How to smoke chicken for an amazing BBQ

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  August 21, 2022

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Getting good use out of your smoker is always a good idea, especially when the summer’s here and you want to enjoy the good weather. But you don’t always have to smoke beef!

whole smoked chicken on a carving board with herbs

In fact, chicken’s a great protein to switch things up with. Plus, it’s easy to smoke.

Below, I’ll show you how to smoke different chicken parts!

Smoking a whole chicken

whole smoked chicken on a wooden cutting board with carving fork on the side

The recommended temperature for smoking a whole chicken is 225 F.

Start by drizzling the chicken with olive oil and then use a sweet rub to cover the chicken on all sides. Use twine to tie the chicken’s legs together and tuck the wing tip behind the shoulder joint.

Place the chicken directly on the grill grates of the smoker and smoke for 3 ½ to 4 hours. The breasts should be 160-165 F and the thighs should be 170-175 F.

If you want to add some flavor, baste the chicken with your favorite barbecue sauce during the last 30 minutes of smoking. Also, if you want the skin to be crispy, you can boost the temperature up to the 350-400 F for the last 10 minutes.

Once the chicken reaches the desired internal temperature, remove it from the grill, slice, and serve.

How to smoke chicken breasts

sliced smoked chicken breast on cutting board with tomatoes and herbs on the side

Smoking chicken breasts is a pretty straightforward process.

The smoker should be set for 225 F.

If you’re brining your chicken, remove it from the brine, pat it dry, and drizzle it with olive oil. You can also sprinkle it with the seasonings of your choice.

Smoke the chicken for 1 hour or until the internal temperature reaches 160 F.

Remove the chicken from the smoker and tent it with foil until its temperature reaches 165 F. Slice and serve.

How to smoke chicken wings

smoked chicken wings on a carving board and wax paper with herbs on the side

(Note: these instructions are for party-style chicken wings. You can also use regular-sized wings and cut them down yourself.)

Start by heating the smoker to 250 F.

Coat the chicken with a spice rub and place it in the smoker. Cook for 2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 165 F.

Transfer the wings to a broiler (you may want to transfer them to a broiler pan first). Preheat broiler and once it reaches full temperature, broil the wings for 3-4 minutes, allowing them to get crispy.

Brush with barbecue sauce and serve.

How to smoke chicken thighs

smoked chicken thigh on cutting board with lemon wedges

Chicken thighs are flavorful, inexpensive cuts of meat. This makes them the perfect candidate for smoking.

To smoke chicken thighs, start by heating the smoker to 250 F.

Coat the chicken with a rub, making sure to get every part of the bird.

Place the chicken in the smoker and allow to smoke for 2.5-3 hours. The temperature should read 165 F at the thickest part of the thighs.

Brush barbecue sauce over the chicken and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

How to smoke chicken quarters

smoked chicken quarter on a plate with lemon wedge and herbs

Technically speaking, a chicken leg is comprised of a drumstick and a thigh. When a bit of the back is attached to it, it’s considered a quarter.

To smoke chicken quarters, set the smoker to 275 F. Rub the chicken with oil and seasonings.

Sear the chicken in a pan with oil and butter over medium-high heat.

Then transfer to the smoker skin side up. Smoke at 275 F for 1.5-2 hours.

Remove from the smoker and let it sit for 3 minutes before serving.

Tips for smoking chicken

These tips should get you well on your way to making a delicious smoked chicken, but here are more helpful hints that are sure to get you the best possible outcome.

But first, check out YouTube user Mad Scientist BBQ’s video on smoking whole chickens:

Pat the chicken dry before cooking. This will ensure that your chicken will come out crisp.

Don’t overdo it on the seasoning. The wood will give the chicken its own flavor, but it won’t come through if you over-season.

So you’ll want to limit the seasoning to salt, pepper, butter, olive oil, and a little bit of garlic. For an added kick, you can also put onion in the cavity along with a bit of garlic (if you’re cooking a whole chicken).

Another tip for cooking a whole chicken: make sure to tie the legs together and the wings behind the shoulder. This will ensure a more even cook and keep the smaller parts from getting done before the larger, meatier sections.

Also, don’t peak at the chicken! Opening the smoker will let out the heat and flavorings. Trust your thermometer (like these trusty brands) to keep track of things.

Give it a blast at the end to make the skin nice and crispy; turn it up to 325 F for the last half hour or so. Not doing this can leave the skin rubbery.

Add barbecue sauce at the end of cooking. It’s best to do this after the skin has had enough time to crisp.

Take it out when its 5 degrees below the recommended temperature. After you take the chicken out of the smoker, it’ll continue cooking.

If you take it out when it’s at its desired temperature, it’ll continue cooking until it goes above the desired temperature. That’s why it’s best to take it out 5 minutes beforehand.

Make sure to give the chicken enough exposure to the wood smoke to provide adequate flavor. This can be achieved by using chips in a gas or electric smoker. A charcoal grill will also do the trick.

To brine or not to brine

brined whole chicken in a pot with herbs

Some people prefer to brine their chicken before smoking it. During the brining process, the sugar and salt change the cell structure of the chicken, allowing it to retain more moisture to keep the chicken juicy.

However, the brine will also affect the taste and texture of the chicken. Some people prefer the natural taste and texture better.

If you choose to brine your chicken, be sure to allow plenty of time for the chicken to sit in the brine before smoking it.

To brine the chicken, here’s what you’ll need to do:

Mix 3 tbsp kosher salt, 4 cups water, and 1 tbsp sugar in a medium pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat and allow the sugar and salt to dissolve. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Fully submerge the chicken in the brine and let it sit for 4 hours. Take the chicken out promptly. If it sits too long, it’ll negatively affect the taste and texture of the chicken.

Smoke yourself some delicious chicken

As you can see, it’s pretty easy and straightforward to smoke chicken. With my handy tips, you’ll be able to serve up some tasty meat to yourself, your family, and/or your guests. You’ll have them wanting more!

Read also: 8 best recipes for smoked vegetables

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.