How long to smoke chicken varies depending on whether you’re cooking chicken wings, breasts, quarters, or whole chicken. It takes up to four hours to smoke a whole chicken at 225°F. The final internal temp for smoked chicken ranges from 160°F to 165°F in the chicken breast and 170°F to 175°F in the thighs.
How Long to Smoke a Whole Chicken
Smoking chicken takes between 2 and 5 hours, depending on the chicken cut and its weight. A 4-pound whole chicken normally takes between 2 and 3 and a half hours when smoked at 225°F.
However, this is just a rough outline of the total time estimates for smoking chicken. The true test of chicken doneness is a reliable meat thermometer. You must keep monitoring the internal temperature of the poultry to ensure it reaches at least 165°F, which is the safe temperature recommended by the USDA.
If the chicken turns brown or dark brown before it registers the safe internal temperature of 165°F, you can place a piece of foil on it to protect it from burning.Print
How to Check the Internal Temperature of Smoked Chicken
According to the USDA, all parts of the chicken must reach at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit to be considered safe for consumption.
So you can’t simply rely on visual cues to determine whether or not your meat is done. The only sure way to check for doneness and ensure that your chicken is perfectly smoked is to use a digital thermometer.
For the best results, probe placement must be accurate. You should insert the thermometer in the thickest portion of the chicken, without touching the bones. If the internal temperature of the meat hasn’t reached 165 degrees, continue smoking and keep checking until it has.
When cooked properly, chicken is juicy, tender, and full of flavor. So avoid the following temperature-taking mistakes if you don’t want to end up with dry, tough, or chewy chicken:
Do not touch the bone with the meat thermometer. If you touch the bone, the thermometer will register 10°F lower than other parts. This is because bones take longer to heat up than meat, which can lead to an inaccurate reading.
Do not forget to check the temperature in multiple areas. Also, check in more than one part of the meat if you’re smoking a big cut. The last thing you want is to slice into a pink chicken.
Do not overlook the rest time. Take out the chicken a few minutes before it reaches doneness and give it time to rest. This will allow its internal heat to continue cooking it. This is even more important for large chunks of meat.
Cook Time vs Rest Time
Resting meat is an important part of the cooking process. Generally, you should allow the meat to rest for about 10 to 20 minutes before slicing and serving. Thick cuts and cuts with higher fat content need to rest longer.
If you jump the gun and cut the chicken immediately after you take it out of the pellet grill (or electric smoker), the meat can become dry, tough, and chewy.
Resting allows the juices to redistribute into the meat fibers, ensuring it remains moist and flavorful.
Rest time is also important because of a phenomenon called carryover cooking. This means the meat continues cooking even after removing it from the pellet grill. Even a small piece of meat will rise around 3-4 degrees F during rest time. A whole chicken’s temperature can rise from 10-15 degrees F when resting.
Setting Smoker Temperature
If you want your meat to have that signature smoke flavor, you can set your smoker temperature to 225 degrees F. While the cooking time is longer than smoking at a higher temperature, the stronger smoke flavor really comes through.
Temperature for Smoked Chicken Breast
The breast should be smoked at 225 degrees F. It should cook through faster than drumsticks or thighs and still take on a lot of smoke flavor.
The overall cooking time varies depending on the breast meat size. However, you can expect a whole chicken breast to reach doneness within 1 to 1.5 hours if the smoker temperature is set at 225 degrees F.
Likewise, you can expect smoked chicken tenders to take one hour to reach the internal temperature of 165° with the smoker temperature at 225°. When smoking chicken tenders, make sure they do not touch each other.
Temperature for Smoked Chicken Wings
You can choose to smoke chicken wings at 225°F but it will take around 45 minutes per side. If you raise the smoker temperature to the 350°F-375°F range, you can expect each side to take just 30 minutes with a total cooking time of one hour.
To prevent overcooking, make sure to remove the wings from the pellet grill once the internal temp reaches around 160°F – 165° F. Overcooking can cause the smoked wings to be tough and dry.
Temperature for Smoked Chicken Thighs
The estimated cook time for chicken thighs is about 1-2 hours with the smoker temperature set at 225. The cooking time varies depending on the smoker and the size of the thighs.
You can take the chicken thighs off the grill once the internal temperature reaches 175°F degrees as carryover cooking should raise its temp the remaining 5 degrees. (Doneness is reached at 180°F).
Chicken thighs take longer to cook than other chicken pieces because they contain more fat and blood vessels.
Temperature for Smoked Chicken Legs (Drumsticks)
Expect to smoke chicken legs for around 1.5 – 2 hours at 225°F. Smoke the drumsticks until the internal temp of the thickest portion reaches 175°F.
At that point, your chicken will be moist and tender.
Temperature for Smoked Chicken Quarters
Chicken quarters include both the drumstick and the thighs. They are so named because one whole chicken leg makes up approximately one-quarter of a chicken.
You can expect chicken quarters to take slightly longer to smoke than thighs because they are bigger. At 225°F., plan to cook this part of the chicken for around 2 to 3 hours.
Temperature for Smoked Spatchcock Chicken
Spatchcock chicken refers to chicken cut along the breastbone and opened up to lay flat. It takes around 3.5 hours to smoke a 4-pound spatchcock chicken at 225°F.
Remember that the cooking time is an estimate, and may vary depending on your smoker and the size of the chicken. For this reason, it’s important to keep monitoring the internal temperature of your chicken to determine when it’s done.
Tips for Smoking Chicken Perfectly
Smoked chicken is a delicious BBQ meal that everyone at the dinner table can enjoy.
For that juicy, fall-of-the-bone smoked chicken, here are some helpful tips to follow:
Pat the chicken dry: During prep time, pat the meat dry with a paper towel to give your chicken that crisp bite after cooking.
Choose the right smoke: When it comes to smoking chicken, we recommend using wood chips instead of charcoal if you want the best flavor.
The best wood chips options are:
Use simple seasonings: This will help take the chicken flavor a notch higher. Sprinkle your preferred seasoning plus garlic powder and black pepper on all sides of the chicken and dry rub it lightly. Let the rub sit for 15 mins before smoking for optimal flavor.
Crank up the smoker temperature: Chicken smoked low and slow is delicious and flavorful, but chicken skin can also turn out tough and chewy. To enjoy the best of both worlds, we recommend raising the heat when it’s almost done for crispy skin.
Add BBQ sauce: If you like, apply BBQ sauce at the end to get the best flavor.
Don’t overcook: You don’t want your chicken to be tough and dry, so stop smoking when the temperature reaches around 155-160 degrees. As the meat rests, it will continue to cook as it retains heat.
Rest the chicken: Don’t skip this step! Resting your meat after smoking allows the juices to redistribute and reabsorb, resulting in juicy, flavorful meat.