Transform chicken thighs from an everyday dinner staple to an absolute showstopper with this Smoked Chicken Thighs recipe. Smoky, flavorful, and fall-off-the-bone tender, they taste like a menu item from your favorite hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint!
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Why You’ll Love This Smoked Chicken Recipe
- The Dry Spice Rub Brings It. And by it, I mean: allllll the flavor. It’s sweet, smoky, savory, a little bit spicy, and the addition of cloves or cardamom gives it that little je ne sais quoi that will have everyone asking for your recipe. This rub will help give the smoked chicken thighs crispy skin!
- Juicy on Juicy. Bone-in, skin-on thighs don’t exactly have a reputation for being dry, but when they’re smoked, they’re supremely tender and juicy beyond your wildest dreams.
- Smoking Brings Out the Best In Everything. From Smoked Chicken Breast, Smoked Pork Tenderloin, to Smoked Salmon, there’s just something magical about the smoking process. The aroma, the flavor—it’s just objectively true that smoked foods are irresistible. Smoking chicken thighs is no different!
- It’s Easy. Okay, it’s not as easy as popping a baking dish of chicken into the oven for Baked Chicken Thighs, but as far as smoking recipes go, these smoked chicken thighs are a great place to start. There’s nothing too complicated or fussy here.
How to Smoke Chicken Thighs
For Basting and Smoking Chicken Thighs
- Bone-In, Skin-On Chicken Thighs. I used 6, but this is a recipe that’s easy to scale up for a crowd. Don’t use boneless skinless chicken thighs—you want bone-in and skin-on for the best flavor.
- Charcoal, Pellets, or Whatever Fuels Your Smoker. We use hardwood lump charcoal.
- Wood Chips or Chunks. I recommend pecan, oak, or apple wood. Cherry wood works too.
- Barbecue Sauce. I like using my Homemade Barbecue Sauce, but your favorite barbecue sauce will work just fine.
- Butter. Combined with the barbecue sauce for basting. Mmmmm.
For the Smoked Chicken Rub
- Brown Sugar. Dark brown sugar has a more assertive molasses flavor, while light brown sugar is more mild. Use either here.
- Kosher Salt. Always my favorite salt for cooking.
- Smoked Paprika. This adds another layer of smoky flavor to our smoked chicken thighs.
- Garlic and Onion Powder. These allow us to get all that savory flavor without having to use actual onions and garlic.
- Chili Powder and Cumin. Both bring some earthiness to our rub.
- Ground Black Pepper. Use freshly cracked peppercorns for the best flavor.
- Ground Cloves or Cardamom. The little somethin’-somethin’ that takes this dry rub to the next level.
- Cayenne Pepper. Adjust the amount as you please.
- Prepare. Set the chicken thighs on a parchment-lined baking sheet and pat them dry.
- Make the Dry Rub. Whisk together all of the rub ingredients.
- Season. Coat the chicken in the dry rub and let it sit for 30 minutes.
- Heat the Smoker. Follow the instructions for your smoker to heat it to 225 degrees F.
- Smoke the Chicken. Place the chicken thighs in the smoker and smoke thighs until they reach 165 degrees F, or 45 to 75 minutes.
- Make the BBQ Baste. Warm the barbecue sauce and butter, stirring until the butter melts.
- Baste. Brush the sauce mixture over the chicken when the internal temperature of the chicken thighs reaches the 150 degree F mark. Keep smoking until the chicken is done.
- Rest. Remove the chicken from the smoker and tent with aluminum foil for 10 minutes before cutting and serving. ENJOY!
- To Store. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- To Reheat. Loosely cover the chicken thighs with foil and reheat in a 350 degree F oven until warmed through, or warm carefully in the microwave.
- To Freeze. Store smoked chicken thighs for up to 2 months in the freezer. Wrap them well and place them in an airtight container or freezer bag. Thaw the smoked chicken thighs overnight in the refrigerator before reheating according to the instructions above.
Meal Prep Tip
I love making extra smoked chicken thighs and using them for meal prep lunches and dinners later in the week. Add them to salads, sandwiches, lettuce wraps, pizza, and more.
What to Serve with Smoked Chicken Thighs
- Vegetables. Veggies and protein make a complete meal! Try these smoked chicken thighs with Roasted Sweet Potatoes or Air Fryer Zucchini.
- Grains. Healthy whole grain dishes like Butternut Squash Quinoa Salad or Broccoli Rice Casserole are the perfect accompaniment to smoked chicken.
