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 smoked pulled chicken that I make, piled high on a bun with creamy cole slaw and my barbecue sauce mixed in.
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 thighs with skin 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.
See my butter mop recipe below to help keep them moist during cooking.
Place the thighs into zip top bags inside of mixing bowls to prevent leakage. I was able to get 12 thighs into a 1-gallon zip top. I used 2 bags to contain the 24 thighs that I needed to brine.
Pour 1/2 of the brine (about 1 quart) into each of the bags with the chicken thighs and seal up the zip top 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 zip top bag for seasoning.
Add some mustard to the chicken and make sure all of the chicken is well coated with the mustard. This is to help the rub to bind to the chicken.
Note: mayonnaise is sometimes a better pairing with chicken if you want to use that instead of mustard.
Set up your smoker for cooking with indirect heat at about 230°F. 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°F, place the chicken thighs into the smoker.
Let them smoke cook until they reach 175°F.
Why 175°F instead of the normal 165°F 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 little more tender which helps with the pulling.
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 of the original barbecue sauce (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) 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
Option 1: Let the chicken thighs smoke for about 1.5 hours then place them into foil pans covered with foil. A little chicken broth, beer, apple juice, etc. in the bottom of the pan will create some steam and help to tenderize the meat. Leave them in this configuration until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 175°F.
Option 2 (my favorite): Brush them with melted butter about every 15 minutes to make sure they stay nice and moist throughout. This adds a little time to the overall cooking time (due to heat loss while the lid/door is open) but it's worth it.
A favorite mop that I use consists of the following:
It's good enough to drink.. but please don't. Save it for the chicken ;-)
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 the smoked pulled chicken, I decided to mix some of my original barbecue sauce right in with the meat. Don't add too much but just enough so that it is moist through and through.
If you'd rather not sauce the meat, that's perfectly fine too.
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”. If you have a great cole slaw recipe that you love, that will also work. Don't be tempted to skip the slaw — it really makes the sandwich.
Classic Creamy Coleslaw
4 cups cabbage, shredded
½ cup purple cabbage, shredded (optional)
1 cup carrots, shredded
½ cup mayonnaise
2 TBS heavy whipping cream
1 tsp lemon juice
¼ tsp celery seed (optional)
1 tsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp coarse pepper
In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, cream, lemon juice, celery seed, sugar, salt & pepper. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Pour over green cabbage & carrots and toss with dressing to coat. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Tip: If adding shredded purple cabbage for color, add just before serving. Otherwise all the ingredients will be tinted purple.
Order Jeff’s Rubs and Barbecue Sauce TODAY!
✅ My rubs and sauce will be the best thing you’ve ever tasted and it’s a great way to support what we do!
Smoke, Wood, Fire: The Advanced Guide to Smoking Meat – Unlike the first book, this book does not focus on recipes but rather uses every square inch of every page teaching you how to smoke meat. What my first book touched on, this second book takes it into much greater detail with lots of pictures.
It also includes a complete, step-by-step tutorial for making your own smoked “streaky” bacon using a 100 year old brine recipe.