Smoked Chicken Thighs {Award Winning Competition Recipe with Brine!}

Award Winning Smoked Chicken Thighs Recipe

In seven years of competing, I’ve placed in the top 10 a dozen times with these smoked chicken thighs. Before competing, I don’t think I made thighs a single time in my life.  Not many people do. The dark meat isn’t as healthy as the white meat, and people tend to do breasts because…well, just because.

But I’m giving you a guarantee:  Try these once and you’ll do them again and again.

This is a delicious crowd pleasing treat that everyone will absolutely love.  All you need is a package of Bone-in, Skin-on Chicken Thighs, Basic Chicken Rub, our favorite Award Winning BBQ Sauce and a Brine.

How to Brine Chicken Thighs for the Smoker

First, and most importantly, with chicken, you must Brine.  You can use my Basic Brine (1 gallon water, 1 cup kosher salt, 1 cup brown sugar) which is enough for about 10 thighs.  If you want to play around with flavor profiles then try something a little more unique with ingredients like our competition chicken thigh brine.

The brine is going to add moisture, saltiness and flavors to the inside of the meat.

Add the thighs to the brine and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to three hours.  Thighs don’t need long.

After the thighs have brined, rinse them with with cool water to remove excess salt and sugar from the surface.

Place the thighs on tray, skin side down and pat dry with paper towels.

Pro Tip: If you simply do not have the time to brine the thighs then use our chicken injection recipe and inject the thigh meat with as much liquid as it can take.

Season the Chicken Thighs and Prepare Your Smoker

Make up a batch of our Award Winning Smoked Chicken Rub or use your poultry rub of choice. here is our recipe:

Dry Rub for the Chicken Thighs

  • 2 T salt
  • 1.5 T granulated garlic
  • 1 T granulated onion
  • 1 tsp ground thyme
  • 1.5 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard

Dust the underside with your chicken rub. Let the thighs sit skin side down while the rub soaks into the meat.

Now, take your chicken thighs and…kind of roll them so the skin is wrapped completely around, and as little of the meat is exposed as possible.  Use a toothpick to hold in place.

Use a toothpick to secure the skin

They look pretty cool, don’t they?  Sprinkle more rub all over including the skin side.  You’re ready to smoke ’em.

Season with Chicken Rub

Smoke the Chicken Thighs at 225F

Now is the time to get your smoker/grill ready and have an ice-cold frosty one!

If using a Weber charcoal grill, set it up for indirect cooking/smoking.  Make sure you have plenty of fruit wood/chips on hand.  I personally like to use a mixture of apple and hickory.  Just be careful with hickory and chicken.

If you are cooking on a Traeger, Pit Boss, Z Grills or other pellet smoker then you can be more aggressive with the hickory flavor as pellet gills naturally have a much lighter smoke profile than you get when smoking on a Weber kettle.  Set your Traeger to 225F for this recipe.

This recipe will also work great on a Masterbuilt electric smoker as long as you keep the wood chips replenished.

Place the thighs as far away from your heat source as possible.  At 225, they will smoke for 1.5 – 2 hours.  During those 2 hours smoke should never stop billowing.  Your neighbors are getting jealous.

While they are smoking, get a small pot and warm up your favorite bbq sauce.  If it’s thick sauce you will want to thin it out.  I thin my sauce with Coke.  I like Coke.

After 2 hours of smoke, bring your pot of thinned hot bbq sauce outside and a trusty pair of tongs that will NOT pierce the meat.  Dunk the thighs in the pot of sauce and put back on the grill.  For added silliness, sprinkle the thighs with some brown sugar if you want.

After about 15 minutes the sauce should be caramelized and your chicken thighs are ready.  You are looking for a minimum internal temperature of 165F.  Higher internal temperatures will result in more tender meat so I like to shoot for 175-180F.

Let them rest for just a couple of minutes and dig in.  I’m telling you, these things are crazy tasty.

Tips to Get Bite Through Skin Texture

2021 Update by Smokin Dave:  This recipe was originally published in 2012 and people have loved it. 

You can tell from some of the comments below that people are having mixed results with the texture of the skin.  It turns out that getting a great skin on smoked thighs is one of the biggest tricks in barbecue.

If you cook a thigh at low temperatures when there is a lot of fat attached to the underside of the skin then the skin can turn “rubbery” and slide off in the first bite.

There are four approaches I have seen people use to avoid rubbery skin on smoked thighs.

Option #1: Scrape the Skin

Before brining the thighs completely remove the skin.

Go ahead and put the skinless thighs into the brine.

While the skinless thighs are brining, place the skin on a cutting board, fat side up, and use a sharp knife to scrape all the fat from the skin.  This is not a fun process but works every single time.

Try hard not to cut through the skin.  The skin will almost be translucent once all of the fat is removed.

Once the thighs are done brining, wrap the skin back around the thighs using toothpicks to hold the skin in place.

Option #2 Par Boil the Thighs

Leave the skin on the thighs and brine as described above.  When the thighs are almost done brining bring a large pot of water to boil and prepare a container of ice water.

Remove the thighs from the brine and place in the boiling water for 3-4 minutes.  This step will melt the fat from underneath the skin.

Remove the thighs from the boiling water and immediately submerge in the ice bath to stop the cooking process.

Dry the thighs, season and proceed with the remainder of the recipe.

