An Introduction to the Chicken Thigh
Chicken thighs are good because they are a cheap cut of meat that offer tons of flavor. Between the low cost and high flavor, you can satisfy a large group without leaving your wallet hurting afterward. Just like many other parts of the chicken, thighs can be cooked in a variety of ways.
- Left to cook, while covered, within a pan left in the oven.
- Seared in a pan.
- Baked in the oven.
- With the skin on.
- With the skin removed.
- With the bones.
- With the bones removed.
Smoked chicken thighs, especially competition smoked chicken thighs, have a relatively unique taste and texture that you cannot really get from an oven, pan or fryer. This is because the dark meat of chicken thighs tends to do a good job of absorbing other flavors; since smoking is all about giving a unique flavor to your meat, it makes a lot of sense why you would try to smoke chicken thighs.
A Step-By-Step guide to Smoking Chicken Thighs
One of the first things to know when smoking chicken is that while you will want the skin, you do not want the fat and other content between the skin and the meat. Peel away the skin while preserving as much of it as you can and then scrape off every ounce of material you see resting on top of the meat. Once that step is done, drape the skin back over the meat and you are ready to begin seasoning.
Below, you will find several example recipes for smoked chicken thighs. More than one recipe has been presented so that you can form a better idea of what your personal brand of smoked chicken thighs (and chicken thigh brine recipe) should be.
A Note on Wood
Since you will be smoking these thighs, please consider what woods will work best. Apple, maple, cherry and hickory are the best sorts of wood chips for this type of dish.
Recipe #1: Simple Smoked Chicken Thighs
- Water, 1 cup
- Juice, apple, 1 cup
- Soda, Sprite, 1 can (any lemon-lime soda will do)
- Salt, coarse, 1/2 cup (kosher or sea salt is fine)
- Pepper, 1 tbsp
- One package of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
- Poultry rub
- Sauce, BBQ, use your favorite
- Soda, Coca-Cola, 1 can (see directions)
- Optional: Sugar, brown
- Start by assembling your smoked chicken thighs brine. Allow the chicken to soak in a vessel filled with the water, juice, soda, salt and pepper for anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours.
- Rinse the meat off with cool water and arrange the thighs over a tray with their skin-side facing downward. Dust the underside of the thighs with your rub and allow the meat to sit and soak in the rub while you prep your smoker for cooking via indirect heat.
- Roll your thighs so that their skin completely surrounds the meat; you want as little of the actual meat showing as you can manage. Use toothpicks to keep things in place.
- Apply more rub.
- Place the thighs as far away from the heat as you can, setting the temperature to 225°F and letting them cook 2 hours.
- Use the time that the thighs are smoking to pour your BBQ sauce into a bowl. Since you want a thin sauce for this recipe a thick sauce needs to be thinned out. Consider using a can of Coca-Cola if your sauce is rather thick and gloppy; not only will it be sufficient for basting the chicken, it also gains even more flavor from the soda.
- When 2 hours have finished, use some non-piercing tongs to grasp each thigh, fully submerge it into the bowl of BBQ sauce and then return it to the grill. Feel free to sprinkle the sauced meat with brown sugar.
- After 10-15 additional minutes of cooking, the sauce should have fully stuck to the meat and your thighs are ready for plating.
- After removing the thighs from the grill and waiting a few minutes for them to cook, feel free to dig in.
Recipe #2: Super Basic Electric Smoked Chicken Thighs
- Thighs, chicken, 2 lbs (you want the bones and skin)
- Rub, BBQ spice, 2 tbsp
- Sauce, BBQ, 1 cup
- Preheat your electric smoker to 250°F and load it with apple wood chips.
- Coat the thighs, both over and under the skin, with the BBQ spice rub.
- Smoke the chicken for 150-180 minutes, just until you read an internal temperature of 165°F from the thicken section of the meat. Remember to check on the smoker every so often to gauge your level of wood chips.
- Brush the chicken with sauce and give it 10 more minutes to cook.
Recipe #3: Sensational Smoked Chicken Thighs
- Thighs, chicken, 8 pieces
- Paprika, 1 tbsp
- Salt, 1 tbsp
- Powder, garlic, 1 tsp
- Powder, onion, 1 tsp
- Pepper, cayenne, 1 tsp
- Pepper, black, 1 tsp
- Sugar, brown, light, 1/4 cup
- Oil, olive
- Combine everything but the chicken into a shallow bowl. This will serve as the rub for the thighs and should be set aside.
- Add hickory to your smoker and preheat it to 250°F.
- Baste both sides of the thighs with olive oil.
- Liberally sprinkle the rub into each piece, making sure to press into it to make sure it clings to the meat.
- Place your fully seasoned thighs into the smoker.
- Smoke the meat for 90-120 minutes, just long enough for the meat to reach an internal temperature of 165°F, ideally verified with an infrared thermometer.
- Allow the thighs to sit for 20 minutes prior to serving them.
Recipe #4: Easy Smoked Chicken Thighs
- One package of chicken thighs
- Water, 2 quarts
- Salt, 1/2 cup
- Sugar, brown, 1/4 cup
- Sugar, turbinado, 1/2 cup
- Salt, seasoning, 2 tbsp
- Pepper, black, 1 tbsp
- Paprika, smoked, 1 tsp
- Powder, chili, 1 tsp
- Onion, granulated, 1 tsp
- Margarine, 1 tbsp per thigh
- Sauce, BBQ, your favorite.
- Brine the thighs, in the 2 quarts of water you have added the regular salt and brown sugar to, for a minimum of 3 hours.
- Pay the thighs dry with paper towels and trim away any fat by flipping them skin-side down, then trimming off any excess skin.
- Liberally season the thighs with a dry rub made from the turbinado sugar, seasoning salt, pepper, paprika, chili powder and granulated onions.
- In a disposable foil pan, add the margarine and place the thighs skin-side down into the pan.
- Insert the pan into a smoker set to 250°F and filled with a 50/50 mix of hickory and apple woods.
- Allow the thighs to smoke for one hour.
- Remove the thighs from the pan and place them skin-up on the smoker grate. Apply more dry rub to the pallid-looking meat.
- Allow the thighs to continue cooking to an internal temperature of 175°F, roughly 45 more minutes.
- Coat the thighs with BBQ sauce and allow them to smoke for 5-10 minutes more-just until they hit 180°F.
- Transfer away from the smoker and wait at least 5 minutes before serving.
As you can see, there are multiple ways to go about smoking a batch of chicken thighs. However, you decide to cook them, remember to first scrape away the excess fat and skin, since fat only increases the risk of a flare-up. Also consider brining your thighs before you even think of seasoning them, you will be rewarded with flavor and tenderness. The only task after following one of the above recipes, or going your own way after being inspired by them, is to come up with some side dishes to complement the meal. Starches work wonderfully as a counterbalance to the protein of the chicken and the multitudinous flavors imbued by brining, rubbing and wood-smoking. Consider going with macaroni and cheese, rice pilaf, potato wedges or even some homemade cornbread as a side dish to pair with your awesome thighs.