Are you interested in the art of smoking? Have you ever wondered how to make moist and succulent smoked chicken thighs at home? Smoking chicken is an easy way to add flavor to your meals and have a delicious barbecue-inspired dish. In this post, we’ll walk through how long smoke chicken thighs and step by step how to smoke poultry thighs for the perfect homemade dinner. You’ll learn about required ingredients, preparation tips & tricks, and even get some expert pointers on producing a juicy smoky entrée that will tantalize your taste buds.
An Introduction to Smoked Chicken Thighs
Smoked chicken thighs have grown rapidly in popularity due to their rich taste and juicy texture. The boneless thighs absorb the aromatic smoke efficiently during the low and slow cooking process. Skin-on thighs get deliciously crispy skin from the prolonged exposure to heat and smoke. This guide will explore the nuances of selecting, prepping, seasoning, monitoring, and serving up succulent smoked chicken thighs. You’ll learn pro tips for intensifying flavor with brines and rubs. We’ll also cover how to troubleshoot common issues like flare-ups and oversmoking. With the proper techniques, you’ll be able to smoke competition-worthy chicken thighs in your own backyard.
Choosing the Best Chicken Thighs
The thighs themselves make all the difference in the final taste and texture. Here are some tips for picking top-notch thighs for smoking:
- Select organic or free-range chicken. The diet and living conditions influence the flavor. Organic and free-range chickens produce more robust, better-tasting meat.
- Get skin-on thighs for crispy skin. During smoking, the skin will render for finger-licking crispiness. Skinless thighs will be juicy but lack the textural contrast.
- Pick thighs with a good fat cap. A thin layer of fat underneath the skin bastes the meat while cooking for added moisture and flavor.
- Inspect the color and smell. Opt for thighs that look pinkish with creamy, not yellow, fat. Avoid any with an off or sulfurous odor.
Must-Have Equipment for Smoking Chicken Thighs
A quality smoker is the cornerstone appliance for infusing chicken thighs with smoky taste. Here are the top options:
- Charcoal smokers imbue a nostalgic, old-fashioned smoke flavor. They require diligent temperature regulation.
- Electric smokers provide a hands-off smoking experience. Temperature is precise and consistent.
- Pellet smokers burn flavored wood pellets for easy, automatic smoking. Imparts a subtle, clean smoke flavor.
- Gas smokers utilize a gas burner with wood chips for smoky taste. Great for set-it-and-forget-it smoking.
You’ll also need essential accessaries like:
- A digital meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature.
- Smoker boxes for holding soaked wood chips to generate smoke.
- Water pans for moisture and regulating grill temperature.
- Heat-resistant gloves for safely handling the smoker.
Preparing Chicken Thighs with Rubs and Brines
To take the chicken thighs to the next level, use brines or dry rubs. Here’s how to choose:
- Dry rubs give a flavor crust and textural contrast. Try bold spice blends or herbs and seasoning salt.
- Brines pump extra moisture and seasoning into the meat. Opt for salt, sugar, and aromatic ingredients like garlic.
- Trim excess skin/fat for better smoke absorption. Leave on just enough for self-basting.
- Marinate for extra flavor. Buttermilk, wine, or citrus marinades impart tangy tastes.
Once you’ve massaged in the flavors, it’s time for the fun part – firing up the smoker.
Step-by-Step Guide to Smoking Chicken Thighs
Follow this process for smoking chicken thigh perfection:
- Prep the smoker by filling the water pan and bringing the temperature to 225-250°F.
- Add your smoke wood such as hickory, apple, cherry or mesquite. Soak wood chips 30 minutes before use.
- Place thighs on the grill, skin-side up. Make sure they aren’t touching or overlapping.
- Insert a probe thermometer into the thickest portion of a thigh, avoiding the bone.
- Maintain even heat around 250°F, replenishing charcoal or wood as needed.
- Flip thighs once halfway through, around the 2 hour mark.
- Brush with sauce during last 30 minutes if desired.
- Cook to 175°F internal temperature. The thighs are done when the meat is firm and juices run clear.
- Rest 5-10 minutes before serving for juicier meat.
Choosing the right smoke management approach is also essential for mouthwatering smoked chicken.
How Long Smoke Chicken Thighs?
Smoked chicken thighs typically require about 1.5 to 2 hours at a temperature of 225°F to 250°F to reach an internal temperature of 165°F, which ensures they are safely cooke. However, some recipes suggest continuing to cook the thighs beyond this point to achieve a higher internal temperature of 175–185°F for increased tenderness and a crispier skin. Keep in mind that cooking times may vary slightly based on factors such as the thickness of the thighs and the specific smoker being used.
Smoke Basics: Tips for Proper Smoking
The key is controlling the smoke’s intensity throughout the cook:
- Use indirect heat so thighs don’t burn or dry out.
