Smoked Chicken Breast
Chicken breast is simultaneously one of the easiest and trickiest pieces of meat to grill . Chicken breast can quickly dry out when smoked or grilled, but with some simple technique (and a handy meat thermometer!), you’ll be smoking that perfectly juicy smoked chicken breast in no time.
Picking the right ingredients is always a key step to ensuring you end up with great results. Make sure you are buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts. These often come untrimmed in the package with minimal processing. You can also buy them trimmed (meaning that any excess fat, connective tissue, rib meat, or membranes have been removed for you).
If you’re not a fan of trimming chicken, buying them hand trimmed from the butcher can be a great time saver, just be aware it will usually cost you a bit extra per pound. If you want to save yourself some money, trimming yourself is a great way to go! Remove any dangling pieces of fat, rib meat, connective tissues, or loose pieces of chicken meat to create nice, uniform breasts.
No matter if you buy trimmed or trim yourself, be sure that your chicken is fully defrosted before you attempt the next steps. Having chicken that is frozen in the middle can cause several issues during the marinating and grilling steps. My favorite way to defrost is to set the chicken in a zip top bag and then onto a plate and onto the bottom shelf of your refrigerator. Make sure your bag is open to allow the chicken to breathe while defrosting. Most chicken breasts will defrost within 24 hours in the fridge.
Step 2: Marinate the Chicken Breast
Once you have your chicken trimmed well, you’re ready to marinate the chicken. For this recipe I used a homemade mix that is perfect for chicken. It combines all the elements that make a good marinade to bring a good balance of salt and flavor to the chicken without being overpowering.
Make sure your chicken is entirely covered with the marinade. My favorite way to do this is to pour the marinade over the chicken in a gallon-sized zip-top bag, press out the extra air from the bag and seal tightly and keep in the fridge until you’re ready to use.
SMOKED CHICKEN BREAST MARINADE
The best grilled chicken breast marinade isn’t an exact pre-measured packet of sauce that you buy at the store. The perfect grilled chicken marinade is one that you can customize yourself.
Every great marinade has 5 key elements that make your chicken absolutely lip-smacking and the best part is that you can build it to your liking. The basic recipe looks like this:
- Acid. White wine vinegar goes great with chicken but other vinegars, wines, fruit juices, Worcestershire sauce or a combination of these are tasty options as well.
- Fat or oil. This recipe uses olive oil, a solid choice, but you can use other affordable options here as well (vegetable, canola, etc.)
- Flavor and seasonings Snag some pepper, Italian seasoning, garlic, and Parmesan cheese for this recipe, or add your own favorite fresh herbs, garlic, ginger, or peppers.
- Salt. Tossing in some good ol’ kosher salt or sea salt is a great option. You can also use savory ingredients like soy sauce to add some salt to your marinade.
- Sugar. White sugar is all you need for this recipe, but I’m fond of using brown sugar, honey, or molasses in my marinades as well.
If you don’t want to make your own marinade from scratch every time, take a tip from my competition BBQ friends and marinate in Italian dressing. Seriously, they really do use Italian salad dressing as a chicken marinade for their competition entries! It has the perfect ratios of vinegar, oil, seasonings, salt, and sugar. So if you’re strapped for time, there’s no shame in snagging something tasty like this Italian dressing, and going from there.
Step 3: Smoked Chicken Breast Rub
Now that you’ve marinated your chicken to infuse moisture and flavor to the inside of your meat, it’s time to season the outside. If you like a classic sweet BBQ flavor to your chicken, I definitely recommend using Plowboys Yardbird Rub. It’s a balanced blend of herbs and spices with just a little heat to make your chicken sing.
Step 4: Set Smoker heat to 225 degrees
I know our tendency when grilling is to cook hot and fast from start to finish, but we can tear a page out of the low and slow playbook to really improve the overall texture and tenderness of our smoked chicken breast. The key is to bring the chicken up to temperature slow so it can smoke
Your chicken breasts are going to be smoked on at 225 heat side where the heat is circulating and cooking the chicken without charring the outside edges of the chicken or burning those thin ends to a crisp before the middle is done. Your overall grill temperature should be hovering around 225 degrees F. This means you will have juicy, flavorful chicken from edge to edge!
Use a great internal thermometer in the thickest part of your chicken breast to check the temperature of your chicken as it cooks. I recommend an instant read thermometer .Your target temperature for this indirect cooking step is 160 degrees F before moving on to the next step. If you can keep your grill temperature at 225 degrees
Step 5: Increase Heat to Finish the Grilled Chicken Breast
The last step to the perfect smoked chicken breast is a high heat sear. Crank the smoker up to 450 and sear This gives the chicken a few minutes on each side to crisp up and get all of that tasty grilled chicken flavor that we love. The key here is caramelization. The sugars in the marinade and seasoning we used will hit the high heat from the flames and start to bubble and brown.
Be careful to avoid overcooking and burning at this point. It will make your perfectly smoked chicken breasts taste bitter. You are looking for a target internal temperature of 160 degrees. Since chicken is safe to eat at 165 degrees F, this last tip is crucial. Transfer the chicken to a plate and cover immediately with a tight layer of foil. The carryover momentum from the heat rising within the chicken will create a little steam oven inside the foiled plate and push the final temperature up to 165 degrees F. This process takes about 5-10 minutes.
From start to finish, it should take around 120 minutes depending on size and thickness of the breast to smoke your chicken breast. As always, make sure you are cooking to temperature and not to time. Use your instant read meat thermometer to remove the chicken breast once the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F.
After you remove your chicken, cover or tent it with foil for 5-10 minutes to allow carryover cooking to bring the chicken up to a finished temp of 165 degrees F.
I hope you experiment with your own flavor combinations to make a smoked chicken breast that is absolutely perfect! If you do, please come back and leave a comment with your recipe so we can all try out some new chicken methods!