Let's make something that smells good it's going to make your neighbors jealous! Whether you're a bone-in or boneless fan, this Smoked Chicken Thighs recipe has got you covered.
Serve on a soft bun for a smoky chicken slider, shred them up for some irresistibly good pulled chicken, or simply enjoy them as they are. Perfect for serving large family events and it's budget-friendly! Let's get smokin'!
We make almost all of our spice rubs in-house. Having 20 bottles of BBQ rubs, all half-used in your pantry is the worst. However, feel free to use your favorite spice rub here! Just skip to Step 2!
- Chicken Thighs: You can use any variety, see tips for the best results
- Spice Rub: Our favorite recipe is below, or use your favorite
- Olive Oil: Helps spices stick and adds extra flavor and fat
- Kosher Salt: Avoid table salt if possible
- Fresh Ground Pepper: Always
- Your Favorite BBQ Sauce for Basting: See our recommendations below!
Our Chicken Thigh Rub
Here is a quick list of everything you'll need for the spice rub. Jump to the recipe card for quantities!
- Garlic Powder
- Ground Black Pepper
- Ground Ginger Powder
- Onion Powder
- Dried Thyme
- Dried Oregano (ground together with thyme)
- White Pepper
Barbeque sauce is a wildly personal preference. We used Carolina Treet Original Cooking Barbecue Sauce for this recipe and really love that sugar-free, and has good acidity, and flavor. It's our favorite barbecue sauce, and we highly recommend giving it a try!
Step 1: Make sure your smoker is clean, has a new aluminum foil layer, and your hopper is full if you are using a pellet grill. Set your smoker temperature to 225 degrees F, and set it to medium smoke if possible.
Step 2: If you are making our recommended spice rub, just add all the ingredients together EXCEPT the Kosher Salt!
Step 3: Lay out your chicken thighs on a lined sheet tray and trim off any extra skin pieces. Using Skinless? Jump to Step 5!
Step 4: Salt the chicken skin liberally, and let sit for 5 minutes. Then gently blot with a paper towel to soak up extra moisture.
Step 5: For the Skinless thigh, make sure to trim off small edge pieces, or excessive fat on the sides.
Step 6: Liberally season both sides of your chicken thighs with kosher salt, and drizzle with olive oil to coat. Rubbing it in to coat evenly.
Step 7: Add your spice rub, and rub in to coat evenly.
Step 8: Flip and repeat making sure to thoroughly season the back as well.
Step 9: Move your chicken thighs over to your smoker. Skin side up if applicable. Smoked for 90 minutes, or until roughly 145 degrees F. Keep in mind the size of the thighs will affect cooking time.
Step 10: Basting your chicken thighs with your favorite sauce, flip, and repeat on the backside of each thigh.
Step 11: Your chicken things are done when they reach a temperature of 165 degrees at the thickest part of the thigh.
Optional Step 12: For the crispiest possible skin, flash grill on medium-high heat, skin side down, or broil for 1 minute.
One of our recent dinner guests was sensitive to smoked foods and said she would fend for herself. Not in this house! We saved one boneless chicken thigh and one bone-in chicken thigh and baked them in the oven at 225 degrees F, instead of smoking them.
We wanted to ensure the chicken skin was crispy, so we left the skin-on chicken thigh in the oven on low broil for about 2 minutes. Never walking away to make sure it didn't go from crisp to burnt.
- Olive Oil: This can be substituted with canola or vegetable oil.
- Kosher Salt: Sea salt can be used as an alternative, but we really recommend staying away from table salt!
- BBQ Sauce: Feel free to use a homemade sauce or a store-bought variety that you love.
- Sugar: This recipe intentionally avoids using granulated or brown sugar in the rub. Many BBQ rubs & sauces contain sugar, and the goal here is to create a less sweet, more savory barbecue chicken. If you don't mind the extra calories and like it sweet, add ¼ cup brown sugar & ¼ cup granulated sugar.
Choosing Your Chicken Thighs
You will generally find four different varieties of chicken thighs. All are combinations of skinless or boneless and all these options can result in delicious smoked chicken thighs. Below we will call out some tips that will make sure you have the best results for each option.
Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs
- Pros: Quick cooking time, leaner option.
