Chicken is one of the easiest meals that you can make. It’s so versatile and typically affordable and there are just so many different ways to enjoy and prepare chicken.
Whether you like to make soups, casseroles, sandwiches, or simply enjoy chicken with a side of your choosing, there is something for everyone out there.
Not only are there different dishes you can make with chicken but there are a lot of different ways to cook chicken. You can bake, smoke, boil, and fry chicken and that’s really just the beginning of the list!
Today, we’re going to focus on smoking chicken, but again, there are so many ways to cook chicken.
How long do you smoke chicken? How long to smoke chicken depends on whether you’re smoking wing, breasts, quarters, or a whole chicken. It’s easier to determine how many pounds you are smoking and determine the timing from there. Each of these cooks very differently.
In this guide, we will walk you through how long it takes to smoke a chicken. We will look at the different types of chicken you can smoke and break it down for you on each and every one to provide you with the ultimate guide for smoking chicken.
If you’re looking for a specific type (wings, breast, whole, etc.) be sure to look for that headline in the guide as a quick way to find your solution.
Keep reading to learn how long to smoke chicken and more!
A Complete Guide to Smoking Chicken
Chicken is a fairly broad category. We use many different parts of the chicken for preparing different things and the answer to your question could vary depending on which part you are referring to.
Think about this. A wing is a small piece of chicken with far less meat on it than say a breast piece. Before you can really know how long it will take to smoke your chicken, you should first know which part of the chicken you plan to smoke.
Here are the most common cuts of chicken meat for your reference:
- Whole chicken
These are listed in order of typical size but the sizes could also vary between them. Many of these can be served with or without the bone as well. It all depends on what you have purchased or prepared and your preferences as well.
Before we really get into the details, here is a quick reference chart to give you an indication as to how long it takes to smoke each cut of chicken.
|Type of Chicken||Smoking Time||Smoking Temperature|
|Wings||1.5 – 2.5 hours||225 – 250 degrees|
|Drumsticks||~ 2 hours||250 – 300 degrees|
|Thighs||3-4 hours||225 – 275 degrees|
|Breast||1-2 hours||225 degrees|
|Quarters||2-4 hours||225 degrees|
|Whole chicken||3-5 hours||250 degrees|
Keep in mind that these numbers could vary based on the temperature you choose to smoke with and the amount of meat on the piece of chicken.
For the most part, the more meat you smoke, the longer it will take. You might notice that chicken breasts don’t take very long at all. This is because of the meat and the fact that it typically has no bone in it either.
As a rule of thumb, you can easily calculate cooking time with a scale of approximately 45 minutes for every pound of chicken, when cooking at 250 degrees Fahrenheit. This gives you a good starting point and you can work with the numbers from there.
What you should always keep in mind is that chicken is dangerous to eat undercooked. You will always want to utilize a cooking thermometer and make sure that your chicken reaches an internal temperature of no less than 165 degrees Fahrenheit before you serve it.
Without further ado, let’s dive into these details!
How Long to Smoke Chicken Wings
Chicken wings are one of the faster varieties of chicken to smoke. Chicken wings and chicken breasts could give overall smoking times a pretty close competition.
Wings tend to be fairly small in size. They can be bone-in or boneless but when you are smoking them, you most likely will be working with the bone-in variety.
You can season them or sauce them however you like. There are plenty of sauce and rub recipes to consider in your process. Wings are known for being made in a myriad of rubs and sauces with a ton of different dipping sauce.
This cut of meat comes from the wing section of the chicken, as you probably suspected. Wings tend to have less meat on them than other parts of the chicken but they are small and fun.
Chicken wings are popular appetizers and party treats because they are considered finger food in many ways for their small nature.
You will also notice that our times are based on cooking the chicken low and slow for the most part. This is because chicken can easily dry out when cooked at a high temperature. The last thing you want is to pull your chicken out and have it be dry and flavorless.
Cooking it at a lower temperature allows the chicken to maintain its natural flavors and juices and will give you a delicious, juicy chicken wing when you are finished with the process.
You can cook them at higher temperatures but just be aware that you may end up with dry chicken if you are not careful.
Many recipes and recommendations will tell you that the best way to smoke your chicken is to use a low temperature for smoking and then finish off your chicken wings at a higher temperature to finish off with a crisp skin on the wing.
The trick here is to have a smoker that can adjust temperatures quickly.
We have more than one recommendation for smoking chicken wings. Check these out and choose one based on your overall preferences.
