How to Make Smoked Chicken for a Saucy, Succulent Feast

How to Make Smoked Chicken for a Saucy, Succulent Feast

Better Homes and Gardens

If you’ve ever wondered how to smoke chicken that’s juicy, tender, and blue ribbon-worthy, we have some great news: Smoked chicken is not just a task for barbecue circuit pros. Whether you want to serve smoked whole chicken, smoked chicken breast, smoked chicken wings, or smoked chicken thighs, our Test Kitchen will coach you through every step of the process.

Similar to our fan-favorite slow cooker dinners, you can transform a handful of everyday ingredients (chicken, spices, BBQ sauce) into something totally scrumptious by cooking low and slow in a smoker. Smoked chicken—be it smoked whole chicken, smoked chicken breast, smoked chicken wings, smoked chicken thighs—is one of the best ways to prepare poultry when you have some extra time to spare and want to infuse as much flavor as possible into the meat.

Think of smoked chicken like an upgrade on your go-to rotisserie chicken. It's just as versatile yet even more flavorful than a roast chicken since the smoke from the wood chips permeates the meat. (Excuse us as we try to tame our stomachs from growling as we speak!) This guide for how to smoke chicken starts with how to smoke a whole chicken, then we'll break it up into parts that are popular at picnics and potlucks, including smoked chicken breast, smoked chicken wings, smoked chicken thighs, and smoked chicken legs. 

Don't think you're out of luck if you don't own a specialized smoker. All of these smoked chicken techniques are doable on your standard charcoal grill. (Discover how to turn your grill into a DIY smoker.)

Beyond that, simply gather up your desired spice rub and sauce ingredients, choose your preferred cut of chicken, and be sure to have your meat thermometer handy; it's essential to target the optimal smoked chicken temp. Any of your fears and questions about how to smoke chicken are about to go up in smoke.

How to Smoke Chicken Whole

It's wise to note at the outset how long to smoke a whole chicken so you allocate enough time for the process. If you're making a whole smoked chicken (or several), it can take up to 4 hours to fully smoke at 225°F. At that point, the smoked chicken internal temp should fall between 160°F and 165°F in the thickest part of the chicken breast, and the thighs should be between 170°F and 175°F.  You may be able to trim this time down a bit by smoking the chicken at a higher temperature, if desired.

If you ask smoking pros "what temp to smoke chicken?" many suggest starting at that lower temperature, then finishing the meat at a higher temperature (between 325°F and 375°F) to yield the most flavor and best texture.

Step 1: Get your smoker stoked.

Set your preferred smoker to 225°F and allow it to preheat with the lid closed for 15 minutes. If you could use a refresher in smoking 101, here's the scoop about the best smoker styles and how to use a smoker (including wood chip recommendations and how to set up a smoker for cooking). 

Step 2: Prepare the chicken for smoking.

Contrary to what your parents may have told you while preparing Sunday dinner, it's actually unsafe to wash raw chicken, so definitely remove that from your prep list. Instead, simply pat the chicken dry, drizzle with olive oil, then season with salt and your desired spice blend or rub recipe. In addition to adding flavor, these herbs and spices can help make the skin look even more appetizing as you slice and serve the smoked chicken. 

Use butcher twine to tie the legs together (this is a technique called "trussing," which you might recall from Thanksgiving roast recipes.) Tuck the wing tips behind the shoulder joint.

Step 3: Smoke the chicken.

Open the smoker lid and place the whole, seasoned and trussed chicken on the smoker grill grates. Close the lid and smoke for 3½ hours. If desired, at this point, use a brush to baste the chicken with BBQ sauce. Increase the heat to 375°F to ensure a crispy skin. Cook for about 30 minutes more, or until the chicken reaches a safe smoked chicken internal temp (160°F and 165°F in the thickest part of the chicken breast; 170°F and 175°F in the chicken thighs). 

Remove the chicken from the smoker. Use foil to create a "tent" to keep the meat warm and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Using a carving knife to slice and serve, or shred the chicken for sandwiches, tacos, pizza toppings, and soups.

Skillet Chicken Wings

Carson Downing

How to Smoke Chicken Wings

You can air-fry wings, bake wings, grill wings, and fry wings. And yes, you can also make smoked chicken wings! Since the pieces are much smaller, this option is much faster than smoked chicken as a whole bird. 

If you're using party wings (aka wingettes), the style you're familiar with snacking on by the basket- or bucket-full at sports bars, these smoked chicken wings will be ready for the table in 1 to 2 hours. If you're using whole chicken wings cut from a bird, which include the drumette that connects the wingette portion to the bird, it can take about 1 hour more.

Follow steps 1 and 2 above, then smoke the chicken wings for 30 minutes. Increase the heat to 425°F and cook the smoked chicken wings until they reach an internal temperature of 175°F.

Remove the chicken wings from the smoker, toss with your desired chicken wing sauce, and enjoy (with copious amounts of napkins and blue cheese or ranch dressing nearby!).

Baked Chicken Breasts with Black Bean Rice Pilaf

Blaine Moats

How to Smoke Chicken Breast

Feel like you're stuck in a rut with grilled chicken breast and baked chicken breast? Try smoked chicken breast for even more flavor. 

As far as how long to smoke chicken breast, it should take about 1 hour. Again, let the meat thermometer be your guide.

Follow steps 1 and 2 above, then smoke the chicken breasts for 60 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the chicken breasts is 160°F. Remove the meat from the smoker and tent it with foil. Allow the chicken breasts to rest for about 10 minutes, or until they reach an internal temperature of 165°F.

Slice, dice, or savor as—is coated in BBQ sauce or as part of your favorite chicken breast recipe.

Grilled Feta-Brined Chicken

David Tsay

How to Smoke Chicken Thighs and Legs

The dark meat found in smoked chicken thighs and smoked chicken legs absorbs flavor really well and the skin makes these pieces delicious. 

Follow steps 1 and 2 above but preheat the smoker to 275°F. Smoke the chicken thighs for 45 to 75 minutes and the chicken legs for about 90 minutes, or until the internal temperature in the meaty portion of the thigh or leg reaches 170°F. Remove the meat from the smoker and tent them with foil. Allow the legs and/or thighs to rest for about 10 minutes, or until they reach an internal temperature of 175°F.

Toss with sauce, if you like, and devour.


This article was written by Karla Walsh from Better Homes and Gardens and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to

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