Smoked Chicken Thighs (Easy & Delicious)

smoked chicken thighs on a wood platter with bbq sauce

These tender, juicy, smoked chicken thighs can be made in a little over an hour and they just might be your new favorite chicken recipe. If you read my blog about grilled chicken quarters, you know I love some dark meat chicken. If you like both light and dark meat, check out these grill roasted chicken halves for the best of both worlds.

Unlike some of the other traditional American barbecue proteins, this smoked chicken thigh recipe is great for any night of the week. Thighs don’t take nearly as long to cook as pork shoulder, or brisket, making it the perfect weeknight meal to satisfy that barbecue craving.

In this blog, I’ll share my recipe and technique for smoking chicken thighs, and offer a few tips along the way that will make turning this dish out not only delicious, but super easy as well.

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What Is The Best Temperature For Smoking Chicken?

Searching for this on the internet will return temperatures from 225° to 300°F. I’ve been making smoked chicken thighs for more than 30 years — gosh I’m getting old. Anyway, I digress. I’ve cooked them at various temperatures and found that 275°-285°F is the sweet spot for these little pillows of goodness.

smoked chicken thighs with a jar of bbq sauce

At temperatures below this range, I find the skin just gets a little too chewy for me. Going much hotter, and the chicken will cook too quickly, not allowing the infusion of smoke I’m looking for.

How Long Does It Take To Smoke Chicken Thighs?

One of the many reasons I love smoking chicken is that it cooks up to a tender and juicy finish so quickly. Run your grill or smoker at about 275°F, and the chicken thighs should be done in about 50 minutes to an hour.

Of course the exact amount of time depends on the size of the thighs. Follow my tips below and you’ll find the cooking time will be closer to the 50 minute mark.

smoked chicken thighs on a wood platter

What Are The Best Sides For Smoked Chicken?

There are a number of sides that go well with smoked chicken thighs. Two stand out as favorites for me.

First, these campfire beans are excellent with smoked meats. These beans are good as a stand alone, and I find them to be the perfect partner for smoked chicken thighs as well.

Second, these southern collard greens with bacon. If you’ve never had collard greens, this is the perfect opportunity to try them, especially since the grill or smoker is already fired up. I swear I could eat these several times a week.

At What Temperature Are Chicken Thighs Done?

The USDA states chicken thighs are safe to eat at an internal temperature of 165°F. With most proteins I try to stay at the lower end of the “safe” chart, but that’s not the case with dark meat chicken.

I find chicken thighs are best when cooked to about 175° – 180°F, as indicated with a reliable quick read meat thermometer. This gives the connective tissue in the meat a chance to break down a bit more, and become really tender.

Because of the fat content in dark meat chicken, they won’t dry out when cooked to this internal temperature. Chicken breast on the other hand would be ruined if cooked to this temperature.

smoked chicken thighs with jalapeños

Ingredients For Smoked Chicken Thighs

Chicken Thighs: I prefer to use bone-in skin on thighs for this recipe. That said, I do take the bone out of the thighs as it allows them to cook faster and more evenly. Typically boneless chicken thighs are also skinless, so buy them bone-in skin on and remove the bone yourself.
Thighs Continued: Why not just use boneless skinless thighs? First, I love the flavor and texture of the skin. More than that, the boneless skinless thighs from the store are pretty mangled from processing, and harder to cook evenly like the intact thighs.
Dry Rub: Of course I prefer my homemade bbq rub, but if you have a spice rub that you love, use that.
BBQ Sauce: This is optional and I will often do a mixture of some dry thighs and some sauced. Like the rub, I like to use my own bbq sauce. Also like the rub, if you have a favorite use that.

