Smoked chicken breast is such a simple preparation, but this juicy, flavourful chicken makes an impact! Try it with or without a spice rub.
Last week, I posted my recipe for Crispy Smoked Chicken Wings, today I’m sharing how we do Smoked Chicken Breast, and we’ve got all kinds of fun stuff in the queue.
While a lot of people are into smoking a whole chicken, we’re more into smoking chicken in pieces. More surface area = more smoky flavor in each beautiful piece of chicken.
This easy smoked chicken breast recipe is an easy way to bring so much flavor to your health meal prep routine.
Many chicken recipes - the ones that call for precooked chicken, anyway - can be improved with a bit of real smokey flavor.
Want to go even lower-effort?
Forget using it in recipes, just slather a freshly smoked chicken breast in your favorite tangy barbecue sauce, serve with some steamed broccoli or potato salad.
Either way, this easy smoker recipe is sure to become one of your favourites this summer!
A Note on Internal Temperatures
Most people are well acquainted with the idea of checking internal temperature to ensure food safety, and know that 165 F is the gold standard for safe chicken.
That’s... partially true.
Bringing temperature of the meat to 165 for basically an instant = safe chicken... but chicken cooked to lower temperatures are also considered safe, by the very same guidelines.
For chicken cooked to temperatures lower than 165, it’s about how long the chicken is held at that temperature.
In the case of this recipe, we have you cook the chicken to a lower temperature. This is because the long cooking time in a smoker CAN render chicken breast dry, if you’re not careful about things.
Some pieces of chicken - dark meat, like those wings I posted the other day - can not only handle 165, but actually benefit from being cooked to an even higher temperature.
Boneless skinless chicken breasts have very little fat, though - and that makes a huge difference. Cooking it to a lower temperature and holding it there - rather than bringing it all the way up to 165 F - prevents overcooking and drying out.
For more information on the alternate safe temperatures and times for cooking chicken, see the US Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service’s FSIS Cooking Guideline for Meat and Poultry Products
Smoked Chicken Breast Ingredients
This is an easy recipe, that’s kind of a “choose your own adventure” style recipe. Start with the meat, brine it if you’d like, and add a favorite rub if you want
For the sake of being able to provide nutritional information, I had to specify a number of chicken breasts to smoke.
I called for 6 large fresh boneless chicken breasts - skinless - as that’s probably as far as I’d stretch my brine recipe.
You can make more or fewer, though. If brining more than 6 large chicken breasts, just double (or more!) the brine recipe, as needed.
You can use nothing but chicken breasts, following the smoking instructions for the cooking process, and come up with great basic smoked chicken breasts.
For best results, though, it’s a good idea to brine the chicken. If you take the time to do a quick 4 hour brine on your meat, you’ll be rewarded with even more flavourful, juicy chicken.
The brining is one of the most important steps, but it’s also very easy - simply combine salt, water, and flavouring ingredients, and let the chicken soak in it for 4 hours. Take it out, pat it dry, and get ready to make the best chicken breast you’ve ever had!
About that 4 hours, though - Don’t go much longer than that - you’re not making pickled chicken!
Optionally, you can add some fresh herbs.
As the song says... “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme”. They’re all great in this, alone or in combination.
Using a dry rub spice blend is entirely optional, but is a convenient way to bring even more flavour to your smoked chicken.
We'll usually do a rub on half the chicken we smoke, for some variety.
There are many recipes for chicken rub out there, as well as many commercially available mixes.
My favourite chicken seasoning blend is as follows:
2 tablespoon Smoked Paprika
1 tablespoon Brown Sugar
1 tablespoon Onion Powder
2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
2 teaspoon Smoked Serrano Powder*
1 ½+ teaspoon Smoked Sea Salt (Can use regular salt)
1 teaspoon Mustard Powder
1 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 teaspoon Ground Cumin
½ teaspoon Dried Oregano
½ teaspoon Dried Thyme
Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl, keep in an airtight container until you’re ready to use it.
Wood for Smoking Chicken Breast
If you’re new to using a smoker, you may be intimidated by the wild variety of wood types available. Each imparts a different flavour - and degree of flavour! - on the items being smoked, so it’s good to know what the options are.
Here is the narrowed-down list of the woods that we recommend for this specific recipe (and chicken in general!)
Hickory Wood Chunks - or Hickory Wood Pellets - is great option to use when you’re not saucing the chiken, IMHO - it’s got a very distinct flavour, and it’s one that can compete in a weird way with some rubs.
This one is very specific, but it’s also the one we use most often, so I’m specifying the brand.
Jack Daniel's Bourbon Barrel Wood Chips - or Jack Daniel's Wood Pellets - are made from barrels used to age Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, and they impart a really nice flavour on items smoked with them.
JD not your thing? There are other kinds of barrel wood products out there, you can get things like Rum Barrel Wood Chips, Apple & Rum Barrel Wood Chips, Maple & Bourbon Barrel Wood Chips, Scotch Barrel Wood Chips, and more.
When we’re using one of these, we’ll skip the sauce and use a more mild rub, to really let the flavour of the chips take center stage.
It has a very distinct flavour, so I’ll usually skip sauce when using it.
That said, we really like smoke flavour, so we’ll use it for chicken anyway!
It’s pretty mildly flavoured, so the taste is easily drowned out.
Which type of wood you choose is going to depend on your preferences, and availability. There’s really no one “best wood” for smoking, it depends on your taste and what you’re looking to do!
Another thing to keep in mind is your rub, and whether you’ll be using sauce.
If you’re using a sauce, pick a wood flavour that compliments, without overpowering it. If you’re not using sauce, you can really use whatever flavour you want!
