A delicious, moist and smokey chicken breast will impress any guests and it could not be more simple when you follow the right steps. For the ultimate smoked chicken breast, you want to be sure to focus on both keeping the bird moist and juicy and to ensure it is full of flavor from the smoke and herbs and spices. You can choose from a variety of flavor-enhancing techniques along with a variety of smoking techniques to accomplish your goal of a beautiful chicken breast filled with flavor and moisture.
Tools You Require
It is important to have a large bowl, container or a bucket to use for brining the chicken. You want to make sure that the vessel is large enough so that all of the chicken will be submerged in water. It is a good idea that it will fit in the fridge. If it is cold enough, you can place it in the garage or on a deck. And always cover the bowl or bucket with a lid or plastic wrap and foil.
You can have a dedicated meat tray or you can simply use a baking sheet or a large plate. Be sure you do not put cooked meat back on the same tray or plate the raw meat was on as this will cause cross-contamination and could potentially make people sick. Be sure to clean the tray or plate or have two to be able to use for before and after.
If you plan to baste your chicken during or after the process, a basting brush is ideal. While this brush makes the basting process easier, it is not an essential tool for the process.
A thermometer is essential to the success of grilling the perfect smoked chicken breast. You want to make sure the internal temperature reaches 165 Fahrenheit (F) so that the bird is safe to eat. This does not guarantee it will be moist; however, it will minimize the risk of food poisoning.
Do not forget to clean off the grill as soon as possible to avoid cross-flavor contamination the next time you grill. And be sure you replace the grate cleaner every few months if you use your grill with any sort of regular frequency.
- It is critical to keep the chicken refrigerated all the time with the exception of the times you are preparing the breasts for the brine, rub or marinade. Cold meat is far superior at absorbing flavors from the smoke. Take it out at the last minute just before placing it on the grill.
- Be sure to oil the grill before you place the chicken on the grill so that it does not stick to the grill and risk losing juice and flavor when you turn and remove the meat.
- It is essential that you keep the lid down for the temperature to remain consistent and the smoke in regardless of the smoking technique you prefer. Try to open the lid as few times as possible during the smoking process.
- Skin-on and bone-in chicken breasts will have more chicken flavor than boneless and skinless chicken breasts. However, boneless and skinless chicken breasts will absorb more smoke. And try to select chicken breasts that are similar in size. This allows chicken breasts to cook evenly and finish at roughly the same time. If you do use a skin-on breast, start the cooking process in the smoker with the skin side facing up.
- When you take the temperature reading with the thermometer, be sure to place it in the thickest part of the breast as this is the part of the bird that takes the longest to cook.
- Be sure to allow the chicken breast to rest before you slice it up so that the juices have time to redistribute throughout the breast and remain inside the bird rather than all over the cutting board. You only have to rest a breast for five minutes, which is significantly less than steak.
Keep reading to find out how long to smoke chicken breast so that it is still moist yet full of smokey goodness.
Steps to a Juicy and Flavorful Breast
Brine the Breast
Smoked chicken breast brine is the best way to keep chicken moist during the smoking process. The key to brining is to add plenty of salt, make sure the chicken is fully submerged in water, add the same herbs and spices to the water that you will add after you remove the chicken, keep in a cool place that is at most 40 degrees F and brine the chicken breasts overnight for the best results.
Dry Rub After Soak
A great rub mix will often combine sweet and heat as they both complement smokiness perfectly; however, you should select a dry rub that complements both the chicken breast and your taste bud preferences. Be sure to pat down the bird with paper towels after you remove it from the brine so that the rub will properly stick to the chicken during the smoking process. Place the chicken breasts in a bowl or on a tray or baking sheet to add the rub and massage it in with your hands to ensure each crevasse is covered. If the grill is still not hot enough, put the breasts back in the fridge until ready to smoke.
Smoked chicken breast marinade can also help to make the chicken as moist as possible. A marinade helps to tenderize the meat while penetrating the skin with your flavor profile. It is essential that you use salt and pepper along with some sort of citrus or acid to break down the proteins for a tender and juicy bird. The rest of the herbs and spices are up to you. You should be sure to marinade the birds for at least 24 hours. And if you do choose the marinating process, basting the breasts during the smoking process will really add a depth of flavor and help seal in the moisture.
Basting with Sauce
It is important that you do not begin to baste the chicken until at least 45 minutes after the chicken has been smoking. It is ideal to wait until the last 10 to 15 minutes of cooking before you begin to baste. After the first baste, be sure to allow the basting sauce to absorb into the chicken before you baste again.
Various Smoking Techniques
Wood Chip Selection
Selecting wood chips is more about choosing the intensity of smoke flavor you prefer rather than to add the actual flavor of the wood chip into your meat. Some wood chips provide a more mild smoke; whereas, other chips add a full-on intense smokiness. For chicken breasts, it is best to use a mild smoke wood chip, such as fruit wood, so that the meat is not overpowered with smoke. You might select apple, cherry, peach or pear wood chips to use with your chicken breasts.
How Long to Smoke Chicken Breast
You should be able to follow the same cooking instructions for a pellet grill, electric smoker or charcoal kettle grill. At the end of the day, a smoked chicken breast Traeger provides should be cooked at the same temperature and for the same amount of time as the other two devices for the best results. Be sure your smoker device is preheated to anywhere between 250 F and 350 F. The lower the temperature, the longer it will cook and the more enhanced smokiness your chicken breasts will absorb. The amount of time will also vary based on whether or not you are cooking with a bone-in breast or a boneless breast, as well as the weight of each breast. The following is a general guide for these types of smoking mechanisms:
- Boneless at 275 F takes roughly 65 minutes to reach an internal temperature of 165 F
- Bone-in at 275 F takes roughly 85 minutes to reach an internal temperature of 165 F
- Boneless at 325 F takes roughly 45 minutes to reach an internal temperature of 165 F
- Bone-in at 325 F takes roughly 60 minutes to reach an internal temperature of 165 F
Remember that this is only a rough guide as each piece of chicken will vary in cooking time based on its weight, whether or not the breast has bones and how many chicken breasts you are cooking at once. If you are looking for the most amount of smoke flavor in your breasts, cook them at a lower temperature without the bone. This tends to absorb the most smokiness of all the options.
Alternative Smoking Options
You can even smoke meat with a gas grill, oven or on the stovetop. If you have a gas grill or an oven, you can use a wood chip pouch in a pinch to generate smoke. And, if you are using the stovetop, you might consider investing in a stovetop smoking device, from a gun to a smoking pan. For the best results, be sure that you follow the smoked chicken breast preparation process as you would with a smoker.
While the preparation of a smoked chicken breast is time consuming, it is a critical component to the success of a juicy and flavor-packed chicken breast. And remember that regardless of the type of smoking method you choose, it is critical that you allow your chicken breast to rest after it reaches the ideal 165 F.