Smoked and Fried Buttermilk Chicken Thighs

Buttermilk brined chicken thighs slow smoked and fried to crispy perfection.
Mat Cotton
Mat Cotton
Smoked and Fried Buttermilk Chicken Thighs

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What’s better than fried chicken? SMOKED Fried chicken that has spent some time bathing in some buttermilk first, that’s what. 

With a little preparation, the overnight buttermilk brine works its magic on the chicken thighs here, meaning that this smoked and fried chicken turns out smokey, juicy, moist, crispy and certainly delicious…

What you’ll need

For this recipe, you’ll need:

  • A smoker or grill capable of low and slow
  • Some fruit wood chunks (peach is great with chicken)
  • A couple of large plastic bowls 
  • Your favorite chicken rub (I use my own rub normally, but had run out of some essential ingredients so used Lanes Signature rub this time) 
  • A deep fryer or method of deep frying with temp control

So why brine chicken?

If you want juicy, tender chicken, then you’re going to want to brine your chicken.

Because I use salt in the rub on this chicken, and also in the flour dredge when frying, I don’t recommend using a typical salt based liquid brine for this.

Instead, use buttermilk. 

The science bit: The acidity of buttermilk actually opens up and splits the cell walls in the chicken, making it tender and juicy and helps to keep moisture in the protein. 

This is especially helpful with really lean cuts like chicken breast which can easily dry out, and will have the same result of a tender, juicy thigh too.

Preparing your buttermilk brine

For the buttermilk brine, you’ll need enough buttermilk to cover your chicken in a large plastic bowl. I used 2 ½ cups of buttermilk for 8 thighs.

Pour your buttermilk into a large plastic bowl, and then mix in your other brine ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp of paprika
  • 1 tbsp of garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp of black pepper

It’s important that you use a plastic bowl, as the acid in the buttermilk can react with metals, and your chicken will taste metallic.

uncooked chicken thighs covered in buttermilk brine
Make sure to fully cover chicken thighs with the brine

Add your chicken thighs (you can actually use any cut of chicken – legs and wings also work particularly well, as do tenderloins), and make sure your buttermilk is completely covering the chicken pieces.

Cover with cling wrap, and place into the fridge. 

For best results, keep your thighs in the buttermilk brine overnight (the chicken ones – or things get really messy!), but for at least 4-5 hours.

Setup your smoker

You’ll want indirect heat on your grill or a smoker for these thighs.

We’re only part cooking them on the smoker, just to get some smoke flavor into them, and chicken is a fairly light meat, so avoid using heavy wood flavors like hickory. 

Fruit woods give an excellent light, sweet smoke for the chicken, I particularly like peach wood, but experiment a bit to find a flavor you like. 

Setup your smoker to around 230-260°F – we’re going to be finishing these in a fryer, so we just want to get some flavor into them.

Prepare your chicken pieces

Take your chicken out of the fridge and wipe off as much excess buttermilk as you can.

If you have a wire rack, pop that over an oven tray, and put the chicken pieces on that to apply the rub. 

a rub applied over uncooked chicken thighs
Remove excess buttermilk and apply the chicken rub

Use your favorite chicken rub ( I used Lanes Signature rub for this) and apply a liberal amount, but try not to overdo it.

The residual buttermilk brine will act as enough of a binder, so apply the rub directly to the thighs. 

Smoke your thighs

Your thigh pieces will only need 45 min or so to take on some color and flavor, so keep an eye on them. 

You can take them out below the safe food temp of 165°F for chicken, as we will be finishing them in the fryer, so you’ll be able to take them out as soon as you’re happy with the color, but try not to let them creep much past 135-140°F.

chicken thighs in a smoker
Smoke chicken until a nice golden color or until it reaches 135-140°F

Don’t worry too much if you go a little over though, the buttermilk and extra fat content in thighs will ensure a juicy result.

Getting the exact temp right is more important in breasts. If you are doing wings, you’ll need less time in the smoker. Legs/drums will be around the same, or slightly longer. Cook them to color and internal temp as above.

Prepare your flour dredge

While your thighs are smoking (insert lick finger and touch leg and make ‘tsssss’ sound here), prepare your flour dredge. 

You won’t be using breadcrumbs here, you’re aiming for a result similar to that of a famous Southern Colonel who also likes fried chicken, so what we’re actually going to use is flour mixed with herbs and spices. 

