A wonderful staple that you should consider adding to your barbecue repetoire, that’s ranks highly along side pulled pork, and chopped brisket sandwiches is smoked pulled chicken. It’s an affordable meal for the family, the kids will think it’s a treat, and you’ll walk away looking like a hero when you pull off this easy enough task, with a complex taste.
Why Smoked Pulled Chicken?
Pulling smoked chicken is easy, affordable, and can be prepared ahead of time. We have tried using a whole chicken for this meal, but we have found that for a better all-around flavor, that maintains moisture and richness through each bite, utilizing chicken thighs and legs is by far a better route to take when constructing a sandwich.
Plus, using chicken thighs allows you to smoke at a little higher temperature than normally since the thighs retain so much moisture compared to the whole chicken option. For 3-4 lbs of chicken legs, we are thinking to cook for about 2-3 hours at 275°F.
To begin, as we suggest with all chicken recipes, get that fowl into a brine. Let us list out everything we’ll need to get to brining our chicken and smoking, so we can start cooking and finish eating our meal.
Required Ingredients & Supplies
- Brine Ingredients: (For 3-4 lbs of chicken) - 3 Gallons Water, 1 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar, 1/4 Cup Kosher Salt, 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar, 4 Stalks of Celery Chopped, 3 Apples Quartered or Diced.
- Rub Ingredients: 1 Cup Paprika, 1 Cup Brown Sugar, 1/4 Cup Garlic Powder, 2 Tbsp Onion Powder, 1/4 Cup Kosher Salt, 1/4 Cup Coarse Black Pepper.
- Smoker Method & Required Supplies: We are using an offset smoker. Four pieces of a fruit wood, peach, apple, or cherry works fine.
- Needed Extras: Three Zipper-Lock Bags (2 & 1/2 Gallon Each), Cutting Board, Two Disposable Aluminum Pans, Large Bowl and Sandwich Rolls, Your Favorite BBQ Sauce or Hot Sauce.
Brining Your Chicken
Brining does two things: First, it maintains moisture. We’re using dark meat sections today, and they already have a great reputation for retaining moisture. Second, it infuses the meat with the flavor you are composing it with. The flavors aren’t overbearing, but they will give your pulled chicken a little bit of a positive demeanor with each bite.
Now, let's start with the chicken brining process.
First, warm the water enough that the salt and sugar will dissolve. No need to boil the water, especially since you can’t add the meat until the water gets back to room temperature.
Once the water is back to ambient, add the rest of the brine ingredients. Break the celery into small pieces, and even dice the apples up. This creates more surface area for the brine mixture to interface with.
Divide the chicken thighs and legs evenly into the zipper lock style bags, and ladle the brine into the bags.
Place the bags into a disposable tray, and slide it into the refrigerator. This should sit in its juices for a minimum of 12 hours, and ideally up to 24 hours.
- Also Read: An Ultimate Chicken Brining Guide
- Quick Kitchen Tip: Never let a brine mixture sit in a zipper lock bag in your refrigerator without something to catch any juices in the event of an emergency. If something does go wrong, you are left cleaning a disposable pan or bowl and not the entire refrigerator.
Preparing for Smoking
After a spending the night brining, drain off the liquid and discard the chunky ingredients. Dry off all the pieces with a paper towel. Now you can take your chicken to the next level by adding the rub.
We pour our rub mixture into the second disposable pan. Start adding chicken to the pan and coat each piece. Try to get rub under the skin so that flavor goes everywhere. When the pan is full transfer the chicken to the first pan. Repeat the rubbing process with the rest of the meat. Throw away any excess rub mixture, and evenly distribute the chicken in both pans.
With other meats we like to follow the philosophy of “low and slow”. Low temperatures, and a slower time frame to finish cooking. When our goal is to smoke chicken and then pull it, we have other options. We raise the temperature to 275°F. This will be a quicker smoke since we are cooking higher. The dark meat sections can tolerate the higher temperatures and maintain the moistness we’re looking for.
You should expect to add one piece of wood every thirty to forty five minutes. After 2 hours in the smoke, check the chicken thighs and legs. Using a trusty meat thermometer, aim for as close to the center of the meat as you can. If you need the extra time to finish it off, let it go, and watch the temperature gauge.
You will be ready to pull it off the cooking surface once the temperature reaches 165-170°F, internal. Pull the pans out and cover them for about thirty minutes.
Turning it Into Pulled Chicken
After you pull the pans out and covered them for about 30 minutes, your chicken pieces should have started to cool down a bit.
Start by transfering all the chicken pieces into one pan. Reserve all juices to a glass pitcher. Using a pair of new and clean dishwashing gloves begin breaking the chicken pieces apart. Pulling the meat off of the bones. The moist meat, being made even easier to handle because you maintained the cover over it after the cook, will help break down the meat. It should be fairly quick to just pull apart.
The cooks treat. Since you cooked your chicken at the higher temperature, the skin didn’t get soggy, it becomes a little crispier. You don’t need the skin when pulling and smoking chicken, so you and your helpers can snack on this while preparing the chicken for its grand appearance.
Serving Your Smoked Chicken
Everyone enjoys a little more sauce on their sandwiches, your options shouldn’t be limited. They can be unique though.
You can use some of the reserved juices, your favorite BBQ sauce, or a few dashes of hot sauce. Let us suggest our favorite spin on this sandwich made of pulled smoked chicken.
Take 1 cup of reserved juice, one cup of BBQ sauce, a few dashes of hot sauce, and simmer. Salt and pepper to taste. Prepare your sandwiches and serve alongside your favorite roasted root vegetables, we mixed French cut carrots, potatoes and turnips.
Share with your guests the sauce options you created, and serve with some unsweet iced, a lemon-lime soda or your favorite IPA, and Enjoy it!