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Smoked Pulled Chicken

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My wife likes most of what I cook, but pork and beef have never been her favorite things. She'd always rather have smoked 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.

Smoked shredded chicken is very similar but I prefer the larger pieces that you get with these instructions.

This smoked pulled chicken recipes uses my original rub (Purchase formulas here | Purchase bottled rubs) for maximum flavor and if you like it saucy, the original barbecue sauce (Purchase formulas here | Purchase bottled sauce) is just the thing. Let your taste buds rejoice!

Helpful Information
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Brine Time: 3 hours
  • Cook Time: 3 hours
  • Smoker Temp: 230°F (110°C)
  • Meat Finish Temp: 175°F (79°C)
  • Recommended Wood: Pecan

What You'll Need

Making the Brine
  • 1/2 gallon water
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 TBS Louisiana hot sauce (optional)

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 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.

Also, You can use chicken breasts for a leaner version of smoked pulled chicken or even whole chicken if that is what you have available.

See my butter mop recipe below to help keep them moist during cooking.

24 chicken thighs

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.

Thighs into bags

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.

Brine and thighs in ziploc

Place the bowl(s) with the bags of thighs into the refrigerator 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.

Ready 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.

Mustard added Mustard stirred in to coat

Add about 1/4 cup of my original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) 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 my original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) and stirring it in well.

You should end up using about 1/2 cup of rub on 24 chicken thighs

The chicken is now ready to smoke.

Place the rubbed chicken thighs on Weber grill pans or cooling racks for easy transport to and from the smoker.

Thighs on Bradley racks

Smoking the Chicken Thighs

Set up your smoker for cooking with indirect heat at about 230°F (110°C). 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 using wood chips or chunks.

Once the smoker is preheated and maintaining the set temperature, place the chicken thighs into the smoker.

Let the chicken thighs smoke cook until they reach 175°F (79°C).

I recommend an instant read thermometer such as the Thermapen One to ensure the chicken has reached the proper temperature before removing it from the smoker.

Note: if you opt to use chicken breasts, let them only cook to 165°F (74°C) as they are leaner and dry out more easily.

Why 175°F for thighs instead of the normal 165°F that we usually cook smoked 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.

Thighs are done

How to help skinless chicken end up more juicy

Option 1: Let the chicken thighs smoke for about 1.5 hours then place them into aluminum foil pans covered with aluminum 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 and end up more moist and juicy. Leave them in this configuration until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 175°F (79°C).

Option 2 (my favorite): Brush them with melted butter about every 15 minutes to make sure they stay nice and moist and juicy 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 Smoked 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 with your hands or use a couple of forks for this task.

Pulled smoked chicken

Saucing up the Meat

With pulled pork, I prefer to drizzle the bbq 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 Smoked Pulled Chicken Sandwich

Toast the buns then add a healthy portion of smoked 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

This chicken sandwich is one for the gods!

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 Tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp celery seed (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon coarse black 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.


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Smoked Pulled Chicken

You are absolutely gonna love this smoked pulled chicken recipe! It's meant to be piled high on a bun with creamy cole slaw and my barbecue sauce mixed in so do it justice ;-)
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time3 hrs
Total Time3 hrs 15 mins

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs of chicken thighs ((about 24 pieces (I like the boneless, skinless variety)))
  • Gallon sized zip top bags
  • Brine ((recipe below))
  • Yellow mustard or Olive Oil ((optional))
  • Jeff's original rub
  • Large buns ((for the sandwich))
  • Creamy coleslaw
  • Jeff's original barbecue sauce ((purchase recipe here))
  • A Thermapen or Thermopop ((high quality, fast reading handheld thermometers to make sure the chicken is safely and perfectly done.))

