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A summer barbecue recipe for Smoked Chicken Wings will take your wing game to new, spectacular heights. Fire up that charcoal smoker; here’s everything you need to know to make the best chicken wings ever!
Chicken wings: you either love ’em, or you really love ’em. Maybe you’ve tried Coca Cola Chicken Wings or spicy baked Chinese Chicken Wings, but until you’ve tucked into a plate of smoked chicken wings, you just haven’t lived. So now’s your chance.
Whether you have a fancy Traeger, a Big Green Egg, or a Weber, smoked chicken wings are easy to make and are the perfect snack while you’re doing a longer smoke. It’s always a good idea to buy a few pounds of wings to make in order to stave off hunger and keep the wolves in the backyard at bay.
Making Smoked Chicken Wings for Sunday snacking? 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 Wings 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 chickens, chicken breasts, and turkey, too:
- 1 gallon water
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup salt
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 lemon, cut in slices
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2-4 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon sage
- In a large sauce pan, 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 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 Wings:
Everything, well, maybe not everything, you need to become a BBQ pro right here. (BTW, if you feel like you can’t live without something on the list, purchasing through the affiliated links helps run this site, so thank you very much!)
- A smoker. This recipe for Smoked Chicken Wings 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 wings in case it gets too brown during smoking.
- BBQ rub. You 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 getgo. 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, smoked 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.Then distribute a couple 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 Wings:
Now that the smoker is doing its thing, you’re ready to smoke some wings. 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, and has two shelves inside.
Since these chicken wings 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 salmon, a tri-tip, or a batch of quick smoked chicken breasts for weekday lunches.
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!
But back to the chicken wings. If the wings you purchase are still in one piece, you may want to cut them in half or thirds, separating the wing tip, wing, and drummie; it’s completely up to you. Some folks like the wing tips, some folks throw them out, so by all means keep what you want.
First, rub them with a little olive oil, then generously sprinkle on the spices and salt and coat all sides, tossing them in a bowl.
Next, place the wings on the cooling rack and move them to the smoker once you’ve reached the proper temperature, about 200-225 degrees.
Then hurry up and close the lid–don’t let the heat escape.
After 30 minutes, flip the wings, and replace the lid.
Then after 1 hour, flip the wings again.
Finally it’s time for BBQ sauce. After 20 more minutes, brush the wings with your favorite sauce. Then let smoke for another 10 minutes or so.
Just to be on the safe side, wait until the wings read 165 degrees with a reliable meat thermometer.
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 wings?
Chicken wings take about 2 hours to cook, even at 225 degrees. Of course, that depends on the weather, the altitude, and the temperature of the smoker. If you’re smoking chicken legs and wings, chances are the wings will be ready before the legs. No matter what, reaching an internal temperature of 165 degrees is critical 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 for Smoked Chicken Wings?
According to the professionals, pecan wood or apple wood for smoking chicken and turkey are both excellent choices. Fortunately, there’s no need to soak the wood, either, just throw a couple chunks into the coals.
Homemade Chicken Wing Rub:
If you want a real BBQ flavor and like a dry rub on chicken wings better, use this recipe. 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.
Can you make Smoked Chicken Wings ahead of time?
If you want to do a big batch of wings beforehand for a fabulous party, go ahead and smoke them without the sauce. Then reheat them on a grill as needed, brushing with sauce. That way, the wings get a nice little char on them, too!
Serve them with something crunchy, like carrot sticks, and extra BBQ sauce for dipping.
Smoked Chicken Wings
For the brine:
- 1 gallon water
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup salt
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 lemon sliced
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves
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. Cool completely.
- In a container large bowl or container, place chicken wings and tips. Cover with brine and refrigerate overnight. Ensure the chicken stays submerged by placing a bag of ice or heavy plate on top of the chicken
For 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 making sure to coat well on all sides.
- Bring the smoker up to 200 to 225 degrees. Place the chicken onto the grate and cover. After 30 minutes turn the wings over and replace the smoker lid.
- At the 1 hour mark turn the wings again. After 20 minutes, brush the wings with your favorite bbq sauce and replace the lid for another 10 minutes. Turn the wings again and brush with more sauce, replacing the lid for another 10 minutes. Continue to cook until wings register 165 degrees on a digital thermometer at the thickest part.
- Homemade Dry Rub: in a small 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 smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon ground mustard powder,1 teaspoon onion powder, ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, ½ teaspoon dried oregano. Store in an airtight container.
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Meggan Hill is the Executive Chef and CEO of Culinary Hill, a popular digital publication in the food space. She loves to combine her Midwestern food memories with her culinary school education to create her own delicious take on modern family fare. Millions of readers visit Culinary Hill each month for meticulously-tested recipes as well as skills and tricks for ingredient prep, cooking ahead, menu planning, and entertaining. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the iCUE Culinary Arts program at College of the Canyons.