If you're feeling like you've had one too many chicken breasts lately, grilled chicken leg quarters can be a tasty, flavorful alternative. With the thigh and drumstick left intact, chicken leg quarters contain more fat than breasts and make for a juicy meal, says the National Chicken Council.
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Whether you grill chicken quarters on a gas grill or over charcoal, you'll want to take a few steps to ensure a healthy meal. Although grilling leg quarters on a gas grill may expose you to certain chemicals, there are ways to minimize the risk, says Harvard Health Publishing.
Chicken Nutrition Basics
Poultry meats contain protein, vitamins, minerals and a low amount of fat, making them a healthy addition to most diets, according to a June 2015 study in Food & Nutrition Research. Rich in B-group vitamins, iron, zinc, copper and other nutrients, poultry is associated with a lower risk of developing overweight and obesity, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and other conditions.
Grilled chicken leg quarters contain "dark meat" and are considered more flavorful and tender than "white meat" chicken breasts, explains the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). The primary difference between the two is the fat and calorie content.
For example, a 4-ounce skinless chicken breast has about 130 calories, 3 grams of total fat and 0.5 gram of saturated fat, according to the USDA. The equivalent amount of skinless thigh-meat chicken has 140 calories and 4.5 grams of fat, says the USDA — including 1 gram of saturated fat.
When eaten along with a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains and mainly lean proteins, however, grilled chicken leg quarters can be a part of a balanced diet, per the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Read more: Skinless Chicken Thigh Nutrition Information
Choose Your Chicken
You'll see a variety of options for grilled chicken leg quarters at the grocery store, explains the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) — from "natural" and "hormone-free" to "organic." The type of chicken you buy depends on your budget and preferences.
Organic chicken tends to be higher in cost and must comply with USDA regulations, meaning the birds are fed 100 percent organic feed and have access to the outdoors, says ACES. Other types of chicken, such as conventional or free-range, are lower in cost and typically fed non-organic corn and soybean diets with added fats, vitamins and minerals.
The term "hormone-free" is unnecessary, as it is against the law to add hormones to chicken feed or give it directly to birds, adds ACES.
No matter what type of chicken you choose for grilling leg quarters on a gas grill, safe handling is essential to avoid contamination. Frozen chicken should be thawed on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, says the AND. Use separate utensils, dishes and cutting boards for raw versus cooked chicken, and wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw poultry.
Limit Your Cancer Risk
Exposing poultry and other protein-rich foods to high heat and open flames generates chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs), says Harvard Health Publishing. If fat drips and burns on the grill, the resulting smoke will expose you to additional chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Both groups of chemicals have been linked to certain cancers, according to Harvard Health Publishing. To limit the formation of these chemicals, take the following preventive measures:
- Line the grill with foil perforated with holes.
- Cook foods for longer at a lower temperature. Avoid charring the meat.
- Marinate food before cooking to limit the formation of possible carcinogens while grilling. Cedars-Sinai adds that acidic rubs and marinades may help break down some of the muscle in the meat and reduce the number of HCAs formed.
- Clean the grill before and after use. If you use a wire brush, wipe it down with a lightly oiled clean cloth or paper towels to remove any stray bristles and create a nonstick cooking surface.
Grilled Chicken Leg Quarters Instructions
- Prepare a marinade and soak the chicken in it — some people like to use a zip-close baggie. Our recipe for Turmeric Marinated Grilled Chicken Tenders is written for a thinner cut of meat, but the marinade offers a tasty option for chicken quarters, too. Let your chicken quarters marinate for at least an hour in the fridge, covered.
- Fire up your grill. When grilling leg quarters on a gas grill, cook them over steady, medium heat, advises the National Chicken Council. Closely monitor the chicken and turn it often to ensure even cooking and to prevent charring. It should take about 30 to 35 minutes to grill chicken quarters on a gas grill.
- Cook the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any harmful germs, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Use a digital thermometer inserted into the thickest section of meat to check for doneness.
- Refrigerate any leftovers within two hours of grilling, says the AND. Consume leftover chicken within three to four days.
Because chicken readily absorbs marinades, it's fairly simple to switch up the flavor profile of grilled chicken leg quarters. One no-fuss option is to rub heart-healthy olive oil on the chicken and sprinkle it with salt and pepper, or add other spices and herbs, notes Cedars-Sinai.
For something more adventurous, our recipe for Grilled Curry Chicken Thighs on Wilted Greens is flavorful and packed with healthy ingredients like curry and ginger powder. With a little creativity, you can have a different culinary experience each time you grill chicken quarters on a gas grill.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "How to Grill Safely"
- National Chicken Council: "Healthful Chicken on the Grill"
- Food & Nutrition Research: "Role of Poultry Meat in a Balanced Diet Aimed at Maintaining Health and Wellbeing: An Italian Consensus Document"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Breasts vs Thighs Which Is More Nutritious"
- Alabama Cooperative Extension System: "Raw Poultry Products: What Do All Those Labels Mean?"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "5 Tips for Healthy Grilling"
- Cedars-Sinai: "Healthy Grilling: Reducing the Risk of Cancer"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for American, 2015-2020: Chapter 1. Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns"
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs"
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast Fillets"