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Smoked Chicken Tenderloins

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We make smoked chicken tenderloins at least once a week here at home, and often it's a quick meal from the oven with some fresh green beans, asparagus or some other vegetable. However, sometimes I like to brine them and cook them a little slower in the smoker.

Up front, I can tell you that they are really good!

I used the Lone Star Grillz 20×36 to smoke these and gave them a quick sear on the griddle over the firebox before I took them in. These were juicy, tender and bursting with flavor.

In this recipe, I'll show you what I did, so you can do some of these at your house.

Helpful Information
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Brine Time: 60-90 minutes
  • Cook Time: 90 minutes
  • Smoker Temp: 225°F (107°C)
  • Meat Finish Temp: 160°F (71°C)
  • Recommended Wood: Hickory/Cherry
What You'll Need
  • 3 lbs chicken tenderloins (about 30 pcs)
  • ½ gallon cold water
  • ½ cup coarse kosher salt (Morton's blue box)
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • Jeff's Texas style rub
  • Spray oil
Step 1: Make the Brine

The trick to juicy, non-dry, lean white chicken is brining, and if you haven't tried it, you should.

Make a brine using ½ gallon of cold water, ½ cup of coarse kosher salt, and ½ cup of brown sugar (the brown sugar adds some flavor, but is optional).

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Pour the salt and brown sugar into the water and stir for about a minute or until the water becomes a clear amber color.

Note: you should be able to see through the surface of the water all the way to the bottom of the container.

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Step 2: Brine the Chicken

Place the tenderloins into a medium-sized plastic or glass container.

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Pour the brine over the chicken to cover.

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Lid it and place in the fridge for about 60-90 minutes.

When the brining process is complete, rinse the chicken one time in cold water.

Step 3: Seasoning

Lay the brined chicken out on a pan with a rack if you have one, otherwise you can just lay them out on parchment paper or a large sheet of foil.

Here's a stainless steel pan with a rack I purchased a while back, and I use it all the time. It's great for carrying things out to the smoker and for keeping the smoker cleaner. The rack holds the meat up off the bottom of the pan so the smoke can get under and around the meat while catching the drippings.

pan and rack

Tip: wrap the inside of the pan in foil, and you'll only have to wash the rack when you're finished.

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Lightly sprinkle my Texas style rub on the top of the chicken. The chicken is salty enough at this point, but the garlic, pepper and other ingredients in the Texas rub will really be great.

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Step 4: Smoke ‘Em

Set up your smoker for cooking at 225°F (107°C), and if your smoker uses a water pan, fill it up. I used a mix of hickory and cherry, but most other smoking woods will work just fine if that's what you have.

I used the Lone Star Grillz 20×36 for these, but you can use any smoker as long as you maintain the correct temperature range and use the internal meat temperature to let you know when they are done.

I expect these to take about 80-90 minutes, however, use a thermometer in case they take less or more time in your smoker.

Note: Lean white meat is “officially” done at 160°F (71°C), however, I usually remove them before they reach this point since they will continue cooking for a bit.

In this recipe I remove them from the smoker even earlier to sear them on both sides, and the high heat from the griddle brings them up to where it needs to be.

Step 5: Quick Sear

When the chicken reaches about 135°F (57°C), place the chicken tenders on a griddle or a hot pan, and give them a quick sear. My griddle was 425°F (218°C), so it only took about a minute on the first side and about 30 seconds on the other side.

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Make sure you have the new Thermapen ONE, so you can read the temperature in 1 second or less, and when they reach at least 155°F (68°C), place them in a covered foil pan to keep them hot as they get finished.

Step 6: Finish and Serve

Bring the pan of smoked chicken tenderloins into the house and serve 'em up.

I ate a few right out of the pan, then the next day I made a sandwich using smoked chicken, melted Havarti, melted Monterey jack, pickles, jalapeños, mayonnaise and mustard on honey wheat bread. What a lunch!

