How To Smoke Perfect Chicken Breasts in an Electric Smoker: A Step-by-Step Guide

Chicken breasts are lean and tend to dry out, which is why they are a challenge to cook in an electric smoker. I wanted to know how the experts tackle chicken breasts in electric smokers, so I asked the barbecue pros how it’s done. In this article, I’ll walk you through the entire process so you can get tender, juicy chicken breasts every time. 

The ideal temperature to cook chicken breasts is 225° F. It should take around about 2.5 to 3 hours to cook the breasts at this temperature, although it will depend on the size and thickness of the breasts. If you want the breasts cooked faster, you can also smoke chicken at the maximum temperature of 275° F. However, if you’re going to cook in this range, I would recommend wet brining the breasts prior to cooking. Depending on the size, it should take around about an hour or so to cook the breasts at 275° F. 

Key Points

  • Chicken breasts can be challenging to cook in an electric smoker due to their leanness and tendency to dry out
  • To cook chicken breasts in an electric smoker, aim for a temperature of 225-250°F (110-120°C) for 2-3 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F (74°C)
  • Wet brining the chicken breasts prior to smoking can help retain moisture and allow for cooking at higher temperatures
  • To get crispy skin on the chicken, finish cooking in the oven or avoid using a water pan or spritzing the chicken during the cook
  • To avoid drying out the chicken, wrap it in bacon or use a meat thermometer to ensure it is fully cooked but not overcooked
  • It is important to cook chicken to a safe internal temperature of at least 165°F (74°C) to kill any bacteria in the meat.

Smoked Chicken Breasts In An Electric Smoker

Smoked Chicken Breasts In An Electric Smoker

Tender, juicy smoked chicken breasts slow cooked in an electric smoker.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Additional Time 10 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 50 minutes


  • Chicken breasts
  • Dry rub or salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Bacon (optional)
  • 1.5 gallons of water
  • 1/2 a cup of kosher salt
  • 1/2 a cup of brown sugar.
  • 2 teaspoons of garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons of onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons of Cajun spice
  • Paprika
  • Thyme
  • Vinegar or apple cider vinegar.


    Brine: Dissolve the sugar, salt and other ingredients in a pot with a little of water before pouring into the rest of the water mix. To cool the water, put some ice blocks in the water to chill the warm sugar solution. Soak the chicken overnight or at least 6 hours prior to cooking. 

    Preparing The Chicken

  • For a rub binder, slather the chicken breasts in olive oil. 
  • Apply a decent amount of dry rub to the chicken, covering the meat completely. If you don’t have a dry rub, use a 50/50 mix of course black pepper and kosher salt. 
  • For extra moist breasts, wrap the chicken in bacon using toothpicks.

Smoking The Chicken Breasts

  • Fill the wood chip tray with hickory, apple, cherry or your favourite smoking wood. 
  • Set the temperature of your smoker to 225°F. If you want to cook the breasts faster, increase the temperature to 275°F. 
  • After 2 hours, begin checking the breasts with instant-read thermometer. 
  • Remove the breasts once the internal temperature reads 160°F. 
  • Wrap the breasts in foil and allow for some carryover cooking to take your breasts up to 165°F. 
  • It should take 2 1/2 to 3 hours to smoke breasts in an electric smoker. 

Nutrition Information:

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 56

Why Breasts Are A Challenge

Breasts are by far the most troublesome part of the chicken. Legs and thighs contain more fat and blood vessels, which makes them easier to maintain moisture. However, breasts have little fat, and will dry out if overcooked. 

Electric smokers generally won’t go over 275° F, which makes them ideal for cooking chicken breasts. However, the inability to go above 275°F makes it difficult to get crispy chicken skin (if choose to leave the skin on). 

In order to get crispy skin on a chicken, you need to smoke in the 300° F range, which isn’t possible with most electric smokers. The workaround is to finish the chicken or turkey in the oven. 

When Are Chicken Breasts Done?

Remove the chicken breasts from the electric smoker once the internal temperature reaches 160° F, then wrap them in foil. Allow for some carryover cooking, and the breasts will continue to rise to 165° F within 5 or 10 minutes. If you take the breasts out at 165° F, you may overcook them a little because the carryover cooking will take the breasts up to 170⁰F or 175 ⁰F during the resting period.

The USDA recommends cooking chicken to a safe internal temperature of 165° F. This is because chicken contains lots of bacteria, so the meat needs to be cooked well.

Brine The Breasts Prior To Smoking

For the most tender, juicy breasts, consider soaking the chicken breasts in a wet brine prior to smoking. This will allow you to even cook at a higher temperature without the worry of drying it out. 

