Smoked Chicken Breast – A Step-By-Step Guide


Smoking chicken breasts can be a challenge, but if you get everything right, can taste absolutely delicious. The problem with chicken breast is they are lean, so they can dry out easily. Chicken breast is probably the most troublesome part of the chicken to get right. 

The best temperature for smoking chicken breast is between 225° F and 275° F and cook to an internal meat temperature of 165°F. Chicken breast contains no fat, so it can dry out easily. To avoid dry breasts, soak the chicken in a brine for at least 6 hours prior to smoking, or wrap the breasts in bacon. 

Smoking Breasts at 225⁰F

It should take 2- 3 hours to smoke chicken breasts at 225° F. But the total cook time also depends on the size of the breasts. As always, use a good instant-read thermometer so you know for sure that your meat is safe to eat— especially chicken. 

How Long To Rest Smoked Chicken Breast

Remove the chicken breasts from the smoker at around about 160° F, and then wrap in foil. Wait for the breast to come up to 165° F before serving. This will allow for carry-over cooking and give the meat a chance to relax and reabsorb some of the moisture. 

Skin-On Chicken Breast

Chicken breast with the skin left on helps to provide some extra protection and basting, so it’s always a good idea to leave on if possible. If you want the skin crispy, keep the temperature above 275° F. Any lower will make the skin soft and rubbery. Dry the skin by patting the skin with a paper towel, or leave in the refrigerator uncovered overnight. 

It won’t take long to cook at 275° F, expect about an hour or an hour and a half (depending on the size of the chicken). Remove the breasts from the smoker at 160° F and let it rest in foil until it reaches 165° F. 

Cook with Indirect Heat

If you’re using a charcoal grill, setup for indirect cooking with the charcoal to one side, and the meat on the other side. This is also known as two-zone cooking with a hot zone and a cool zone. You don’t want to cook the breast over a direct flame, otherwise it will dry out. Place the meat in the cool zone where it can cook slowly. However, this won’t be an issue with electric or pellet smokers because they cook with an indirect heat. But if you are smoking with a kettle grill, kamado or a bullet style smoker, use an indirect setup. 

Start Indirect, Finish Seared

When the meat is nearly done, you can finish the breasts over the direct flame to get some crispiness, but don’t leave it too long. For most of the cook, you want the meat sitting on the cool zone. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

Ingredients

  1. Small to medium-sized chicken breasts, salt, pepper, barbecue rub. 
  2. Brine mixture ingredients: 1.5 gallons of water, 1/2 cup of kosher salt, 1/2 cup sugar

Instructions

  1. Combine the brine ingredients in a large container and soak the breasts in the brine mix for 6 hours or overnight. 
  2. Dry and then apply a barbecue rub to the breasts. 
  3. Optional: wrap the breasts in bacon and hold in place with toothpicks. 
  4. Set the temperature of your smoker between 225°F and 275°F. 
  5. If you are using a charcoal smoker, use an indirect setup with the coals on one side and the meat on the other side. 
  6. Add some smoking wood using either apple, cherry or pecan. For a stronger smoke flavor, you can mix in a little hickory. 
  7. Place the breasts on the grill of the smoker. 
  8. Flip after 40 minutes. 
  9. Cook until the internal meat temperature reaches 160°F. 
  10. Rest for 5 minutes in aluminium foil, or until the meat temperature reaches 165°F. 

How Long Does It Take To Smoke Chicken Breasts? 

It should take about 1 hour to smoke chicken breasts. However, it’s difficult to give an exact time because much depends on the thickness of the breasts, the cooking temperature, or whether you cut the breasts into butterfly steaks. Also, it depends on techniques such as starting you low and finishing high with a reverse-sear style. 

Chicken Breast Internal Temperature. 

Chicken breast should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165° F. The USDA recommends that chicken never be consumed if cooked below 165° F. Chicken is full of bacteria—especially salmonella.  The low-and-slow style barbecue cooks to temperature, not time. This is why thermometers are our most important tool.