Option #3 Butter Bath

Leave the skin on the thighs and brine as described above. Prepare an aluminum foil pan with about 1/4 inch or more of Parkay in the base. For the first hour on the smoker, place the thighs skin side DOWN into a foil pan.

The fats in the Parkay will slowly melt away the fat under the skin of the thighs.

After an hour in the butter bath remove the highs and place them skin side UP on the smoker.

Re-season the skin side of the thighs to replace all of the seasoning that got washed off in the butter bath.

Continue smoking, saucing, etc as described above until done.

Option #4 Cook at Higher Temperatures

You can raise the temperature of your cooker to 275-300F and the higher temperatures will help the fat render and give you a better skin texture.

The tradeoff is that cooking at lower temperatures results in a more tender piece of chicken that has sat longer in smoke.

Award Winning Smoked Chicken Thighs

These thighs are good enough to win money!
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 15 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 35 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Calories 254 kcal


For Brine

  • 1 cup Water
  • 1 cup Apple Juice
  • 1 can of Sprite
  • 1/2 C Kosher/Sea salt
  • 1 T Pepper

For Chicken

  • A package of Bone-in Skin-on Chicken Thighs.
  • Basic Chicken Rub
  • Your favorite BBQ Sauce
  • Brine


  • Brine your chicken in ingredients listed above for at least 30 minutes or up to several hours.
  • Rinse with cool water and place on tray, skin side down. Dust the underside with your chicken rub. Let sit like that while you go get your smoker/grill ready for indirect cooking.
  • Take your chicken thighs and roll them so the skin is wrapped completely around, and as little of the meat is exposed as possible. Use a toothpick to hold in place. Sprinkle more rub all over.
  • Place the thighs as far away from your heat source as possible. At 225, they will smoke for 2 hours.
  • While they are smoking, get a small pot and warm up your favorite bbq sauce. If it’s thick sauce you will want to thin it out with Coke.
  • After 2 hours of smoke, bring your pot of thinned hot bbq sauce outside and a trusty pair of tongs that will NOT pierce the meat. Dunk the thighs in the pot of sauce and put back on the grill. If you want, sprinkle the thighs with some brown sugar.
  • After about 10-15 minutes the sauce should be caramelized and your thighs are ready. You want an internal temperature of at least 165F but 175-180F is preferred.
  • Let them rest for just a couple of minutes and dig in.
Keyword Award Winning Smoked Chicken Thighs

147 thoughts on “Smoked Chicken Thighs {Award Winning Competition Recipe with Brine!}

  1. Nice One mate Thank You …. I”m A BBQ Vergin ! with your instruction Gunna give it A prop GO!

  2. I have NEVER been able to make a smoked piece of chicken that is even close to great! My ribs will give your taste buds an erection….. but just can’t get the hang of chicken….not smoked or even on my grill. Hopefully this will be the “one”…..wish me luck

  3. We have used this recipe a few times and it has been amazing each time without fail. We gave used out to serve 6 people all the way up to 30 people. Best recipe for chicken! Thank you!!!

  4. I decided to follow you on FB when I got to the part where you said, “Let sit like that while you go get your smoker/grill ready and have an ice-cold frosty one.” That was the deciding factor for me. Oh, and I’m going to try your brine tomorrow, too. Looks awesome.

    1. Probably around 8. If you need more, you can always just add some extra water, apple juice, sprite, etc. You just want to be sure the thighs are all submerged.

  5. I use a different approach wish me and you could have a little cook-off LOL that would be fun I start my thighs in the oven on broil to get the skin crispy use various seasonings including wing sauce put a little heat to them also I’m a big fan of Hickory and Applewood together

    1. Sounds great, Marvin – but at a BBQ competition, we can’t use oven’s – only smokers – so I try to make my competition recipes ready for others to try at competitions.

  6. Larry,

    I tried your Award Winning Chicken Thighs this weekend and they were amazing!!! My wife does like thighs, but she loved these!
    The only issue I have and with all other chicken thigh recipes is the rubbery skin. Is there a way to crisp it up? I tried crisp them after the low and slow with high temp, but no luck. The way they are now, I just peel off the skin and throw away.

    1. Try to grill the chicken skin side down first before smoking. This will help the skin crisp up

  7. Larry,

    I tried your Award Winning Chicken Thighs this weekend and they were amazing!!! My wife does like thighs, but she loved these!
    The only issue I have and with all other chicken thigh recipes is the rubbery skin. Is there a way to crisp it up? I tried crisp them after the low and slow with high temp, but no luck. The way they are now, I just peel off the skin and throw away,

  8. Kevin,
    I’m going to give this recipe a go tomorrow. I only used the basic brine recipe that was in a link. Wish me luck, as this is my second attempt at smoking. I did some salmon and it turned out pretty good. Will keep you posted as to how the recipe turns out.

  9. I tried this and messed up somewhere. Can you help? To cut back on some sweetness, I didn’t use the sprite in the brine. The only other change I made was I doubled the brine recipe because I had 20 breasts. The brine was 2.5 cups of apple juice, 2.5 cups of water (an extra half cup of each to account for the missing sprite), a cup of kosher salt and 2T of pepper. The chicken sat in the brine for about 4 hours. What I got was a thigh that tasted a lot like a salty ham. I used cherry chunks for the wood in my smoker. The taste overall wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for. If I cut back on the salt, how much do you recommend?

    1. Sorry to hear you had bad results, Jon. I’d cut the salt in half. If it was THAT over salty, make a drastic cut. That should do it.

