Smoked Chicken Quarters
While summer is typically known for being high season for grilling, autumn brings with it more nuanced flavors, especially for grill masters interested in enhancing their skills to include smoking meat. You may come with some trepidation and probably have some crucial questions that need to be answered before you begin. "What kind of meats are best for smoking? What type of wood should I use when smoking? How long should I smoke the meat? Should I marinate/brine the meat first? What seasonings should I use and when should I apply them? Won't the meat dry out if it's smoked for hours?" As someone who has never smoked meat before, you may understandably have lots of questions, and because I want you to have a successful first-time experience with your smoker, I've put together a helpful step-by-step tutorial.
To start, we'll tackle a simple but delicious cut of chicken: chicken quarters. Chicken quarters are essentially 1/4 of the chicken and are made up of the leg and thigh that are still attached to each other. As a result, each chicken quarter is sizeable, so you and your guests won't go home hungry! This large cut of dark meat is ideal for someone smoking meat for the first time because it stays moist due to its higher fat content. The ultimate smoked chicken quarter is a delicious cut that you will be excited to eat yourself as well as share with your family and friends.
What you'll need to follow this tutorial
- 4-6 chicken quarters
- brine solution (water, salt, brown sugar)
- olive oil
- good quality dry rub (or make your own, below)
- good quality barbeque sauce
Dry rub ingredients:
- 2 Tablespoons onion powder
- 2 Tablespoons cayenne pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
- 2 crushed garlic cloves or 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
Step by step instructions
Step 1: Make a salt brine.
A simple salt brine of a gallon of water, 1 cup salt and 3/4 cup brown sugar can really make for a flavorful beginning to your chicken quarters. Why use brine? In addition to drawing more water into the chicken to make it juicier, salt brine actually begins the seasoning process, causing flavor to fully permeate the meat. You don't actually have to do this step, but if you want tender, flavorful bird, don't skip this step.
Step 2: Brine chicken for four hours.
Ideally, your refrigerator should be between 33 and 39 degrees. Also, remember to brine the chicken in the fridge (not on the counter!) for four hours or so.
Pro Tip: I like to place the meat in gallon zip top bags and place the bags in bowls before pouring the brine on top of the meat and sealing the bag. This makes for a quick and easy clean-up.
Step 3: Rinse and dry chicken.
Rinsing is an important step because you want to get any excess salt off of the meat before you apply your dry rub. Also, pat the chicken dry (paper towels work well here) so that the oil and dry rub adhere to the meat.
Pro Tip: In a perfect world, you have an extra two hours to dry chicken in the fridge. This helps with the "rubbery chicken phenomenon" that can occur, but hopefully won't because you're following this tutorial.
Step 4: Prepare smoker to 220-240 degrees.
You want to get your smoker preheated to between 220 and 240 degrees. Have your wood chips handy, as you will add these the same time as your chicken. I recommend apple, pecan or cherry, but another fruit wood would work well, too. The light, smoky flavor of these woods pairs really well with chicken. Check out the 5 Things You Must Know To Use Wood Chips For Smoking article to avoid any mistakes and learn some helpful tricks! We're keeping the heat low because we're going to finish these chicken quarters on the grill. You can also place your smoking rack into the smoker if you have one. If not, just place the meat directly on the grate when it's time.
Step 5: Apply oil and dry rub to chicken.
You really want to get this everywhere. Since the oil helps the rub to stick to the meat, you want to lightly brush or rub it all over top of the meat as well as underneath the skin. Then season the meat with the rub. When the oil and rub mix together, they will form a paste that will result in exceptional flavor for your finished product. You can actually save yourself some time by mixing the oil and rub into a paste to begin with if you like.
Pro tip: Gently use your fingers to slide skin away from chicken quarter without removing it totally and place oil and rub beneath the skin first. Then apply more to the outside of the skin. You're going for layers of flavor here.
I also have this awesome video for you to watch while, perhaps, you’re waiting for the chicken to brine. Homemade Carolina BBQ Dry Rub Recipe – How To Make A Dry Rub by Cave Tools:
Step 6: Smoke chicken for approximately one hour.
Remember to place the smoker wood chips in first. Then, when you place the chicken on the grate or smoking rack, be sure to leave an inch of space around each chicken quarter so the smoke can gently circulate around the meat. You will want to smoke it using indirect heat for about an hour. Keep the smoker closed as much as possible, but your goal is to allow the meat to reach 140 degrees. Your handy dandy thermometer will help you out on this one.
Pro Tip: Actual cooking time can vary depending on your own restriction of the smoker's airflow, outdoor temperatures, the meat temperature when you placed it on the smoker, how often you open the smoker and how well your smoker maintains heat. Just use your thermometer to be sure you've reached 140 degrees internal meat temperature. Learn how to use it correctly with this handy tutorial!
Step 7: Finish smoked chicken quarters on the grill.
The idea with the grill finish is to quickly and over direct heat bring the chicken up to temperature in order to crisp up the skin. At this stage, you want to watch the meat closely so that it does not char or burn. You want your chicken quarters to reach 165-170 degrees internal temperature at the thickest part so that they are safe to serve. At the end of grill time, brush the meat with your favorite high-quality barbeque sauce for a stellar finish.
A side of grilled yellow squash, zucchini or acorn squash is a nice complement to the chicken, but in the end, a beautifully tender smoked and grilled chicken quarter is sure to be the star of the show.
If you followed this tutorial, did you enjoy it? It was important for me to clearly list and describe each step so that you would have a successful experience smoking some delicious chicken quarters. Did I succeed in my goal? What did you think about your smoked chicken quarters? Feel free to leave a comment explaining your experience and share this tutorial with your friends!
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Cut a Chicken into Quarters?
You can find chicken quarters for sale at the grocery store, or you can quarter a chicken yourself. To start, cut lengthwise down the center of the chicken through the breastbone. Once it is cut in halves, cut through the skin between the thigh and the breast. This creates four pieces of chicken - two breast pieces and two thigh-drumstick pieces.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke a Chicken?
At 225 degrees, it can take anywhere between 2 to 5 hours to smoke a whole chicken. It should take closer to 2 hours for chicken quarters. It is always safe to use an instant read thermometer so you know exactly when your chicken reaches 165 degrees F.
Should You Brine a Smoked Chicken?
We always recommend that you brine chicken. This not only adds flavor to the chicken, but it also increases its juiciness. Brining results in a moist meat that is less likely to dry out as it cooks.
What Is The Best Wood For Smoking Chicken?
Fruit woods (like cherry or apple) are mild and will add a slight sweetness to the chicken. Strong woods like hickory or mesquite may overpower the chicken’s natural flavor. You can always mix woods if you like these strong smoky woods.
How Do You Get Crispy Skinned Chicken?
It is hard to get crispy skin on a chicken when smoking a bird. We like to finish the chicken on the grill, exposing it to high heat that will render out the fat in the skin and make it extra crispy. You could also drop the chicken in a deep fryer or crisp it up using a broiler inside.