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Some Food for Thought about Chicken and Safe Temperature

The USDA says chicken is safely done at 165°F (74°C); however, if you continue to study the science behind this safe temperature for chicken, you will find that the bacteria begin dying when the heat reaches 145°F (63°C). What makes it safe is when the number of bacteria gets down to an acceptable level where it can no longer make you sick.

For instance, if you maintain the internal temperature of the chicken at just 145°F (63°C) for 10 minutes, it will be completely safe to eat. Maintain 155°F (68°C) for only 60 seconds, and it's also safe.

Some of you will not be willing to adjust to a different cooking temperature than the 165°F (74°C) you've always used, and that's fine; however, if you are willing to do some research to validate and experiment with what I'm telling you, you'll find that lean white chicken is so much better at slightly lower temperatures.

I have experimented with this a lot over the last while, and it's an amazing thing. These tenderloins served at just 155°F (68°C) are extremely juicy, completely white from edge to edge and absolutely safe to eat.

This is not an issue for dark meat since it is best cooked in excess of 165°F (74°C) due to the extra fat in the meat.

5 from 1 vote

Smoked Chicken Tenderloins

Smoked chicken tenderloins so tasty and tender you'll be blown away! This step-by-step recipe shows how to prepare and smoke them in your own smoker.
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time3 hours 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs chicken tenderloins (about 30 pcs)
  • ½ gallon cold water
  • ½ cup coarse kosher salt (Morton's blue box)
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • Jeff's Texas style rub
  • Spray oil

Instructions

  • Make a brine using ½ gallon of cold water, ½ cup of coarse kosher salt, and ½ cup of brown sugar (the brown sugar adds some flavor but is optional).
  • Pour the salt and brown sugar into the water and stir for about a minute or until the water becomes a clear amber color.
  • Place the tenderloins into a medium-sized plastic or glass container.
  • Pour the brine over the chicken to cover.
  • Lid it and place in the fridge for about 60-90 minutes. 60 minutes will do the trick if you're in a hurry.
  • When the brining process is complete, rinse the chicken one time in cold water.
  • Lay the brined chicken out on a pan/rack if you have one; otherwise, you can just lay them out on parchment paper or a large sheet of foil.
  • Sprinkle my Texas style rub on the top of the chicken.
  • Set up your smoker for cooking at 225°F (107°C), and if your smoker uses a water pan, fill it up. I used a mix of hickory and cherry for smoke. You can expect the chicken to take 80-90 minutes to reach 160°F (71°C).
  • When the chicken reaches about 135°F (57°C), place the tenders on a griddle or a hot pan and give them a quick sear on both sides.
  • When they reach at least 155°F (68°C), they can be removed from the smoker. Place the chicken in a covered foil pan to keep them hot as they get finished.
  • Bring the chicken into the house and serve them up with some sides or use them to make an amazing sandwich with melted cheese, veggies and condiments.

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8 Comments

  1. I’ve liked your website and recipes for years. But I must say, you have too many adds on your recipe sights.

  2. Hey Jeff,
    I followed step by step except searing them. They were delicious but the top of them were too dry. Spray oil was in the what you need but not in any of the steps.

  3. Being from the great white north I have never seen Chicken Tenderloins for sale. I understand there are 2 tenderloins available from one chicken. I imagine you must be buying these already cut ?

    Regards,

    Dan

    1. Here in Oklahoma I find these everywhere from my local grocery store to Costco in large 6 lb packages. This is the most tender part of the chicken and is a piece that lies just behind the breast.

      If you can’t find tenderloins in your area, you can purchase boneless skinless breasts and cut them into about 3 strips.

    1. Jim, I’ve never had a problem with moist meat and smoke getting along with each other. I’ve never heard of that being a problem so feel free to clarify this.

      Furthermore, the water pan does not moisten the meat. It simply creates a more humid environment which slows down the natural drying effect of heat.