How to prepare juicy smoked chicken thighs with crispy skin. Smoking is a wonderful way to cook chicken thighs and the results by far surpass simply grilling over charcoals.
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Read on for relevant information and step-by-step pictures (2 mins)
About This Smoked Chicken Thighs Recipe – Bone-in or Boneless, Skin-on or Skinless?
The best smoked chicken thighs are boneless and skin-on. They simply cook faster and do not dry out because the skin on top protects them while it contributes both flavor and moisture.
If all you can find are bone-in thighs see the section below to learn how to remove the bone.
If you already have boneless skinless chicken thighs you can still smoke them using this recipe but only if you wrap them with two bacon slices per thigh. (Attach the bacon with toothpicks so it does not fall).
How to Debone Chicken Thighs?
Trimming and removing the bone from chicken thighs before you smoke them helps with more even cooking. Additionally they are easier to cut into once done.
To debone chicken thighs: pat them dry, turn them skin side down and follow the steps illustrated in the grid below.
You may enlist the help of a paper towel to hold the bone if you find it too slippery. Use a sharp boning knife to make flicking, short motions.
Why Brine Chicken Thighs?
We recommend that you use a smoked chicken brine. Chicken, even the very flavorful and relatively fatty thighs, is an extremely lean meat and smoking involves dry heat. Without a brine the thighs will finish hopelessly parched and tough to the bite.
If you brine them before smoking then the resulting meat will retain more of its juices overall and will be more tender. When the thighs are boneless and there is no collagen to be liquified into gelatin to moisten the meat brining becomes even more essential.
Always, always brine chicken meat before you smoke it. The same applies to grilling chicken thighs – they will finish much jucier.
What Seasoning to Use
- If you are after the unadulterated flavor of smoked chicken meat then simply use salt and black pepper. Go easy on the salt and emphasize the pepper because the brine already infuses the chicken with a good amount of salt.
- If you would rather prepare barbecue chicken thighs use your favorite spice rub or BBQ mix and season them to taste.
- Or mix your seasoning with cayenne pepper, paprika, brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, maple powder and various other seasoning ingredients.
What Type of Wood to Use for Smoking Chicken?
Our favorites are hickory and apple wood. The former results in a stronger smokey flavor, so sometimes we use a combination. Other fruit wood such as cherry wood also works with chicken – from white meat to the whole bird. For a pellet smoker use the corresponding pellets.
Instructions – How to Smoke Chicken Thighs?
Instructions: In a nutshell, make the brine in non-reactive bowl, let them soak in it for up to twelve hours, then dry and season them and prepare your smoker.
Position the thighs skin side up, near the heat and smoke source (as relevant, for example near the smoking box of a pellet grill). Smoke until the internal temperature reaches 165 F when measured with meat thermometer in the center. Be sure to rest them before you enjoy.
Do You Flip Chicken Thighs When Smoking?
No, do not flip them over. You can move them around the grill grate to expose all sides to the heat and smoke source better, but the skin should always remain on top. As its fat renders it will both flavor and protect the thigh meat from overdrying.
How Long to Smoke Chicken Thighs?
The cooking time depends on several factors:
size of the thighs – smaller will cook faster
bone-in or not – generally smoked boneless chicken thighs will be done faster
the smoker temperature you maintain – the total time at a higher temperature such as we recommend (300 F) takes about 35-45 minutes. At a lower temperature such as 225 F smoking chicken thighs takes between 60 and 90 minutes.
TIP: We advise against smoking chicken thighs at 225 F, even 250 F. Lower temperature smoke roasting tends to make the chicken skin tough, rubbery and chewy.
Chicken Thighs Internal Temperature
Per USDA regulations chicken is safe to eat once the internal temp taken with a meat probe thermometer reaches 165 F.
Insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh.
How to Get Crispy Skin on Smoked Chicken Thighs?
The easiest way to achieve crispy chicken skin while smoking thighs is to smoke them at a higher temperature. This is the principal reason we recommend that you maintain 300 F in your smoker box.
Not only does the meat remain juicier because it doesn’t smoke for too long, but the skin renders its fat faster and naturally becomes crispy (see picture below).
If however you are not satisfied with the degree of crispiness of your skin-on chicken thighs at the time they are cooked (minimum internal temperature of 165 F) then place them under the broiler in a baking dish for 2-3 minutes while watching them closely.
Side dishes & leftovers
Classic barbeque sides work beautifully alongside smoked chicken thighs, especially if you choose to smother them with your favorite barbecue sauce.
Leftover meat is perfect for chicken salad or cold sandwhiches.
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- 6 boneless, skin-on chicken thighs*
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 4 cups water (2 cups cold water and 2 cups (heaping) ice)
- BBQ seasoning/dry rub to taste (use your favorite or simply salt and pepper)
- To make a brine combine the salt and dark brown sugar with 1 cup cold water in a saucepan. Bring to simmer and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. In a non-reactive bowl combine the remaining 1 cup water with the 2 cups of ice. Pour the hot solution over the iced water and stir.
- When the brine is cold add the chicken thighs, cover and soak refrigerated for up to 12 hours. Around 8 hours is ideal.
- Remove the thighs from the brine and discard it. Pat dry the chicken with paper towels. (Do not rinse with water). Season with BBQ rub or simply salt and pepper, to taste.
- Set up your smoker according to the manufacturer's instructions with charcoal and hickory or applewood chunks. When the temperature in the smoking chamber is in the 275-300 F range, place the seasoned chicken thighs on the rack or directly onto the grate, near the heat & smoke source.
- Maintain the smoker temperature near 300 F and smoke the thighs until their internal temperature gets to 165 F. This will take about 35-45 minutes. The skin should render its fat and become crispy.**
The brine this recipe yields is enough for 8-10 chicken thighs.
*If all you can find are bone-in chicken thighs it is very easy to remove the bone yourself. (Consult visual steps in the body of the post). Flip a thigh skin side down. Locate the bone and while holding on to the top end of it make two incisions on each side to seprate it from the meat. Then slide the knife underneath the bone and around its base. Gently pull the separated bone to detach from the thigh.
**You need 300 F or very near that in order for the fat to properly render and the skin to become crispy. Lower smoker temperatures will result in rubbery, chewy skin. Do your best to maintain 300 F.
If the skin is not crisp enough to your liking once the thighs have reached 165 F, you can place them skin side up under a broiler for a couple of minutes (watch them closely so they do not burn).
Nutrition Information:Yield: 3 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 232Total Fat: 10gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 85mgSodium: 767mgCarbohydrates: 16gFiber: 1gSugar: 13gProtein: 21g