Smoking chicken breast is a delicious way to cook this lean cut of meat, but it can be tricky to get it right. Chicken breast tends to dry out easily due to its lack of fat. In this article, I’ll show you techniques from pitmasters so you can smoke breasts to perfection.
To smoke chicken breast, it is best to use a temperature between 225°F and 275°F and cook it until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. To prevent dryness, it is helpful to soak the chicken in a brine for at least 6 hours beforehand or wrap it in bacon. There are various other techniques, such as using indirect heat and finishing with a sear, that can help ensure moist and tender results. The cook time will depend on the size of the breasts and the specific cooking method used. It is important to use a good instant-read thermometer to ensure that the chicken is cooked to a safe temperature.
- The Importance of Proper Temperature and Time for Smoking Chicken Breast
- How to Rest Smoked Chicken Breast for the Best Results
- The Benefits of Leaving the Skin On During Smoking
- Indirect Heat: The Key to Moist and Tender Chicken Breast
- Finishing with a Sear for Crispy Skin
- Step-by-Step Guide to Smoking the Perfect Chicken Breast
- Factors That Affect Smoking Time for Chicken Breast
- The Importance of Checking Internal Temperature for Chicken Breast
- Tips for Ensuring Moist and Tender Smoked Chicken Breast
- Recipe Variations for Delicious Smoked Chicken Breast
Smoked Chicken Breast in 12 Steps
|1||Brine the chicken breasts for at least 6 hours or overnight.|
|2||Dry the breasts and apply a barbecue rub.|
|3||Optional: wrap the breasts in bacon and secure with toothpicks.|
|4||Preheat the smoker to a temperature between 225°F and 275°F.|
|5||Set up the smoker for indirect heat, if necessary.|
|6||Add smoking wood (such as apple, cherry, or pecan) to the smoker.|
|7||Place the breasts on the grill of the smoker.|
|8||Flip the breasts after 40 minutes.|
|9||Cook until the internal meat temperature reaches 160°F.|
|10||Wrap the breasts in foil and let them rest until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.|
|11||Optional: finish the breasts with a sear over direct heat for crispy skin.|
|12||Serve and enjoy!|
Smoking Chicken Breast Temperature and Time
It should take 2- 3 hours to smoke chicken breasts at 225° F. But the total cook time also depends on the size of the breasts. As always, use a good instant-read thermometer so you know for sure that your meat is safe to eat— especially chicken.
|Temperature||Cook Time||Internal Temperature|
- Cook time may vary depending on the size of the breasts and the specific temperature used.
- It is important to use a good instant-read thermometer to ensure that the chicken is cooked to a safe internal temperature.
- Allow the chicken to rest for a few minutes after cooking to allow for carry-over cooking and to allow the meat to reabsorb moisture.
- For crispy skin, smoke the chicken at a temperature above 275°F and pat the skin dry before cooking.
- Use indirect heat to prevent the chicken from drying out.
- Consider finishing the chicken with a sear over direct heat for added crispy texture and flavor.
Resting Smoked Chicken Breast
To ensure the best results and prevent dryness, allow the chicken breasts enough time to rest after cooking. Remove the breasts from the smoker when they reach an internal temperature of around 160°F and wrap them in foil. Allow them to rest until they reach an internal temperature of 165°F. This process, known as carry-over cooking, allows the meat to reabsorb some of its moisture and become more tender.
Skin-On Chicken Breast
If you leave the skin on the chicken breast during smoking, it can be beneficial. First and foremost, the skin helps to protect the meat and prevent it from drying out. Also, the fat in the skin helps to baste the meat, adding flavor and moisture.
If you want the skin to be crispy, it is important to smoke the chicken at a temperature above 275°F. Any lower temperature will result in soft, rubbery skin. To ensure the skin comes out crispy, it is a good idea to pat the skin dry with a paper towel before smoking or to leave the chicken uncovered in the refrigerator overnight.
Cooking chicken breast at a high temperature of 275°F will result in a shorter cook time, typically about an hour or an hour and a half depending on the size of the chicken. It is important to monitor the internal temperature of the meat and remove the breasts from the smoker when they reach an internal temperature of 160°F. Allow the chicken to rest in foil until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F to allow for carry-over cooking and to allow the meat to reabsorb moisture.
Indirect Heat for Smoking Chicken Breast
If you’re using a charcoal grill, setup for indirect cooking with the charcoal to one side, and the meat on the other side. This is also known as two-zone cooking with a hot zone and a cool zone. You don’t want to cook the breast over a direct flame, otherwise it will dry out. Place the meat in the cool zone where it can cook slowly. However, this won’t be an issue with electric or pellet smokers because they cook with an indirect heat. But if you are smoking with a kettle grill, kamado or a bullet style smoker, use an indirect setup.
