Make everyone's taste buds salivate when you serve this mouth-watering, ultra juicy smoked chicken breast! For the most tender, moist bite, this chicken slowly cooks in the smoker at a low temperature and is then finished on a hot grill to get that perfect crispy skin. Whether you're hosting a casual backyard BBQ or even a holiday dinner, these smoked chicken breasts make for a wonderful main course that your family and friends will adore for years to come.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
No flavorless, dry white meat here: Many recipes call for skinless, boneless chicken, but no matter the promises, that cut is simply much drier and less delicious than skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts, which is what we use here for a superior end result. Plus, this cut of chicken is significantly cheaper — talk about a win-win.
Even wows dark meat lovers: Look, I’m Team Dark Meat all the way, but this smoked chicken breast recipe — oh, my. Even I came away beyond impressed with how wonderful this chicken turned out, and I can’t wait to share this recipe to my fellow dark meat lovers.
Talk about easy entertaining: Not interested in a fussy recipe? You came to the right place. Smoking this chicken takes very little hands-on work. Hosting a delicious summer cook-out has never been easier.
Bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts: Look for fresh chicken breast with a pink hue and no bruises or tears on the skin. If it fits your budget, opt for free-range, organic chicken.
Dry rub: We use the same dry rub recipe here that I use with my smoked whole chicken, which includes chili powder, brown sugar, garlic powder, black pepper, onion powder, ground cumin, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper and mustard powder. Of course, you’re welcome to use another spice mixture if you already have a favorite.
Salt: This is to dry brine our chicken overnight for the best flavor and crispy skin.
Olive oil: Along with dry brining, this ensures we get the right skin texture. No one wants rubbery chicken skin.
BBQ sauce: This is optional, but I have several tasty homemade BBQ recipes if you really want to deliver a memorable meal. Try my coffee-bourbon BBQ sauce, blueberry-ginger BBQ sauce, honey-sriracha BBQ sauce or jerk BBQ sauce.
Step 1: For best results, we want to dry brine the chicken 24 hours before smoking. To dry brine, we pat the chicken dry with paper towels, rub the surface with salt and place the chicken uncovered in the refrigerator (photo 1). While I recommend dry brining overnight, even dry brining for four to eight hours helps.
Step 2: After dry brining, we remove the chicken from the refrigerator, stir together the spices in a small bowl and rub the mixture all over the chicken (photo 2). I like to also gently list the skin to rub some spice on the meat as well.
Step 3: With our chicken seasoned, we’re ready to start cooking. We place the chicken breasts skin-side up in the smoker with a leave-in thermometer and water pan, close the lid and smoke until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 130 degrees F (photo 3).
Note: If you have space to place the chicken in a single layer, you can place them directly on the grill grates. Since I used a vertical smoker, I put them on a wire rack within a baking sheet. If I would’ve stacked them, the top row would have released drippings on the bottom rack, which would have kept the chicken below from getting that crispy skin.
Step 4: At this point, we remove the chicken breasts and increase the heat from that lower temperature to 400-425 degrees F. As the smoker heats, we generously brush the skin with olive oil and place the chicken back in the smoker to finish cooking (photo 4). The chicken is finished when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. If you’d like a saucy chicken, feel free to brush it with your favorite BBQ sauce in the last few minutes of cooking.
After smoking, we let that smoky chicken rest for about five to 10 minutes and then devour every juicy bite.
And if you love this recipe, you might get the itch to smoke more chicken. Check out these smoked chicken recipes.
Recipe testing note: While I tested this smoked chicken breast recipe on a Pit Boss vertical pellet smoker, you can use any type of smoker.
Your backyard BBQ calls for plenty of appetizers, side dishes and dessert for a complete meal.
Since the smoker is already roaring and ready to go, start the meal with some smoked cream cheese, loaded jalapeño poppers or smoky salsa. This bacon jam and herby ricotta dip are also party favorites if you don’t have grill space for more dishes on the smoker.
For your side dishes, this ultimate smoked mac and cheese always meets rave reviews, and these smoked bourbon baked beans are a must. If you also need some chilled side dishes, this Hawaiian mac salad and pesto tortellini salad are great for serving a crowd.
How to Store, Freeze and Reheat Leftover Chicken
Make sure you keep that leftover smoked chicken. You can use it to make this smoked Buffalo chicken dip and BBQ chicken casserole as well as some amazing salads, sandwiches, tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas or nachos.
- Give the chicken breasts time to fully cool at room temperature.
- Keep the chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three or four days.
- If you need longer storage, freeze the meat by placing it in a freezer-safe bag or container for up to six months.
- When you’re ready to thaw the frozen chicken, place it in the refrigerator for 24 hours. For quicker thawing, you can use the defrosting setting on your microwave or place the chicken still in a bag in a bowl of cold water, replacing the water every 30 minutes.