- BBQ Sides. Classic BBQ side dishes like Boston Baked Beans and Instant Pot Mac and Cheese are made for serving with this recipe!
- Potatoes. Try Crock Pot Baked Potatoes with cheese and a sprinkle of minced chives or Oven Roasted Potatoes.
- Grilled Foods. As long as you’re cooking outside anyway, you might as well make some Grilled Corn on the Cob or Grilled Zucchini.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Smoker. A charcoal smoker, pellet smoker (pellet grill), or kamado smoker all work here, so choose whichever one appeals to you.
- Brush. For basting the chicken thighs.
- Instant-Read Thermometer. You’ll never suffer through dry, rubbery chicken again once you invest in a good thermometer.
Recipe Tips and Tricks
- Use the Best Wood and Charcoal. For the charcoal, I like hardwood lump charcoal, like FOGO. Use a mild wood or fruit wood, like pecan, oak, or apple for smoked chicken thighs.
- Make Sure the Rub Sticks. Dry the chicken thighs thoroughly before applying the rub. This will help it adhere better so the flavor stays on the chicken, not the smoker!
- Disregard the Time. Instead, rely on your instant-read thermometer. With smoking, it’s virtually impossible to pinpoint the precise time when something will be ready to eat. Only a thermometer can tell you when your food is done. Insert the probe into the thickest part of the chicken thigh and continue to smoke until it reaches 165 degrees F. Don’t watch the clock!
- Don’t Rush It. Although smoking and grilling have a lot in common, smoking is not a quick cooking process like grilling is. You just can’t rush it if you want the best results. (If you’re in a time crunch, make Grilled Chicken Thighs instead!)
- Don’t Cook Lower Than 225 Degrees F. A lower temperature will make the skin rubbery—not the crispy chicken skin you want! (A slightly higher temperature is okay, though.)
Smoked Chicken Thighs
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For the Chicken Thighs, Smoking, and Basting
- 2 1/2 pounds bone-in skin-on chicken thighs about 6
- Charcoal pellets, or whatever fuels your smoker, we use hardwood lump charcoal
- Wood chips or chunks such as pecan, apple, or oak
- 1/3 cup Homemade Barbecue Sauce or your favorite store-bought BBQ sauce
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Remove the chicken thighs from the refrigerator, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and pat dry.
- In a small bowl, combine the rub ingredients: brown sugar, salt, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder chili powder, cumin, black pepper, cloves, and cayenne.
- Rub all over the chicken, working some of the rub underneath the skin. Let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature while you prepare the smoker.
- Heat your smoker to 225°F. Prior to lighting, add the wood, mixing it with the charcoal. It’s OK if your smoker gets a bit hotter than 225°F; just note that the chicken will cook more quickly. Do not cook it any lower than 225°F or the skin will be rubbery.
- Add the chicken thighs skin-side up and smoke until they reach 165°F on an instant-read thermometer inserted at the thickest part, 45 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes depending upon the size of your thighs, your smoker set up, and how much your smoker temperature is fluctuating. Smoke to temperature, not to time on the clock.
- While the chicken is smoking, heat together the barbecue sauce and butter, stirring until the butter melts completely. Once the chicken reaches around 150°F (about 40 minutes in), baste the chicken all over with the sauce, then continue smoking until the chicken reaches 165°F.
- Remove the chicken from the smoker. Tent with foil and let rest 10 minutes. If you’d like to crisp the skin, place the chicken under the oven broiler for a few minutes just before serving.
- TO STORE: Store leftover smoked chicken thighs in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- TO REHEAT: Loosely cover the chicken thighs with foil and reheat in a 350°F oven until warmed through, or warm carefully in the microwave.
- TO FREEZE: Store smoked chicken thighs for up to 2 months in the freezer. Wrap them well and place them in an airtight container or freezer bag. Thaw the smoked chicken thighs overnight in the refrigerator before reheating according to the instructions above.
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Frequently Asked Questions
It can take as little as 45 minutes or as long as 1 hour and 15 minutes, but it’s not about cooking time—it’s about temperature. Smoke your chicken until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F on a meat thermometer and it will be perfect every time.
The skin keeps your chicken thighs from drying out and it also adds some flavor, so I recommend smoking chicken thighs with the skin on.
Always smoke chicken thighs with the skin side up. This maximizes flavor and juiciness.
No, don’t turn the chicken thighs when you’re smoking them. Keeping the skin on top flavors the chicken thighs and keeps them moist because as the fat renders, it travels down through the meat.