The Worst Cut Of Chicken To Use For Smoking

Ribs, brisket, and pulled pork need to step aside. Chicken is the meat your smoker wants — the meat it needs. To pull off delectable tacos, sweet and savory barbecue sandwiches, or a bone-in feast, you do need to pick the right cut to bring smoked chicken to its full potential. Food Republic spoke to Adam Truhler and Matt Mulligan of The Grilling Dad to get their insight on smoking this dependable bird.

When it comes to chicken parts and pieces, Truhler and Mulligan suggest skipping the chicken breast. "It is very lean[,] which means if you're not careful[,] it will dry out and get tough, but even if you baby it[,] you're just not going to get the same depth of flavor as you would on a drummy, wing, or thigh," they explain. Chicken breasts actually have about three times less fat than dark-meat chicken. Fat adds important moisture, and in order for chicken to be able to stand up well to a good smoking, you need more fat than breasts provide.

The right kind of wood for smoking chicken

Because of the comparatively delicate nature of chicken versus other proteins, you have to be thoughtful with the type of smoke you use. "The meat can easily get overpowered by strong flavors," explained Adam Truhler and Matt Mulligan. This is another reason to avoid using breast meat. The richer taste of dark meat chicken can handle the smoke more readily.

For the pair, the best woods for smoking chicken are mild, sweet-smelling, and delicate, and they introduce a smoky undertone to the protein with similar notes. They suggest apple, cherry, maple, or pecan wood for the sweetness and fruity qualities. Woods like hickory and mesquite are best reserved for more boldly flavored cuts of meat, like beef, pork, or lamb. It is also important to consider the biggest mistakes people make when smoking chicken. Too much time in the smoker can make the meat overwhelmingly smokey, not to mention tough and dry.

Tips for smoking chicken to maintain moisture

Adam Truhler and Matt Mulligan do say that even though it is not their first choice, you can still absolutely use breast meat if that is your preference. You just have to be extra careful not to overcook it, which is true across the board. Chicken needs to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to be safe to eat, according to the USDA.

To ensure chicken breast does not get overcooked, pull it out of the smoker once it hits 162 degrees. The residual heat will cause the temperature to continue to rise. As for thighs, they actually benefit from a slightly higher temperature because the collagen starts to break down and yields a more moist texture. Cook thighs and drumsticks until they reach an internal temperature of about 175 degrees Fahrenheit.

Barbecue sauce is another way to introduce some moisture. Go for something homemade or opt for the store-bought barbecue sauce Bobby Flay always keeps in his pantry. To keep the chicken nice and saucy and to avoid burning barbecue sauce on the grill, wait to brush it on until the end of cooking.

After you remove the chicken from the smoker to rest, a loosely tented foil covering is a great way to help retain some of the moisture that is typically lost to evaporation. About 10 minutes is enough of a resting period — though it may be hard to stop yourself from nabbing a bite!