Chicken breast is a lean cut of meat, making it notoriously difficult to keep moist and tender when cooking.
Smoking low and slow is a great method for making tough and fatty cuts of meat tender, but how well does it work for lean chicken breast? Amazingly well.
In this recipe, I’ll run through the best method, plus give you some great tips to keep your smoked chicken breast moist.
Large chicken breasts work best for smoking
Getting the right cut for the recipe is the very first part of the preparation for any meal.
Large chicken breasts work better. Small cuts of chicken breast are not ideal for smoking. Because they are naturally lean, the smaller the chicken breast the more they have a tendency to dry out.
When selecting chicken breasts, pick as big as you can get and if you are smoking multiple breasts, get them all as close to the same size as possible. This will make sure that they are all fully cooked around the same time.
The four breasts used in this recipe all weighed in at around 0.8 pounds each.
Besides size, buy the best quality chicken you can afford. I always try and buy free-range if I can. You can’t go wrong with these pasture-raised breasts from Crowd Cow.
How long does it take to smoke chicken breast?
It is extremely important when smoking any cut of chicken to make sure it is properly cooked.
When smoking most cuts of meat you will be told to go by feel to check for doneness.
Chicken is the complete opposite and you need to check the internal temperature is at a safe eating zone to avoid serious food poisoning.
I always check the internal temperature of each breast at the end of the cook with an instant-read thermometer like the Thermapen ONE, it just takes a second.
Items that will help you cook these chicken breasts are:
- A Smoker (I used a Weber Smokey Mountain)
- A Chimney Starter
- Lump Charcoal
- A multi probe thermometer (I used a Thermoworks Smoke X4)
- Instant read thermometer (I used a Thermoworks M4)
- Rub shaker
How to smoke chicken breasts
1. Prepping the chicken
If you have purchased skinless and boneless chicken breast fillets, you shouldn’t have a lot of trimming to do to them. Sometimes they can have a little extra fat on the edges, just trim this off with a sharp kitchen knife.
If you cannot find skinless breasts, the skin does come off quite easily.
We know chicken breast is a very lean cut and prone to being dry, so brining your chicken is a great technique and always results in a juicer finished product.
You have two choices, dry brine or wet brine. I love using a wet brine for chicken breasts as I feel it has more impact. If it was a whole chicken, I’d be opting for the dry brine.
A wet brine is essentially salted water which you then add sugars to, to balance out the saltiness. You can then start adding additional flavors to the brine. Anything that you feel will compliment the protein being brined, in this case it is chicken, so citrus, garlic and a little chilli is always a great mix.
The purpose of your brine is to inject as much moisture into the breast to keep it as succulent as possible while smoking it, and secondly to add some extra flavour.
It is best if you can brine the chicken overnight in the fridget, or for a very minimum of four hours.
2. Setting up your smoker
You will need to set up a smoker for indirect low and slow.
I used a 22”
So settling the temp at 275°F is a great recommended temp for chicken. If smoking at a lower 225°F to 250°F, you do risk having to leave the chicken in for longer and the chances of drying it out will increase.
Start by filling the charcoal ring with unlit lump charcoal, then half filling a chimney starter with lump charcoal and lighting it up.
Once the charcoal is fully alight, place it into the centre of the unlit charcoal, adding a couple of chunks of cherry wood for smoke.
Start assembling the smoker and place a foil pan under the cooking grate to catch the drippings.
Put the lid on and stabilise the temperature by adjusting the bowl vents, leaving the lid vent, or the exhaust vent wide open.
3. Seasoning the chicken
While your smoker is coming up to temp it’s time to get your seasoning ready.
It took me a while to get a good poultry rub that I was happy with. Something that worked across the board on different birds.
I actually use this rub on my Christmas turkey as you can see here.
It has become a very popular tradition that my family looks forward to, hence why I now use it on my chicken as well. Mainly because when something is this good, you shouldn’t have to wait once every year to have it.
It is as easy as measuring out the ingredients below, and if you have one, put them into a rub shaker. Make sure to give it a good shake to mix everything up before applying it.
If stored in a closed container, the rub will stay fresh for around 2 months. I haven’t had any batch last that long as we do tend to use it a lot in my house.
After the chicken has been brining overnight in the wet brine, remove it and pat it down with paper towels. There is no need to rinse it under water.