Not quite 11, but a few! 

flour dredge in a bowl
Prepare flour dredge in a separate bowl

You’ll need to prepare two bowls, one with leftover buttermilk (you’ll need a cup or two worth), and the other with your flour mix. 

For your ‘secret recipe’ flour dredge, in another large bowl mix together:

  • 2 cups of plain or all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 3 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp of cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried ginger powder

Make sure it is all mixed well, and then turn on your deep fryer (or start boiling a pot of oil) 10 minutes or so before your chicken is ready to come off the smoker.

Frying the chicken

Once your chicken comes off the smoker, you’re ready to finish it in the fryer or a large deep pot.

You can afford to heat your oil at a little higher temp than you would normally use to fry chicken because there’s less risk of your coating burning while the chicken is still undercooked.

So you can heat the oil to 300-325°F, which will finish cooking the chicken while your coating becomes a lovely golden color. 

For each thigh, submerge it in the buttermilk, then toss it in the flour mix until completely coated.

For ultra-crispy results, do another buttermilk dunk and flour dredge, but you’ll still get great results with just one round through. 

fryer basket with chicken thighs submerged in oil
Submerge the fryer basket into the oil first and then place the chicken

GENTLY place the chicken pieces directly into the oil, laying the pieces away from you to avoid the hot oil splashing towards you.

Do not place directly into the fryer basket and lower into the oil as this will just cause your chicken to fry itself around the basket – your basket should be fully submerged in the oil before adding the chicken.

Your chicken thighs should only take a few minutes to finish and create a nice crisp golden coating to the chicken at the higher frying temperature, so keep an eye on it. 

fried chicken thighs in a fryer basket
Fry only 2-3 thighs at a time

It’s important not to overcrowd the fryer, so if you’re cooking for a crowd, just fry 2-3 thighs at a time, and when they’re done, put them on a low setting in the oven on a wire rack over a tray. 

Don’t put them directly on a tray as the bottoms can turn soggy, and no-one likes a soggy bottom, do they?

Serving your smoked and fried chicken thighs

burger buns with smoked and fried buttermilk chicken thighs, cheese, bacon and avocado
Pile chicken thighs on a burger bun complementing with cheese, bacon and avocado

You can then serve them drizzled with honey, with fries or potato salad, or with a spicy buffalo wing sauce, or even piled onto a burger bun with cheese, home-smoked bacon, and avocado.

An ice-cold lager is excellent with this. Just perfect. Cheers, mate!

Smoked and Fried Buttermilk Chicken Thighs

Smoked and Fried Buttermilk Chicken Thighs

5 from 3 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Brining time:: 4 hours
Author: Mat Cotton

Ingredients

  • chicken thighs (2 per person, or more if desired)
  • 1 qt buttermilk
  • dry rub suitable for chicken
  • vegetable oil for deep frying

For the coating:

  • 1 cups plain or all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp  salt
  • 3 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp ginger powder

Instructions

  • Prepare your brine by mixing 600ml buttermilk with 1 tbsp salt, 1 tbsp of paprika, 1 tbsp of garlic powder, and 1 tbsp of black pepper in a large PLASTIC bowl, deep enough to submerge all your chicken pieces.
  • Fully submerge your chicken thighs in the buttermilk brine and place in fridge overnight, or at least for 4-5 hours.
  • Prepare your smoker to 230-260f, using a light fruit wood for the smoking wood.
  • Remove chicken from buttermilk and wipe off excess.
  • Place chicken on wire rack over aluminum tray and apply your dry rub to both sides of chicken thighs.
  • Smoke chicken thighs for around 45 minutes, or until you are happy with the color, or until chicken reaches 135-140F.
  • While chicken is smoking, mix together all your flour coating ingredients in a large bowl, and in another large bowl, place another 2 cups of buttermilk.
  • 10 mins before chicken is finished, prepare your deep fryer to 300-325F.
  • Submerge a piece of chicken thigh in the buttermilk and then toss liberally in the flour mix.
  • Repeat step 9 to double coat for extra crispiness.
  • Gently place the coated thigh in a deep fryer, and fry for 3-4 minutes, or until golden. Internal temp should be 165+ F. Cook in batches of 2-3.
  • Drain and keep warm in a low oven while repeating steps 9-11 as necessary.
  • Drizzle with honey and enjoy!
Mat Cotton

Mat Cotton

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One Response

  1. 5 stars
    I saw this recipe on here and HAD to try it. We just bought a smoker and this was my first smoke on it. It turned out wonderful. I highly recommend this. It is something you will have dreams about

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