Tips For Smoking Chicken Thighs

  • Trimming: Try removing the bone from the chicken thighs. This not only allows them to cook faster and more evenly, it also makes them easier to eat. The bone acts as an insulator, so the meat around the bone takes significantly longer to cook than meat further away from it. I promise, the benefits of doing this are worth the limited effort.
  • The Bones: Don’t throw the bones away! Save them for homemade chicken stock.
  • Use A Wire Rack: I like to position the chicken on a wire cooling rack and place them on the grill. It just makes it much easier to transport and move around the grill. Not necessary but certainly convenient.
  • The Grill: These can be done on a charcoal grill, a gas grill, or a pellet grill.
  • Temperature: If you like your skin just a bit more crispy, try bumping the cooking temperature up to 325°F during the last 10 minutes of the cook.
uncooked deboned chicken thighs
Save these bones for homemade chicken stock.

How To Make Smoked Chicken Thighs

Prep Time: 10 minutes | Cook Time: 50-60 Minutes | Serves 4-6

Ingredients

6-8 Chicken thighs, bone-in and skin on
1/4 cup BBQ Rub
1/2 cup BBQ sauce (optional)

Step 1: Preheat your grill or smoker to 275°- 285°F, and add a chunk of apple or pecan wood to the hot coals and close the lid to maintain temperature.

Step 2: While the grill is preheating, remove the bones from the chicken thighs by slicing it out with a sharp boning knife. This will allow the chicken to cook faster and more evenly. It’s also easier to eat this way as well. Save the bones for homemade chicken stock!

Step 3: Remove any excess skin that might be hanging off the chicken. Don’t get too aggressive here, just remove the skin that isn’t attached to the thigh meat.

skin being removed from a chicken thigh

Step 4: Place the chicken thighs skin side down on a wire cooling rack, and season liberally with bbq rub.

chicken thighs being season on the bottom

Step 5: Turn the thighs over, and season the skin side with bbq rub. Then, form them into a roll shape and tuck any skin under the meat. Using your hand, pat (don’t rub) the bbq rub into the chicken skin.

seasoned chicken thighs on a wire rack

Step 6: Place the chicken on the grill, over indirect heat. Close the lid and allow the chicken to smoke for 40 minutes. Then, check the internal temperature of the chicken with a reliable quick read thermometer, it should be about 165°F.

chicken thighs on the grill

Step 7: When the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165°F, glaze with optional sauce. Close the lid and allow the sauce to set up for 10-15 minutes. 

smoked chicken thighs with bbq sauce on the grill

Step 8: When the chicken reaches 175° – 180°F internal temperature, remove it from the grill. Be sure to check the temperature in the center of the thigh.

Serve the thighs whole, or slice them and serve family style, allowing each bite to include some of the skin that everyone is going to die for.

chicken thighs on the grill with a meat thermometer
smoked chicken thighs on a serving platter

Smoked Chicken Thighs

5 from 5 votes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Preheat your grill or smoker to 275°- 285°F, and add a chunk of apple or pecan wood to the hot coals and close the lid to maintain temperature.
  • While the grill is preheating, remove the bone from the chicken thighs by slicing it out with a sharp boning knife. This will allow the chicken to cook faster and more evenly. It's also easier to eat this way as well.
  • Remove any excess skin that might be hanging off the chicken. Don’t get too aggressive here, just remove the skin that isn’t attached to the thigh meat.
  • Place the chicken thighs skin side down on a wire cooling rack, and season liberally with bbq rub.
  • Turn the thighs over, and season the skin side with bbq rub. Then, form them into a roll shape and tuck any skin under the meat. Using your hand, pat (don’t rub) the bbq rub into the chicken skin.
  • Place the wire rack with chicken on the grill, over indirect heat. Close the lid and allow the chicken to smoke for 40 minutes. Then, check the internal temperature of the chicken with a reliable quick read thermometer, it should be about 165°F.
  • When the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165°F, glaze with optional sauce. Close the lid and allow the sauce to set up for 10-15 minutes.
  • When the chicken reaches 175° – 180°F internal temperature, remove it from the grill and serve hot.

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