How To Smoke Chicken Breast (And Make It Juicy Tender)
Many readers ask us how to smoke chicken breast. Well we've got the simple answer for you.
Chicken is a versatile protein. It’s eaten all around the world and prepared in a variety of different ways – baked, grilled, fried, and poached. Another way to prepare chicken is by smoking it.
Smoking chicken is a delicious and easy way to make chicken for a weeknight family meal or to serve to guests who’ve come over for Sunday dinner.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to smoke chicken breast, including how to prepare chicken for the smoker, what type of wood to use in the smoker, and what to do with leftover smoked chicken breast.
Preparing the Chicken for Smoking
Cooking smoked chicken breast is easy, but it takes just a bit of prep work to get the chicken ready for smoking. One of most important steps, and one that you don’t want to skip over when smoking, is brining the chicken.
With a smoked chicken breast, brine is what’s going to make the meat nice and tender when cooked and it’s also going to add flavor to the meat. When preparing a smoked chicken breast, brine is also the secret to juicy meat.
The brine breaks down the protein of the meat, trapping flavor and moisture throughout the chicken breast.
Brining the Chicken Breast
When it comes to brining smoked chicken breast, brine can be either wet or dry, which is often called a smoked chicken breast rub.
A wet brine may dilute and water down the flavor of the chicken but is usually moister than a dry brined chicken breast.
On the other hand, a dry brine adds more taste as the spices and herbs are rubbed directly into the meat.
When you wet brine chicken breast, the meat is put into a mixture of salt, sugar, and water and refrigerated for a few hours. For added flavor, you can add spices or herbs. Wet brining will add more moisture to the chicken than a dry brine, with the end result being chicken breast that’s plump and juicy.
Consider setting aside some of the brine to use as a smoked chicken breast marinade when cooking the meat. This will add even more flavor and moisture to the breasts.
Rosemary Chicken Brine
This recipe not only locks in the moisture, it also adds the additional flavor of rosemary to the chicken breast:
In a large pan, combine all ingredients and cook over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cook for 2 minutes and then let cool completely. You can make the brine the day before and refrigerate until ready to use. Place the chicken breasts in a shallow pan and pour the rosemary brine over top, covering each chicken breast completely. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours. Remove the chicken breasts from the brine and smoke. Discard any leftover brine.
Smoked Chicken Breast Rub
Dry brine does the same to chicken as a wet brine – it keeps the moisture and flavor in the chicken breast during the smoking process.
With a dry brine, just sprinkle the chicken breast with salt and refrigerate for a few hours. If possible, use kosher salt, which has a larger grain than regular table salt, so it doesn’t dissolve as easily.
Add spices and herbs to a dry brine to get even more flavor into the chicken breasts. Experiment with a different smoked chicken breast recipe by adding different ingredients to the dry brine, such as crushed espresso beans, ground cumin, or unsweetened cocoa powder and crushed chili peppers for a Mexican flavor.
Spicy Smoked Chicken Breast Rub
For more than six chicken breasts, double the recipe:
In a bowl, mix together all ingredients. Place chicken breasts into a shallow dish. Rub each breast generously with the brine rub. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 2 hours. Smoke chicken breasts.
How to Prepare the Smoker for Chicken Breasts
Once you’ve brined the chicken breasts, you can get the smoker ready for cooking the chicken. Before you can learn how to smoke breast, you’ll need to know how to use your smoker. The procedure for preparing the smoker will depend on the type of smoker you’re using.
Note that all smokers can make a delicious smoked chicken breast. Whether you’re using a charcoal, gas, pellet, or electric smoker, each is just a different method of heating up and smoking the chicken.
Here’s how to smoke the breast using the four main types of smokers:
Charcoal can give the chicken breasts a nice flavor as well as produce a nice crust on the outside of the meat, which is why many cooks prefer this smoker over the others.
A charcoal smoker takes a bit more work than the other smokers – you’ll need to keep your eye on it while the chicken breasts are smoking. You’ll need to manage the chicken temp of the smoker by keeping enough charcoal lit and controlling the oxygen throughout the smoker. The goal is to keep the temperature of the smoker low and even, so the chicken breasts don’t smoke too quickly.
