Chicken presents several challenges when cooking. It has an awkward shape with a large cavity, which makes it difficult to cook evenly. Since the breast is lean, it can dry out easily. The fattier thighs and legs can handle more heat, but the wing tips can burn unless you shield them from the heat or foil the tips.
The ideal internal temperature for smoked chicken is 165° F in the breast, and 175° F in the thigh and legs. Although the USDA recommends chicken be cooked to an internal temperature of 165° F. The thighs and the legs contain more blood vessels and fat than other parts of the chicken, which is why they need longer to cook. However, the breasts can dry out easily because they are lean with very little fat. So don’t overcook the breasts. Only take it to the recommended 165° F.
Safety When Smoking Chicken
The only way to kill these bacteria is to cook the meat to 165° F, which is safe for consumption. These bacteria will grow between the danger zone, which is between 40° F and 140° F. It’s always risky to cook your chicken too low, that’s these temperatures will cause the bacteria to multiply.But how do you know if your chicken is fully cooked and safe to eat? The best way to check is by using a food thermometer. To use a food thermometer, insert it into the thickest part of the chicken without touching the bone. The internal temperature should reach at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure that the chicken is fully cooked and safe to eat.
Safe Internal Meat Temperatures According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
|Meat||Internal Temperature (°F)||Internal Temperature (°C)|
|Beef, veal, and lamb (steaks, roasts, and chops)||145||63|
|Ground beef, veal, lamb||160||71|
|Pork (chops, roasts)||145||63|
|Ham, fresh or smoked||145||63|
|Fully cooked ham||140||60|
|Poultry (chicken and other birds)||165||74|
Whole Smoked Chicken
On average, it takes 1.5 to 2 hours to smoke a whole chicken if cooking at 300° F. If you are cooking in the 375°F range, the chicken should only take 1 hour to cook. However, a spatchcocked chicken will cook a little sooner because it will cook more evenly.
Done Temp For Chicken Pieces
Probe the thighs and legs to 175° F and the wings at 165° F. Chicken pieces such as thighs, wings, and legs will only take about 45 minutes on each side if cooking in the 300⁰F range. If you are cooking in the 350°F to 375°F range, the chicken should only take 30 minutes on each side and have a total cook time of 1 hour.
The Best Temperature for Smoking Chicken
For best results, smoke chicken in the 300° F range. Always keep the temperature above 275° F. Any lower than this, the chicken skin will be soft and rubbery. The maximum temperature to smoke chicken is 375° F.
Best Instant-Read Thermometers for Smoking
How To Check Chicken For Done Temperature
The best way to check the internal temperature of chicken is with an instant-read thermometer. A good thermometer will give you a reading within two or three seconds and be highly accurate. This will also allow you to check multiple areas of the chicken, such as the thigh and the breast.
Make sure you use a quality thermometer, because many cheap instant-reads are inaccurate. If a thermometer is inaccurate, then what’s the point? Chicken contains a lot of bacteria, so you want to trust that your thermometer is giving you the correct readings. The TP19, and the Lavatools Javelin Pro are two high-quality thermometers that you can buy on Amazon. These thermometers are affordable and have an excellent track record for being accurate, and fast.
ThermoWorks produce the best thermometers on the market, however expect to pay around about $100 for the Thermapen- the gold standard in food thermometers. Thermoworks also produce smaller thermometers in the $30 to $50 range, however these thermometers are limited in their functions.
Dry Smoked Chicken? Here’s Why
A great way to get your chicken to cook more evenly and quicker is by spatchcocking the chicken prior to cooking. This involves cutting out the backbone and flattening the bird like a butterfly. Not only does a spatchcocked bird look spectacular on the dinner table, it’s a great way to cook the chicken more evenly.
Done Temperature – Chicken Thighs and Legs
Chicken thighs and legs should be cooked to an internal temperature of 175° F. This part of the chicken contains more blood vessels and fat, so they need a little longer. Known as dark meat, the thighs and the legs are more flavorful, because they contain more fat.
Always probe the chicken with a thermometer in the breast, and the thighs. You want to get a reading in both areas because they need to be treated differently. If smoking a whole chicken, always point the thighs and the legs towards the fire or the hottest part of the smoker. The thighs in the legs can absorb more heat since they contain more fat, they are less likely to dry out.
Check out my full review of the most affordable instant-read thermometer on the market.
Chicken Breast Done Temperature
The ideal internal temperature for chicken breast is 165° F. Avoid cooking the breast beyond 165° F otherwise it will dry out. The breast is probably the most troublesome part of the chicken to cook. Although many believe the breast to be healthier, it doesn’t contain fat, so it has a tendency to dry out. Fat keeps the meat moist and juicy, so the breast meat can’t be overcooked.
If you are cooking the breast separately, consider wrapping the meat in bacon, which will provide extra basting and flavor. Take some bacon, wrap it around the breasts, and pin the bacon into place with toothpicks or bamboo skewers.