- Cons: Can dry out more easily if not monitored closely.
- Tips: Because they're leaner, consider basting more frequently to keep them juicy. Also, keep a close eye on the internal temperature to avoid overcooking.
Boneless, Skin-On Chicken Thighs
- Pros: Quick cooking with the added flavor and texture of skin.
- Cons: Skin can become soggy if not crisped after smoking.
- Tips: For crispy skin, pop under the broiler or on the grill for a few minutes after smoking. Make sure to monitor the internal temperature to avoid overcooking.
Bone-In, Skinless Chicken Thighs
- Pros: Bone-in chicken thighs retain more moisture and flavor, without the extra work of crisping the skin.
- Cons: Longer cooking time compared to boneless options.
- Tips: These will take a bit longer to cook than boneless options.
Bone-In, Skin-On Chicken Thighs
- Pros: Flavorful and juicy, thanks to the bone and skin.
- Cons: Requires careful monitoring for both internal temperature and skin crispiness.
- Tips: For crispy chicken skin, finish these off on the grill or under the broiler for about 5 minutes after smoking.
Chicken thighs are forgiving for beginners, thanks to the higher fat content dark meat is known for. The extra fat not only makes them more flavorful but also keeps them juicy during the long smoking process. It's like each thigh has its own built-in moisture reserve!
Whether you're a fan of bone-in or boneless, skin-on or skinless, chicken thighs provide a great canvas for mixing flavors and creativity. All while cooking faster than a pork shoulder or brisket.
Other Chicken Options
- Chicken Breasts: Leaner and can dry out more easily when smoked. Extra fat and basting are required.
- Chicken Quarters: Include both the thigh meat and drumstick, offering a mix of textures. Being bone-in and larger, they'll require a longer cooking time.
- Smoked Chicken Wings: Smaller and quicker to cook, but they can also dry out if not monitored. Ideal for those who love a snackable, finger-food option.
- Whole Smoked Chicken: Slightly harder to execute, a whole chicken offers a little bit of dark meat and white meat which can be nice for picky eaters.
Before you fire up that smoker, make sure you've got all the right tools for the job. Having the proper equipment can make your smoking process smoother and more enjoyable.
- Smoker or Grill: Obviously, a quality smoker, pellet smoker, or grill that can maintain low, consistent temperatures is key.
- Digital or Wi-Fi Meat Thermometer: For accurate internal temperature readings.
- Wood Chips or Pellets: Choose your flavor—apple, hickory, mesquite, etc.
- Basting Brush: For applying your favorite BBQ sauce.
- Grilling Gloves: To protect your hands when handling hot grates or meat.
- Tongs: For safely turning and serving your chicken thighs.
Smoked chicken thighs are so delicious, you might not have any leftovers. But just in case you do, here's how to store and reheat them while maintaining their smoky goodness.
- Fridge: Store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
- Freezer: For longer storage, keep in an airtight container or freezer bag for up to 3 months.
- Oven: Preheat to 350°F, cover your chicken in foil, and heat for about 10-15 minutes. For skin-on varieties, remove the foil and broil briefly to re-crisp the skin.
- Microwave: Use a microwave-safe dish and heat in 30-second intervals, checking for temperature. Note, that microwaving can dry out the chicken, so use this method sparingly.
Pellets & Wood Varieties
The type of wood you choose can dramatically affect the final flavor of your smoked chicken thighs. Fruit woods like apple and cherry are generally milder and work well with the natural flavors of chicken.
- Apple: Delivers a mild, sweet, and fruity smoke. Ideal for chicken and pork.
- Cherry: Offers a subtle, fruity smoke that's excellent for poultry and lighter meats.
- Hickory: Known for its strong, bacon-like flavor. Great for red meats but can be overpowering for chicken if used excessively.
- Pecan: Provides a rich, sweet, and nutty flavor. It's like Hickory's mellower cousin.
- Oak: A versatile choice that provides a medium to strong smoke flavor. Works well with almost any meat.
Great question! Chicken thigh math is much easier than pulled pork or brisket. I make 1 Chicken Thigh per Child under 10, and 2 per Adult. Easy peasy!
Honestly, it's because we prefer our chicken savory more than sweet. We try to cut added sugars where we can, and then save them for dessert!
