Today we are considering BBQ chicken in all its various forms, from choosing the right cuts, to preparing your barbecue chicken before smoking or grilling it.
We also provide some great BBQ chicken recipes in the final section of the article.
Chicken is one of the most popular and best meats to smoke because of how versatile it is, and how well it takes on smoke flavour.
It’s also one of the best meats to grill for similar reasons, as well it being fairly easy and quick to cook.
What’s The Difference Between Barbecuing Chicken and Grilling it?
Many people are unclear about the difference between grilling and barbecuing chicken. In the US barbecuing means smoking meat low and slow over indirect heat for longer periods of time, whereas grilling means cooking the meat quickly and directly over high heat.
In the UK and Australia barbecuing usually means grilling food over hot coals quickly. American barbecue usually refers to the low and slow method of smoking food.
What Are the Best Cuts of Chicken For Smoking or Grilling?
Chicken is very versatile so all the different cuts of chicken are great for grilling or smoking.
Chicken thighs and wings generally stand up better to smoking than chicken breast (which can dry out more easily over longer periods of time), but chicken breast is still good to smoke if done properly.
Whole chickens are great for the smoker, especially when spatchcocked for quicker cooking.
You can also grill whole chickens in around 2-3 hours, but obviously it will be much quicker to grill individual cuts such as breast, wings or thighs.
Why Grill or BBQ Chicken?
Grilling and smoking chicken really elevate its taste and texture.
Grilling imparts a caramelisation and char to the chicken’s surface, creating a crust that seals in the juices. The direct heat of the grill makes for quick cooking if you are short on time. Generally this is done over charcoal alone.
On the other hand, smoking chicken involves slow cooking over indirect heat, resulting in incredibly tender, juicy meat infused with a much smokier flavour than just grilling. The addition of a well chosen wood pairing allows the smoke to get into the meat over time.
Choosing the Right Chicken
We recommend choosing organic chicken from your local butcher who sources the meat from free-range farms where possible.
Organic chickens should have not been given antibiotics, hormones, artificial ingredients, preservatives or colouring. They will be better for your health as a result.
When selecting chicken for grilling, consider bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces such as chicken wings, thighs, or drumsticks. The bone-in pieces help retain moisture and impart additional flavour during the grilling process.
The skin acts as a protective barrier, keeping the meat juicy and adding a great crisp texture when properly grilled.
Additionally, look for chicken pieces that are fresh and firm, with no signs of discolouration or unpleasant odour.
If you are wanting to cook a whole chicken it’s probably best to smoke it or roast it. Grilling a whole chicken over direct heat is likely to lead to uneven cooking – burnt in places and undercooked in others. Plus you’ll have to be moving it around constantly.
If you do opt for grilling a chicken you will need to lower the temperature in your grill to 350-450F (177-204C) or you will burn it. Indirect heat with the lid closed would be the best approach.
Preparing the Chicken
Whether you are using chicken thighs, wings, drumsticks or breasts the prep process will be similar.
- Take the chicken out of the fridge around 30 minutes before grilling to let it come up to room temperature
- Pat your chicken dry with kitchen paper
- Season liberally with your favourite BBQ rub (we like Meat Church All Purpose BBQ Rub) – for a great homemade BBQ chicken rub see below
- Leave the chicken to marinate for a few minutes while you fire up your grills
- Optional – dry brine the chicken in the fridge for 2+ hours (or overnight) in BBQ rub to allow the flavours to penetrate the meat
Grilling Techniques & Tips
- Start with a clean grill. This will help prevent the chicken from sticking. Scrape the grill grates clean with a wire brush and preheat the grill to medium-high heat.
- Brush the grills with a little olive oil. This will also help to prevent sticking and ensure an even char
- Don’t overcook the chicken. Chicken is done cooking when it reaches an internal temperature of 165F or 74C. Use a digital thermometer to check the temperature.
- Let the chicken rest for a few minutes before slicing. This will help the juices redistribute throughout the chicken, resulting in a more tender and juicy piece of meat.