- Vent for air flow to maintain thin, delicate smoke.
- Limit oxygen while avoiding a bitter, sooty taste from inefficient combustion.
- If smoke seems heavy, add water to the pan or open vents to increase air flow.
- For milder smoke, place thighs further from heat source. Move over direct heat for charring.
- Soak wood longer for mellower smoke. 30 mins – 1 hour depending on wood size.
With some finesse, you’ll be able to achieve just the right kiss of smoke for tender, juicy chicken perfection.
Food Safety Tips for Smoked Meats
Smoking for long periods at low heat presents some safety concerns. Follow these tips:
- Marinate in the refrigerator. Don’t leave chicken at room temp more than 2 hours before smoking.
- Use separate plates/utensils for raw and cooked chicken to avoid cross-contamination.
- Wash hands and surfaces that have touched raw chicken thighs before they are cooked.
- Cook to safe internal temperature of 165°F as measured in several places by a food thermometer.
- Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of coming off smoker. Use within 4 days.
- Reheat to 165°F. Microwave, skillet, oven or grill leftovers to serving temperature.
Smoked meats taste even better when layered with complementary herbs, spices and sauces.
Step-by-Step Smoking Process Explained
Here is a deep dive into the stages of smoking chicken thighs:
- Lighting the charcoal – Use a charcoal chimney with newspaper to evenly ignite. Allow to burn until coals are fully ashed over with a gray surface before adding to the smoker.
- Heating up the smoker – Add the hot coals to smoker and close lid. Vents open fully. Let come to 225-250°F, which takes 15-30 minutes. Add more coals as needed to maintain temp.
- Producing smoke – Add soaked wood chips directly to coals. Close smoker lid immediately so smoke doesn’t escape.
- Grilling the thighs – Put thighs on grill skin-side up when smoke appears. Cook indirect heat about 2 hours until done.
- Checking temperature – Use a meat thermometer to check thigh temp frequently without losing heat by opening lid.
- Managing flare-ups – Close vents partially to reduce oxygen if the fire flares up. Mist with water bottle to calm it down.
- Adding charcoal – About hourly, replenish hot coals to keep smoker temp steady around 250°F.
Monitoring Internal Temp for Doneness
The best way to test smoke chicken doneness is by:
- Using a food thermometer for precise temperature readings. Digital probe types are most accurate.
- Inserting into thickest section of thigh, avoiding the bone. Juices should run clear with no pink color.
- Aiming for 175°F internal temp. 165°F is the FDA minimum, but 175°F accounts for carryover cooking.
- Checking several spots for consistency. If any part is under, continue smoking.
- Allowing thighs to rest about 5-10 minutes before serving. Temperature equalizes for moister, more tender meat.
If you don’t have a meat thermometer, you can also assess doneness with:
- The flexion test – Meat firms up when fully cooked. Thigh shouldn’t jiggle or bend easily when prodded.
- Looking for shrinkage – Fully cooked thighs pull back from the ends of bones.
- Color change – Smoked, cooked chicken turns white and matte with no traces of pink.
Relying on temperature for guaranteed safety and proper doneness takes the guesswork out of determining when the thighs are ready.
Troubleshooting Common Smoking Problems
Smoking chicken thighs perfectly every time takes some finesse. Follow these tips if you encounter any issues:
- Over-smoking – The thighs get too smokey. Try less wood, increased ventilation, or moving further from heat source.
- Under-smoking – Not enough smoke flavor. Use more wood, decrease air flow, or reposition closer to smoke.
- Uneven cooking – Some thighs cook faster. Rearrange their placement and rotate accordingly.
- Flare-ups – Close vents partially and mist the coals with water to calm flames.
- Drying out – Boil a pot of water in the smoker to generate steam if thighs are drying. Brine first.
With some targeted troubleshooting, you’ll get a handle on any potential pitfalls and be smoking chicken like a pro. Once the thighs come off the smoker, learn how to carve and serve them for maximum appeal.
Conclusion: How Long Smoke Chicken Thighs
Now you’re ready to smoke juicy, flavorful chicken thighs like a pro. Brine, rub, smoke low and slow, and sauce those babies for finger-lickin’ backyard barbecue. Infuse your unique flavor preferences into every smoked chicken thigh. What tips do you have for keeping chicken thighs super moist? What are your go-to rubs and sauces? Share your secrets and recipes to help others master the art of smoking chicken.
Bobby Kelly is a bartender at Molly Magees, an Irish pub in Mountain View. He’s been working there for two years and has developed a following among the regulars. Bobby is known for his friendly demeanor and great drink specials. He loves interacting with customers and making them feel welcome. When he’s not at work, Bobby enjoys spending time with his friends and family.