  10. Cooked these tonight and couldn’t be more satisfied, very cheap and easy and can make for larger numbers with out too much work , flavours were absolutely orgasmic will make them again for sure

    1. Ron – thinning out the skin to make it crispier…it’s difficult and a bit of a pain. I remove the entire skin from the thigh and lay it fat side up on a cutting board. Then take a very sharp knife and start scraping carefully to remove a layer of the fat. Be careful not to rip the skin!

      1. Another way to thin chicken skin is to drop the chicken into a large pot of boiling water for about 8 minutes, then into ice water to stop the cooking. It will really thin out the fat which will be floating on the water. After, you cook in the normal way to get nice crispy skin.

    1. Samuel – absolutely. Same principle. One main difference – don’t let the internal temp of breasts go above 165 or it will dry out. Thighs are more forgiving and can take a higher temperature and still be juicy.

    1. You can definitely use this same recipe for legs. Times may be a bit longer depending on the size. Just make sure to monitor your internal temps and you’ll be good!

  11. I made these today. I thought they were amazing! My friend that was over for he BBQ told me it was the absolute best BBQ chicken he has ever had and I should consider entering them in a competition. I took all the credit 😉

  12. Hi Kevin,

    I’m just wondering how sweet the chicken turns out to be? I think from talking to people and tasting North American products, you have a palate accustomed to much sweeter food than we do here in New Zealand (i.e. Best Foods mayonnaise is very sweet to us). I’m keen to make these thighs but wondering if I need to reduce or substitute the Sprite or coke with something. In my smoker I will use a native wood, Manuka ( New Zealand tea tree) wood chips.


    1. Hello Melissa – thanks for reaching out! Yes, I would definitely substitute something else for the soda. You could always spice things up with vinegar, beer, hot sauce, mustard – whatever your taste buds prefer. You’re right, this is a sweetened up recipe!

      1. Hi Kevin,

        Thanks for your reply, and good to confirm. I will experiment with the ideas you gave me and do some testing to get the right balance. Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce are popular here to balance sweetness as well. Incidentally, I was interested to read your comments on thighs vs. breasts. Thighs are much preferred here (for suitable recipes) as they are less likely to dry out, are juicy, and we find the darker meat has more flavour, which is always a good starting point!

        Thanks again,

      2. And just to add to that, another reason why thighs are more popular (except for Green Thai chicken curry etc) is that while we know what brining is, it is almost unheard of as being used as a technique here to stop meat drying out. An example would be if we were roasting a turkey for Christmas we would instead make a pocket between the flesh and the skin over the breast bone and smear over lots of soft duck fat, or a block of softened butter (500 gms) over the flesh and let that seep in during cooking to retain moistness and juiciness in the flesh. It helps to make the skin lovely and crispy too.

        But I am keen to try out the brining technique and see what it produces. I may even try to brine the turkey this Christmas, just for a change and see how it turns out!

  13. Did this over the weekend. Came out pretty good. The one thing I would change next time is reduce the smoke time. I didn’t mix in any hickory, just used apple, but two hours of smoke gave it that over smoked taste. Not real bitter like over smoking with hardwood will do, but there was a little bit of that over smoke ‘bite’. I did finish them up on the grill to crisp the skin.

  14. I wanted to say that I really love this recipe. The thighs turn out great each and every time and I think this is an award winning recipe in my opinion.

    The skin is crispy, the flavor is spot on, and there’s really not anything to change in your recipe! I have done these on my weber grill using indirect cooking, as well as my Traeger grill that I received this year as a gift. Both have turned out wonderfully.

    I agree with either scraping some of the fat off the underneath side of the skin or cooking at a lower temperature for a longer time for crispy skin. Also have tried this without the skin and it too turned out wonderfully.

    Many thanks to you for such a great recipe, you should be proud!! 🙂

    1. Isaiah – great question – yes, I smoke them bone side DOWN. Why? Only one reason – to crisp up that skin as much as possible. Do I flip them? Sometimes – but only when I’m cooking in a pan. Then I’ll start skin side down and flip skin up after 30-45 minutes.

  15. My first time doing chicken thighs in the electric smoker. Thanks for the rub n recipe, family really loved them……me too. I was surprised hoe meaty n tasty the thighs were….Will do a repeat performance in the future. Thank you!!

  16. chicken skin is never good even covered in barbecue sauce it still tastes like at greedy rubber trikk try this take the skin off and do the same thing without it you’ll love it even more and your doctor will tell you you’re smart

  17. I made this recipe for my family for Sunday Dinner and got great comments. Made 24 thighs for 8 adults. It was surprising how the people who only eat white meat loved these thighs, and my chef son raved on them as well.
    We offered a side of bbq sauce, but didn’t need it. It seems the guys ate 2 and the women ate one each so we had 12 left after dinner. I am positive they will re-warm perfectly as leftovers.
    I will make these again for dinner, tailgating, pot luck, etc…
    The only change I’d make is removing the skin all together. The meat sticking out of the skin was delicious and moist and the skin was good, but I ate one piece after pealing the skin off and it was better.
    I may try a version using boneless skinless thighs.

  18. Excellent! I read all the comments but I was not sure how to get the fat off the skin. I found this link on YouTube and followed his directions on preparing the thighs by removing the fat for brining. I did it and I used your brine and followed your recipe. The end result was crispy skin and wonderful taste. Your brine is soooo good! Thank you for a fun day smoking delicious chicken!