- Use bone-in, skin-on chicken. This will help the chicken retain its moisture and flavor.
- Don’t overcrowd the grill. This will prevent the chicken from cooking evenly.
- Baste the chicken with BBQ sauce during the last few minutes of cooking. This will add flavour and create a delicious sweet crust.
Temperatures & Timings for Grilled Chicken
The grilling times and temperatures for chicken will vary depending on the cut of chicken, the thickness of the pieces, and the desired level of doneness. However, here are some general guidelines:
- Chicken breasts: Grill chicken breasts for 5- 6 minutes per side over medium-high heat (400°F or 204C). For a more well-done chicken breast, grill for 7 to 8 minutes per side.
- Chicken thighs: Grill chicken thighs for 7 -8 minutes per side over medium heat (400°F or 204C). For a more well-done chicken thigh, grill for 9 to 10 minutes per side.
- Chicken drumsticks: Grill chicken drumsticks for 30 minutes over indirect heat (350°F or 177C). For a more well-done chicken drumstick, grill for 35 to 40 minutes.
- Chicken wings: Grill chicken wings for 15 to 20 minutes over medium heat (400°F or 204C). For a more well-done chicken wing, grill for 20 to 25 minutes.
It is important to use a meat thermometer to ensure that the chicken is cooked to a safe internal temperature of 165°F (74C). Once the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the grill and let it rest for a few minutes before serving.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Grilling Chicken
There are a few common mistakes that can make your chicken dry, overcooked, or even unsafe to eat.
Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid when grilling chicken:
- Grilling the chicken uncovered. Grilling the chicken uncovered can cause it to dry out. Instead, grill the chicken with the lid closed, which will help to keep the moisture in, and ensure an even cook.
- Placing the chicken directly over the heat source. This will cause the chicken to cook too quickly on the outside and not cook through on the inside. Instead, preheat the grill to medium heat and then place the chicken over indirect heat. This will allow the chicken to cook evenly. Controlling the heat in your BBQ so that it isn’t too low of high is important for best results. If you want to cook a whole chicken consider smoking it low and slow or roasting it in the oven.
- Not using a meat thermometer. The only way to know for sure that your chicken is cooked through is to use a meat thermometer. The internal temperature of cooked chicken should be 165F (74C).
- Putting sauce on the chicken too soon. If you want to add sauce (e.g. BBQ or hot sauce)to your grilled chicken, wait until the chicken is in the final stages of cooking (10-15 mins before the end) before adding it. Otherwise, the sauce will prevent the chicken from browning and developing a nice crust. or it will burn because of the sugar content.
- Use boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs for easier and quicker cooking.
- Prick the chicken with a fork to help it absorb the marinade or seasonings.
- Grill the chicken for 5-7 minutes per side, or until it reaches the correct internal temperature of chicken which is 165F(74C).
- Let the chicken rest for a few minutes before slicing or serving, to make sure the juices redistribute themselves throughout the meat.
By avoiding these common mistakes, you can grill chicken that is moist, delicious and safe to eat.
Choosing the Right Wood Chips
The type of wood chips you use when smoking chicken can make a big difference in the flavor of the final product. Some of the most popular wood chips for smoking chicken include:
- Applewood: This wood imparts a mild, sweet flavor that pairs well with chicken.
- Cherrywood: This wood has a slightly tart flavor that can help to balance out the richness of the chicken.
- Hickory: This wood has a strong, smoky flavor that is often used for pork, but can also be used for chicken.
- Maple: This wood has a sweet, mellow flavor that is perfect for chicken.
- Oak: This wood has a rich, earthy flavor that can add depth to the flavor of chicken.
When choosing wood chips for smoking chicken, it is important to consider the overall flavor profile you are hoping to achieve. If you want a mild, sweet flavor, then applewood or cherrywood would be a good choice. If you want a stronger, smoky flavor, then hickory or oak would be a better option.