Instructions

Make the brine using:

  • 1/2 gallon water
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 TBS Louisiana hot sauce
  • Add all of the ingredients to the water and stir until everything is dissolved and mixed in well.
  • Using gallon sized zip top bags, put 12 thighs in each bag and pour enough brine into the bag to cover. I used about ½ of the brine in each bag and it was plenty.
  • Seal the bags pressing out all of the air and let them sit in the fridge during the brining process. I recommend sitting the bags down in bowls to prevent the risk of leakage.
  • After 3 hours, remove the bags from the fridge and discard the brine liquid.
  • Place 12 chicken thighs into each bowl and coat well with yellow mustard.
  • Pour ¼ cup of Jeff's original rub into each bowl and stir well to coat chicken.
  • The chicken can now be placed onto Bradley racks, Weber grill pans or cooling racks for east transport to and from the smoker.
  • Setup smoker for cooking at 225-240°F with indirect heat using mesquite, pecan or whatever wood you have available for smoke.
  • If your smoker has a water pan, fill it up.
  • Cook the chicken until it reaches 175°F as measured by a digital meat thermometer such as a thermapen or a ThermoPop.
  • When the chicken is finished cooking, de-bone it (unless it's boneless), then pull the meat into pieces.
  • Coat the meat with an ample amount of Jeff's barbecue sauce.
  • Make sandwiches with the pulled chicken topping it with coleslaw, pickles and onions.

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!

Note: You can also order the formulas for my rubs and sauce and make these yourself at home. Grab those HERE and download immediately.

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27 Comments

  1. This is definitely a great recipe. The brine enhances the flavor as well as adds moisture so the chicken doesn’t dry out in the smoker. I don’t coat the chicken with mustard because, 1-the meat is wet enough at that point and the seasoning sticks fine. 2 – I taste mustard in the final product and it’s not the flavor we’re looking for in my chicken. I use mustard on my ribs though and never taste it. Strange
    The trick is getting big meaty thighs OR just do the whole bird this same way. With small pieces, it cooks too quickly and you’ll have to keep the temp too low which in turn makes less smoke so bigger pieces or whole bird is the ticket.
    Also, Chicken is a delicate, mild flavored meat so ample amounts of any sauce or seasonings make the chicken just taste like the sauce and seasonings and you loose that nice chicken flavor. I want to taste the chicken itself and the nice mild smokiness throughout so therefore seasoning is very light and there is very little to no sauce involved in my smoked chicken. Good BBQ done right tastes amazing without sauce. The flavors you infused into the meat during the cook process is what makes good BBQ. People will put sauce on their sandwiches if they want to anyway.
    What an amazing feeling it is when people tell e, “Wow, your smoked chicken is so delicious by itself, it doesn’t need sauce!!” They say that with my ribs and brisket too. Makes my heart all warm and fuzzy inside. haha I use a very old Oklahoma Joes offset competition smoker before Charbroil bought the name and ruined it with flimsy materials. The old OJ’s smokers are comparable to the company that is now called Horizon Smokers. When one partner sold the OJ name to Charbroil, the other partner took the awesome product specs and started started Horizon. Great smokers indeed. They make meat taste good!!
    Happy cookin everyone!

  2. Jeff,for some reason i can’t pull up your website,is it down right now? My son just got a smoker and is trying to get on to your site,plus i’m always going through your recipes looking for my next fun adventure.Thank you Eric

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Pingback: Devils Palate BBQ
  7. Hi Jeff- I have a problem. My chicken gets to 170 within 90 min max-never 3 hours. Am I doing something wrong?

    1. 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.

    2. A few more things that would affect this that Jeff didn’t mention: If using a grill with traditional grates, cooking directly on the grates will hasten (shorten) cooking time as opposed to cooking with Jeff’s recommendation of on another rack (e.g. cooling rack).

      Jeff’s recipe makes a suggestion to move to a braise after smoking for 1.5 hours. If you combine the smoke and braise, you will significantly reduce cooking time as well. I.e., cooking in a pool of liquid will get the internal temps up faster.

      Cook on a cooling rack, keep out of braise until smoke is finished, make sure heat is indirect, use an accurate pit thermometer.

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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!

     

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

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

  16. 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.

    1. The water in the pan after cooking in the oven is the same water that drips out of the chicken when on the smoker. I always wrap my chicken and put it in the oven for an hour when it comes off the smoker. Makes it fall off the bone tender and there’s always juice at the bottom. That’s flavor that gets poured over your chicken after you pull it. Happy smoking!!

  17. 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?

     

    1. 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.

  18. 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.