This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please see our affiliate policy.
Summer barbecue season is here! Roasted chicken is great, grilled chicken is just fine, but Smoked Chicken Breast is a whole new level of deliciousness. Boneless chicken breasts are simple to prepare for a week’s worth of meal prep, and cook up quick inside a charcoal smoker.
A quick and easy recipe for Smoked Chicken Breasts is the perfect thing to make when you’re warming up to your new charcoal smoker. It only takes about an hour, and paves the way for you to try longer smoking recipes, like Smoked Tri-Tip or Smoked Turkey!
Best of all, you can make smoked chicken breast on a Traeger, if you have one, or a regular charcoal smoker like the Weber Smokey Mountain, or the WSM, as its many fans refer to it. As long as you know how to light a smoker, this recipe works.
Get ready for the juiciest Smoked Chicken Breast ever this summer; it’s all right here: BBQ dry rub and all. By the end of the season, you’ll be a BBQ pitmaster and the envy of all your neighbors.
Making Smoked Chicken Breast for a big picnic lunch? Click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
Smoked Chicken Brine:
You certainly don’t have to, but if you like, you can use a brine before smoking to help keep chicken moist while cooking. Brines can be as simple as just salt and water, but you can add spices, fresh herbs, or aromatics like lemon and garlic. Here’s an easy recipe that works for whole chicken and turkey, too:
- 1 gallon water
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup salt
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 lemon, sliced
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2-4 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon sage
- In a large saucepan, combine water, sugar, salt, bay leaves, lemon slices, thyme, sage, and garlic over medium heat until sugar dissolves.
- Then remove from heat. Add ice cubes or place in refrigerator until completely cooled.
- Next, select a container large enough to hold all of the brine and chicken.
- Let sit overnight. Place a bag of ice or a heavy plate over the chicken to keep it fully submerged while brining.
- Remove the chicken. Rinse to wash off any excess salt or spice. Now you’re ready to smoke.
What you need to make Smoked Chicken:
Everything, well, maybe not everything, you need to become a BBQ pro right here:
- A smoker. This recipe for Smoked Chicken is made on one of the undisputed champions, the good old WSM, or Weber Smokey Mountain. It uses good quality lump charcoal or briquettes, and wood chips. You can use whatever smoker you’re comfortable with, though.
- An instant read probe thermometer. Make sure it’s of good quality, or get a fancy set up with multiple probes that get left in the meat, so you don’t have to open the lid.
- A coal chimney. Indispensable for grilling, smoking– everything. Lights coals perfectly, every time, without starter. All you need is a match and a couple sheets of newspaper.
- A cooling rack. This helps with moving what you’re smoking on and off the grates.
- 12″ tongs. You probably already have them. Always a good idea, no matter what you’re cooking.
- Wood chips. Adding hardwood chips boosts the flavor of smoked meat. Pecan wood chunks work great for this recipe, but so does a bag of apple wood chunks.
- Paraffin cubes. Small, odorless cubes of wax to keep the coals burning. Great for longer cooks.
- Aluminum foil. Foil works for tenting over the chicken in case it gets too brown during smoking.
- BBQ rub. Your favorite dry rub, or make a delicious BBQ rub right here.
How to light a smoker:
It’s about time to demystify the smoker. You don’t have to be a pit master to smoke meat at home. You can do it!
The secret to consistent smoker temperature is a foolproof setup from the get-go. Here’s a surefire way to light a charcoal smoker like the WSM. It’s a technique called the Minion method, named after BBQ master Jim Minion.
Want to know even more about How to Use a Smoker? Head on over to read even more about smoking with hardwood, smoking chicken, and how to clean a smoker.
- Expose the charcoal grate. First, remove the cylindrical part (center section) of the smoker, exposing the rounded bottom of the smoker, the lower charcoal grate, and the fire ring, also known as the coal chamber. Make sure these areas are relatively clean and free of ashes.
- Dump the briquettes. Next, generously pour the unlit charcoal briquettes into the fire ring. Make a deep hole in the center of the briquettes with your hands. Distribute a couple of paraffin cubes inside the coals.
- Get the hardwood. If you decide on hardwood chunks for extra flavor, throw a few medium to large dry chunks into the top of the coals in the lower grate, preferably near the vents, to create a bit more smoke. (Only use three or four chunks, but don’t bury them deep into the coals—meat accepts the smoke flavor better when it’s raw and cool; once it starts cooking, the smoke can turn the meat bitter.)
- Open the vents. For maximum air circulation, make sure the bottom vents are fully open, at least until the smoker reaches the desired temperature.
- Use a chimney starter. Next, fill the starter chamber of a chimney starter about halfway full with more briquettes. Stuff the bottom with paper according to the starter’s instructions and light.
- Orange coals is go time. Once the briquettes in the starter are white in color and glowing orange inside, they’re ready. When that’s apparent, pour them into the well you made in the center of the coal ring. These glowing coals will gradually light the surrounding coals; that’s what will sustain the temperature.
