This smoked chicken thighs recipe is simple but delicious and packed full of smoky flavor.
Fattier and more flavorful than chicken breasts, thighs are an excellent choice for barbecue. Plus, they are cheap enough to serve a crowd without breaking the bank!
I like using bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, but you can substitute for the boneless, skinless variety. I find that the crispy skin really brings these thighs to the next level, though.
Why choose thighs?
Chicken thighs are underrated and often overshadowed by chicken breasts in the poultry aisle, and I’ve never understood why.
Thighs are generally cheaper than chicken breast. Plus, they taste better if you’re like me and prefer dark to white meat.
Thighs have a higher fat content and are nearly impossible to overcook. Even if you miss the 165°F internal temp, they still won’t start to dry out until upwards of 180°F. So you’ve got some flexibility on the grill, which is always helpful when serving a crowd.
Plus, skin-on chicken thighs are great for grilling and smoking as they help trap the moisture for tender meat.
3 steps for perfect smoked chicken thighs
This is the best smoked chicken thighs recipe because we follow these 3 steps:
- Dry brining the chicken thighs for 24 hours. If you want crispy skin, you need the driest chicken possible.
- Adding seasoning. I’m using a homemade dry rub recipe, and I seasoned both the skin and thigh meat underneath. Plus, I added my secret crispy skin ingredient: cornstarch.
- Finishing with a BBQ sauce baste. This adds so much flavor and extra moisture.
How to make smoked chicken thighs
This smoked chicken thighs recipe is probably one of the easiest I will ever share. But that’s not to say they are not flavorful and delicious!
If you cook skin-on chicken thighs, here are my two crucial tips to ensure you get beautiful, crispy skin.
If you are smoking skinless, boneless chicken thighs, you can skip this next step, but you’ll be missing out.
1. Dry brine chicken thighs in the fridge
First, trim any excess skin or fat off your chicken.
Second, the key to this smoked chicken recipe and its ultra-crispy chicken skin is to get the thighs nice and dry. A simple two-step process will guarantee you get the crispest skin when you smoke your chicken.
Start by patting each chicken thigh with paper towels (no need to wash them), and place them on a wire rack with a baking sheet underneath.
Sprinkle kosher salt on both sides, then place the rack in your fridge uncovered for up to 24 hours.
When you’re ready to smoke the thighs, remove them from the fridge and pat dry again with a paper towel to wipe off any excess moisture.
2. Season thighs
The next step is to season your chicken thighs. Again, feel free to get creative and really make the dish your own.
You can use your favorite store-bought chicken rub, or you can make many great smoked chicken rubs at home. For this recipe, I used my own seasoning blend. My rub ingredients are salt, pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and a touch of cayenne pepper to add some heat.
If you want to go the store-bought dry rub route, I recommend our Pit Master’s Pick, which you can order from our store.
Simply drizzle olive oil onto the thighs to keep them moist while smoking. Then apply your seasoning, and finally, a sprinkling of cornstarch to help get the skin extra crispy.
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The key to packing in great flavor when working with skin-on chicken is to lift the skin up and season the meat underneath, then add a bit more seasoning on top of the skin. This will ensure your chicken is well-seasoned because nobody likes bland chicken.
Once your chicken is well coated in seasoning, you can roll the thighs up and pull the skin taut. Then, transfer the thighs to a wire rack or jerky tray.
3. Fire up the smoker
I like using oak with chicken as it brings a smooth balance of smoky flavor, and they pair well with pretty much anything. For a more subtle and sweeter flavor, opt for cherry or apple. For a stronger flavor, go for hickory.
If you are new to pellet smoking, be sure to check out this article on the best wood pellets for smoking.
Once your smoker is preheated, place the chicken skin-side up on the grill.
4. Crisp up the skin
After 30 minutes, you’ll notice the chicken takes on some nice smoke flavor. Now it’s time to crank the heat up to 375°F until the thighs reach 175-185°F.
The higher temperature is crucial to give the skin its extra crispy texture.
At this point (about 10 minutes before removing them from the pellet smoker), you can baste each smoked chicken thigh with a little bit of barbecue sauce. This is totally optional, so feel free to skip the sauce if that’s not your thing! But this BBQ baste adds so much flavor.
Most chicken recipes call for a final internal temperature of 165°F. But I like to go a little higher when I’m smoking chicken thighs – usually around 175-185°F.
I find that dark thigh meat maintains moisture, even at higher temps, and I like the texture and flavor of thighs when they reach an internal temperature of 175°F. Use your meat thermometer to double-check.
Remove smoked thighs from the grill and let them cool off for 10 minutes before serving.
Store leftover chicken thighs in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Reheat in the air fryer or oven to get that skin crispy again.
How long to smoke chicken thighs
Depending on the smoker and the thigh’s thickness, it can take between 1.5 and 2 hours to smoke chicken thighs. But cook to temperature, not time. So keep an eye on the internal temperature with your instant-read thermometer.
How to keep chicken moist when smoking
Here are all the things I do to keep chicken moist when smoking:
- Start with a dry brine.
- Rub the chicken with olive oil before smoking.
- Smoke it at a low temperature (like 225 degrees, which is how we start).
- Baste the chicken.
How to serve smoked chicken thighs
Smoked chicken thighs are super versatile and make both a great weekday dinner and a crowd-pleasing meal. They can be served with just about anything.
You can shred the meat and add it to a taco or sandwich or even serve it on top of a salad. They are also great on their own paired with some tasty barbecue sides:
- Smoked Beer Mustard Potatoes
- Smoked Baked Beans
- Easy Smoked Mac & Cheese
- Mexican Grilled Corn
- Creamy Southern Coleslaw
Other great chicken recipes
- Easy Smoked Chicken Breast
- Smoked Chicken With Alabama White Sauce
- Smoked Chicken Maryland
- Smoked and Fried Buttermilk Chicken Thighs
Smoked Chicken Thighs
- 8 chicken thighs bone in, skin on
- 1 tbsp olive oil
For the chicken rub
- 2 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp black pepper coursley ground
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
For final basting (optional)
- 1 cup barbecue sauce
- Trimming any excess skin or fat off your chicken thighs.
- Pat chicken thighs with paper towels to dry them off and place them on a wire cooking rack with a baking sheet underneath.
- Sprinkle kosher salt on both sides and place into your fridge uncovered for up to 24 hours.
- Remove chicken thighs from the fridge and pat dry again to wipe off any excess moisture.
- Drizzle olive oil onto chicken thighs then season with an all purpose bbq rub and a sprinkling of cornstarch.
- Smoke the chicken at 225°F for the first 30 minutes and then increase the temperature of your smoker to 375°F until the chicken reaches 175-185°F.
- Optionally, baste chicken thighs with barbecue sauce 10 minutes before removing.
- Remove chicken thighs from the grill and let them cool off for 10 minutes before eating.