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!
What You’ll Need
- 5 lbs of chicken thighs, about 24 pieces (I like the boneless, skinless variety)
- Brine (recipe below)
- Yellow mustard or Olive Oil (optional)
- Jeff’s Rub (purchase recipe here)
- Large buns (for the sandwich)
- Creamy coleslaw
- Jeff’s barbecue sauce recipe (purchase recipe here)
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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Add some mustard to the chicken and make sure all of the chicken is well coated with the mustard
Add about 1/4 cup of rub (purchase my rub recipe) and make sure the chicken is well coated with the rub/mustard mixture.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Love the sauce and rubLove the sauce and rub recipes. So far I have used them on beef ribs, pork ribs, and different chicken parts. Can't wait to do a beef brisket. Texas rub is great as well! ~Peter S.
I tried the rub on a beef..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 rubLove 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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