These smoked chicken thighs are simple, but delicious and packed full of smoky flavor.
Fattier and more flavorful than chicken breasts, thighs are a great choice for barbecue.n Plus they are cheap enough that you can serve a crowd without breaking the bank!
I like to use bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs but you can totally substitute the boneless, skinless variety, but I find that the crispy skin really brings these thighs to the next level.
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, and they are packed full of that dark meat chicken flavor.
Thighs have a higher fat content, and they are nearly impossible to overcook. Even if you miss 165°F internal, 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 you’re serving a crowd.
How to make smoked chicken thighs
Smoked chicken thighs are probably one of the easiest recipes I will ever share, but that’s not to say they are not flavorful and delicious!
One crucial step is to kick the heat on the smoker up towards the end of the cook to give the skin a nice, crispy finish. If you are smoking skinless thighs, you can skip this step!
1. Marinate the chicken thighs
The first step to flavorful chicken is all in the marinade. This is also where you can get a little creative with your flavors.
There are hundreds of store-bought marinades on the market that are geared towards chicken, or you can just whip up your own right at home.
For this recipe, I used Mojo Criollo by Goya. It’s one of my absolute favorite marinades on the market for chicken and it can be found at just about any grocery store.
If you don’t see it alongside the regular marinades, be sure to check the “Hispanic Foods” section of the store, they often keep it there.
If you want to go down the DIY route, the key is to use a base of one part oil, one part acid (e.g. vinegar, citrus juice, or wine), and then one part flavor, or seasoning.
Fresh herbs and vegetables also work great in a marinade to help add extra flavor to your chicken.
Trim any excess fat and skin off of your chicken thighs and place them into a food-safe container. You can also use a Ziploc bag if that’s all you have. Pour the marinade all over the chicken thighs and ensure they are fully submerged in the marinade, then cover it and store it in the fridge until you’re ready to throw them on the smoker.
You can marinate chicken for as little as 2 to 3 hours, but I like to leave it in the marinade overnight to really pack in as much flavor as possible.
Depending on the acidity of your marinade, you don’t want to leave it in the marinade longer than about 48 hours or the acid will start breaking down the muscle and can result in mushy meat (YUCK!).
Once you pull the thighs out of the marinade, it’s time to season them up.
2. Season with chicken thigh rub
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 there are many great smoked chicken rubs you can make at home. For this recipe, I used my own seasoning blend of salt, pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and a touch of cayenne pepper to add some heat.
The key to packing in flavor when you are working with skin-on chicken is to lift the skin up and season the meat that is 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.
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, just place your chicken thighs on and let them smoke.
4. Crisp up the skin
The thighs are going to smoke for about an hour before they reach an internal temperature of around 155°F.
Once they get up around that temp, I like to kick up the temperature in the smoker to 375°F for another 15 to 20 minutes to give the skin an extra-crispy texture.
At this point, I also like to baste them in a little bit of barbecue sauce. This is totally optional, so feel free to skip the sauce if that’s not your thing!
Most chicken recipes call for a final internal temperature of 165°F, but when I’m smoking chicken thighs, I like to go a little higher – usually around 170°F to 175°F.
I find that dark meat maintains moisture, even at higher temps, and I like the texture and flavor of thighs around the 170°F mark.
How to serve smoked chicken thighs
Smoked chicken thighs are super versatile and 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 Coleslaw
More smoked 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
- 3 cups marinade If you don't want to use a store bought marindate, you can make your own using a base of one part oil, one part acid (e.g. vinegar, citrus juice, or wine), and then one part seasoning
For the chiken 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
For final basting (optional)
- 1 cup barbecue sauce
- Start by trimming any excess skin or fat off your chicken thighs.
- Place the thighs in a container, or large Ziploc bag, and pour the marinade on top. Ensure each thigh is well-coated in the marinade and fully submerged.
- Cover/seal the container and store in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
- Pre-heat your smoker to 250°F.
- In a small bowl, combine the kosher salt, black pepper, chili powder, smoked paprika, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper.
- Remove the chicken thighs from the marinade and season generously with your spice mixture. Be sure to lift up the skin and season the meat that is underneath.
- Transfer the seasoned chicken to a wire rack or jerky tray.
- Put the chicken on the smoker and let it smoke for about 1 hour, or until the internal temperature reaches around 155°F.
- Increase the temperature of your smoker to 375°F.
- Coat the chicken in your favorite barbecue sauce.
- Let it smoke for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches between 170°F-175°F. Serve immediately and enjoy!