Want to make smoked chicken breasts? Look no further. This is the best way to make juicy and tender smoked chicken breasts on your grill.
Everyone needs a go-to recipe for cooking chicken breasts in the backyard.
Roasted chicken is always a crowd-pleaser. Almost everyone likes grilled chicken, but smoked chicken is a whole different ball game.
Chicken breasts are inexpensive and cook up quickly, so make enough to have leftovers for a couple of meals.
When cooked correctly smoked chicken breasts are both juicy and tender.
Almost any grill can be turned into a smoker if it has a cover.
Should the chicken be bone-in or boneless?
Boneless skinless chicken breasts are convenient and cook faster than bone-in chicken. But they are generally more expensive, and they do not have the same flavor. A boneless skinless breast has no skin to retain moisture and no bones to conduct heat, so it cooks faster but can dry out.
The easiest answer is to smoke a couple of each, you and your family decide which they prefer.
Smoked Chicken Brine
The use of brine, a mixture of salt and other spices mixed with water, is up to you. Using a brine will help your chicken stay moist and juicy.
Here is a very simple brine recipe.
Fill a container large enough to hold your chicken with 2 quarts of cold water
- 1/2 cup table salt
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- Mix to dissolve the salt and sugar
- If you want extra flavor and spice:
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- lemon juice to taste
- 1/4 cup olive oil
Mix the ingredients together and soak the chicken for 2-4 hours in the refrigerator.
Prepare the grill for smoking
Before we get the grill going check the cleanliness of the grill grates, clean if necessary.
When smoking meats you want to cook them low and slow. The meat needs to be on the grill long enough to absorb the smoke flavor from the wood.
If cooked too hot or quickly the heat will seal the meat and you will not enjoy the extra smoke flavor.
By smoking chicken at a low temperature for an extended length of time you will ensure a tender and juicy piece of chicken when you are done.
Cooking using the Indirect Method
When using indirect heat light the charcoal and move it to one side of the grill, leaving a space for the food on the other side.
On a gas grill, depending on the number of burners you have, light the outside burners and leave the middle 1 or 2 off.
Before the grill gets too hot, or before lighting it place a pan of liquid under where the meat will be. This probably will be a couple of cups water and will catch the meat drippings to reduce flare-ups.
Smoking meat will dry the air in the BBQ and the liquid will add moisture back in to help keep the meat moist.
This two-zone method of grilling is the most popular and versatile.
Preheat the grill 20-30 minutes before you start to cook. When the charcoal turns ash-white you are ready to go.
How to Create Smoke
Add some smoker chips or wood chunks to your lit charcoal. This will turn your charcoal grill into a smoker instantly.
Without the smoke, you just plain are not smoking!
What type of wood for smoking chicken?
Choosing the right type of wood and the right size is important. With experience, you will learn what smoky flavor you like best with what type of meat.
I recommend fruit-flavored wood chunks like pecan, cherry, or apple, even maple will work well. You can find wood chips at most hardware stores as well as Home Depot and Lowes.
For meat requiring a short cooking time like steak, fish, or chicken, chips work best. They are small pieces of wood that ignite and smoke quickly but burn out fast. Use logs or wood chunks for longer cooks.
You will want to use a smoker box to keep the wood together and stop it from going up in flames.
Smoker boxes can be purchased at hardware and big box stores. They also can easily be made at home with some aluminum foil.
Create a pouch using foil and fill it with the desired amount of wood chips. Poke holes into the top of the pouch to let the smoke escape.
How do you use a wood smoker box?
A debate goes on over to soak the wood or not?
Soaking the wood delays it from smoking. The purpose of putting wood into the fire is to create smoke so nothing is gained.
In the end, it is completely up to you. Tests done by Meathead Goldwyn from AmazingRibs.com
showed it did not make any difference.
Do not add the wood until the grill reaches the cooking temperature, 225 degrees.
How To Control The Heat?
With a charcoal grill, you can control the heat in a couple of different ways.
The most important is using the air shutters. Air shutters are the vents at the bottom of the grill. There should be at least one, sometimes more.
You want the vent open to let air into the chamber to keep the charcoal burning. More air will create a hotter fire and with too little air the fire goes out.
