How Long Smoke Chicken Thighs? Smoked Chicken Thigh Recipe

Smoked chicken thighs are a delicious treat that give your meal a unique flavor unlike anything else. If you’re looking to add some extra smoky, hearty goodness into your next dinner or gathering then smoking some chicken might just be the way to go. Smoking meat can seem intimidating and complex but with a few simple steps and an understanding of what needs to happen during the process, it’s actually quite straightforward. In this blog post we’ll look at all the things you need to know about how long smoke chicken thighs for maximum flavor and deliciousness every time.


Who Is This Recipe For?

Who Is This Recipe For?

This smoke chicken thighs recipe is geared towards home cooks rather than professional competition smokers. However, competition cooks may find some useful tips and inspiration as well. The goal is delicious barbecue chicken with a nice smoky flavor that still falls within the time constraints of a busy family dinner. With weeknights in mind, the target is flavorful chicken thighs oozing with juice rather than ultra-crispy, fall-off-the-bone competition thighs. That said, you can certainly take steps like air drying to maximize crisping and experiment with longer cook times for more tender, pull-apart meat.

Choose Your Smoker

The first step is selecting the right smoker for home cooking. Here are the most common options:

  • Pellet smokers – Pellet smokers are very user-friendly. They use compressed wood pellets fed through an auger to a heating element, which produces smoke. Temperature is regulated via digital controls, so pellet smokers excel at maintaining steady temps. The downside is less intense smoke flavor compared to other options.
  • Electric smokers – Electric smokers have heating elements much like an oven and use wood chips or sawdust in a tray for smokiness. Temperature is controlled with a dial or digital panel. They require minimal monitoring, but produce lighter smoke flavor.
  • Charcoal smokers – Charcoal smokers rely on ventilation to control temperature by regulating oxygen and airflow to the coals. It takes some technique to master temperature regulation. Charcoal imparts the most robust smoke flavor, but requires the most effort.

Any of these three smoker styles will infuse delicious smoky flavor into chicken thighs. Those desiring deeper, competition-level smoke are best served by a charcoal smoker, while beginners may prefer an electric or pellet smoker for ease of use.

Prep the Chicken

Trim and roll the chicken thighs for even cooking and seasoning coverage:

  • Trim: Remove excess skin and fat with kitchen shears or a sharp knife. Leave about 1/4 inch of skin intact.
  • Roll and tuck: Gently roll the thighs to encase the meat and tuck under any loose bits of skin.
  • Pat dry: Pat the thighs very dry with paper towels. This helps the rub adhere and promotes browning.
  • Brush with oil: Lightly brush both sides with olive oil or avocado oil. Oil enhances browning.

Proper handling of raw chicken is crucial for food safety:

  • Wash hands before and after handling raw chicken. Avoid cross-contamination.
  • Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw chicken versus other ingredients.
  • Refrigerate chicken while preparing other ingredients. Never leave at room temperature over 2 hours.

Season the Chicken

Covering the chicken in a sweet and savory rub adds tons of flavor. Here is a recommended spice rub recipe:

Sweet & Smoky Dry Rub
Makes about 1/2 cup

  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix together the brown sugar and spices until well-combined. Generously season the chicken on all sides, gently pressing to adhere the rub.

For convenience, use your favorite store-bought rub instead of the homemade version. Look for no salt added options to control sodium levels.

Spice blends with some sweetness balance the smoky flavors nicely. Chili powder, cumin, oregano, or jerk seasoning also taste great on smoked chicken.

Alternatively, marinate the thighs overnight for flavor inside and out. Try citrus, herbs, soy sauce, or tangy yogurt marinades.

Fire Up Your Smoker

Follow your smoker instructions to preheat it to 225-250°F, which is ideal for low and slow smoking. Use your desired wood chips or chunks – hickory, apple, cherry, pecan, etc.

Gently place the seasoned chicken on the smoker racks, skin-side up. Try not to overlap thighs or overcrowd.

Maintain a steady temperature between 225-250°F, replenishing wood as needed to sustain smoke. Rotate racks and swap positions halfway through.

Cook bone-in thighs for 1.5-2 hours until 165°F internal temperature. Boneless takes less time, around 1 – 1.5 hours. Brush with sauce during the last 30 minutes if desired.

Sauces and Glazes

Adding sauce towards the end of smoking glazes the chicken with flavorful sweetness. Whiskey Peach BBQ sauce is a delicious option:

Whiskey Peach BBQ Sauce
Makes around 2 cups

  • 1 cup peach preserves
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Simmer the ingredients until thickened to a glazing consistency, about 10-15 minutes. Brush onto chicken during the last 30 minutes of smoking.

For convenience, use a store-bought whiskey, bourbon, or peach flavored barbecue sauce instead of homemade. Sweet and tangy complements the smoky chicken beautifully.

You could also glaze thighs with honey, brown sugar, or orange marmalade for sweetness without the barbecue flavor.

