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This week I will be walking you through a step-by-step recipe for smoked pulled chicken that I have perfected just for you.

My wife likes most of what I cook, but pork and beef have never been her favorite things. She’d always rather have chicken and she absolutely loves this pulled chicken that I make, piled high on a bun with cole slaw and my barbecue sauce mixed in.

If you are cooking for Mother’s day, then consider making some of this for the main course or in addition to whatever else you are cooking. I feel certain that if your mom or your kids’ mom loves chicken, then they will go crazy over this stuff!

Let’s get started!

Brine Time: 3 hours | Prep Time: 15 minutes | Cook Time: 3 hours | Smoker Temp: 230 F | Meat Finish Temp: 170 F | Recommended Wood: Mesquite

What You’ll Need

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Making the Brine

  • 1/2 gallon water
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 TBS Louisiana hot sauce

Salt and water for brine​​

Pour the salt into the water

Note: you might notice that the salt is not “white” like normal. I used some smoked salt that I had made up a while back which tends to be a light brown color.

Pour the salt into the water

Mix well until the salt is completely dissolved. Usually the water becomes clear when the salt is dissolved but since this is smoked salt, the water became a sort of pink color.

Mix well

Add the brown sugar and the hot sauce to the water and once again stir to mix the ingredients into the water.

Brining the Chicken

24 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Note: I used the boneless, skinless chicken thighs which is fine but if you do not protect them a bit, the outside will dry out and get tough. I would say the regular thighs probably make a lot more sense that way the skin protects the meat while it smokes. When you’re done, you simply remove the skin and you have nice tender chicken thighs for pulling.

24 chicken thighs

Place the thighs into Ziploc bags inside of mixing bowls to prevent leakage. I was able to get 12 thighs into a 1-gallon Ziploc. I used 2 bags to contain the 24 thighs that I needed to brine.

Thighs into bags

Pour 1/2 of the brine (about 1 quart) over the chicken thighs and seal up the Ziploc bag. Be sure to press all of the air out of the bag as you seal it up.

Brine and thighs in ziploc

Place the bowl(s) with the bags of thighs into the fridge to keep them nice and cold while they brine.

Preparing the Chicken Thighs for Smoking

Once the thighs have brined for 3 hours, remove them from the fridge and rinse them well under cold water. Drain well using a colander and place them into a mixing bowl or another Ziploc bag for seasoning.

Ready for seasoning

Add some mustard to the chicken and make sure all of the chicken is well coated with the mustard

Mustard added Mustard stirred in to coat

Add about 1/4 cup of rub (purchase my rub recipe) and make sure the chicken is well coated with the rub/mustard mixture.

Add rub  Rub mixed in

Repeat the last step by adding in another 1/4 cup of rub and stirring it in well.

You should end up using 1/2 cup of rub on the chicken thighs

The chicken is now ready to smoke.

Place them on Bradley racks for easy transport to and from the smoker.

Note: I use Bradley racks with almost everything I cook regardless of what smoker I use.They make it so easy to carry food to and from the smoker and it allows you to place the food directly onto the smoker grate with absolutely no hindrance to the flow of smoke. They make my cooking so much easier and you will see what I mean once you have a set of you own to use.

Thighs on Bradley racks

Smoking the Chicken Thighs

Set up your smoker for cooking at about 230 degrees. I highly recommend a robust wood like mesquite for that great smoke flavor that we all love and enjoy. You can also use hickory, pecan or a fruit wood of your choice.

Once the smoker is preheated and maintaining 230 degrees, place the chicken thighs directly on the smoker rack.

Let them smoke cook until they reach 170 degrees.

Why 170 degrees instead of the normal 165 that we usually cook chicken to?

The thighs definitely have more fat than the other parts of the chicken and can handle longer cook times. The brining also adds more moisture to the meat and reduces the chance of them drying out in the heat. By cooking them just a little longer they end up a lot more tender.

The chicken thighs are done cooking and can be brought in and cooled for a few minutes before pulling.

You will notice that I brushed a little sauce onto mine about 30 minutes before they were finished cooking. Just personal preference here.

Thighs are done

How to protect the meat if you want to use boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Let the chicken thighs smoke for about 1.5 hours then place them into foil pans covered with foil. A little beer and/or apple juice in the bottom of the pan will create some steam and help to tenderize the meat.

Pulling the Chicken

Let the chicken cool for about 5 minutes once you bring it in then simply pull the meat from the bone (if not boneless) and tear it into small pieces.

