simple to cook in a number of ways, but knowing when they’re done and ready to eat isn’t that simple. This is partly because of the bone in the drumstick and partly due to how the chicken was stored prior to cooking.
What should be an easy meal often becomes a confusing session of looking up odd colors and food safety guidelines.
However, when you know why chicken drumsticks turn out the way they do, it is easier to gauge whether or not you can go ahead and eat them.
How Long Do Chicken Drumsticks Take to Cook?
First, cooking chicken drumsticks can take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes, depending on the cooking method, the size of the drumsticks, and the temperature at which they’re cooked.
For example, cooking them at 400 to 425 degrees Fahrenheit in an oven can take about 40 to 45 minutes, while cooking them at 250F can take over 2 1/2 hours.
As for size, a small piece might take 10 minutes less than a larger piece to reach an internal temperature of 165F.
And, if you try to grill or pan-fry them, they can take around 25 minutes or so after they’ve been browned on all sides. An Air Fryer or Instant Pot recipe will have different times as well since they are a smaller space.
How Do I Make Sure Chicken Drumsticks Are Cooked Thoroughly?
If you really want to know when chicken drumsticks are done, you need to use an instant-read meat thermometer. Never rely on the “juices run clear” method because:
- If you’ve marinated the chicken, the marinade can color the juices
- If the chicken was frozen, the marrow or hemoglobin in the chicken can leak from the bones and color the juices
- Your concept of “juices running clear” may be a lot different than what others think it should be
Chicken drumsticks can sometimes take on different colors, and using color as a way to test doneness is not safe. You need to use a meat thermometer – do not let it touch the bone – to verify that the drumstick is cooked internally to a temperature of at least 175F.
That’s right; for drumsticks, you want them to be slightly hotter than the usual 165 F number you see everywhere.
That higher temperature helps tenderize some of the tougher tissues in dark meat chicken parts (same goes with chicken wings).
Is It OK if Chicken Drumsticks Are a Little Pink?
A light pink color in chicken drumsticks may or may not be OK; it depends on why the meat is pink. If the meat is pink because you didn’t cook the chicken to 175F, then no, that’s not OK. That’s undercooked chicken that isn’t safe to eat.
However, if you cooked the chicken properly, and that meat thermometer is showing 175F, you might still see colors ranging from pink to red to even purple inside the meat near the bone. This is actually very common and has to do with the age of the chicken you’re eating.
Chickens used for food in the U.S. tend to be young, and their bones tend to be porous. If the drumsticks were frozen before cooking, and then cooked for a relatively long amount of time (which can really just be that 40 minutes or so in the oven), the marrow, which is a nice reddish-purple due to myoglobin, can leach out into the meat.
This results in meat that gets redder as it gets closer to the bone. As long as the temperature reads 175F or higher, the chicken drumstick is ready to eat.
Note that you can also see brownish goop oozing out of the ends of the drumsticks if they were frozen before cooking. This too is related to marrow seeping out.
Again, if the meat is the correct temperature, you can discard the brown stuff and eat the chicken drumstick.
What Color Should Chicken Drumsticks Be?
Exterior color of skin-on drumsticks will vary due to seasonings, marinades, and cooking methods. Baked drumsticks, for example, will be golden-brownish on the outside if the skin was left on.
If the drumsticks were skinless, the meat on the outside should be, in general, the beige-ish color that you’d expect cooked chicken to look like. But again, leaking marrow and myoglobin can give the chicken meat a pinkish tinge.
And again, use that thermometer – that’s how you can tell if the drumsticks are done.
Can You Over Cook Chicken Drumsticks?
Of course you can overcook chicken drumsticks – but did you know that some people like overcooked chicken drumsticks? They don’t want any hint of pink and want to be sure that chicken is cooked completely with crispy skin, so they purposefully overcook it.
That works better for chicken that is boneless, which kind of defeats the purpose of making drumsticks in the first place; the bone acts as a convenient handle that lets you chow down without utensils and is half the fun of eating a drumstick.
You do want to be sure you don’t burn the chicken meat, however, because then it’s simply inedible. If you want to try overcooking on purpose, start slowly, increasing the time by only a couple of minutes.
And never leave the chicken drumsticks unattended as they’re cooking, especially at this point!
Can You Avoid Pink Drumstick Meat?
If you prefer to avoid pink, red, or purple chicken meat, you have some options. You could debone the meat before cooking, but again, if you’re cooking drumsticks, you want the bone left in. Otherwise, it’s just random chicken meat.
You could also make an effort to cook only unfrozen chicken drumsticks. Buy them fresh from the market the day you plan to cook them (or the day before, but you can’t store them for any longer in the refrigerator).
Because freezing the drumsticks promotes that marrow-leaching that leads to red meat by the bone, using drumsticks that have never been frozen should reduce the chances of you seeing pink meat.