Finish Up and Serve

When the chicken thighs reach 165°F, transfer them to a platter to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Carve along the bones into pieces. Serve warm with classic barbecue sides like:

  • Baked beans
  • Corn on the cob
  • Coleslaw or potato salad
  • Mac and cheese
  • Cornbread

Smoked chicken also shines in sandwiches, tacos, pasta, or salad. Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.

Smoking Safety Tips

It’s crucial to follow safety precautions when using any smoker:

  • Locate it away from homes, garages, wooden fences or decks. Never leave unattended.
  • Ensure proper ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Do not use indoors.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher on hand. Check for grease buildup to avoid flare-ups.
  • Allow ashes to fully cool before disposing. Unplug electrics when not in use.
  • Use heat-resistant gloves and avoid wearing loose clothing around an open flame.


Here are some common issues and ways to troubleshoot:

Temperature too high – Open vents to increase airflow and oxygen to the coals or turn down electric/pellet heaters.

Temperature too low – Restrict vents on charcoal smokers or turn up heat on electric/pellet smokers. Add more coals if needed.

Bitter smoke – Flare-ups from grease drippings create bitter smoke. Trim excess fat and double check for grease buildup.

No smoke – Replenish wood chips/pellets if they burn out. Check that coals/heating elements are still active.

Chicken drying out – Brine thighs beforehand to retain moisture. Wrap in foil if overcooking.

Crispy Skin Pro Tips

Crispy Skin Pro Tips

For ultra crispy chicken skin like competition barbecue:

  • Air dry – Uncover and refrigerate thighs overnight on a rack to dehydrate the skin surface. Pat very dry before smoking.
  • Reduce sugar – Limit sugar in rubs/sauces as this can inhibit browning. Opt for more savory seasonings.
  • Blot sauce – Don’t drench chicken in sauce. Brush on a light coat then blot excess.
  • Finish over direct heat – Pop thighs over direct high heat for a few minutes after smoking.
  • Choose fatty cuts – Skin crisps best on chicken legs and thighs rather than lean breast meat.

Wood Selection

The type of wood used while smoking impacts flavor. Some common options:

  • Hickory – Classic, bold, bacon-like flavor. All-purpose for almost anything.
  • Apple – Mildly sweet, fruity smoke. Excellent on chicken and pork.
  • Cherry – Slightly tart and fruity. Great for poultry or beef.
  • Pecan – Subtle with nutty hints. Ideal for chicken, ribs, brisket.
  • Mesquite – Intense, earthy smoke. Use sparingly or mix with other woods.

Experiment to find your favorites. Milder fruit woods pair wonderfully with chicken.

Handling Leftovers

Smoked chicken thighs keep well refrigerated for 4-5 days. Reheat gently in the oven, sautéed in a pan, or chopped in soups and casseroles.

The smoky flavor also shines through in dishes like smoked chicken salad sandwiches, enchiladas, pizza, or pasta. Freeze leftovers for longer term storage up to 3 months.


Get answers to the most common questions about smoking chicken thighs:

Is brining required?
Brining helps keep chicken juicy, but is not mandatory with bone-in thighs. Brine for 1-2 hours if desired.

Can I use a gas grill?
Yes, use wood chips in a smoker box. It won’t get as smoky as real smokers, but still adds flavor.

What about food safety?
Always cook to 165°F internal temperature. Refrigerate leftovers promptly.

Can I use a whole chicken?
You can smoke a spatchcocked whole chicken. Cook to 165°F in the breast and 175°F in the thighs.

What wood is best for beginners?
Apple, cherry, and pecan impart milder smoke perfect for first-timers.


Nutrition facts per boneless, skinless thigh (3 oz):

  • Calories: 184
  • Fat: 8 g
  • Carbs: 0 g
  • Protein: 26 g

Smoked chicken is high in protein, vitamins B6 and B12, selenium, phosphorus, and zinc. Watch sodium content in seasoned versions.

Perfect Pairings

What beverages work well with smoky, sweet barbecue chicken flavors?


  • Whiskey – A smoky, oak-aged bourbon or rye like Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, or Maker’s Mark
  • Gin – Herbaceous gins like Tanqueray or Aviation
  • Mezcal – Its smokiness mirrors the chicken


  • Amber Ale – Caramel sweetness balances the smoke
  • Porter – Roasty dark malts complement the rich chicken
  • Oktoberfest – Malty flavor profile pairs nicely


  • Zinfandel – Fruity yet bold California Zins
  • Cabernet Sauvignon – Full-bodied and oak-accented Cabs


  • Sweet tea, peach iced tea, or Arnold Palmers
  • Tart lemonade, cherry limeade, or fruit punch
  • Root beer, ginger beer, or Dr. Pepper
  • Cold brew coffee drinks

With this complete guide to smoking chicken thighs, you are ready to master mouthwatering backyard barbecue flavor at home. Fire up your smoker and enjoy juicy, smoky chicken perfection.

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