- Reassemble smoker. Then put everything back together. Return the cylinder part of the smoker to the bottom of the smoker.
- Fill the water pan. Now it’s time to fill the water pan. Open the smoker door and fill the pan about ¾ of the way up with water.
- Close it up. Then close the door; then double-check and make sure the vents are open. Finally, place the lid on the smoker and keep the lid vent fully open. Chances are you’ll leave the lid vent open during the entire smoke.
- Sit back and wait. Wait until the smoker comes up to temperature—about 200-225 degrees—which usually takes 30-45 minutes.
How to prepare Smoked Chicken Breasts:
Now that you’ve lit the smoker, you’re ready to smoke some chicken. By the way, the smoker can cook other things, too! Don’t waste good coal–the beauty of the WSM is that it can cook for 8-12 hours. Since these chicken breasts don’t take a lot of time, you can have some other stuff waiting in the wings to smoke. While you have the heat, smoke some chicken wings, a tri-tip, or a pork loin.
Psst! If you’re a visual learner, these pictures show you what’s up–but for the actual recipe with specific amounts, look towards the bottom of the page!
1. But back to the chicken breasts. First, rub them with a little olive oil, then generously sprinkle on the dry rub and coat all sides.
3. Then hurry up and close the lid–don’t let the heat escape.
4. Finally, after 60 minutes, check the temperature.
5. When the internal temperature of the thickest part of the chicken breast reaches 165 degrees, remove them from the smoker and allow to rest 5-10 minutes before serving.
How long will it take to smoke chicken?
As you might guess, smoked chicken breasts cook fairly quickly, even at 225 degrees. In general it takes about 75 minutes to smoke an average-sized chicken breast.
How long to smoke bone-in chicken breast? For chicken legs, bone-in chicken breast, or thighs, it could take a little longer, closer to 90 minutes, since the bone is still in the chicken. Above all, reaching an internal temperature of 165 degrees is crucial for chicken.
Also, for smoking whole chicken, if you set your smoker to 225-250 degrees, estimate the cook time to be about 40-50 minutes per pound.
What wood works best with Smoked Chicken?
According to professionals, pecan wood or apple wood for smoking chicken are both excellent choices. Fortunately, there’s no need to soak the wood, either, just throw a couple chunks into the coals.
Homemade Chicken Rub:
This homemade dry rub for chicken relies on a little sweetness from brown sugar, and lots of herbs and spices you probably already have in your pantry.
- 8 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard powder
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
Just combine everything together in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake it up. However, if you don’t have one of the ingredients, or you don’t care for it, leave it out. By the way, if you like it a little spicy, add some kick–cayenne pepper or chili arbol.
Smoked Chicken Breast calories:
Amazingly, one 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of cooked chicken breast has the following nutrition breakdown:
Protein: 31 grams
Carbs: 0 grams
Fat: 3.6 grams
That means that approximately 80% of the calories in chicken breast come from protein, and 20% come from fat.
Smoked Chicken Breast
For the brine:
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine water, sugar, salt, bay leaves, lemon, thyme, garlic, and sage, stirring often until sugar dissolves, about 7 to 10 minutes. Cool completely and add to a large bowl or other container.
- Add the chicken to the container with the brine, cover, and refrigerate overnight. Ensure the chicken stays submerged by placing a bag of ice or heavy plate on top of the chicken.
- Remove chicken from the brine and rinse to remove excess salt and spices. Rub the chicken with the oil and sprinkle on the dry rub, coating well on all sides.
- Bring the smoker up to 200 to 225 degrees. Place the chicken on grate and cover. Smoke until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees on a digital thermometer in the thickest part, about 75 minutes (see note 2). Allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
- Homemade Dry Rub: in a medium bowl or jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine ½ cup light brown sugar, 3 tablespoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon ground New Mexico chili (or ancho chili), 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon ground chipotle chilies (optional), 1 teaspoon ground mustard powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, ½ teaspoon coriander, ½ teaspoon thyme (crushed). Store the remainder in an airtight container.
- Stall: While smoking chicken breasts, the internal temperature of the meat may stall around 150 to 160 degrees. No need to panic! This is common and is due to the moisture on the chicken's surface evaporating, causing the surrounding area to cool, and can last several hours. While in the stall, the meat continues to cook though the temperature is not increasing. Patience is the best way to overcome the stall- allow the chicken to continue to cook, it will eventually overcome the stall and reach 165 degrees.
- Yield: This recipe makes about 5 cups of smoked chicken, enough for four entree-sized servings.
- Storage: Store extra chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Freezing: Cooked smoked chicken can be frozen in an airtight container up to 6 months. Thaw overnight when ready to serve. Serve cold or reheat in a small amount of chicken broth or water until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
Culinary Hill may earn money if you buy through these links.
Meggan Hill is a classically-trained chef and professional writer. Her meticulously-tested recipes and detailed tutorials bring confidence and success to home cooks everywhere. Meggan has been featured on NPR, HuffPost, FoxNews, LA Times, and more.