Finishing with a Sear
When the meat is nearly done, you can finish the breasts over the direct flame to get some crispiness, but don’t leave it too long. For most of the cook, you want the meat sitting on the cool zone.
Reverse searing is a cooking technique that involves cooking the meat at a lower temperature for a longer period of time, and then finishing it off with a high-heat sear. This technique can be used with any type of meat, including chicken breasts.
To reverse sear a smoked chicken breast, you would first smoke the chicken at a low temperature until it is fully cooked and reaches the desired level of smoke flavor. This can be done in a smoker or pellet grill.
Once the chicken is fully cooked, it is then seared at a high temperature. This can be done on the stovetop using a grill pan or on an outdoor grill. The high heat sear helps to caramelize the exterior of the chicken, creating a crispy, flavorful crust.
Step-by-Step Instructions for Smoking Chicken Breast
- Small to medium-sized chicken breasts, salt, pepper, barbecue rub.
- Brine mixture ingredients: 1.5 gallons of water, 1/2 cup of kosher salt, 1/2 cup sugar
- Combine the brine ingredients in a large container and soak the breasts in the brine mix for 6 hours or overnight.
- Dry and then apply a barbecue rub to the breasts.
- Optional: wrap the breasts in bacon and hold in place with toothpicks.
- Set the temperature of your smoker between 225°F and 275°F.
- If you are using a charcoal smoker, use an indirect setup with the coals on one side and the meat on the other side.
- Add some smoking wood using either apple, cherry or pecan. For a stronger smoke flavor, you can mix in a little hickory.
- Place the breasts on the grill of the smoker.
- Flip after 40 minutes.
- Cook until the internal meat temperature reaches 160°F.
- Rest for 5 minutes in aluminium foil, or until the meat temperature reaches 165°F.
Factors Affecting Smoking Time for Chicken Breast
It should take about 1 hour to smoke chicken breasts. However, it’s difficult to give an exact time because much depends on the thickness of the breasts, the cooking temperature, or whether you cut the breasts into butterfly steaks. Also, it depends on techniques such as starting you low and finishing high with a reverse-sear style.
It is generally recommended that chicken breasts be smoked for about 1 hour. However, the actual cooking time can vary depending on a number of factors. The thickness of the chicken breasts, the cooking temperature, and whether or not the breasts are cut into butterfly steaks can all affect the cooking time.
The cooking technique used can also impact the amount of time it takes to smoke the chicken. For example, the reverse-sear method will take less time than a slow smoked breast.
Even though it’s good to know how long it takes to cook breasts, it’s always better to cook to internal temperature rather than time. Always use a meat thermometer to ensure that the internal temperature of the chicken reaches the recommended level of 160°F before serving. This will help ensure that the chicken is cooked to a safe temperature and is not under or overcooked.
Importance of Internal Temperature for Chicken Breast
Chicken breast should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165° F. The USDA recommends that chicken never be consumed if cooked below 165° F. Chicken is full of bacteria—especially salmonella. The low-and-slow style barbecue cooks to temperature, not time. This is why thermometers are our most important tool.
Always check your chicken with an instant-read thermometer. A good meat thermometer is a worthwhile investment because it will help you cook the meat to the perfect temperature so the meat in near perfect. Thermometers will also take the guesswork out of the cook and keep you and your family safe. This will ensure the meat is cooked to a safe eating temperature. The best affordable option is the TP19. It costs about $30 on Amazon. Not only is it fast, it’s extremely accurate. Check it out here
9 Quick Tips for Moist and Tender Smoked Chicken Breast
If you’re looking to achieve moist and tender smoked chicken breasts, there are a few tips that can help you achieve the perfect result.
Tip 1: Don’t buy large breasts
When shopping for chicken breasts to smoke, it is generally best to look for breasts that are in the 5-7 ounce range. Larger breasts can be more difficult to cook evenly and may take longer to reach the desired internal temperature. However, if you plan on cutting the breasts into large butterfly steaks and using the reverse-sear method, larger breasts can be a good choice. Just be sure to adjust your cooking time and temperature accordingly to ensure that the meat is cooked to a safe temperature.
Tip 2: Wrap the breasts in bacon
Wrapping chicken breasts in bacon is a popular technique in the barbecue community, as it adds extra fat and flavor to the meat. The bacon will also baste the chicken as it cooks, helping to keep it moist and tender. To wrap the chicken in bacon, simply lay a strip of bacon over the top of each chicken breast and secure it in place with toothpicks. You do not need to cut or butterfly the chicken breasts for this method, although you can certainly do so if you wish. Some people even choose to cut the breasts open and stuff them with a flavorful seasoning mixture before wrapping them in bacon. This can add an extra layer of flavor and moisture to the finished dish.