Pulled smoked chicken

Saucing up the Meat

With pulled pork, I prefer to drizzle the sauce on top of the meat but, with smoked pulled chicken, I think the sauce just pairs really well with the meat and I like to mix it all in together. I don’t like to add too much but just enough so that it is moist through and through.

Making the Sandwich

Toast the buns then add a healthy portion of sauced pulled chicken on the bottom of the bun. Spoon on some slaw and top it with the other half of the bun. Add a pickle or two if you like and serve.

Pulled Smoked Chicken

The Creamy Cole Slaw

I used a recipe from my book for the “Creamy Cole Slaw”. I can’t post it here since it’s from the book. However, if you have a great cole slaw recipe that you love, that will work. Don’t be tempted to skip the slaw — it really makes the sandwich.

And, of course, if you have the book then you have the recipe;-)

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..I tried the rub on a beef brisket and some beef ribs the other day and our entire family enjoyed it tremendously. I also made a batch of the barbeque sauce that we used on the brisket as well as some chicken. We all agreed it was the best sauce we have had in a while. ~Darwyn B.
Love the original rib rub
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 Love the original rib rub and sauce! We have an annual rib fest competition at the lake every 4th of July. I will say we have won a great percent of the time over the past 15 years so we are not novices by any means. However, we didn't win last year and had to step up our game! We used Jeff's rub and sauce (sauce on the side) and it was a landslide win for us this year! Thanks Jeff for the great recipes. I'm looking forward to trying the Texas style rub in the near future! ~Michelle M.


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23 Comments on this article. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Pete November 20, 2015 at 3:14 pm - Reply

    Jeff, how long do you keep the breasts in the foil pan? How much apple juice or beer should I use.

    Did you protect your skinless breasts?

  2. Ian February 21, 2015 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    The brine ingredients’ list includes hot sauce and sugar, but the brine recipe instructions above don’t explain what to do with them. Could you elaborate? Tx.

    • Ken Garland April 19, 2015 at 12:53 pm - Reply

      Since nobody seems to be picking up on this I’ll just say that you mix it in the water pitcher.

  3. John Herzog October 10, 2014 at 2:50 am - Reply

    I make the same sandwich here in Israel as part of my business. Instead of a creamy coleslaw I make an apple cider vinegar. I put a BBQ sauce from the US. Instead of thighs I am using the front half of the full chicken. I brine it in salt, sugar and have a spice mixed custom made for me. It takes about three hours at 250 and it falls of the bone.

  4. Gary August 22, 2014 at 5:50 pm - Reply

    Hi Jeff- I have a problem. My chicken gets to 170 within 90 min max-never 3 hours. Am I doing something wrong?

    • Jeff Phillips August 25, 2014 at 11:15 am - Reply

      It could be that your smoker is cooking hotter than you realize. Many factory installed thermometers are inaccurate and since they are not normally set at grate level, it can give you an incorrect reading.

      It could also mean, depending on what type of smoker you are using, that some radiant heat is getting to the chicken and cooking it faster than it would with a true indirect cooking method.

      All in all, what matters most is how it turns out.. if it tastes good and has a good smoky flavor.

  5. Gary August 22, 2014 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    Jeff-I have a question/problem. I have done this recipe several times and it always comes out very good but the problem is my thighs get to 170 in about an hour to hour and 1/2 at most. It never takes 3 hours..is there something wrong? The temp on the thermometer is 220-230 as usual.

    Thanks!
    Gary

  6. Anthony July 8, 2014 at 6:13 am - Reply

    Hi Jeff great article, question though. How much does the 5lbs raw chicken produce? I’m looking to add some chicken to my bbq for about 30 people this weekend

    • Jeff Phillips July 8, 2014 at 8:55 am - Reply

      It’s enough pulled chicken to make about 16-18 quarter pound (4 ounce) sandwiches assuming 3 ounces of meat per chicken thigh.

      • Anthony July 9, 2014 at 11:36 am - Reply

        Thanks some good information here

  7. Ray June 2, 2014 at 7:21 pm - Reply

    Jeff try using chicken broth or stock instead of beer or apple juice.

  8. Greg April 13, 2014 at 10:44 am - Reply

    Jeff, want to kick off my smoking career with the pulled smoked chix thighs. I have reg. (skin on) thighs. Would I have to get your rub under the skin prior to smoking to get the taste of it on the thighs? Or would I only dress the pulled meat with your sauce with this recipe? I think I know the answer, but want to make sure.