Once dry, give the container, the rub is in, a good shake and from a height of around 12” start covering the chicken breasts all over, making sure not to miss the sides.
By applying the rub from a height of 12” you are ensuring an even coverage as the different rub particles have to separate and spread evenly and will eliminate any clumping. This will provide you with a more consistent coverage so each mouthful will taste exactly the same.
Once the breasts have been coated in the rub, allow about 30 minutes for the rub to bind to the chicken before putting them in the smoker.
4. Smoke the chicken breasts
Place the chicken breasts on the top cooking rack of the smoker and insert an internal meat probe to one of them and set a temp for 130°F.
5. Glaze the chicken
I like to glaze the chicken breasts at the end of the cook. You can skip this step and keep the flavors on the simple side, but I highly recommend giving the glaze a try.
Place all of the glaze ingredients into a saucepan that has a heatproof handle and place it in the smoker until the chicken reaches 130°F. This will dissolve all of the sugars and allow the ingredients to blend together.
After an hour of smoking the internal temp should reach 130°F, at this point you can take the glaze out of the smoker and set aside.
The rub should be set on the chicken and unable to be scratched off. Now it is time to add the chicken to a pan and place in 7oz of unsalted butter and cover with foil.
This is going to just ensure the chicken again will stay moist. The reason you need to wait until the rub is set before adding the chicken to the butter bath, is so the rub stays on the chicken and doesn’t wash off as the butter melts.
Put this back into the smoker and set an internal temp for 155°F. Depending on the size of the breasts, it will take a further 45 minutes to an hour for the internal temp to reach this.
Once the internal temp reaches 155°F, remove the chicken from the foil covered pan and place it on a wire rack.
Add a ¼ to ⅓ cup of the melted butter to the glaze you made and cover each breast in the glaze, working quickly to get them back into the smoker.
Now set an internal temp alarm for 162°F. The internal temperature is climbing at a steady rate at this stage of the cook and it will only take a further 10 to 15 minutes to reach 162°F.
Once they hit 162°F, they can come off for a rest under some foil for 5 minutes and in that time they will keep cooking and the internal temp will rise to 165°F, the perfect safe temp for chicken breast.
More Smoked Chicken Recipes To Try
- Smoked Spatchcock Chicken with Smokey Barbecue Sauce
- Smoked Chicken Maryland
- Smoked and Fried Buttermilk Chicken Thighs
- Easy Chicken Wing Brine
- Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich
- Rotisserie Chicken on a Charcoal Grill
Smoked Chicken Breast
- 4 chicken breasts 0.8lbs each
- 7 oz butter unsalted
- 2 quarts water
- 6 tbsp Kosher salt
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1 lemon juice and rind
- 4 cloves garlic crushed
- 1 tsp chili flakes
- 4 tbsp paprika
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 3 tbsp Kosher salt
- 2 tbsp black pepper freshly ground
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp mustard powder
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- ½ cup ketchup
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- ⅓ cup butter melted
- Put all the wet brine ingredients into a saucepan, only using 1 to 2 cups of the water and leaving the rest aside for now.
- Heat over a high heat until the sugar and salt are dissolved.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
- Once cooled, add to a container with the rest of the water that was put aside.
- Add the chicken breasts to the brine and refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours or up to 12.
The next day
- Set up your smoker for a temp of 275°F.
- Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry with paper towels.
- Mix all the dry brine ingredients together and apply an even coat over each chicken breast.
- Allow the rub to sit on the chicken for 30 minutes to bind before placing in the smoker.
- Place in the smoker and insert an internal temp probe and set it to 130°F.
- Add all the the glaze ingredients together in a saucepan and place into the smoker with the chicken.
- Once the chicken reaches 130°F internally, remove the glaze from the smoker. Put the chicken in a foil tray and add they butter. Cover the tray with foil and return to the smoker and set a timer for 155°F.
- Once the chicken reaches 155°F internally, remove from the butter bath and place on a wire rack.
- Add some butter to the glaze in the pot, mix well and cover each breast with the glaze.
- Return to the smoker and set an internal temp of 162°F.
- Once the internal temp reaches 162°F, remove from the smoker and cover loosely with foil and rest for 5 minutes.
- After 5 minutes of resting the internal temp will be 165°F and the chicken is ready to eat.
- with salad
- with steamed Asian vegetables
- with standard BBQ sides; slaw, cornbread and mac n cheese