Another way to cook breasts is by using a reverse sear method. Smoke the breasts low and slow, so the chicken can absorb smoke. Keep the temperature in the 200° F range, then transfer the breasts and cook over a high heat for a few minutes on each side.
How to Avoid Rubbery Skin on Smoked Chicken
Butterfly The Chicken Breasts
Cooking a whole breast on a grill is difficult because they are thick and awkward to cook. A great way to cook chicken breast is by slicing them in half so the breasts fold out like a big chicken steak. Butterflying breasts will cook faster and are less likely to dry out.
Rest Your Chicken
Always allow the chicken to rest for at least 10 minutes after removing from the grill or smoker. This will allow the muscles to relax and reabsorb moisture. If you were to slice or shred your chicken immediately, it will lose most of the moisture and the chicken will become dry.
Cook Chicken With Indirect Heat
When smoking chicken, always cook over an indirect heat. If the chicken was to sit over a direct flame, it would be good much sooner and therefore spend less time on the grill. We want the meat to absorb as much smoke as possible.
Indirect cooking, or two-zone cooking, is when we create a hot-zone and a cool-zone. An indirect setup on a charcoal kettle grill would have the coals on one side of the grill and the meat on the other side. Kamado and drum smokers usually have a deflector plate which allows you to cook indirectly. Electric smokers, pellet grills, and even offset smokers cook with an indirect heat.
Direction of The Chicken
Make sure you place the chicken with the thighs and legs towards the heat source so it cooks evenly. So if the fire is on the left side, point the legs and the thighs towards the heat. The legs and the thighs contain more fat, so they can handle more heat than the breast or the wings. You can always put some foil on the wing tips, to prevent them from burning. Protect the breast by directing the chicken breasts towards the cool zone of your smoker.
Smoke Chicken Wings For How Long?
The Smoke Ring
Smoked chicken may sometimes appear raw because of the pink smoke ring. To the untrained eye, this may look raw to see you should always reassure your dinner guests at the meat is thoroughly cooked. When meat is smoked, chemical reactions occur on the surface of the meat that preserves the pink pigment, known as the smoke ring.
When smoking chicken, always use a meat thermometer rather than “eyeballing” meat. Cook to internal temperature rather than look or feel. Although the chicken looks raw, this is what we know as the smoke ring. Using a meat thermometer will give you and your guests peace of mind, knowing that even though the meat is pink in some parts, it is safe to eat. It’s not safe to just eyeball chicken. There is a lot of bacteria in chicken, so it’s important that it’s cooked to a safe internal temperature.
Soft Skin vs Crispy Skin
Chicken can be difficult to smoke because it’s hard to get the balance right. If you cook at high temperatures for too long, the breasts may dry out. If you cook the chicken at temperatures at a too low, the skin may become soft and rubbery. Techniques such as brining will help the chicken taste tender and juicy cover however, a wet brine will also cause the skin to go soft.
How To Smoke Perfect Chicken Breasts in an Electric Smoker: A Step-by-Step Guide
Tips To Get a Crispy Chicken Skin
- If crispy skin is important to you, then always cook between 300° F and 375° F.
- If your smoker won’t go that high, then I suggest finishing the chicken in the oven.
- Don’t wrap the chicken in foil.
- Don’t tent the bird, as this will create steam and soften the skin.
- Avoid using wet brines, because this will have a softening of the skin.
- If you use a wet brine, rinse the chicken and leave it in the fridge uncovered so the skin can dry.
- Pat the chicken with a paper towel, as this will dry out the skin.
- Don’t use binders for the binder, only is olive oil as a buyer.
- Don’t use a water pan in the smoker. This will create more steam and moisture in the cooking environment and therefore soften the skin of your chicken.
Tips to Get Tender Juicy Chicken
Use a water pan, as this will bring some extra moisture into the cooking room. Also, cook out a low temperature, is this will help the meat retain moisture. Soaking the chicken in a wet brine is the best way to get extra moisture into your chicken. Here’s a simple brine recipe.
- One gallon of water
- One cup of sugar
- One cup of salt
Soak the chicken overnight. Salt will help the chicken retain moisture.
Safety When Cooking Chicken
As you probably know, undercooked chicken can contain harmful bacteria that can cause a variety of illnesses, ranging from mild to severe. According to the USDA, these illnesses can include salmonella, campylobacter, and E. coli, just to name a few.
But how do you know if your chicken is fully cooked and safe to eat? The best way to check is by using a food thermometer. To use a food thermometer, insert it into the thickest part of the chicken without touching the bone. The internal temperature should reach at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure that the chicken is fully cooked and safe to eat.
Another way to check for doneness is to cut into the chicken and look for any pink or red areas. If the chicken is fully cooked, it will be white or pale in color all the way through.
It’s also important to handle raw chicken safely to avoid cross-contamination. This means washing your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw chicken, and using separate cutting boards, utensils, and dishes for raw and cooked foods.
So remember, when it comes to chicken, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Use a food thermometer and handle raw chicken carefully to ensure that you and your family are protected from the dangers of undercooked chicken.
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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.
Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.
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.