How to Smoke Chicken Thighs

Chicken thighs are delicious!

They are cheaper than wings and legs, they have darker, more flavourful meat and they cook faster too. Personally, I think they’re seriously underrated! 

But, you’re here so you must also have a healthy hankering for chicken thighs. Presumably, you’re looking for some advice and guidance about smoking up a delicious bbq meat. 

Well, look no further! 

Choosing Your Thighs

Chicken thighs aren’t necessarily the most common cut so you may not know what you’re looking for. 

The first thing is to check, is whether they’re actually chicken thighs! They’re easily confused with legs and wings. 

Chicken thighs are the upper portion of the leg. They are cut just above the knee to separate them from the drumstick. It’s the darker part of the bird so it’s sometimes called the dark meat. 

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There are three types of thighs you can choose from; boneless and skinless, bone-in thighs with skin, and bone-in skinless thighs. Which one you choose is down to your personal preference. 

If you’re normally a lean breast eater you might want to go for boneless, skinless thighs as this will be closest to what you normally eat. 

For barbequing, you probably want to go for one of the options that still has the skin. When you grill them on the barbeque you’ll get a deliciously crispy texture. The bones also make eating with your hands a lot easier. 

In terms of size, you’ll notice that thighs are smaller than breasts. You’ll want two thighs for one breast. You can usually buy a big pack of chicken thighs which will see you through a family barbeque. 

One thing to check is whether the thighs are all roughly the same size. If you have big disparities in size, you’ll end up with different cook times. 

Preparing Your Thighs

Before you go anywhere near a smoker, you need to brine your chicken thighs. People often skip this step but brining helps the thighs retain moisture. 

Smoking requires the thighs to be subjected to hot temperatures for extended periods. This can cause them to dry out. Brining combats this by introducing more moisture. 

Brining is a simple process. You just need water, salt, and a fairly large tub. Oh, and a fridge to store the tub in for the duration. I’m going to assume you have a fridge. 

So, first of all, you’ll need a gallon of water and a cup of coarse salt. Mix these in the tub until the salt dissolves. 

Add the chicken thighs and make sure they’re all submerged. This is key. You don’t want to have odd, dry bits on your thighs. 

Leave the thighs to soak for about an hour in the refrigerator before removing them. You’ll need to dry the thighs individually using paper towels. Just make sure the outside is patted dry. 

That’s it! Your thighs are brined and ready for smoking. 

Rubbing Your Thighs

As delicious as chicken thighs are, they’re always improved with a good rub. You can use store-bought barbeque rub or you can make your own. 

To make your own barbecue rub you need to combine 2 tablespoons of paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, onion powder, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Add a tablespoon of salt mix thoroughly. 

The best way to coat your thighs is to lay them out on some foil or a baking sheet. The baking sheet is better for the environment but foil is easier on the cleanup. Make sure there is space around each thigh as you’ll need to turn them.

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Sprinkle the rub over the thighs turning halfway through so both sides are coated. Then you need to rub in the rub. Wear gloves if you don’t want your hands coated too! 

Rub the thighs all over and try to get under the skin as much as possible. You don’t want to rip the skin off but you do want the flavor to penetrate as deep as possible. 

Smoking Your Thighs

The first thing you need to do is preheat your smoker. We need the temperature to be around 225°F. Charcoal smokers, in particular, take a while to get to this temperature. 

It’s a good idea to start your smoker when you start brining your thighs. This means it’ll be ready to go when your thighs are.

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At the same time, you’ll need to consider what wood you want to use. Lighter woods like apple or cherry give the chicken a sweet, light flavor. For a bit more intensity you can use hickory wood. 

Ok, you’ve lit the fuel, you’ve checked the temperature, no you’re ready to add the chicken. 

Put the thighs on the grill and close it up. You’ll need to leave them smoke for about 2 hours. Remember that the golden rule of smoking is low and slow. 

For the first hour of cooking, you can add wood chunks or shavings to help flavor your thighs. You don’t want to leave them in for the whole time because they can over flavor the thighs. A subtly smokey taste is great. An overwhelming smokey flavor will taste like you’re eating ash.

Depending on the type of smoker you have, you might want to add a bit of moisture when you remove the wood. If your smoker has a built-in water pan you won’t need to do this. 

If it doesn’t have a water pan, give the thighs a spritz of water. You can also use apple juice for a sweeter taste. It’s important not to overdo the water. Too much will wash away the smokey flavor you’ve cultivated.

After 2 hours, use a temperature probe to check your chicken. You want the internal temperature to be around 160°F. 

Finishing Your Thighs

You can eat the thighs as they come off the grill or you can dunk them in barbecue sauce for extra flavor. 

If you do dunk them, pop them back on the grill for a few minutes to give them a sticky coating. 

Final Thoughts

There you have it, tasty, tangy, sweet, smoked chicken thighs.

A perfect dish to serve at your next barbecue!

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