The combination of easy, inexpensive, (reasonably) healthy and yummy is why we eat more smoked chicken thighs than anything else.
NOTE: If you are using a traditional gas grill, you will need to cook the chicken indirectly to avoid flareups. This recipe works best on a smoker.
The biggest surprise when I got my smoker several years ago was what a great job it does on chicken. Pork, I expected. Steak, another delightful surprise. But chicken is mild enough to pick up the smoked flavors very nicely - particularly dark meat, which is oilier and therefore holds smoke flavor better.
I have tried a number of different "5-star" BBQ chicken recipes from a variety of recipe sites, as well as specialized smoker sites. Some of them call for slow-cooking the chicken at 200 or 225F for a couple of hours. Some say to cook it at higher temps for crispier skin.
Here's what I've learned so far:
- All chicken is good on the smoker, but dark meat is best. I use skin-on thighs, and leave the skin on (even if you don't eat it) because it drips over the rest of the meat.
- Cooking it at 350 results in fairly crispy skin, and typically takes about 30 minutes. It picks up plenty of smoke flavor if you use a blend of pellets that includes hickory (I use CookinPellets Perfect Mix). This technique makes it a fast, easy meal that is perfect for weeknights.
- Cooking at 200 for 2 hours works great as well, but it takes longer and the skin is not crispy. Also, the chicken can pick up too much smoke flavor unless I change out my pellets to a milder blend. I don't see the point of going through all of that extra work.
- No need to wet brine it, or even dry brine it. I have done both many times, and can barely tell the difference. Just take it straight out of the refrigerator, put some salt and pepper on it (under the skin as well), and throw it on the smoker at 350F.
- Lately, I've been sprinkling it with Char-Crust Original Hickory rub. It's a matter of personal taste - either way, the chicken is flavorful and juicy.
TOTAL TIME: 45 min
- Prep: 15 min
- Cook: 30 min
Start the smoker and bring it to 350 degrees F. I use pellets with a mix of hickory and fruitwoods for a fairly strong smoke flavor (CookinPellets Perfect Mix). If using a traditional (non-smoker) grill, set it up for indirect cooking to avoid flare-ups.
Prep the chicken. I take it straight from the refrigerator, which is typically 34 - 37 degrees. Dry it with paper towels. Peel back the skin on the meaty side so you can get in there. Sprinkle salt and pepper directly on the meat all over, and also on the skin. If using a rub (we like Char-Crust Original Hickory) instead of salt and pepper, first rub olive oil on the chicken so that the rub will stick better.
Smoke until chicken reaches 170 - 175F, usually about 30-35 minutes. Don't put the chicken on until the smoker/grill is fully up to temperature. Place it skin side up, and leave it that way for the entire cook. No need to flip it unless you just have to have sear marks on the skin, since the heat is indirect like an oven. Use a good thermometer or cooking alarm. If cooking white meat, pull it at 160 - 165F for best results.
- 4 chicken thighs (bone-in, skin-on)
- Salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
- Char-Crust seasoning (optional)
- Olive oil (if Char-Crust used)