Barbecue Chicken Thighs

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Barbecue Chicken ThighsBarbecue chicken thighs with salad, beans and rice

Barbecue chicken thighs are one of my most favorite recipes.

You get great barbecue flavor, with little effort, in a short amount of time.

It's the best of both worlds!

Why Barbecue Chicken Thighs?

Chicken thighs are perfect for the barbecue;

  • They contain a good amount of fat, so they stay moist during cooking.
  • Chicken thighs have an even shape. This means they cook more evenly than other cuts of chicken.
  • They are mild in flavor... they have the ability to take on smoke and spice well.
  • They're darn tasty!

You can cook legs and breasts with this recipe. The procedure and cooking time will be the same.

But remember...

Thighs will give you moister meat because of the higher fat content.

TipIf you're cooking chicken breasts with other pieces of chicken, cut the breasts in half crosswise. This makes them about the same size as the other pieces. 

All the pieces are about the same size, so...

  • Cooking times will be similar.
  • They'll be ready at about the same time as the other pieces.
  • You'll have more servings.

How to Select the Best Chicken Thighs

Chicken is available in different forms...

  • Fresh
  • "Enhanced"
  • Frozen

Fresh is the way to go.

The enhanced version has water, salt and other additives.

There are problems with this.

  • A lot of the additives have names you can't pronounce and are not something you want to eat!
  • You are paying for water and salt, which you can add yourself.
  • Water is heavy; when the label says "May contain up to 15% solution of..." the translation is, you're spending 15% of your money on water and additives and 85% of it for actual chicken.

Frozen chicken thighs and pieces have some problems as well...

  • A lot of flash frozen or I.Q.F. (Individually Quick Frozen) chicken thighs and pieces are enhanced. Look at the label and you'll see this. 
  • Freezing meat breaks down the tissue. This changes the texture and makes the chicken mushy.

Stick with fresh chicken thighs and pieces that do not contain additives. Even if those additives are "natural".

You'll get better results.


You can season it yourself with real ingredients.

Fresh and natural chicken thighsFresh and natural chicken thighs

How to Barbecue Chicken Thighs

This is a recipe for barbecue chicken thighs cooked with a smoker.

There are advantages to cooking chicken in a smoker instead of a grill...

  • The lower temperature and longer cooking time will give your chicken real barbecue flavor because of the wood smoke.
  • The low and slow cook method will help keep the chicken from drying out.
  • Your chicken will not burn in a smoker. You won't have to tend it or constantly move it to prevent flare-ups.

There's one major disadvantage...

  • Because of the lower cooking temperature, the skin can be rubbery.

There are methods to fix this. Some are extreme.

In competition barbecue, the chicken thighs have the knuckle bone removed and are trimmed, so they look nice and have a uniform shape.

Cooks will then remove the skin and scrape the fat off of it. Then place the skin back on the chicken.

Then they cook the chicken in a roasting pan with lots of melted butter. Or they cook them in muffin tins, so they have a uniform shape. (An idea that Myron Mixon came up with.)

We're not going to do that...


  • We'll dry brine the chicken to help draw some moisture from the skin and give it some great flavor.
  • Then we will cook the chicken with the skin side down. The skin cooks better this way, because heat is transferred to the chicken skin by the hot air in the smoker and by direct contact with the hot grate. 
  • To finish, we will sauce the chicken and turn the heat up to help finish cooking the skin.

Prepping the Chicken

This barbecue chicken thigh recipe is for chicken thighs that still have the bone and skin attached.

That means we'll need to do some trimming to get the best results.

Don't worry! It's a little trimming. It's not that hard. You can do it!

And you'll get tastier chicken.

Tools You'll Need

You will need a cutting board and a sharp knife.

I recommend a good boning knife; it cuts through tough, greasy chicken skin well.

You can also use a chef's knife. Make sure it's sharp!

For the best info on barbecue tools, check out my barbecue tools page.

When you open the package of chicken thighs, you'll see something like this...

Chicken thighs with a lot of extra skin. Some skin may be hanging off of the chicken thighs.

Chicken ThighsFreshly Opened Pack of Chicken Thighs

Do your best to pull the skin back onto the chicken thighs and smooth the skin over so it has a nice, even appearance.

2 Chicken thighsChicken Thighs with the Skin Pulled Tight

Now, flip the chicken over so the meat side is facing up.

Pull the excess skin away from the meat and trim it with your knife.

Trimmed chicken thighTrimmed Chicken Thigh

Turn the chicken thigh back over and pull the skin over the chicken thigh.

Smooth out the skin for a nice appearance.

Now you have a beautiful chicken thigh ready for some spice and smoke.

Trimmed chicken thighBeautifully Trimmed Chicken Thigh

Barbecue Chicken Thighs Recipe

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Now that you've trimmed your chicken thighs, it's time to get them ready for the smoker!

We need to dry brine the chicken thighs for at least a couple hours. Overnight is even better.

Then we'll smoke them into barbecue chicken deliciousness.

  1. Season the chicken thighs with the barbecue rub of your choice. About a teaspoon or so per side. You can use more or less depending on your taste. 
  2.  Place the seasoned chicken thighs in a gallon storage bag. Seal the bag, removing as much air as you can. Dry brine in the refrigerator for 2-24 hours. If dry brining overnight, turn the bag of chicken thighs over a couple of times to distribute the brine and spices evenly.
  3. Prepare your smoker for cooking. Heat to 275F°. After 15-20 minutes at 275F°, clean your smoker grate. 
  4. When your smoker is ready, add the wood chunks or chips.
  5. Place your seasoned chicken thighs in the smoker skin side down. Cook for 1-1/2 hours at 275F°.
  6. After 1-1/2 hours of cooking, turn the chicken thighs over. Cook for another thirty minutes at 275F°. 
  7. Turn your smoker up to 325F°-350F°. (If your smoker doesn't get this hot, you can continue to cook the chicken thighs at the highest temperature your smoker cooks at, or, you can finish the chicken thighs on a medium hot grill, or in the oven.)
  8. Turn the chicken thighs back over so the skin side is down again. Baste with the barbecue sauce of your choice. Cook for 15 minutes, 
  9. After 15 minutes of cooking, turn the barbecue chicken thighs over so the skin side is up. Baste with the barbecue sauce and cook for another 15 minutes, or until the skin is to your liking. Be careful not to overcook the chicken. The higher the heat, the faster the skin will cook without drying out the chicken. 
  10. Serve your barbecue chicken thighs with a little sauce on the side if desired. 
  11. Enjoy!

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Barbecue Chicken ThighsBarbecue Chicken Thighs

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