It is also important to note that the type of wood you use will affect the color of the chicken skin. Applewood and cherrywood will typically turn the skin a dark brown, while hickory and oak will turn the skin a blacker color.
Ultimately, the best way to choose the right wood chips for smoking chicken is to experiment and see what you like best. There is no right or wrong answer, so have fun and enjoy the process!
Here are some additional tips for smoking chicken:
- Use a smoker that is designed for smoking food.
- Preheat the smoker to 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Add the wood chips to the smoker and allow them to smoke for 15-20 minutes before adding the chicken.
- Smoke the chicken for 3-4 hours, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Brine Recipe for Smoked Chicken
Brining your smoked chicken for a few hours or overnight is optional, but it is a great insurance against your chicken drying out in the smoker.
At its most simple, a brine is a water, sugar and salt solution, but adding herbs and extra seasonings adds to the overall flavour of your smoked chicken.
- 1 gallon water
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1 cup brown sugar
- Optional: 1 onion, sliced; 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns; 2–3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- Combine water, salt, and brown sugar in a large pot or container.
- Stir until salt and sugar are dissolved.
- Add onion, peppercorns, and rosemary (if using).
- Place chicken in brine, making sure it is completely submerged.
- Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 24 hours.
- Remove chicken from brine and pat dry with paper towels.
It’s also worth considering dry brining the chicken by covering it in your favourite BBQ rub (or simply seasoning it with salt and pepper) and putting it in the fridge overnight. This allows the flavours to penetrate more deeply into the chicken, but again it is optional.
Preparing the Chicken for Smoking
Preparing a chicken for smoking is a fairly simple process that can be done in a few steps. First, rinse the chicken inside and out with cold water. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.
If you are not using a brine, simply season the chicken with salt, pepper, and your favourite BBQ seasoning, for example we like Meat Church Holy Gospel BBQ Rub. See below for a tasty homemade BBQ rub recipe.
Tuck the wing tips behind the back of the chicken and tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Place the chicken in a smoker or grill that has been preheated to 225F (107C).
Smoke the chicken for 3-5 hours (depending on the size of the chicken), or until the internal temperature reaches 165F (74C).
Smoking Techniques for Chicken
There are a few different techniques that you can use to smoke chicken, but probably the most important thing to consider is to using a mild hardwood, such as apple,cherry, hickory, or maple. People are often surprised at how much difference wood choices make to smoked chicken.
Leaving your smoker to burn off unwanted chemicals, ash and food residue for around 10-15 minutes with the lid open is well worth doing.
You will also want to set your smoker to the best slow and low temperature, which is 225F, and smoke the chicken for 3-5 hours, or more importantly until the internal temperature reaches 165F (74C).
Here are some additional tips for smoking chicken:
- Pat the chicken dry before smoking it. This will help to prevent the chicken from drying out.
- Use a simple seasoning rub. You don’t need to go overboard with the seasoning, as the smoke will impart plenty of flavour.
- Don’t peek! Opening the smoker lid will release heat and smoke, which can affect the cooking process. As the popular saying goes, “If you’re lookin’ it ain’t cookin’.”
- Let the chicken rest for 10-15 minutes before carving. This will allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a more tender and juicy chicken.
With these tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to smoking delicious chicken that may well make you the talk of the neighbourhood.
Here are some additional smoking techniques that you may want to consider using:
- Beer can chicken: This is a popular technique that involves placing a whole chicken inside a beer can. The beer helps to keep the chicken moist and imparts a slightly sweet flavour. Also it’s a bit of fun and theatre!
- Spatchcocking chicken: This is a technique that involves butterflying a whole chicken and then smoking it. This method results in a chicken that cooks more evenly and faster than a traditional whole chicken. Essentially you are removing the chicken’s backbone to make sure it is opened out and flattened,
- Smoked chicken wings: These are a great appetiser or snack. Simply smoke the wings until they are cooked through and crispy – 1-2 hours at 225F (107C).