  19. A couple little hints to get that skin to crisp up –
    Drop the chicken/turkey/duck, etc into boiling water for about three minutes. Then take it out and put it in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. This melts much of the fat under the skin without cooking the chicken in the process.
    Dry skin means crisp skin. Make sure your chicken skin is totally dry before it goes in the smoker. However, oil is ok. Butter, olive oil, etc will give the rub something to stick to. Lastly, leave the salt out of your rub, and put it directly on the skin, then the rub after that. The salt on the dry skin or oil helps draw out more fat and moisture, again leading to crispy skin. If you can get natural lard, that is also a good oil to use.
    Leaving the chicken in the refrigerator ‘nekkid’ helps the skin dry out. A fan can be used in the house to help dry it out.
    Smoking is usually at a low temperature which makes it hard to render the fat out of the skin before the bird is done. The boiling water trick helps remove some of that fat I would suggest using the toothpicks before going into the water, because the skin will shrink otherwise. With the toothpicks, it will ‘tighten’ the thigh as it shrinks.
    I have some brining right now. I add powdered beet to the brine to help color the skin red. 1 tablespoon is plenty.

  20. Hi, I am from indonesia and lucky to discover your website. just wanted to know how to keep it moist and juicy. i am going to have party at 7pm i will start cooking around 3pm using wood fired oven just wanted to know how to keep it warm or HOW to reheat when the guests arrive. Using foil? stay in oven for low heat? will it dry my the chicken . thanks and need some advice please

    1. Eddie – my skin always ends up pretty good and crisp. The closer to the heat, the crispier they will get. If you want to be extra sure, you can trim some of the fat from underneath the skin – being careful not to rip the skin.

  21. Hi Kevin, I’m entering my first competition and im going to use your recipe. The only difference is we have to turn in full bone in chicken halves. Would you change anything?

    1. Angie – Yes – if I were doing a whole half a chicken, I would be sure to brine it for several hours – then rinse that brine off thoroughly before cooking so it’s not too salty. Then I would inject the heck out of it. All over. Underneath, on top, everywhere. Then generously sprinkle rub on the bone side of the chicken so flavor can seep in during cooking. A chicken half will surely take longer to cook than a thigh, so just watch your internal temp so you don’t overcook it and dry it out. Remember, flavor comes through strong on the bone side, so if you wanted, you could even lay the chicken bone side down on top of..flavor. Herbs, spices, onion, lemon, garlic, fruit…anything you want. Good luck!

      1. Thanks so much…. OK, just to be clear…. Brine for several hours, pat dry, and then inject with the same brine? I will let you know how it turns out, thanks, again!!

        1. No – Never inject with same brine.
          1. Brine.
          2. Rinse off with water and pat dry.
          3. Inject with fresh solution -whatever flavors you prefer or a store bought injection.

          Hope that clarifies!

  22. I’ve done chicken many times and I always use apple. The problem is, the skin usually doesn’t turn out very good. I love thighs so I stick with that. Your brine was really good and I followed your instructions which I normally don’t do with recipes except I was right at 250 for two hours. The chicken turned out great and tasted really good. Used sweet baby rays because I used a spicy chipotle rub so wanted some sweet in there. However, the skin was like rubber. Couldn’t eat it at all and had to peel it off and throw it away. Shame. That’s my favorite part. Any suggestions? I was even thinking about trying to fry the skin in hot oil before smoking but not sure about that little maneuver. Love the brine though. Awesome. Since I’m in the mood still, going to do a brisket today for mothers day. Smoke away!!! (FYI, I had two ice-cold frosty ones while waiting for the grill) ^_^

    1. Ken – getting the skin crispy is all about rendering the fat. If you really want to make sure you have crispy skin, carefully peel the skin of the thigh back and scrape/cut away some fat from underneath the skin and on the skin itself. If you don’t want to do that, then try lower cooker temp for a longer cooking time – this should get your fat rendered more and result in crispier skin.

      1. Thanks Kevin. I watch “The Kitchen” every Saturday and Jeff had a good point on chicken. After the brine, put it in an open dish and let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours for a crispy skin. I brined some thigh quarters yesterday and have them in the fridge and will smoke them tonight. Hopefully they’ll be perfect. Love the brine man. Awesome taste!

  23. I still had that rubber texture on the skin. I didn’t have a thermometer in the actual bbq to determine the exact temperature. I am cooking on a kettle type barbecue put coals to one side, water pan under the cold side where the meat sat. Kept it between 250 and 200. was definitely sitting at 225 for the majority of the cooking. Brined the chicken. Sauced after 2 hours. I’m just trying to figure out what would cause the rubbery skin and why I am having such a problem. hahaha.

    Love the site by the way and the chicken tastes great apple and hickory is a great combination.


    1. Richard – two things I would try to crisp up the skin: 1. Cook at higher temp – 275-300. 2. Scrape some of the fat from underneath the skin. These should guarantee a crispy finish for you!

    2. I saw this recipe and had to try it. I have the thighs on the smoker right now can’t wait to try them!

  24. I bought a MasterBuilt Electric smoker last year after my condo development “outlawed” gas and charcoal barbeques. Tried, half-heartedly, a few times last year with little success.