To prepare a charcoal grill smoker, place the charcoal into the base pan and light, leaving the smoker open and uncovered. You’ll want to wait until the smoker grill reaches 225°F, which is an ideal chicken temp for smoking the breasts.
A propane smoker is easy and fast to use for smoking chicken breasts. It’s ideal for any smoked chicken breast recipe and is simpler to use than the charcoal smoker. It’s easier to control the temperature of a gas smoker – most models will have controls that you can use to raise and lower the temperature, ensuring that the chicken temp is just right for smoking.
Before heating up the smoker, you’ll first need to get the wood ready. Soak the wood in water for about 30 to 45 minutes.
To prepare the propane smoker, line the pan with foil and fill with water – or try a different flavor and use beer or cider. Start up the propane and set the smoker to the right temperature, about 225°F to 250°F for chicken breasts. Let the smoker heat up for about 10 minutes, adjusting the vents if needed to keep an even temperature.
Now you’re ready to place the soaked wood into the pan sitting above the burner. Continue heating up the smoker until it starts to smoke. You’re then ready to place the chicken breasts into the smoker, placing them on the shelves or racks. Keep an eye on the smoke and temperature so it stays even – you may need to add more water or wood.
Instead of using charcoal or propane to heat the smoker, a pellet smoker burns wood pellets. The pellets are made with compressed sawdust that contain no additives of any kind. The pellets burn longer than firewood, which mean they keep an even temperature throughout the smoker. You can choose pellets made from a variety of different woods to give the chicken breasts a different flavor, such as mesquite, hickory, maple, cherry, and oak wood.
Preparing the pellet smoker is easy –it uses electricity to heat an auger that is fed wood pellets to smoke the meat. Set the temperature to smoke at 225°F to 250°F and wait until it starts smoking before placing the breasts inside. When cooking with a pellet smoker, smoked chicken breast time and temperature don’t need to be monitored as closely as other cooker types – the long-burning pellets keep the chicken temp even for smoking.
For a moist and juicy smoked chicken breast, electric smoker models can produce some near-perfect results. They’re also the easiest smoker to use. All you need to do is brine the chicken breast, select the time and temperature, and the electric smoker does the rest.
An electric smoker is good to use with a smoked chicken breast marinade – after putting the chicken breasts into the smoker you won’t have to check on it again until it’s close to the end of cooking time, when you can check with a digital meat thermometer to make sure the chicken temp shows the breasts are done.
When ready to cook smoked chicken breast, electric smoker temperature can be set once and then left. Turn on the smoker, add water to the bottom pan, and add wood chips into the tray – depending on the model of electric smoker, you may have to replenish the wood chips after about 2 hours of smoking. Use hardwood chips, such as apple, pecan, or mesquite. Soft woods, such as pine and fir, will burn too fast.
When the smoker is preheated to 225°F to 250°F, add the chicken breasts. To prevent smoke from escaping the smoker, avoid opening more than necessary.
What Wood for Smoked Chicken Breast
As already mentioned, you have your choice of a variety of different types of wood to use when smoking chicken breasts.
Each wood produces a different smoke which then infuses a different flavor into the chicken breasts.
When choosing wood, you’re looking for a good balance between the chicken breasts, the brine and seasonings, and the smoke from the wood. Choosing the wrong type of wood can work against the taste of the chicken and seasonings.
To get a different flavor, here’s how to smoke chicken breast using a variety of different woods that are ideal for chicken:
Maple will give the chicken a sweet smokiness. It works well with chicken breasts that have been dry rubbed with brown sugar and paprika.
Applewood is good for a slow cook and goes well with chicken breasts – it infuses a mellow and sweet flavor.
Cherry wood is fruity, giving chicken breasts a mildly sweet flavor. Pair cherry wood with hickory or alder to get a sweet, oaky flavor.
Mesquite is a hard word that gives off an intense flavor. The boldness of the wood creates a strong smoke that works well for chicken breasts that have only been brined or dry rubbed in salt.