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Smoking Chicken
There are a few common mistakes that can ruin your smoked chicken. Here are a few things to avoid:
- Not using a fresh chicken. Using a frozen chicken will result in dry, tough meat. Always use a fresh fully defrosted chicken for the best results.
- Not smoking the chicken at the right temperature. The ideal temperature for smoking chicken is 225F (107C). Smoking the chicken at too high a temperature will dry it out.
- Not letting the chicken smoke for long enough. Chicken needs to smoke for at least 2-3 hours to cook through and develop flavour. If you don’t smoke the chicken for long enough, it will be undercooked and unsafe to eat. Your target internal temperature is 107C or 165F.
- Opening the smoker lid too often. Every time you open the smoker lid, you let out the smoke and heat. This can cause the chicken to cook unevenly and lose flavour. Only open the smoker lid when you need to add more wood chips or to check the chicken’s internal temperature.
- Not letting the chicken rest before carving. After you smoke the chicken, it’s important to let it rest for 10-15 minutes before carving. This will allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a more tender and juicy chicken. As tempting as it might be to avoid this final step, it is crucial.
By avoiding these common mistakes, you can smoke chicken that is moist and delicious.
Here are some additional tips for smoking chicken:
- Use a dry rub or brine to season the chicken before smoking. This will help to add flavour and moisture to the meat.
- Use a wood that will complement the flavour of the chicken. Some good choices include apple, hickory, oak or mesquite.
- Baste the chicken with your favorite sauce or marinade(e.g. hot sauce or BBQ sauce) during the smoking process. This will help to keep the chicken moist and add even more flavour.
Watch the process of smoking chicken on our Instagram account below.
BBQ Chicken Recipes
Smoked Chicken Breast
For some further ideas on BBQ smoke chicken try this article:
Smoked Chicken Thighs
For a great recipe on BBQ Chicken thighs try below.
Sauces For BBQ Chicken
BBQ sauce is a must for chicken and we’d like to share our recommendations if that suits.
Barbecue Chicken Rub Recipe
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup paprika
- 1 tablespoon chilli (US = chili) powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until evenly combined.
- Store in an airtight container or keep in the freezer in a resealable plastic bag.
- Here are some additional tips for making a great barbecue chicken rub:
- Use high-quality spices. The better and fresher the spices, the better the flavour of the rub.
- Consider toasting the spices before grinding them. This will bring out their natural flavours.
- Experiment with different combinations of spices. There are endless possibilities, so have fun and find a flavour combination that you love.
- Store the rub in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. This will help to keep the flavours fresh. When your spices start to get hard and clumpy they are no longer fresh and useful.
- Mexican Style Chipotle Rice
- Smoked Mac and Cheese With or Without Bacon
- Mashed Potatoes
- Grill Corn on the Cob
- Green Salad
- Potato Salad
- Pasta Salad
- With Buns or Rolls
- Sweet Potato
FAQ’s About BBQ Chicken
How Long Should you BBQ Chicken?
At 225F or 107C it will take 3-5 hours to BBQ chicken in the smoker, depending on how large your chicken is. Smaller cuts of chicken e.g. thighs, wings, breasts will obviously take less time – somewhere around 1-2 hours.
Do you Cook the Chicken Before Putting it On the BBQ?
You could roast your chicken in the oven and then finish it off on the BBQ. Bear in mind that it will not taste as smoky as it would if you cooked it in the BBQ the whole time.
What Temperature do you Barbecue Chicken?
225F or 107C is the usually accepted temperature for smoking meat slow and low. At this temperature it will take 3-5 hours to smoke a whole BBQ chicken to the target internal temperature of 165F or 74C.
How do you BBQ Chicken Without Drying it Out?
There are a few methods to make sure your BBQ chicken doesn’t dry out.
- Spritz it every hour or so with apple cider vinegar, butter or chicken stock (broth)
- Brine the chicken first in a water, sugar and salt solution
- Brush the chicken with a little oil or butter every hour or so
- Use a water pan to make sure there is moisture in the smoker environment
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Let us know in the comments below if you have any ideas about BBQ chicken you’d like to share!