    I made this recipe following your details word for word. Absolutely, hands-down, the best thing I have ever eaten. I making another batch right now… brine has sugar, kosher salt, sprite, apple juice. My rub is sugar, salt, cayenne, paprika, chili powder, garlic powder. Sauce is French dressing and molasses thinned with apple juice . I’m excited… Love my smoker, after all!

    Thanks for the pointers!

  25. Hubby just made your recipe on our new Weber smoker. He used 1/2 Cherry and 1/2 Apple wood. A1 Bold original rub and it smoked for 2 hrs at 200 degrees. Followed the rest of the recipe by the letter. ABSOLUTELY AWESOME!!!! BEST BBQ CHICKEN WE HAVE EVER EATEN! Thank you SO much for this recipe!

  26. After trying a few methods cooking thighs, this by far exceeds my past attempts. Like others have said, the skin was always tough, this time if was like candy. My wife raved, which she hasn’t with any of my smoked chicken. I used mesquite chips so I think this offset the sweetness of the sauce I used to make it the perfect balance. I used Sweet Baby Ray’s, freah apple cider and some Michelob Amber Bock.

  27. Best chicken I ever put in the smoker. Used your brine, chicken rub from Steve Raichlen. Into my Smokin’ Tex with a little black cherry and apple. Smoked at 250 for 2 1/4 hours. Took out and dipped in Bullseye Original thinned down with apple juice. Back into the smoker for 30 minutes.
    Fantastic recipe!

  28. I have a party coming up the middle of this month and I have the weber smokey mountain. I will be making brisket and I figured I’ll make this chicken an appetizer. I haven’t really made chicken on my WSM before. In addition I am going to have a whole brisket on the smoker prior to adding the chicken on the smoker (roughly around 35 chciken thighs and legs). I will be smoking at a temperature between 225-230 now the question I have, taking into consideration all the meat (brisket and 35 thighs and legs). How many hours should I leave the chciken on? Thank you.

    1. You’ll want to pay close attention to the internal temperature on the chicken. Even with all of that meat, thighs cook pretty quick. And the WSM is an awesome cooking machine – it can totally handle it. I’d be shocked if it took much more than 2 hours to finish them. Just monitor the thighs and pull them when they hit 165!

  29. Well Kevin, I tried very hard to screw these thighs up and I came pretty darn close. Probably would have scored a 5, maybe 6. I overcooked them (2 hr – internal temp 190, oops). I used my family grilling sauce, which is dark to begin with (thighs LOOKED burned, they weren’t). But I gotta tell ya, your METHODOLOGY is great! I just need to execute better. My only issue is the salt. I thought the end product was a tad salty for me (I don’t use salt per se). My guess is the brine (soaked for 1 hr), so I might tinker with that a bit. Other than that, the thighs were still delicious! Thanks for sharing your secrets.

    1. Thanks for the excellent feedback! I agree on the salt – be careful. Definitely try pulling back the salt in the brine and then be sure to rinse them thoroughly when you’re done brining, before adding rub. Also check the salt content of your rub and sauce. Those are easy to tweak as well.

  30. I made these for my hubby a few months ago and my hubby says they were the best thighs he has ever had! Now he keeps asking when I’ll be making them again. We will be enjoying them again this weekend. Thanks for sharing!

  31. I made these with boneless/skinless thighs for a tailgate (easier to make into handheld sandwiches for parking lot eating), cooked them low and slow in the oven at home, then finished on the grill on game-day. They were a HUGE hit! I have used the rub for ribs and for pork as well, with some tweaks here and there, and it is a delicious homemade touch that is so super easy. Trying the same setup but with the brine and with whole leg quarters, seems like the best way to break in our grill in our new home. Thanks for sharing your recipes!

  32. Okay, I’m smoking these bad boys for the second time today–and I’m so excited to be eating these again. I consider myself to be an advanced bbq griller but a novice with my new smoker. We love chicken thighs, and I loved the way this site presented and talked about smoking, so I gave these thighs a try. You did not oversell them. They were simply delicious. We’re taking the finished product from today to a summer concert. I know the people around us will be jealous. I must also plug (although I have no financial interest in this company) Trader Joe’s Kansas City Bbq Sauce. I love this stuff, and it worked to perfection with this recipe.

    Thanks for sharing your expertise and good food.

    Greg Branch (Orange, CA)

  33. I’ve had a good bit of experience trying to smoke chicken parts and the skin consistently comes out leathery. (2 hours in a 250 cabinet smoker.) I have tried smoking for one hour, dousing them with sauce afterwards, and baking covered in a 250 oven for 30 min in an attempt to soften the skin, then putting over a grill flame before serving , but no better results. However, I have not brined the chicken beforehand. Is this the sole reason yours comes out with a nice skin or am I doing something else wrong?

    FWIW, I’ve also read where chicken skin won’t render at temps under 275 — not sure what the relevance of that is.

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Joel – I think you’re spot on with the higher temp to get a firmer skin. I usually smoke my chickens so long the skin ends up pretty crispy. So I’d say smoke at a higher temp, try rubbing with oil first, or you can always sear when they’re done as a last resort.

      1. Thanks Kevin. Unfortunately my smoker tops out at 250. But, maybe I wasn’t too clear: the chicken skin turns out like a a tough thin slice of leather. Searing it does not help matters. Like, can’t-cut-with-a-knife tough. I WISH it was undercooked so I could sear and crisp it. I’m going to try to smoke them skinless, then reapply the skins and bake at 475 to crisp. I guess that would be a sure fire way!

