How to Smoke Chicken Breasts

Smoked Chicken Breasts

Ever since I got this new Smoker, I just can’t leave the thing alone. Today, we will smoke some chicken breasts.

Smoking chicken is much different that a pork butt or a brisket. Chicken is a very lean meat and does not have significant levels connective tissue or fat like brisket and pork butt. When you smoke a brisket and pork butt, you want to smoke at a lower temperature and smoke for a long period of time to break-down this connective tissue (makes the meat tough) and fat. Chicken Breasts are just the opposite. Because they are so lean, you need to smoke them at  a higher temperature to complete the smoking process much quicker. This will help to keep your chicken breasts moist and prevent them from drying out.

The other necessary step to make sure your chicken stay moist is to soak them in a brine before smoking.

Chicken in Brine

A brine does not have to be complicated. Although you can experiment when making a brine and add just about any herbs you want, a simple saltwater mixture serves the purpose. The brine is used to marinate your chicken before cooking and helps to add flavor as well as (and more importantly) keeps your chicken moist when you smoke it. Brining works by hydrating cells of the chicken muscle tissue before cooking (via the process of osmosis), and by allowing the cells to hold on to the water during the cooking process. In summary, the saltwater brine mixture permeates the chicken and helps to keep it moist!

For chicken, I make a brine consisting of about 1/2 cup sea salt, 1/2 cup brown sugar, about 1 gallon of water and some peppercorns (probably 2 tablespoons). It’s necessary to have enough brine to cover the chicken breasts. This mixture will be enough for 8-9 chicken breasts depending on their size. You can pu the chicken with the brine in ziploc bags or in glass bowls covered with Saran wrap. Place your chicken and brine in the refrigerator, let marinate overnight and it will be ready for the smoker in the morning.

The next morning, discard the brine and place the chicken on a large cutting board or other flat surface. Now, season with your favorite chicken seasoning. Today, I am using Kansas City’s beloved Barbecue Restaurant – Jack Stack Meat and Poultry Rub. Cover your chicken breasts generously with the dry rub.

Chicken Jack Stack Seasoning

Heat your smoker to 260 to 275 degrees. As I mentioned earlier, you want a higher temperature which results in a quicker smoke. Also, there will be very little meat drippings from the chicken, so fill your water bowl in your smoker almost completely full. As the chicken smokes, the water will evaporate and help to keep the chicken moist. For smoker wood, I tend to use a fruit wood. Today, I am using apple wood.

Place your chicken in the smoker and if your smoker has a meat probe, select one of the larger chicken breasts and insert the probe. (Note: Always check your smoker meat probe temperature against a separate, digital meat thermometer. It is not uncommon for some smoker temperature probes to be inaccurate).

Chicken in Smoker

You want to smoke the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 to 170 degrees. Depending on the size of your smoker and how often you open the door, the chicken can reach the desired temperature in 1 to 1.5 hours.

For chicken, there is no need to let is rest. You can simply remove it from the smoker and serve. I’m slicing the chicken and serve on a fresh spinach salad with blueberries, dried cranberries, edamame and walnuts.

Smoked Chicken Salad
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