Smoking Chicken Wings Low, With a High Finish
We’re not planning to provide you with step-by-step instructions on how to rub or sauce your chicken wings before cooking them. We could spend all day on wings alone! We do however want to provide you with suitable options for different ways to smoke chicken.
This particular description is designed to smoke your chicken at a low temperature and then shoot your temperature up to finish them off.
This reduces the overall cooking time and will give you a good combination of juicy and smoked flavor without taking quite as much time to cook overall. To try it, follow these steps when smoking chicken wings:
- Start by preheating your smoke to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place the wings on the grate and smoke at this temperature for 30-45 minutes.
- Increase the temperature to 425 degrees.
- Continue cooking for an additional 30-45 minutes.
- Wings should cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
- Rotate the wings periodically during cooking to allow them to cook evenly.
This process is simple and takes about 1.5 hours total with the increased temperature for the last half of cooking.
If you do use this method, we recommend that you use some sort of sauce on the wings to keep them moist. If you are using a rub, this may not work as well to prevent the chicken from getting dry.
Smoking Chicken Wings at a Low Temperature Only
Our favorite way to cook chicken wings is at a low temperature. While the other method works great if you have sauced wings and want a nice, crispy skin, this options works well for everything. Your skin will still get crispy during the process.
This process does take longer since it is at a reduced temperature. However, it’s pretty much a given when you are smoking meat that it could take some extra time.
What we do want to point out is that if you really want that crisp skin, you may still need to finish up with boosting your temperature for about 30 minutes at the end, although the chicken will be cooked to temperature.
Here are the steps for smoking chicken wings on a low temperature:
- Oil your cooking grates and preheat your smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place the chicken wings on the grate however you wish.
- Cook at 250 degrees for about 2 hours and 30 minutes.
- Chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
- Coat, serve, and enjoy!
It’s really pretty simple and you just can’t go wrong with either method. If you want to crisp the skin using this method, you can push your heat up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for the last 30 minutes of cooking time.
How Long to Smoke Drumsticks
Drumsticks are more commonly fried or baked than smoked but it doesn’t mean you can’t smoke them!
You can treat drumsticks very similarly to chicken wings when it comes to the smoking process. Drumsticks do often have skin on them, which you will want to end up nice and crisp when the process is completed.
Here are our recommended steps for smoking drumsticks and keeping them delicious:
- Season and prepare your drumsticks to your liking.
- Preheat your smoker to somewhere between 250 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re not sure, we always recommend going with a lower temperature. If your smoker seems like it doesn’t feel as hot, you can go up close to 300 F.
- Place the drumsticks on the grill and allow to smoke for about 2 hours.
- Chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. You can rotate the chicken periodically to be sure they cook evenly.
- When the chicken is done, you can boost the heat for a crisp skin. Try 350 F for about 15 minutes.
Drumsticks are super easy to smoke. If you do prepare them with a rub or a sauce, be sure that you get that all over the chicken, including underneath the skin. Getting your rub or sauce under the skin is a trick that will keep your chicken delightfully moist!
How Long to Smoke Chicken Thighs
Chicken thighs do take a bit longer to smoke than the wings and drumsticks we have covered so far. It doesn’t matter whether they have a bone or not but your practices may be slightly different if they have skin.
Much like with wings and drumsticks, if they have skin, you might want to finish the process with an elevated temperature to get that skin nice and crispy right before you serve them.
Smoking chicken thighs takes a little bit longer because they do have more meat than drumsticks and wings, which means you are probably smoking more pounds of chicken overall.
As usual, for smoking, we recommend a low and slow approach, even if you finish with a high temperature for that crisp skin.
Here are some steps for smoking chicken thighs:
- Preheat your smoke to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Prepare your thighs with rub or seasoning of your preference.
- Place the chicken thighs on the smoker, be sure they are not touching for the cooking process.
- Cover and smoke at this temperature for 3-4 hours.
- Chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
For this process, you should leave the lid closed as much as possible while the chicken smokes. Just turn them over around the halfway mark (1.5–2 hours) to be sure they get an even smoke on them.
If you want to crisp the skin at the end, you can alternatively cook for just 3 hours and then boost your heat to about 425 and cook them for 20-30 minutes more.
This part is totally up to you and whether you prefer that extra-crisp skin or like it just fine with the smoked and cooked texture.
Remember that when you are preparing your chicken, you will want to be sure to get your rub or seasoning all over the chicken, particularly a rub. You might feel like you are applying too much but you aren’t.