When using this technique, it is important to be mindful of the cooking time and temperature to ensure that the chicken is cooked to a safe temperature without drying out. Wrapping the chicken in bacon can also cause the cooking time to be slightly longer than it would be without the bacon, so be sure to adjust your cooking time accordingly. By following these tips, you can enjoy moist and flavorful smoked chicken breasts wrapped in delicious bacon.
Tip 3: Butterfly the breasts into steaks
To create butterfly steaks, you will want to start by slicing the chicken breasts lengthwise, being careful not to cut all the way through the meat. This will create a “hinge” along one side of the breast, allowing you to open it up like a book. Once the chicken is opened up, you can press down on it gently to create a more even thickness. This will help the meat to cook more evenly and can also make it easier to stuff or season the chicken.
To use the reverse-sear method with butterfly steaks, you will first want to smoke the chicken at a low temperature (around 200°F) until it reaches an internal temperature of around 135°F. At this point, you can remove the chicken from the smoker and increase the temperature to a higher range (such as 400°F). Place the chicken back in the smoker (or on a grill) and sear it for a few minutes on each side, until the internal temperature reaches 160°F. This technique can help to achieve perfectly cooked, moist, and tender chicken breasts with a nice sear on the outside.
Tip 4: Stuff the breasts with butter
One way to add flavor and moisture to smoked chicken breasts is to stuff them with a flavorful filling. To do this, you can cut the breast open and stuff it with a mixture of your choice. Some options might include a mixture of herbs and spices, diced vegetables, or even a cheese and breadcrumb mixture. You can also add a small amount of butter and additional seasonings to the filling for extra moisture and flavor.
To hold the stuffed chicken breast together, you can use wooden skewers or toothpicks to secure the breast. Once the chicken is stuffed and secured, it can be placed in the smoker and cooked according to the recipe instructions. Stuffed chicken breasts can be a delicious and creative way to add variety to your smoked chicken dishes.
Tip 5: Brine the breasts for extra moisture
Brining is a great way to get some extra moisture into the meat. Most barbecue gurus brine breasts prior to smoking—even if it’s just a dry brine. Since breasts are so lean, they need all the help they can get. Your aim should be to get as much moisture into the breasts as possible through salting or wrapping in bacon. Allow about 6 hours to brine breasts prior to smoking. The most straightforward.way to brine breasts is to rub them with salt and leave them in the refrigerator for 6 hours. Here is a good chicken brine recipe that you can try:
Soak the chicken overnight, or at least 6 hours in the brine mix. If you are brining chicken with skin, and you want to try it out so it’s not soggy. Another option is to bring the chicken from a minimum of 6 hours, then remove from the mix and then let it sit uncovered in the fridge overnight so you can dry out.
Tip 6: Rest the breasts
After smoking chicken breasts, it is important to allow them to rest for a period of time before serving. This allows the juices in the meat to redistribute and can help to improve the overall texture and flavor of the chicken. While chicken breasts do not need to rest for a long time, it is generally recommended to allow them to rest for at least 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
If you need to hold the chicken for longer than this, you can tightly wrap it in plastic wrap or foil to help retain heat and moisture. Just be sure not to leave the chicken wrapped for too long, as it can continue to cook and become overcooked. It is also important to keep the chicken warm while it is resting to ensure that it is served at the optimal temperature.
Tip 7: Remove the breasts early
Another trick is to pull the chicken breasts from the smoker a little early to allow for some carryover cooking. By removing the breasts from the cooker at about 158° F, it will continue cooking until it reaches the safe 165° F. If you’re worried that it won’t reach that temperature, you can always finish it on the grill.
A few minutes of high heat will bring it up to a safe temperature. As mentioned, the USDA recommends chicken breast be cooked to an internal temperature of 165° F. When you remove the breasts at 165 ⁰F, they will continue to cook for another 5 to 10 minutes and may overcook the chicken.
Tip 8: Start low, finish high
The “start low, finish high” cooking method is a popular technique among pitmasters for smoking chicken breasts. This method involves starting the cooking process at a lower temperature (around 200°F) and gradually increasing the temperature as the meat cooks. This technique can help to ensure that the chicken is cooked evenly and remains moist and tender.
To use this method, you will want to smoke the chicken breasts at a low temperature (around 200°F) for the first 30 minutes or so. Then, you can increase the temperature to a higher range (such as 350 to 400°F) until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 160°F. At this point, you can remove the chicken from the smoker and allow it to rest for 5 minutes. The temperature of the meat should continue to rise as it rests, reaching a final temperature of around 165°F. This technique can help to achieve perfectly cooked, moist, and tender chicken breasts.
Tip 9: Reverse sear method
Reverse searing is always good for leaner cuts of meat. For this method, I would recommend butterflying the breasts so they look like a thick steak. For this method, leave them in the smoker for about 40 minutes where the chicken breast can absorb some lovely smoke flavor. Then, see the breasts over a direct flame until it reaches around about 165° F.
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.