What Temperature for Smoked Chicken Breast
When cooking smoked chicken breast, time and temperature are important.
You can’t just put the chicken into the smoker and think that it’s done at the end of the cooking time.
It’s important that you have a digital meat thermometer to test.
For smoked chicken breasts, the internal temperature needs to be 165°F. Insert the thermometer into the chicken breast – choose the thickest part of the breast.
When the temperature has reached at least 165°F, it’s safe to eat.
How Long to Smoke Boneless Chicken Breast
For a smoked chicken breast, time to smoke will vary depending on the type of smoker you have. As a general rule, with a smoker temperature of 250°F, smoking time is about 30 to 45 minutes per pound of chicken.
When to Take Smoked Chicken Breast Out to Rest
Most smoked chicken breast recipe instructions will tell you to remove the chicken breasts from the smoker when the internal temperature of the meat is 160°F. Let the chicken breast rest for about 10 minutes, during which time the meat will continue to cook. Check the temperature again to ensure that’s it’s reached a safe temp of 165°F. If the temperature is lower than 165°F, for food safety, you’ll need to return the chicken breast to the smoker to cook for a little longer. If you have to continue cooking the smoked chicken breast, electric smoker models are ideal – you can just reset the temperature.
How Many Calories in Boneless Skinless Smoked Chicken Breast
Chicken breast is a healthy, lean protein that delivers a lot of nutrition while being low in calories. Here’s the breakdown of calories and nutrition facts in 6oz. of boneless, skinless smoked chicken breast:
How to Make Tender Smoked Chicken Breast
To make tender smoked chicken breast, brining and smoking at a low temperature for will produce meat that is juicy and moist.
To add even more flavor and tenderness to smoked chicken breast, marinade the meat in brine that has the addition of herbs and spices.
What to do With Leftover Smoked Chicken Breast
Once you’ve had one meal of smoked chicken breast, you’ll want to make extra so you can enjoy leftovers. The ease of smoking chicken breast and having some on hand for the rest of the week is one of the reasons many cooks and chefs have a smoker. And chicken is just as appetizing in leftovers as it is when it first comes out of the smoker. Try one of these delicious smoked chicken breast leftover ideas that next time you have a couple of extra pieces.
Smoked Chicken Breast Salad
Dice up leftover chicken breast and mix together with chopped celery, scallions, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a dash of smoked paprika, salt and pepper, and just enough mayonnaise to blend it all together. Serve in lettuce wraps or make a grilled rye bread sandwich.
Smoked Chicken Breast Pizza
Make extra smoked chicken to enjoy on a homemade pizza. Other toppings that go well with chicken include red onion, red peppers, and mushrooms. Use BBQ sauce instead of tomato sauce and sprinkle with a blend of shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheese.
Smoked Chicken Breast Stir Fry
For a quick and healthy meal, make a stir fry using whatever vegetables you have on hand in the fridge. Heat up the oil and lightlysauté a variety of veggies: mushrooms, broccoli, thinly sliced carrots, and red pepper strips. Add thinly sliced smoked chicken breast and a can of water chestnuts. In the last minute of cooking, add 1 or 2 tbsp. of black bean sauce. Serve over jasmine rice for a fast weekday family meal.
Smoked Chicken Breast Breakfast Hash
Leftover chicken isn’t just for dinner. Try it in a breakfast hash.
Heat oil in a heavy cast iron skillet. Add chopped red onion and chopped cubes of leftover russet potatoes – sauté until potatoes are cooked through and browned, about 10 minutes.
Add shredded smoked chicken breast and cook for another 5 minutes, until the potatoes are crispy. Season with salt and pepper, then remove the hash to a bowl and cover to keep warm. In the same pan, cook two eggs sunny side up, adding more oil if needed.
Divide the hash between two plates and place an egg on top of each. Serve with hot sauce.
Now that you know how to smoke chicken breast, you’re ready to start smoking. Try a variety of different brines and rubs using herbs and spices to add to the flavor of juicy, tender smoked chicken breasts.