Be sure to get your rub under the skin of the chicken as well. You can lift it or cut it and replace it, whatever you prefer.
How Long to Smoke Chicken Breasts
You might be surprised to find that chicken breasts do not take very long to smoke. Even at a low temperature, these will take far less time than some of the other parts of the chicken. This mostly is related to the way the meat is cut.
However, the cooking time is also affected by the fact that breast meat is white while thighs and legs typically are dark meat. The dark meat has a higher fat content and this directly correlates to the cooking time.
Another factor at play here is whether there is a bone. Most of the time, breasts that you are cooking or smoke will not have bones in them, but if they do have a bone, they may need slightly longer to cook overall but the time is still shorter than for other cuts.
As with all of the other recommendations, go ahead and prep your chicken with your choice of marinade, rub, or seasoning and get it all ready for a quick smoking project. Get your smoker set up to your liking and oil your grates if preferred.
Here are the steps for how long to smoke chicken breasts:
- Preheat your smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Prepare chicken with rub or seasoning as preferred.
- Place chicken onto the grate and cover or close the lid.
- Smoke at this temperature for 60-80 minutes.
- Chicken breasts should cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, measured at the thickest part of the breast.
- When you remove the chicken breasts from the smoker, let it rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing or serving.
Breasts don’t typically have skins on them so you don’t need to worry about crisping the skin. Just follow this process and work from there. If your chicken breasts are thick, you may need a bit more cooking time.
How Long to Smoke Chicken Quarters
A chicken quarter is a combination of the drumstick and thigh with a bit of meat from the back of the chicken as well. It’s typically a fairly large piece of chicken and is also on the bone from the drumstick and thigh area when served or cooked.
Chicken quarters do take a bit longer to smoke since they have so much meat as well as the bones present.
They can be cooked with or without skins, it just depends on what you purchased. Remember that if they have skins, you may want to boost your temperature at the end to crisp the skins.
Here are the steps for smoking chicken quarters:
- Preheat your smoke to 220-225 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Prepare your chicken with rub, sauce, or seasoning as preferred.
- Place chicken on the smoker grate and cover or close the lid.
- Smoke chicken leg quarters at this temperature for 2-4 hours. Flip or rotate the chicken about halfway through.
- Chicken leg quarters should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Be sure to check the temperature at the point at which the meat is the thickest.
Remember that if the chicken has a skin, you may want to turn your heat up to about 350 for the last 30 minutes of cooking time.
How Long to Smoke a Whole Chicken
Smoking a whole chicken will take longer than any other cuts of chicken, after all, it is an entire chicken.
However, it might not take much longer than those chicken quarters you were smoking in the last section! A whole chicken can take anywhere from 3-5 hours, depending on the size.
With a whole chicken, you should calculate your time based on cooking for about 45 minutes per pound. This is provided that you use a smoking temperature of 250 degrees Fahrenheit. You may need to adjust slightly.
Most whole chickens are cooked with the skin on. You should use a brine, rub, or seasoning as you prefer to prepare your chicken. With a whole chicken, a brine works well because it soaks the chicken with flavor. If you use a rub, get it all over the chicken as best you can.
Here are the steps for how long it takes to smoke a whole chicken:
- Preheat your smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Prep chicken as desired, if not already prepped.
- Place on the smoker, preferably in an aluminum pan for simplicity.
- Cook the whole chicken in the smoker for 3-5 hours.
- The whole chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Be sure to check the temperature in one of the thickest parts of the thigh to know it is done all over.
- Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Keep in mind that larger chickens may require extra cooking time. Calculate the cooking time based on the weight and recommendations above for the best guess.
We hope that you find this guide to how long to smoke chicken to be a valuable and informative resource. You can have great results no matter which cut of chicken you are smoking.
We invite you to review the question and answer section for some additional information.
Should You Use a Water Pan to Smoke Chicken?
This is optional. If you use a water pan, you are less likely to get crispy skin during the process. Just be sure that you know the proper processes for the best results.
What is the Best Part of the Chicken to Smoke?
You can smoke any part of the chicken with really great results. We love smoked chicken quarters and whole chickens. The thighs are really delicious as well.
But what are we saying? They are all delicious!
Should You Flip Chicken While Smoking?
For smaller parts like wings and drumsticks, you may want to turn several times. For larger parts like breasts, thighs, quarters, and whole chickens, you just want to flip or rotate about halfway through the process.
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