        1. Well if you want it less crisp you should be able to do that by using a lower temperature. Also, try basting it. Keeping moisture in the skin should help keep it softer.

          1. Super advice! Last night, I smeared some mayo both under the skin and on top. On another thigh, I wrapped in bacon. After smoking , both skins were good and ready to crisp in the oven or on the grill!

  34. Great. My wife said it was the best chicken she’s had in years. Our guests loved it also. Brined all day before. Applied rub and let sit overnight before smoking in the afternoon for a great dinner. I left it on for 30 minutes after applying BBQ sauce and it worked great because smoker had lost a lot of heat. I was cooking a lot of chicken for 12 and it took a while to apply the BBQ sauce.

  35. Thanks, they were awesome. Had them for our fathers day gathering. Some said the best BQ chicken thighs they ever had! I did twenty four thighs. Doubled the brine and rub recipe.
    Smoked for 4 hours due to quantity in smoker.
    150 plus internal temp. Then in the BQ on a tray at 225-250 for about 30 min.
    Only two left. Their gone today.
    Great recipe.
    PS: I did use smoked paprika in the rub.

  36. Hey, Thanks for the recipe.
    I followed it exactly for my first competition and placed second. Just me and my brinkman charcoal sidebox smoker. I used a store bought sauce and doctored it with apple juice and maple syrup.
    I got 1st for my pork butt using the standard renown Mr brown recipe. Just me and my brinkman charcoal sidebox smoker. I made allot of the semi pro guys in the competition pretty upset!!!
    Thanks again… Mike

  37. I have made these over and over again because they are so tasty. The kids and family love them, and I can afford to feed my growing boys as many thighs as they want!

  38. I have a 40 ” Masterbuilt Electric Smoker; Planning on doing 4 full trays of thighs for a big 80th birthday/mother’s day get-together. Are you using foil lined trays on the smoker grills or place the thighs directly on the grills? Water/apple juice beneath in the reservoir? How frequently do you add wood chips? What is your estimate for the smoking time to reach 170 internal with a full smoker? Do you turn up the smoker temp after the sauce dunk?

    1. Dana –
      I put thighs directly on the grills, but many people put them in trays with butter and applejuice. Can’t go wrong either way.
      I only use water in my smoker.
      Wood chips usually last about 20-30 minutes. I use chunks or logs, which last longer.
      I would guess maybe 2 hours cook time if your smoker is at 225-250.
      My smoker is almost always between 225-250.

      Good luck!

  39. I made these yesterday and turned out awesome followed the instruction and the thighs were so delicious, moist, and very tender. Very enjoyable! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  40. I made your award winning chicken thighs. I made your BBQ sauce and your chicken rub. My husband said it was the best smoked chicken he has ever had. Next weekend we’re going to try your rib recipe! Thank you so much for sharing!

  41. I’ve never cooked chicken with bone in much less smoking bone in chicken. I cooked 25 thighs for a total of 2 hours and 10 minutes between 210-280 degrees and they came out tasting great. Thanks for posting directions.

  42. i am a first timer but am following your instructions exactly so hoping for good result. i have gas grill with a side smoker/charcoal box, char-griller 301. i shouldn’t need to run the gas right? Just get the charcoal hot enough to keep the right temp in the main portion of the grill. That is where I want to put the chicken so it is away from the direct heat right? Sorry, again I am a first timer. Thanks and Happy New Year..

    1. Exactly right – gas shouldn’t be needed if utilizing smoke box with charcoal/wood. And again right – put meat on opposite side of heat to maximize smoking at a lower temp.
      Hope it goes well – enjoy!

      1. Kevin, just to follow. The side addition smoke/charcoal box worked okay. I kept running out of smoke but I am experimenting with that. I think the temp went down too low for a while so I had to supplement one gas burner on low near the end to bring the temp of the meat up. It’s a work of art to keep everything perfect for the whole two hours. All in all though, the thighs were very good. Inexpensive meat to experiment with. Thanks for all your advice.

  43. I tried these the day after Christmas in Cleveland. It’s was 20 degrees out so we set our smoker at 250 and it held right around 240 for most of the cook time. At 2 hours the thighs temped out at 170 exactly, we dunked them in sauce and gave them twenty more min and they were all gone in the next thirty min! Shoulda made double!

  44. I take off the skin and tidy them up a bit, put them in a salt/brown sugar/garlic/bay leaf/mild chilli/Thyme brine then put them in my Char-Griller Akorn with lump and hickory for a hour then start mopping them.
    We love em 🙂

  45. Do you get the bite through skin, without scraping the underside of the skin, cooking them for only 2 hours?

    1. Yes and no. Sometimes. I’ve been playing with scraping the skin and that certainly makes the bite through easier. It depends on your cooker, where they are placed and how fatty they are – but I have achieved bite through without scraping the skin.

  46. I don’t have a way to smoke my chicken…. if I skip that step do I just add more time to the chicken on the BBQ? or should I pre cook them in the oven for 2 hours on a low temp?

    1. Regardless if there is smoke involved, you will cook them exactly the same amount of time. Whether it’s on your grill or in the oven. If the temp is there, it doesn’t matter if there’s smoke – they’ll get done just the same.
      Good luck and let me know if you need anything else!

  47. Just curious when you do smoke these do you put water in water pan and do you put anything in the water?

    1. When I use my smoker, yes, I always put water in my water pan, nothing else. When I’m smoking on my Weber it’s usually a quicker cook and I don’t use anything.
      I do think it helps keep moisture in meat during longer cooks, but it’s certainly not necessary.

