Traeger Chicken Thighs – Delicious Smoking Recipe
White meat chicken is the most popular meat in the United States. Everything from grilled chicken breast, to roasted whole chickens, to chicken wings line our dinner and picnic tables throughout the year. It's a delicious and versatile bird that's just as tasty breaded and fried as it is marinated and grilled.
But there's one method of cooking mouth-watering fowl that's often overlooked due to its complexity. That method is smoking. With a Traeger grill, that complexity is made substantially easier. We'll tell you how you can use your Traeger grill to cook some of the best smoked chicken thighs you'll ever sink your teeth into.
What exactly is a Traeger grill? It's a type of grill that uses wood pellets to cook food. By design, it sits somewhere between a smoker, a grill, and an oven, yet it's easier to use than any one of these. You can use it to whip up delicious, smoky food without all the fuss of a traditional smoker.
At first glance, it looks like a typical smoker, but once you open the cover, things start looking quite a bit different. It has a box where you add flavored wood pellets. From this box, there's an auger that delivers the pellets to a firepot under the grill. And next to the firepot is a fan that circulates the heat and smoke around the grill and your food.
To cook with a Traeger, you simply fill it with the wood pellets of your choice and set the temperature like you would an oven. Inside, the auger delivers the right amount of pellets to the firepot and the fan starts turning. The process cooks your food in a method similar to an oven but with the added bonus of infusing your meat with a delicious smoky flavor.
We'll be using our grill to make Traeger chicken thighs, but this same process can also be applied to Traeger chicken legs.
Getting Chicken Thighs Ready
There are plenty of ways you can prep chicken for cooking on your Traeger that are delicious and flavorful. Our favorite way of smoking chicken is with a brine. A tasty chicken thigh brine recipe ensures that the thighs come out with a succulent and smoky essence while remaining moist and tender.
Brining Your Chicken Thighs
Brines can be used for a lot of different types of meat. The purpose of a brine is to enhance the meat’s flavor while retaining the natural juices the meat produces.
Rather than give you a recipe to follow, we're going to break down the process of brining itself. Once you've gotten the basics down, you'll be creating your own brine recipes for all different kinds of meat.
The first step is to determine how much liquid you'll need. Do this by placing the meat into the container you want to brine it with. Fill the container with water until the liquid is about two inches above the top of the meat. Now you can remove the meat, set it aside, and measure the quantity of your water.
Next, we'll be adding salt to the water. The salt is what helps the brine retain moisture in your chicken. The general ratio is 16 to one for water to salt. So if you have a gallon of liquid, you'll dissolve a cup of salt into the water.
Pro tip: You can help the salt dissolve by using warm water, but make sure the water is cooled before adding the meat to it.
Now that we have a brine base, we can start adding more flavors to it. We’ll give you a general recipe on this one, but feel free to experiment with the ingredients.
These portions assume one gallon of brine.
Mix all the remaining ingredients into the brine and then chill it. Once your brine is nice and cool, add your chicken thighs to it, cover it tightly, and place it in the fridge. The brining process takes about one hour per pound of meat.
Pro tip: If your meat wants to float to the top of your brine, use a plate or similar to weigh it down so that the meat is fully submerged.
Prepping Your Traeger Grill
Once your meat is brined, you can start prepping your Traeger for cooking.
The first step is to open the lid. Next, make sure you have enough Traeger wood pellets in the hopper. With the lid open and your hopper full, let's get the flame going.
Turn the control knob to the smoke setting and flip on the power switch. This turns the fan on and the auger will start feeding pellets into the firebox.
After five minutes or so, your Traeger will be nicely smoking. At this point, set the temperature to 185 degrees, close the lid, and let the grill preheat for about 15 minutes.
Cooking Your Traeger Chicken Thighs
With your Traeger heated and ready to go, remove your chicken thighs from the brine and pat each piece dry. Arrange the chicken thighs directly on the grate. Be sure that the bone side is facing down so that the skin gets a nice crispy brown on it. Close the lid, set a timer for one hour, and kick back and relax.
After an hour, increase the temperature to 350 degrees. Set a timer for about 50 minutes and have another break!
After about 50 to 60 minutes, check a piece of the chicken with a meat thermometer. You're shooting for an internal temperature of 165 degrees. The chicken should have a lovely golden-brown color, and the juices should run clear.
Once they're at the right temperature, remove the chicken thighs and let them rest, covered in foil, for about 10 minutes. Unwrap your smoked chicken, serve it up, and enjoy!
Traeger Chicken Thighs Recipe
- 6 or 7
Garlic cloves, minced
- 3 Tablespoons Italian seasoning
Tablespoons Black pepper
- 2 Tablespoons White pepper
- With your Traeger heated and ready to go, remove your chicken thighs from the brine and pat each piece dry.
- Arrange the chicken thighs directly on the grate.
- Be sure that the bone side is facing down so that the skin gets a nice crispy brown on it.
- Close the lid, set a timer for one hour, and kick back and relax.
- After an hour, increase the temperature to 350 degrees.
- Set a timer for about 50 minutes and have another break!
- After about 50 to 60 minutes, check a piece of the chicken with a meat thermometer.
- You're shooting for an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
- The chicken should have a lovely golden-brown color, and the juices should run clear.
- Once they're at the right temperature, remove the chicken thighs and let them rest, covered in foil, for about 10 minutes.
- Unwrap your smoked chicken, serve it up, and enjoy!
The Traeger grill is a fantastic tool for smoking meat without all the fuss of a conventional smoker. We hope you enjoyed learning about smoking and brining meat with this delicious chicken thigh recipe. Moreover, we hope you take what you learned from this and start creating your own tasty brines. Happy grilling!
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to smoke chicken thighs?
As a general rule of thumb, chicken thighs take anywhere from one to three hours to fully cook on a smoker. We like using a two-temperature smoking process on a Traeger grill. We start by smoking the chicken thighs at 185 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour to infuse the chicken with smoky flavor. Then, we increase the temperature to 350 degrees for the rest of the cooking time, another one to two hours.
How do you get crispy chicken skin on a Traeger or pellet grill?
There are two secrets to creating crispy chicken skin. The skin needs to be as dry as possible when it goes into the grill or oven, and the temperature has to be hot enough. Our technique above achieves both of these things. The initial cooking time at 185 degrees Fahrenheit dries out the skin, and increasing the temp to 350 degrees for the rest of the cook time gets the smoker hot enough to crisp up the skin.
Do you smoke chicken skin side down?
We recommend smoking chicken thighs with the bone touching the grill, which means they’re skin side up. This gives the skin access to the hot circulating air to help them get crispier.
Do you remove chicken skin before smoking?
If you’re using boneless, skinless chicken thighs, the skin and bones will already be removed from the chicken thighs before you get started. If you buy bone-in chicken thighs, you will have to decide whether you want to remove the skin. We like keeping it on because it infuses the chicken with extra flavor and keeps it juicy as it cooks.
What pellets do you use for smoking chicken?
It’s up to you to decide which pellets are best for smoking chicken. We like using apple wood because it infuses a ton of flavor into the chicken as it cooks. You can also use other fruit woods, like cherry, or you can use a stronger wood like oak or hickory. Mesquite is too strong for chicken, so we’d recommend avoiding it.