- To reheat, allow the chicken to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, set the chicken in a baking dish with 1 cup water or chicken stock and cover the dish with aluminum foil. Bake the covered chicken in a 350-degree F oven until the meat heats through completely, about 10-15 minutes.
Many factors play into the final cooking time, such as weather, meat size and heat consistency, but expect these chicken breasts to take anywhere from two and a half to three and a half hours at 225 degrees F.
While this comes down to personal preference, I’m a big fan of hickory, which gives a noticeably smoky flavor without taking over the meat. For more subtle smoky notes, a fruit wood or more gentle wood are great, such as apple wood, cherry wood, maple wood or pecan wood.
Dry brining is the best way to achieve crispy skin and more flavorful, juicy chicken breasts. As the salt sits on the chicken, it brings the meat’s moisture to the surface. This eventually dissolves the salt to allow the meat to reabsorb the salt to flavor the meat and leave the skin bone dry for better crisping.
No, as long as you follow the full directions and make sure the skin is nice and dry before smoking, you will not get rubbery skin. The water pan better controls the heat consistency and even helps the smoky flavor better absorb into the meat.
Sure, use boneless chicken breasts if you insist, but you will sacrifice flavor and texture. For the very best chicken breasts, I definitely recommend sticking with the recommended skin-on, bone-in meat. Keep in mind, you’ll need to decrease the smoking time for boneless chicken breasts, and finishing it on high heat is unnecessary since you won’t have that delicious skin.
Pick similar-size chicken breasts: This helps with more even cooking.
Let the chicken sit at room temperature before smoking: The chicken will still be cold when it goes into the smoker, but this removes the initial chill from the refrigerator, also making for more even cooking.
Don’t worry about flipping the chicken: Thanks to the mellow indirect heat, this step is entirely unnecessary. Plus, the flavor is better as the fat from the chicken skin slowly renders out.
Be flexible with your serving time: As mentioned, the cook time is not an exact science, and it can vary with every smoke. Make sure you have snacks on hand and be prepared for a leisurely meal with no hard start time.
Smoke to temperature, not time: A meat thermometer is crucial for ensuring the chicken is perfectly cooked — no undercooked or overcooked meat here. For proper temperature monitoring, insert the temperature probe in the thickest part of the breast without touching the bone.
If you’d like a beer, a saison is a favorite option. The yeast in this beer gives it a spice kick that works nicely with both the smoke flavor and dry rub, and it comes with a touch of fruity notes for just the right contrast. Plus, this is a highly carbonated beer, so if you have lots of other cookout side dishes, it keeps the palate refreshed.
For those who prefer wine, a pinot noir is lovely. Most people think of red wine as a tasting partner with bigger meats, but a pinot noir is light enough that it works with white meat. The earthy, herbal backbone of the pinot noir nicely complements the seasoning blend, and it brings a jammy, berry-forward quality for contrast like the saison.
Your next backyard cookout will leave everyone happily rubbing their full bellies when this smoked chicken breast is on the menu. White meat has never been so delicious.
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Juicy Smoked Chicken Breast
- Wood pellets, wood chips or wood chunks hickory, apple wood, cherry wood, pecan wood or maple wood recommended
- 6 skin-on, bone-in split chicken breasts
- 4 teaspoons chili powder
- 4 teaspoons packed brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon mustard powder
- Olive oil
- BBQ sauce optional
- To dry brine for crisp skin, pat the chicken dry with paper towels, and then generously sprinkle with salt and rub into the skin. Place the chicken in the refrigerator uncovered for at least four to eight hours, though overnight is ideal. Do not wipe off the salt after brining.
- Prepare the smoker according to the manufacturer’s directions, fill the water pan and set the temperature to 225 degrees F. As the smoker heats, make the spice rub by simply stirring together the spices. Rub the spice mixture all over the skin. Gently lift the skin and rub some spices directly onto the meat as well.
- Place the chicken breasts in the smoker with the skin-side up. Insert a leave-in meat thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken breast meat without touching the bone. Close the smoker and smoke the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 130 degrees F, about two to two and a half hours.
- Crank up the heat to 400-425 degrees and remove the chicken breasts. As the temperature increases in heat, brush the skin with olive oil. Place the chicken breasts back in the smoker to finish cooking at that higher temperature, about 45-60 minutes. In the last few minutes, brush with BBQ sauce if desired. The chicken is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F in the thickest part of the breast meat. Let the chicken rest for five minutes to allow the juices to settle. Serve with more BBQ sauce if desired. Enjoy!
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three to four days. You can also freeze it for up to six months for the best quality.
- The smoking time estimates are just that. A lot of factors can affect the smoke time. Use that as a guide but smoke to the internal temperature of the meat.
- Remove the chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes before smoking to sit at room temperature. This removes the chill and allows for more even cooking.
- Select chicken breasts that are relatively similar in size.
- Hickory is best for a stronger smoke flavor. For a more gentle flavor, use one of the other recommended woods.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.