There are a myriad of ways to smoke chicken: whole, halved, spatchcocked, cut in pieces, sauced, skin on, skin off, bone in, bone gone, sittin’ on a beer can, etc. But for simple, unadorned smoke flavor, a boneless, skinless chicken breast is your huckleberry. I usually buy them in large packages when they are on sale at the grocery store and smoke the whole lot of them, then freeze them for use in a myriad of other recipes later on, such as Smoked Chicken Pot Pies, Smoked Chicken Fajitas, or Smoked Chicken Pizza. My wife even makes a killer Smoked Chicken Salad with ‘em. They are as versatile as they are tasty. Hell, you can even serve ‘em on their own with just a little BBQ sauce and some simple sides.
As to smoking woods, I would say just about anything but mesquite will work for this technique. My preferences are any of the fruit woods, maple, pecan or hickory. In fact, if you're new to smoking or are trying a new smoking wood that you have never used and you want to taste the unadulterated smoke flavor without tastes from what you are smoking dominating your palate, then this recipe twill serve. The chicken flavor on its own is so subtle that the majority of what you taste is the smoke. When I try a new wood I’ve never used before, I always use this technique so I can get a good feel for the taste of that particular wood.
It is for this reason that I don’t really season the breasts at all before I smoke them. I’m just trying to impart smoke flavor and nothing else. Since I mainly use this technique for chicken that goes into other recipes, I do my seasoning later, when I know what I’m making, and not in the smoker.
So, how do we do it? Simple. Get your smoker going according to whatever technique you use. Lately I’ve been using my Weber kettle to smoke in, so I get about a half-chimney of charcoal going, dump it in my indirect heat tray, then add my wood on top.
Do I soak the wood? Yes, for a few minutes. What does this do? Not much. Wood doesn’t really absorb water, but it does delay the onset of flame-up until I get the lid on the smoker, so I do it.
Let the breasts smoke for about 45 minutes to an hour at the rather warm smoking temperature of 300F. Chicken is very moist and porous, so it will absorb the smoke flavor readily, and you can easily over-smoke it if you leave them in longer than an hour. But, you do want to cook your breasts to 160F, so check them with a meat thermometer at the 45 minute mark, and continue to cook only if they haven’t reached that temp. Don’t go much over 160F or your chicken will start to dry out. You can even pull them at 150F or so and they will continue to cook until they reach 160F.
Once the breasts are done, you can vacuum-seal them and freeze them whole for later use, or use them immediately.
Until next time,
Smoke 'em if you got 'em.