  48. Made these again for friends last weekend. This time I cut off the knuckles and trimmed them like you mentioned in one of your replies. Everyone loves them. Is there a reason to not just go ahead and remove the whole bone?

    1. Great, Brad! 2 reasons I don’t remove the bone: 1. In competitions, you have to keep it in. 2. It helps keep the meat moist. But yes, you could definitely remove the bone and still have very good results.

      1. Do you have a rib recipe? If I use two different rubs, should the heat or the sweet go on first? I’ve read your articles, and know I should wrap for a while, do I need to add some type of liquid during that time? (can you tellI watch too many barbecue shows) Thanks for your time. Any chance we’ll be seeing you on bbq pitmasters?

        1. Hi Brad! Why yes we do have a rib recipe! You can find it here: To answer your question about rubs, I always do heat before sweet. Always end with sweet. And in the ribs recipe you can read what I do during wrapping, but no liquid for me. You’ll see some pitmasters use parkay when they wrap. I refuse. I find that repugnant. That would be pretty cool to be on Pitmasters, wouldn’t it!? Good luck with the recipe and let me know how it turns out!

  49. Hello Kevin!

    I don’t have a smoker, can I do this in my oven on low and slow heat? What would you suggest?



    1. Absolutely, Irene! You’ll duplicate every step of the recipe – just minus the smoke. Everything else will stay the same and they should turn out delicious!

  50. One word. AWESOME. I made this recipe for a Mother’s Day cookout for my wife and mother-in-law. I followed the recipes to the “T”. It was delicious. Even my 16-month old daughter was licking her fingers, literally. I brined the chicken for about 3 hours. I will note that next time I need to do a better job rinsing the chicken thighs after they brine. There were pockets of salt and pepper left over on them that at times were a tad overpowering. The toothpicks in the chicken really help to lock in all that moisture. I smoked them on my Char-Griller for 2 hours with some charcoal, cherry wood and pecan wood. (Since everyone was getting hungry, I took them off the grill after dipping them in the BBQ sauce and through them in the oven for 10 minutes at 400. I did this because I usually smoke them for 2.5 hours, but I was having a little trouble keeping the heat up on my grill.)

    Again, Kevin, this was delicious. Thank you for sharing the recipe(s) and your techniques. I will also add that we liked the chicken rub so much, I have started using it on plain baked chicken in the oven for those weeknights when grilling or smoking will take too long. I cannot wait to try more of your recipes.

    Question. What types of charcoal and/or wood do you recommend using?

    Also, how do you come up with your recipes? I love to cook, but I hate to waste food. Are there basic guidelines you follow so you know generally what something will taste like? For example, do you always pair salt with sweet, with something acidic, etc.? Just trying to be creative but still be able to eat 🙂

    Thank you again. Good luck to you team. I hope to see you on the BBQ Pitmasters show.


    1. Bill – wow, thanks so much for the incredible feedback! I’m so glad you’ve had success with my recipes and are enjoying cooking.

      In regards to your charcoal/wood question – check out my post on the site about that, as I go into an extensive conversation. But long story short, if I’m smoking/slow cooking, I always use Kingsford briqs, and the woods I use are always hickory and any fruit woods – apple, cherry, pecan mostly.

      How do we come up with recipes? A lot of research and practice. My wife is incredible at matching flavors, so she has a lot of great ideas. When we think of something, we try it, tweak it, add/subtract to get it matched up to OUR taste preferences – and I always invite my readers to do the same. Always feel free to tweak to your preference.

      In regards to specifics…well…in general, everything needs salt. From there, my belief is everything needs a little sweet. Then think of complimenting flavors and GO EASY at first. A little garlic or onion goes a long way. You can always add more if you so desire. Strong flavors, like acidics, I’m careful with. I use a lot of acidics in my marinades and brines, but other than a splash of lemon, pretty much steer clear of at the end of the cooking process.

      Keep practicing, look up recipes on my site and online and you’ll start catching on to what flavors go together. It happens quicker than you think. My wife and I cook A LOT, so we have lots of time to practice.

      Thanks again Bill and keep visiting and commenting!

  51. I love this site. Can’t remember how I found it but glad I did. I’ve tried three of your recipes and all were big hits. The smoked chix thighs had super flavor. What can I do next time to make the skin more tender? I know it won’t get crispy, but I’d like it to be easier to bite thru. Keep up the great work, and good luck with your team.

    1. Hi Brad! Really happy you are enjoying the site. I’m glad you found us too! The skin question is a good one. Another reader had the same question and I’ll just repeat what I said to them about the topic: It’s basically impossible to get the skin crispy in a smoker. I’ve tried frying in a cast iron skillet – didn’t work very well. Your other option is to sear them over direct flames. Again, tried it, but almost impossible to get all the skin all the way around crispy. So I get it good and firm and sacrifice crispiness for a beautiful presentation.

      Keep trying the recipes and let me know how they go! Feel free to post pictures of your successes on our Facebook page too!

    2. If you are trying to get bite-through chicken, the key is to start the process with a thinner skin. To thin the skin out follow these steps:
      1- Completely remove the skin from the thigh.
      2- Use either a flat sharp knife, or a new and properly cleaned paint scraper to scrape the underside of the skin. Yes, a paint scraper…works great.
      3-After you have trimmed the thigh and dusted it with your favorite rub, place the already scraped skin over the the thigh. Tuck the skin underneath. You can use toothpicks to hold the skin in place, however because it is so thin it should adhere to the meat.