You can also control the heat by the amount of charcoal used. By increasing the amount of fuel the fire burns hotter and quicker. Reduce the fuel, and the fire burns at a lower temperature.
If you see that the temperature is not hot enough you can add more charcoal and open the bottom air vents a little more.
The top air shutter controls the chimney. This is the exiting smoke.
This vent should be open only enough to let the air out and not suffocate the fire. Open too much and heat will escape, reducing the temperature, too little fire will go out.
Prepare A Dry Rub Chicken Recipe
While the grill is getting up to temperature prepare a dry rub.
I use a simple homemade rub.
- 8 tablespoons brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard powder
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
If I can not find an ingredient or two I leave it out or substitute something similar I see. To increase the heat add extra cayenne pepper or chili powder.
I cook chicken often so I will put the ingredients in a jar, shake well to mix, and what I do not use I save until next time.
Getting The Chicken Ready For The Grill
We want to cook the chicken at 225°F.
I place a digital thermometer on the grill to track the temperature. I have found the thermometers that the manufacturers put in the hood are not very accurate so I use my own.
Get the chicken from the fridge, rinse off the brine in cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
Keep the chicken in the refrigerator unless it is being prepared for the brine or the rub. This will eliminate health and safety issues.
Also, cold meat will absorb the flavors from the smoke better than meat that is at room temperature. Leave it in the refrigerator until the last minute, taking it out just before setting the chicken on the grill.
Using a platter or cookie sheet place the meat so there is a little room between pieces. Generously sprinkle the rub onto each piece using a spoon and thoroughly rub it into the meat. Many people do not use enough rub, but much of it will cook-off.
With long-handled tongs put some cooking oil onto a paper towel and coat the grill grates.
Place the meat on the middle of the grill over the drip pan, not the area over the heat source.
Placing the meat on the grill will cause the temperature to drop. By adjusting the vents at the bottom, opening them more, you will be able to increase the temperature back to 225°F.
Place the lid on the smoker leaving the top vent open and do not open for 45 minutes.
Get the BBQ sauce ready if you plan on using any. We do not use a BBQ sauce at the beginning because we want the meat to absorb the smoke flavor. Also, sauces and marinades can cause problems as far as flare-ups, which makes the chicken taste burned and turns it gray.
The meat will absorb the smoke while it is cool, but once it starts cooking the meat will seal and the smoke smell will stop flavoring the meat.
After 45 minutes open the lid and check the temperature of the meat. Insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the biggest piece of chicken, the temperature should be at least 160 degrees F
Using a basting brush or the back of a spoon baste the meat with the BBQ sauce flipping the meat over after a few minutes to cover both sides. After 15 minutes check the meat temperature again. When the temperature reaches 160 degrees F, remove it from the grill. Place the meat on a platter, or cutting board, and tent with aluminum foil for 5-10 minutes, let the juices settle. The carryover cooking will increase the internal temperature to 165 degrees F.
By smoking meat at low temperatures, the connective tissues are broken down. What you end up with is a piece of very juicy meat that melts in your mouth. You and your guest will love it and will see that it is well worth the extra time and effort.
FAQ And Tips
How Can You Tell if Chicken Breast is Cooked?
Remove the chicken breast when the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F, allow the meat to come to 165 while tented with foil. The process will likely take anywhere from 50 to 90 minutes, depending on the chicken, what type of smoker you’re using, and the consistency of the heat.
Can Chicken Breast Be a Little Pink?
The USDA says that as long as all parts of the chicken have reached a minimum internal temperature of 165°, it is safe to eat. Color doesn’t indicate doneness. Smoked meat often leaves a pink hue but if it has come to temperature it’s fine.
The Key to Perfectly Smoked Chicken
The key to smoking meat is to give it plenty of time at a low temperature and then plenty of time to rest on the counter as well. If you cut into the meat, or start to pull it apart the juices will run out which is a big mistake.
Once the chicken has reached its temperature, remove the chicken from the grill and lay aluminum foil over the top of it on a cutting board. Let the chicken rest for 3-5 minutes before slicing.
Smoking chicken breast is one of the best things that you can make with a grill.
This way of cooking produces tender, juicy, and flavorful chicken that brings people back for more.
In fact, following this smoking method should create the smell that will bring your neighbors knocking for invites.