Let’s start with the easiest piece of equipment you’ll need - an Instant-Read Thermometer. The internal temperature matters, both for food safety and quality reasons.
If you don’t already have one, I highly recommend getting one!
Smoke & Heat Source
You can use a smoker - ideal - or grill to make these wings. Some information on that:
Ours is a Propane Smoker.
If you don’t have a smoker, you can use a grill: Gas Grill / Propane Grill, Charcoal Grill, Pellet Grill (like a Traeger Grill), it doesn’t really matter (though we prefer charcoal!). You’ll just want to get it set up for indirect cooking.
Indirect heat lets you keep the temperature low enough to get a good smoke flavor to the wings, before they’re overcooked.
To turn your grill into a smoker:
First thing: set your grill up such that you have an area to cook in that is NOT subjected to direct heat.
How you do this will depend on your actual grill, it may mean only activate one side of the burner(s), or having the coals in one half of the grill only.
Set up a makeshift smoking pan. Soak some wood chips (more on wood chips in a bit!) in hot water for 30-45 minutes.
Place the soaked chips in a foil pie pan and cover tightly with foil, OR use some heavy-duty aluminum foil to fashion a well-sealed pouch around the chips.
Either way, cut several small slits in the foil, to allow smoke to escape.
Place this smoker box over your burner or on top of the hot coals, and the chicken over the unheated area you prepared in the grill. Cover the grill and cook per the recipe.
How to Make the Best Smoked Chicken Breast
Full recipe follows in the recipe card at the end of this post, this is the pictorial walkthrough, with additional tips and information.
Brine the Chicken
Measure 2 cups of water into a medium pot, add remaining ingredients (aside from rest of water!). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove from heat, add remaining water, stir to combine. Allow to cool to room temperature.
Place chicken into a large freezer bag, cover with brine.
Push out most of the air, seal the bag, and put in the fridge for 4 hours.
Note: I put the bag into a 9 x 12 cake pan - the best way to prevent a giant mess in case of leakage, etc.
Once the 4 hours are up, remove the chicken from the brine, pat dry with paper towels.
Place chicken on a pan, return to the fridge - uncovered - to chill and dry out a bit. Letting the chicken rest 30 minutes or so is good.
Prepare Your Smoker
Preheat your smoker to 225 Degrees F, fill your smoker’s water pan with hot water.
Note: Be sure to set up your smoker and get it going - with a real light smoke coming out - before adding your ingredients to the smoker.
The early smoke when you get it going is billowy and “plume-y”. For best results, you want to let that smoke subside before putting your chicken into the smoker
Too much smoke -especially the early, heavy smoke - increases the risk of soot, which is not appetizing at all.
All smokers are going to be slightly different in terms of how they operate, so I recommend reading any included directions, if you’re not already familiar with your smoker and setting up the smoke box.
Smoke the Chicken Breasts
If you’re using a spice rub, apply it to the chicken breasts now.
Arrange the chicken on the smoker racks, leaving space between each. If you have any known hot spots - for ours, it’s the very back of the smoker - avoid placing chicken in that area.
Hot smoke chicken at 225F for 2 hours, until it reaches an internal temp of 155 (temperature probe inserted into the deepest section of chicken). Hold it at that temperature for at least a minute.
Slow smoking at a low temperature like this gives the smoke time to really permeate the meat as it cooks. Cooking at a higher temperature would cook the meat too fast for the smoke flavor to really develop.
Note: Cook time will vary wildly based on the size of the breasts (small breasts will cook faster, large will take longer), and the consistency of the heat in the smoker, throughout the smoking process..
Remove from smoker, let the chicken rest for a few minutes before slicing.
Serve hot, if BBQ sauce - if desired - and your favourite side dishes. I recommend Grandma's Potato Salad, Roasted Corn & Potato Salad, Cold Smoked Potato Salad, Extreme Caesar Salad, Rainbow Salad with Carrot Dressing, and/or my Pasta Salad.
Allow leftover chicken to cool a bit, transfer to an airtight container - or on a plate, covered with plastic wrap - and chill until use.
More Smoker Recipes!
Looking for an excuse to smoke some food? I've got you...
Back Bacon [Canadian Bacon]
Cold Smoked Mayonnaise
Cold Smoked Potato Salad
Crispy Smoked Chicken Wings
Crunchy Smoked Bacon
Hot Smoked Sockeye Salmon
Montreal Smoked Meat
Smoked Cheese Balls
Smoked Chicken Salad
Smoked Corn on the Cob
Smoked French Fries
Smoked Jalapeno Poppers
Smoked Mac and Cheese
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Smoked Chicken Breast
- 6 Large boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 4 cups Water
- ¼ cup Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoon Honey or maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon Peppercorns
- 2 teaspoon Mustard Seeds
- 3 Garlic cloves Pressed
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1 Lemon Sliced Into Wedges
- Measure 2 cups of water into a medium pot, add remaining ingredients (aside from rest of water!). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat, add remaining water, stir to combine. Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Place chicken into a large freezer bag, cover with brine.
- Push out most of the air, seal the bag, and put in the fridge for 4 hours. Note: I put the bag into a 9 x 12 cake pan, just in case of leakage, etc.
- Once the 4 hours are up, remove the chicken from the brine, pat dry with paper towels.
- Place chicken on a pan, return to the fridge - uncovered - to chill and dry out a bit.
- Hot smoke at 225F for 2 hours, until it reaches an internal temp of 155. Hold it at that temperature for at least a minute.
- Serve hot, or cool and chill in an airtight container until use.