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.
They look pretty cool, don’t they? Sprinkle more rub all over including the skin side. You’re ready to smoke ’em.
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
- 1 cup Water
- 1 cup Apple Juice
- 1 can of Sprite
- 1/2 C Kosher/Sea salt
- 1 T Pepper
- A package of Bone-in Skin-on Chicken Thighs.
- Basic Chicken Rub
- Your favorite BBQ Sauce
- 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.