How about a board of fork-tender, bite-through smoked chicken thighs this weekend? Or for Father’s day?
You might as well because I’m giving away the blueprint to my ultimate BBQ spice rub for free. You’re welcome.
These chicken thighs are marinated first in my BBQ spice blend and then sit overnight in a mixture of soy and orange juice that adds a ton of flavour. They’re then smoked 100% on a Weber Kettle and finished with a BBQ glaze cut with a little sherry vinegar.
The only problem with this recipe is that 6 chicken thighs is not enough! They went fast in our house and my advice is to make more.
Marinate, Smoke, Braise and Smoke Again
This method is borrowed from pitmaster Eric Lee from Fire Dancer BBQ on the How to BBQ Right youtube channel. This was by far my favourite method and it yields some ridiculously tasty smoked chicken thighs.
This smoking method is combined with a braise that breaks down the chicken skin, resulting in that desirable “bite-through” chicken skin that you won’t get from normal smoked chicken. As you can proabably guess, braised meat is one of my favourite methods of cooking and the secret to this recipe.
Not Competition Chicken Thighs, But Pretty Close
Why are they not competition? Well, I’m no pit-master for one (Just a chef that LOVES BBQ).
And I couldn’t be bothered to cut out the knuckle bone and cartilage from the joints of the chicken which is expected in competitions. It doesn’t really bother me to eat around that.
The last and most important reason is that they typically cut off the chicken “oyster” to square it off. That’s one of the best parts of the chicken and I would never cut that off! It will smoke beautifully.
But hey, that’s just me, and I haven’t won any BBQ awards…
Let’s See Some Skin
It’s trendy in some supermarkets to take the skin off the chicken thighs which is frustrating. There’s almost never a time where I would choose to cook chicken without the skin because that skin is pure flavour.
Even if you don’t like eating the skin then it’s best to leave it on while it cooks and then remove it after cooking.
The secret to juicy smoked chicken is in the skin. The chicken skin provides a protective layer while cooking and I’d strongly advise buying chicken with the skin otherwise you’ll be eating dry meat.
What if I Can’t Find Chicken Thighs with the Skin?
If you can’t find chicken thighs with the skin on, you can buy chicken legs and butcher them yourself (it’s really easy!).
I made a quick video tutorial here on how to do that:
How to Smoke Chicken Thighs
For anyone skimming here’s the quick recipe summary:
- Marinate chicken thighs for 2 hours or overnight. (You could skip this if you’re in a rush but marinating adds a lot of flavour to the meat).
- Hard smoke for 30 minutes at 300℉/150℃.
- Cover tightly with a lid and continue cooking for 1+½ hours at 300℉/150℃.
- Dip in hot bbq sauce (cut with a little vinegar).
- Finish on the smoker at the same temperature for 10-15 minutes.
Why the High Heat?
You’ve probably seen other smoked chicken thigh recipes in the range of 200℉-250℉ so why 300℉?
The reasoning is because we’re going for “bite-through” chicken skin. That means that when you bite into the chicken, the skin will pull apart nicely, instead of pulling apart in one piece.
If you’ve tried other smoked chicken recipes, you’ll understand exactly what I mean as the skin can be a bit tough when smoked from start to finish.
The genius of this recipe is to actually cover them with a lid for part of the smoking process. This, coupled with the higher temperature renders the fat in the skin and results in softer chicken skin.
How Does One Smoke Chicken Thighs?
The easiest way is to use one of these pellet smokers which controls the smoke and heat level perfectly.
The more hands-on, feel-like-you’re-really-cooking method is to use a simple Weber BBQ Kettle like I did. This method will require much more attention to regulate the temperature but if you enjoy spending half a day by the BBQ, drinking cold beer and enjoying the nice weather then this is your method.
I Used These Weber Upgrades
If you’re going the weber route as I did, these tools are going to make it a lot easier, and a lot more fun.
Smoking meat without a proper thermometer takes years of experience to achieve great results. Smoking meat with a thermometer helps you to control the temperature and understand when your BBQ fluctuates.
If you already took the time to marinate the chicken overnight and set up the grill it would be a huge shame if you overcooked it. A good thermometer will help you and is a lot more accurate than the one that came with your Weber.