Yes! This chicken can easily be pulled, mixed with a little extra BBQ sauce, and enjoyed on its own or as pulled chicken sliders!
Smoke rings from cooking can sometimes turn your chicken pink. The best way to double-check is to use an instant-read thermometer. If it reads at least 165 degrees F, it's safe to eat!
More Smoked Recipes
Looking for other recipes like this? Try some of our other smoker recipes:
Pairs Well With
These are my favorite side dishes to serve our Smoked Chicken Thighs with:
Easy Smoked Chicken Thighs Recipe: Bone-In or Boneless
- 16 Chicken Thighs
- 2 tablespoon Olive OIl
- 2 tablespoon Kosher Salt - not table salt
- 1 cup Barbecue Sauce
Chicken Spice Rub
- ½ cup Paprika
- ¼ cup Garlic Powder
- 2 tablespoon Ground Black Pepper
- 2 tablespoon Ground Ginger
- 2 tablespoon Onion Powder
- 2 teaspoon Ground Thyme
- 1 teaspoon Ground Oregano
- 1 teaspoon White Ground Pepper
- Make sure your smoker is clean, has a new aluminum foil layer, and your hopper is full if you are using a pellet grill. Set your smoker temperature to 225 degrees F, and set it to medium smoke if possible.
- If you are making our recommended spice rub, just add all the ingredients together EXCEPT the Kosher Salt!
- Lay out your chicken thighs on a lined sheet tray and trim off any extra skin pieces. Using Skinless? Jump to Step 5!
- Salt the chicken skin liberally, and let sit for 5 minutes. Then gently blot with a paper towel to soak up extra moisture.
- For the Skinless thigh, make sure to trim off small edge pieces, or excessive fat on the sides.
- Liberally season both sides of your chicken thighs with kosher salt, and drizzle with olive oil to coat. Rubbing it in to coat evenly.
- Add your spice rub, and rub in to coat evenly.
- Flip and repeat making sure to thoroughly season the back as well.
- Move your chicken thighs over to your smoker. Skin side up if applicable. Smoked for 90 minutes, or until roughly 145 degrees F. Keep in mind the size of the thighs will affect cooking time.
- Basting your chicken thighs with your favorite sauce, flip, and repeat on the backside of each thigh.
- Your chicken things are done when they reach a temperature of 165 degrees at the thickest part of the thigh.
- For the crispiest possible skin, flash grill on medium-high heat, skin side down, or broil for 1 minute.
When it comes to cooking, especially smoking, food safety is a top priority. Here's what you need to know to ensure your smoked chicken thighs are not just tasty but also safe to eat.
- In the Kitchen: Always use separate cutting boards, knives, tongs, and any other utensils for raw and cooked foods.
- Basting Tools: If you plan to baste multiple times, divide your basting sauce into two containers—one for the initial basting and one for the final basting. This prevents juices from raw meat from contaminating your sauce, which could then contaminate your cooked meat.
- Washing Chicken: Rinsing chicken in the sink can spread bacteria to other kitchen surfaces. Water splashes can carry bacteria to other foods or surfaces, increasing the risk of cross-contamination. Unless you have the time to completely sanitize your kitchen afterward, it's just not worth the risk.
Cooking Temperature & Thermometer
- Safe Zone: Chicken should always be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F. Unlike steak, pork, or salmon, there's no such thing as "medium" chicken. It's either safe to eat at 165°F or it's not.
- Digital Thermometer: Always use a digital or Wi-Fi meat thermometer to ensure accurate temperature readings. Traditional dial thermometers can be inaccurate and slow. Digital or Wi-Fi options are inexpensive, give quick and precise readings, and ensure your chicken is cooked safely.
With these safety tips in mind, you're all set to create a smoky, savory, and most importantly, a safe culinary masterpiece! See more guidelines at USDA.gov.
One often overlooked danger is the use of wire grill brushes. These brushes can lose their bristles over time, and these loose bristles can stick to the grill grates. If not noticed, they can end up in your food.
This isn't just a hypothetical situation; my mother-in-law experienced this firsthand. After ingesting the wire bristle, which had fallen off their grill brush, she was hospitalized for two weeks, requiring surgery to remove it.