A brine is a mix of mostly salt and sugar. The salt in the brine mixture will not only add flavor, but it will help the chicken breast retain moisture during the cook. The best way to brine is at least 6 hours prior to smoking. But you can leave the breasts soaking in the refrigerator overnight. 

Another way is to soak the breasts in a brine for 6 hours, drain and then leave in an open container in the fridge. This will allow the skin to dry out so it doesn’t become soft and rubbery. 

Brine Recipe For Chicken Breasts

There are dozens of brine recipes online, but a basic recipe I use is:

  •  1.5 gallons of water
  • 1/2 a cup of kosher salt
  • 1/2 a cup of brown sugar.
  • 2 teaspoons of garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons of onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons of Cajun spice
  • Paprika
  • Thyme
  • Vinegar or apple cider vinegar.

Instructions. Dissolve the sugar and salt in a pot with a little of water before pouring into the rest of the water mix. To cool the water, put some ice blocks in the water to chill the warm sugar solution. Soak the chicken overnight or at least 6 hours prior to cooking. 

Shopping for Chicken Breasts

Careful not to buy those huge chicken breasts because they can be difficult to cook. I prefer smaller breasts, in the 5 to 7 oz range because they’re easier to manage. Although the good thing about those huge breasts is, they hold a thermometer probe nicely; it allows you to monitor the internal temperature much easier. 

Rub and Seasoning

There are dozens of ways that you can season your chicken breasts. I like to keep things simple by using an all-purpose seasoning, or a basic salt and pepper mixed with paprika for color. Sometimes I’ll mix in some garlic powder and granulated onion to give the breasts a savory taste. 

There are several great dry rubs on the market. The best rubs are Killer Hogs and Slap Yo Daddy.

If you want a fantastic dry rub recipe, you check out this recipe. I’ve been using this for a while. It’s versatile and can be used on just about anything, and you can add and subtract ingredients according to your liking.

Use Good Thermometers

If you want tender, juicy chicken breasts, you need to cook for the breasts to the perfect internal meat temperature. With low-and-slow cooking, we cook to temperature, not time. Keep a thermometer probe inserted in the chicken breast during the cook so you can closely monitor the temperature. Use an instant-read thermometer towards the end of the cook—just to verify the temperature. If you don’t have an instant-read, check out the TP19. This is my thermometer of choice.

Wrap The Breasts In Bacon For Extra Moisture

Whenever you’re cooking anything lean, wrapping the meat in bacon is a popular trick to add moisture and flavor. Bacon wrapping works well with chicken breasts. The bacon will baste the meat during the cook and prevent it from drying out. Bacon fat will also add an amazing flavor. To wrap the breasts in bacon, use toothpicks to hold the bacon in position. 

Should You Use A Water Pan For Breasts?

When smoking chicken in an electric, a water pan is optional, but not necessary. The water will provide some extra moisture to keep the chicken tender and juicy. However, the water may cause your smoker to run cooler. This isn’t ideal for electrics since they already struggle to get over 275° F. Also, if you are smoking skin-on breasts, the extra humidity from a water pan may contribute to soft skin. 


The best wood for smoking chicken is apple or cherry. However, you can mix in a bit of hickory, or any other strong smoking wood. Electric smokers don’t produce as much smoke as charcoal or pellet grills, so wood selection is important. Mesquite and hickory can be too strong for chicken, but these smoking woods will give your chicken a shot of intense smoke in a short period.

Smoking Tubes

A great way to get some extra smoke flavor in your electric smoker is with a smoking tube. These were a game-changer for me, because I was never satisfied with the amount of smoke flavor from my electric smoker. A smoking tube is simple to use. All you need to do is fill it up with wood pellets, light one end and let it smolder for the entire cook. This will double your smoke output.

Reverse Sear Smoked Breast Steaks

Another technique you can try with chicken breasts is to cut them open (butterfly) so the breast folds out like a steak. Then season the chicken steak, and place it on the smoker at 200° F for about 45 minutes to an hour. Then, fire up your grill and sear the chicken breast steaks until they hit 160° F internal. 

How To Get Crispy Skin

There are several things you can do to avoid getting a soft rubbery skin on your chicken. First, always cook above 275° F. This is difficult since most electrics don’t go that high. However, you can finish the chicken in the oven to crisp up the skin. 

Avoid using a water pan, or spritzing the chicken during the cook, as this will soften the skin. You can spray the chicken with olive oil spray, which will help brown the meat. 

Dry the chicken as much as possible prior to smoking, as this will prevent soft rubbery skin. Although wet brining is highly recommended for chicken breasts, if you really want crispy skin, either skip the wet brining and go for a dry brine, or dry the chicken very well after removing from the wet brine. A dry brine is simply rubbing kosher salt into the chicken and allowing it to penetrate the meat overnight. 

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.


Author and founder at Meat Smoking HQ

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