I recently just picked up the Inkbird Bluetooth thermometer and just love it. It’s got two probes, one for meat and one for the BBQ’s temperature. The best part is, it hooks up to my iPhone via Bluetooth which means I get alerts when the BBQ is at the perfect temp.
They’re relatively inexpensive and you can check the price here.
A word of caution, the Inkbird can only handle temperatures up to 482℉/250℃ for continuous monitoring, meaning it’s not suitable for high heat BBQ grilling.
If you’re looking for something a little more serious I’d recommend this one.
These help to keep the charcoal to one side and provide perfect indirect heating. You can get these here.
These cheap aluminum trays are great for keeping the grill clean by catching juices that pour from the chicken during the smoking. They’re also perfect for braising the chicken because they hold all of the delicious juices in.
You can find these here.
You don’t need this but it makes it a lot easier to add the smoking chips and/or more charcoal. If you plan to do some real smoking this year then I think it’s worth the investment.
You can find this on Amazon here. Just double check that it’s the right size for your grill as they make different sized BBQs.
Wood Chunks or Chips?
I don’t obsess too much over the type of wood but everyone has their own preference. I do like using wood chunks over wood chips because they tend to burn slower than wood chips and that means I don’t have to open the BBQ as much.
Wood chunks can be harder to find but are usually better for longer periods of smoking, like in this recipe. As a whiskey lover myself, I couldn’t resist buying these whiskey barrel wood chunks.
The smell of the smoking whiskey barrel wood when it first started was incredible and produced some intense smokey flavour. Next time, I’d like to try smoking these chicken thighs with some hickory wood and see how the flavour changes.
If you tried this recipe with a different wood let me know in the comments how it!
- Weber grill or smoker
- Digital thermometer
- 2-3 Whiskey barrel wood chunks or 2 handfuls of wood chips
- BBQ trays
- Aluminum foil
- resting rack
For the Marinade
- 6 pc chicken thighs skin on, bone-in
- 2 pc oranges juiced
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
B&D BBQ Spice Rub
- 1 tbsp palm sugar or brown sugar
- 2 tbsp paprika mild
- 1 tsp celery salt
- ½ tsp cayenne
- 1 tsp aleppo chili or ½ tsp normal ground chili
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp black pepper
- ⅛ tsp cinnamon ground
- 1 tsp ancho chili powder
- 1 cup BBQ sauce use your favourite brand
- 2 tbsp sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp salt
- 100 g butter 6 nice cubes
- Rub the BBQ spice blend in the chicken thighs and mix well. Don't season with salt until we are ready to bbq.
- Juice the orange and add it to the chicken thighs along with the soy sauce. Line them skin side up in a bbq tray with the marinade. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
- Fill the fire chimney a little more than halfway with charcoal and light it with one fire starter underneath.
- After about 15 minutes the coals should be red hot. Using heat-resistant gloves or a kitchen towel, carefully pour the hot coals to one side of the bbq. If using a thermometer, set it up now as close to the middle of the bbq as possible. Once the temperature reaches 350°F/176°C, add the wood chunks.*If using an electric smoker bring it to 300°F. The weber will lose a lot of heat once it's opened.I start the fire with all the air valves open to get it going and bring them down to about ¼ open once it's up to temperature. Keep a close eye on the temperature using your digital thermometer and either open the valves to increase the temp or close them slightly to tame the fire.
- Remove the chicken from the fridge. Season with sea salt on all sides. Put 1 cube of butter on each chicken thigh.
- Smoke the chicken, uncovered for 30 minutes at 300°F/150°C.
- Cover the chicken with a lid or with aluminum foil. Place back in the smoker for 90 minutes at 300°F/150°C.
- Once the chicken is ready, add the bbq sauce plus the vinegar together in a small pot and bring to a simmer.
- Let the chicken and sauce cool slightly until it's hot enough to handle. Carefully remove the chicken from the braising dish and dip into the warm bbq sauce using gloves or with a fork. Be careful when lifting the chicken as it's so tender it may fall apart!
- Move the charcoal around a little to give it some air and get it hot. If there's still some wood chunks left move them around to get them smoking again or add another chunk.Finish the chicken thighs directly on the grill with a final smoking at the same 300°F/150°C for about 10-15 minutes.
- Let the chicken rest for about 5 minutes before eating and wondering why you didn't make more of these. Enjoy!
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