Always check your chicken with an instant-read thermometer. A good meat thermometer is a worthwhile investment because it will help you cook the meat to the perfect temperature so the meat in near perfect. Thermometers will also take the guesswork out of the cook and keep you and your family safe. This will ensure the meat is cooked to a safe eating temperature. The best affordable option is the TP19. It costs about $30 on Amazon. Not only is it fast, it’s extremely accurate. Check it out here

Shopping For Chicken Breasts

When shopping for chicken breasts, buy them in the 5-7 ounce range. It’s tempting to buy those enormous breasts, but they are difficult to cook. However, the large breasts are okay if you plan on cutting them into large butterfly steaks and using the reverse-sear method. 

Wrap The Chicken Breasts In Bacon

Wrapping the breasts in bacon is a popular technique in the barbecue community. Wrapping the chicken breasts in bacon will provide some extra fat, and will baste the chicken while cooking. To hold the bacon in place, use toothpicks. For this method, you don’t need to cut or butterfly the chicken breasts. However, you can cut the breasts open and stuff with a seasoning if you wish. 

Butterfly The Chicken Breast

My favorite way to smoke chicken breasts is by cutting the meat into butterfly steaks and then use a reverse-sear method. 

How To Butterfly A Breast

Chicken breasts are awkwardly shaped with a thick end and a thin end. Take a knife and cut the thin end almost all the way through, but without touching the other side. Run the knife up the breast without cutting all the way through. This should give you a nice, thick chicken steak that looks like a butterfly. 

Stuff The Breasts

If you cut the breast open, you can also the breast with a stuffing. Add some butter and seasoning for extra moisture and flavor. To hold it together, stick a wooden skewer or toothpicks to secure the breast. 

Brine

Brining is a great way to get some extra moisture into the meat. Most barbecue gurus brine breasts prior to smoking—even if it’s just a dry brine. Since breasts are so lean, they need all the help they can get. Your aim should be to get as much moisture into the breasts as possible through salting or wrapping in bacon. Allow about 6 hours to brine breasts prior to smoking. The most straightforward.way to brine breasts is to rub them with salt and leave them in the refrigerator for 6 hours. Here is a good chicken brine recipe that you can try:

Soak the chicken overnight, or at least 6 hours in the brine mix. If you are brining chicken with skin, and you want to try it out so it’s not soggy. Another option is to bring the chicken from a minimum of 6 hours, then remove from the mix and then let it sit uncovered in the fridge overnight so you can dry out. 

Resting

Chicken breast doesn’t need long to rest, only 5 or 10 minutes. If you need to hold them for longer, tightly wrap them in plastic wrap or foil. 

Pull The Breasts Early

Another trick is to pull the chicken breasts from the smoker a little early to allow for some carryover cooking. By removing the breasts from the cooker at about 158° F, it will continue cooking until it reaches the safe 165° F. If you’re worried that it won’t reach that temperature, you can always finish it on the grill. A few minutes of high heat will bring it up to a safe temperature. As mentioned, the USDA recommends chicken breast be cooked to an internal temperature of 165° F. When you remove the breasts at 165 ⁰F, they will continue to cook for another 5 to 10 minutes and may overcook the chicken. 

Start Low, Finish High

Another technique many Pitmasters use is to start low and finish higher. For this technique, smoke the chicken breasts nice and low at around about 200° F. After about 30 minutes, increase the temperature to 350 to 400° F until they reach 160° F, then rest for 5 minutes and they should come up to 165° F. 

Reverse Sear

Reverse searing is always good for leaner cuts of meat. For this method, I would recommend butterflying the breasts so they look like a thick steak. For this method, leave them in the smoker for about 40 minutes where the chicken breast can absorb some lovely smoke flavor. Then, see the breasts over a direct flame until it reaches around about 165° F. 

My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools

Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.

Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.

Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.

Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.

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