Back To Basics: Perfect Way To Smoke Chicken Breast
When you smoke a pork butt or brisket, you need to smoke at lower temperatures and for longer. But chicken is a lean meat, and it does not contain large amounts of connective tissue or fat like pork or brisket. So if you smoke pork or brisket for a longer time at lower temperatures, it helps in breaking down its connective tissue. With chicken though, it’s just the opposite. Since this meat is so lean, you will need to smoke it at a higher temperature and for a much shorter time. This will help to ensure that the chicken breasts turn out moist and don’t dry out.
If you’ve ever wondered what the perfect way to smoke chicken is, then you’ve come to the right place. There’s are some small changes that you can make to your smoking chicken breast techniques that can help you make the juiciest, most moist chicken breasts ever!
What you need for this recipe
- ½ cup sea salt
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1-gallon water
- 2 tablespoons peppercorns
- 8-9 chicken breasts
- Ziploc bags/Saran Wrap/Glass bowl
- Meat and Poultry rub (I use Jack Stack Meat and Poultry Rub). You can create your own rub with herbs that you like
- Any fruit wood (I have used Applewood for this recipe)
- Baby spinach (for garnishing)
- Walnuts (for garnishing)
Step 1: Making the brine
The first step to making awesome smoked chicken breasts is to make brine. Brine does not need to be complex. In fact, you can make a super simple brine from a few easily available ingredients. A simple saltwater mixture with some herbs can serve the purpose.
The brine helps to add flavor to the chicken through marinating it before the smoking process. Most importantly, it helps to keep the chicken breasts soft and moist. Brining helps hydrate the cells of the chicken muscle tissue which enables the cells to hold water during the cooking process. This is what allows the chicken to stay moist during cooking.
For 8-9 chicken breasts, I use a gallon of water to make the brine. The process is actually pretty straightforward. Just add around ½ a cup of sea salt, ½ a cup of brown sugar, and two tablespoons of peppercorns to a gallon of water. This is really all you need to do!
Step 2: Marinating the chicken in brine
Now that the brine is ready, you are all set to marinate your chicken breasts in it. Remember, you need enough brine to cover the chicken breasts fully. This amount of brine is enough for 8-9 breasts but if you have more chicken breasts to smoke, adjust the quantity of brine accordingly.
You can either put the chicken with the brine in Ziploc bags. Alternatively, you can put the brine and chicken in a glass bowl and cover it with saran wrap. Both ways work with marinating chicken. Now, you need to put the chicken and brine in the fridge and let it marinate overnight. This will make it ready for smoking by the morning.
Step 3: Seasoning the chicken
Since the chicken breasts have been marinating in brine for a while, they are ready to be seasoned. For this process, I like to use the Jack Stack Meat and Poultry Rub, but you can use any seasoning that works for your palette.
To season your chicken breasts, you need first to discard the brine and place the chicken on a flat surface such as a cutting board. You can now use your favorite seasoning/herbs to season the chicken breasts. You need to use a generous amount of seasoning, and cover the chicken breasts with it.
Make sure that you cover all the chicken breasts adequately because the seasoning imparts flavor to the chicken!
Step 4: Smoking the chicken
Finally, you can start smoking your chicken breasts! As I mentioned earlier, chicken breasts cook best at higher temperatures which renders them juicy and moist. Heat your smoker between 260 and 275 degrees. For chicken, you need a quicker smoke at higher temperatures.
I like using fruit wood to smoke chicken and today I'm using Applewood. Place your chicken breasts in the smoker. If your smoker comes with a meat probe, insert the probe in one of the larger chicken breasts. You should check your meat probe’s temperature against a digital meat thermometer because sometimes meat probe temperatures can be incorrect. As a precautionary measure, just remember to check the meat probe temperature separately.
The chicken breasts need to be smoked till they attain an internal temperature of 165-170 degrees. Reaching this temperature depends on the size of the smoker and the frequency with which you open the smoker door. Your chicken breasts should be smoked between 1 and 1.50 hours.
Unlike other meats, there is no need to rest the chicken after smoking. You can just take it out of the smoker and serve. That being said, allowing the chicken to rest for a while makes it juicier and allows it to absorb the juices making it tender. If you do decide to rest the chicken, remember to not cover it.
