How to Smoke Chicken Like a Pro: A Beginner’s Guide

Publish Date May 8, 2023 4 Minute Read

If you’re looking for a new way to cook juicy, flavorful chicken, look no further. Smoking chicken offers countless benefits from a unique flavor profile to an increased shelf life, making it perfect for meal prep. Whether you’re looking for a low and slow backyard barbecue dish or a fresh way to prepare delicious meals for the week ahead, this guide and video will help you take your chicken smoking game from brine to sublime.

Brining Basics

Whether you’re smoking a whole chicken for a tasty family meal, or prepping chicken breasts, thighs or wings, a great way to ensure a moist and flavorful dish is to start with a brine.

Brine is a solution of water, salt and sugar that usually includes herbs and spices. Brining helps to infuse the chicken with moisture and flavor before smoking. Adding ingredients like lemon, garlic, peppercorns, rosemary, thyme and bay leaves can add a depth of flavor before your chicken ever hits the smoker. It’s best to soak chicken in the brine mixture and leave it covered in the refrigerator for 4-24 hours prior to smoking. Boneless cuts typically take half as long. For a deliciously easy smoked chicken recipe that also includes a brine recipe, check out our Bourbon-brined Smoked Wings dish.

Using a Dry Rub

While the brining process is a great way to lock in flavor and moisture, you can also try using a chicken dry rub. A dry rub is a mixture of salt and spices that’s rubbed on the chicken before cooking. A good rule is to use 1 tablespoon of rub for each pound of chicken.

Using a little bit of oil will help the rub adhere to the chicken. Prep the chicken 10-15 minutes before smoking. You can also cover and refrigerate the chicken before smoking. A whole chicken can be refrigerated for 8-24 hours, while breasts, wings, thighs and drumsticks will only need 1-12 hours. For maximum flavor, try combining the two techniques. After brining your chicken, pat dry and apply the rub.

Try complementing your chicken rub recipe with a homemade sauce or dip. These Smoked Chicken Wings with White Barbecue Sauce pair a bold and savory rub with a zesty dip. For a smoky, sweet and saucy bite, check out this whole smoked chicken recipe that uses a brown sugar rub and homemade applesauce.

Using a Smoker

Meats are smoked using either wood pellets, chips or chunks. Pellets are made of manufactured wood and are designed to burn slowly, producing a mild flavor. Wood chips or chunks burn more quickly and produce a more intense smoke. The most flavorful wood chips for smoking are pecan, oak, hickory and apple.

If you decide to use wood chips, make sure you soak them for at least an hour to add moisture before smoking. Drain your chips thoroughly to ensure that they’re dry before adding them to your smoker.

To use, simply preheat your smoker to 225-250°F and add your pellets or wood chips to the smoker box or directly onto the coals.

To smoke the chicken, place it on the smoker grates, skin-side up. Smoke the chicken for 1-2 hours per pound of meat, or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. For even more moisture, baste the chicken with a sauce or marinade during the last 30 minutes of cooking, and increase temperature to 325°F to crisp the skin.

Smoking times may vary depending on the size or cut of chicken you're using, so it’s best to use a meat thermometer to ensure that the chicken is fully cooked and safe to eat.

Remove the chicken from the smoker and let it rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Looking for More on How to Smoke Chicken?

Be sure to watch our complete guide to how to use a smoker, and visit our blog for tips and tricks, meal planning and more.

Smoked Chicken Recipes