  9. Ted Hall January 18, 2014 at 2:58 pm - Reply

    Hello Jeff  it's been a couple of years since i last visited your  site and having done plenty of smoking and bar b queing using your tips that turned out well, i just want to say that i'm impressed with your new look  pages and the links on y them are spot on. i started smoking when i lived in Spain but have moved back to the uk now but still do the business with the charcoal ,having looked at your pages again i think the bar b que will be getting fired up soon.

    thanks again for all the good info

    Ted Hall

  10. Tami July 21, 2013 at 11:49 am - Reply

    I made this last weekend and served with Roasted Strawberry BBQ sauce (I smoked the strawberries rather than roasting them in the oven) – my husband and his co-workers absolutely went nuts over this recipe!  My daughter as well and she is quite finicky.  I am making this again this weekend so that I have "lunch" for the hubby this week, only this time I am going to make a Blueberry BBQ sauce (smoking the blueberries).  Both sauce recipes I found on Pinterest.  Thanks for the awesome chicken recipe!

     

  11. gary gregory July 2, 2013 at 5:54 pm - Reply

    i orderded your rub and sauce THE BEST DAM* TASTING EVER.i have made the pulled chicken brests twicefirst i trieded it on the family so i could see their reaction. everyone thought it was the best butt i’ve ever done,should have seen the looks when i told them it was chicken.tks for the recipes everyone needs these.

  12. Matt June 24, 2013 at 6:19 pm - Reply

    just made this and it was outstanding. it's a new family favorite; we just discussed what family event it will be introduced to everyone at.  i've never really cared for pulled chicken and decided to try it despite my dislike; man am i glad i did, so it my wife!

    thanks!

  13. Ryan Keven June 23, 2013 at 9:49 pm - Reply

    I made this today in my smoker!  AAbsolutely amazing and received rave reviews!!!!

  14. Bruce Deck June 22, 2013 at 10:04 pm - Reply

    Tried the rub, sauce & pulled chicken recipes tonight for the first time.  Everything was great, tremendous flavor.  Thanks for the recipes.

  15. Jann June 14, 2013 at 6:33 am - Reply

    I followed the modified instructions boneless skinless thighs.  I left them on my Bradley Smoker 1 1/2 hrs – they were at 155 degrees.  Then I covered them with foil and put them in a low oven, about 200 degrees – for another half hour.  However, when I removed them from the oven, the pan had about 2" of water in the bottom!  I feel like I really lost all the benefits of brining by transferring the thighs to the oven, because all the moisture came out of the thighs and ended up in the foil pan.  Next time, I will keep them on the smoker until they hit the full 165 degree mark, then just cover with foil and allow to rest – off all heat – for 10 minutes.

  16. Bob Ferguson June 13, 2013 at 3:58 pm - Reply

    Jeff, I have enjoyed your newletter and finally thought to pony up and buy your rub and sauce recipes.

    Part of what my product development engineering company does is design outdoor cooking equipment and we are always making one-off equipment for our own use.

    We have several pieces of large equipment including a pretty cool pig roaster, an infrared roast beef rotisserie (will hold 50 lbs of bottom round) and most recently a large smoker with three 8" X 36" rotating shelves.  I have done 80 lbs of pork butts and brisket on several occasions.

    I am wondering if you have tried to do turkey breasts with the intent of getting them to a condition where they can be pulled.  I realize that they are pretty lean but we did an experiment last summer where we added a couple of whole breasts to the smoker for about the last five or six hours that the pork was in.  The turkey was delicious but didn't quite pull.  We did more of a chop.

    I would like to do this for the fourth of July this year for a party that has been happening for more than three decades.  I would like less of a time commitment than the pork represents but still have a lot of hungry mouths.

    My back-up is a 30 roast beef which I have done many times.  With the machine we created we can cook that to perfection in about 2 hours with another hour to rest but I want something different if I can figure it out. 

    I don't know if I can find turkey thighs.   Roasting size chickens would be another option instead of the turkey breasts.

    Any thoughts on any of this?

     

    • Jeff Phillips June 17, 2013 at 10:35 am - Reply

      The breast meat is very lean and I don’t think you are going to be able to cook them long enough to get them that tender. Even if you did, they would be too dry to eat. Turkey thighs might be a better option but even then, I have not been successful at getting poultry as “pullable” as pork. You will have to do a little chopping with the pulling to get what you want in my opinion.

  17. Scott June 5, 2013 at 5:14 pm - Reply

    When you are at the below step do you place the chicken in the foil and heat for a few more minutes or do they rest in the foil with liquid for a couple of minutes?

    How to protect the meat if you want to use boneless, skinless chicken thighs

    Let the chicken thighs smoke for about 1.5 hours then place them into foil pans covered with foil.

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