I usually slice the chicken and serve it on a bed of fresh baby spinach with walnuts. You can also use edamame or any berries that you prefer with your chicken breasts. I like to use blueberries and cranberries for garnishing.
Now your chicken breasts are ready to be devoured. While the process of smoking chicken breasts seems pretty straightforward, there are some tips and techniques that you can use to enhance the flavor further.
In this next section, I am going to share some of my favorite tips for smoking chicken. I hope that you find them useful when you are smoking chicken next!
You probably already know that brining makes the bird taste better. Brining a turkey gives it that moist, juicy taste. But you don’t need to restrict brining to turkey and special occasions.
Make sure that you brine your chicken breasts before smoking to get that same juicy flavor. Brining can take regular dinnertime smoked chicken breasts to a new level. It also guards your chicken breasts against accidental overcooking.
Not only chicken breasts, but you can also brine whole chickens or thighs (even for pan roasting!). While the process does take some time, it is most hands off. The brine needs at least 12 hours to work its magic, but you can also leave your chicken in it for up to two days.
The brine technique used for smoking the chicken as described here is wet brine. If you don’t want to go through the trouble of making wet brine, you can also make dry brine where you mix the ingredients (minus the water) and apply it directly to the poultry. This is a good technique if you’re feeling lazy but want great results!
Using the right kind of wood for smoking can significantly enhance the flavor of your chicken breasts. It is good to know what kinds of wood you shouldn't be using for this process - Spruce, Elm, Eucalyptus, Spruce, Pine, Sycamore, Sarsaparilla and other coniferous trees.
You probably know that smoke is as important as time and heat in a smoked meats preparations. On a general note, hard, resin-free wood is the best for making smoke. If the tree produces fruits or nuts that you like, then that is a good wood to use in your smoker. Wood such as Apple has a mellow, understated flavor that is great for poultry.
That being said, if you’ve never used before, it is worthwhile to start small. Use a small amount of presoaked chips on your grill to see how you feel about it. The great thing about barbequing is that it allows for a wide range of experimentation. So go ahead and see what you like best!
Chicken cooks best at higher temperatures for a quicker smoke that leaves the chicken moist and juicy. You need to remember to remember to keep the temperature in the 260-275 degrees range to get the perfect smoked chicken breasts.
While the temperature is essential, you need to remember to leave the chicken uncovered and let it rest for at least 10 minutes before you dig in (although you can have it straight away if you want). This allows the muscles to relax and soak in the moisture. If you cover the chicken while allowing it to rest, its skin can lose the crispness.
Now that you’re all set, if any of the chicken actually makes it into the house, you can serve it in a variety of ways! You can choose to serve it with potatoes or make a sandwich out of it. Plus, you can put it in enchiladas or cheesy pasta. There are endless ways to relish your yummy smoked chicken!
I hope that this information will take your smoked chicken to the next level. Don’t forget to leave a comment, and if you liked this article, do share it with your friends!
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Does it Take to Smoke a Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast?
Chicken breasts cook very quickly, even in a 225 or 250 degree smoker. It should only take one hour for the chicken breast to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. This is the temperature which the USDA says it is safe to eat chicken.
Will Smoking a Chicken Breast Make it Taste Dry?
Chicken breasts are very lean pieces of meat. This means they do not have very much fat. Without the fat (and when overcooked), there is very little to cover up a dry, tasteless flavor. You can smoke a chicken breast and keep it moist if you do not overcook it. It also helps to brine the chicken breast, first, so it is extra juicy.
How Long Do You Brine a Chicken Breast?
A chicken breast does not take very long to brine because it is a small cut of meat. It should only take 30 minutes, or up to an hour, for the chicken breast to absorb all the flavor from the brine. They should not be brined for too long because they can become very salty.
What Is the Best Wood to Smoke Chicken?
Fruit woods are perfect for smoking chicken. Applewood is a great choice for chicken because it imparts a mild, sweet flavor into the meat. Strong woods like hickory or mesquite are not recommended, as they can overpower the delicate flavor of the chicken.
Are Chicken Breasts Healthier Than Chicken Thighs?
Chicken breasts are the white meat of the chicken and are often viewed as healthier. This is a common misconception. The breasts have less fat than the chicken thighs, but the two do not differ much in nutrient content. They have about the same protein content and neither cut has any carbohydrates. Chicken thighs have slightly more cholesterol and calories than the breasts, though.