      1. Tom – this is excellent. I have tried this process before, but need to again. It’s incredibly time consuming, but if perfected, I really think it will produce a crispier skin. I will do a test run this summer before competition season and post the results. Thanks so much for sharing!

        1. Not sure the process will produce crispy skin, but you will get the bite-through skin that the judges are looking for. Btw…I am going to try your brine recipe. Keep you posted!


  52. Those were some of the best thighs I’ve had(next to my wife’s) awesome recipe think it’s hard to beat. Will surely keep using this recipe. Thank you

    1. Excellent! Thanks so much for the feedback, Blaine – great to hear you made with success. Keep coming back and trying more recipes.

  53. Saw your website about 45 min to late, but i did get my thighs from a supermarket, and they usually have a brine solution on them. but i will put this on my favs to come back to ….. so yeah they are smoking right now, to bad my smoker only has warm ideal and hot … lol , but it has done me well so far … worse cause my huskies get a treat tonight , and off to the store to buy some more and try yours, I’m using hickory and orange wood, …. i noticed you said you have to be careful with hickory …. but didn’t say what for?

    1. The reason, in my opinion, you want to be careful with hickory, is it can bitter out the meat. Hickory, Oak, Mesquite – hard woods like that can really have a negative effect on your meat if you use too much – or smoke for too long. That’s why I always mix in the lighter fruit woods. They still get smoke to your meat, just lighter and less bitter.

    1. We do, Carl, sort of. No fried, only grilled. We have grilled steak fries as well as grilled asiago fries. They’re both listed under recipes – sides.

  54. Hi Kevin,
    What gorgeous chicken thighs! My husband and I are competing in our first BBQ competition as a team. I am in charge of trimming the thighs and making them ‘pretty’. (and I am the sauce person) I find it a little difficult to get them to look so nice. Do you use a certain ‘grade’ of chicken? Do you clean all the fat and tendons off them before you brine? Any advice would be appreciated! We are competing in Clermont, Florida in couple of weeks.

    1. Hi Penny, thanks so much for your message. First off, I don’t use a special chicken thigh – I actually buy mine at Sam’s club. They’re always big and meaty. I cut the knuckles of the bone off on both sides and trim some of the fat and tendons. I also cut out the vein if it’s visible. Be careful with that – if you don’t cut it out it can bleed and if the judges see blood you’re automatically disqualified. And yes, I do all of this before brining. That way, when they’re done brining I can rinse them off and they’re ready for rub and to be “folded” all nice and neat as you see in the pictures.

      Feel free to comment or email me directly for any other specific questions, and please let me know how you do in the competition!

  55. These were excellent! I modified the recipe a little bit but everything turned out great! Probably some of the best thighs I have ever cooked. Love the website.

    1. Thanks so much, Chris! Love hearing success stories – and good for you for making it your own. Glad to hear it all worked out and please keep coming back.

  56. I used your chicken recipe last night. I’ve never had better chicken in my life. Seriously it was so good I can’t believe I made it. Question, is it bad to tell people it’s my secret recipe? Just kidding. Great website and thanks for sharing.

    1. Eric – outstanding! I’ll tell you, no matter what I cook, people always say chicken is the best thing I do. If you can successfully cook a tasty moist piece of chicken, it’s always a treat. Thanks so much for the great feedback. Keep coming back and letting me know how things go!

  57. My husband and I recently got a Chargriller Duo with a side fire box, an early Christmas gift. This recipe was the first one we tried and the chicken thighs were phenomenal. We’ve used the brine recipe on chicken leg quarters multiple times and it’s so simple but perfect. Today I’m making some smoked chicken stock from one of your other recipes. I’m positive it will be delicious in my smoked chicken chili. I am not usually the type to leave comments, but I had to make the exception as I find myself on your web page so frequently. Thank you for posting all of your wonderful recipes!

    1. Thank you so much for the wonderful comments! Great to hear you and your husband are enjoying smoking and creating new recipes – and having some success! That is exactly my hope with this site – take recipes and processes that might seem daunting or difficult and make them easy and understandable for everyone to enjoy. Keep coming back and trying new things – and always feel free to email me or leave a question – I’m happy to help in any way I can. Happy New Year!

  58. These look awesome!! I actually have some thighs in the smoker as I am writing this now! It’s so much more expensive to buy them pre-smoked at my local meat market. I am a serious foodie persay and I’m always up to the challenge of trying new things. I have a masterbuilt electric smoker that I’m getting used to and looking forward to the finish product. I’ve also done some reading on smoked corn on the cob! I picked some up today from a local farmer. Yum! Thanks again for the recipe!

    1. Corey – that’s outstanding! Thanks so much for the great feedback. Please let me know how the thighs turned out – I love hearing about the finished products. And if you try smoking corn on the cob – let me know how that turns out as well! I’ve never tried that…

    1. They’re not crispy, but they’re firm enough to bite through clean, which is what you’re looking for in a competition. It’s basically impossible to get the skin crispy in a smoker. I’ve tried frying in a cast iron skillet – didn’t work very well. Your other option is to sear them over direct flames. Again, tried it, but almost impossible to get all the skin all the way around crispy. So I get it good and firm and sacrifice crispiness for a beautiful presentation.

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