The best BBQ chicken is finger licking delicious and so easy to make. This authentic low and slow recipe comes with tips and tricks for getting incredible flavor from smoked chicken, including using a chicken dry rub and dipping in a flavorful BBQ sauce glaze during the final minutes of cooking. Looking for high heat style then check out our ultimate grilled chicken guide.
We are huge fans of chicken on the smoker or grill. Over the years we have learned a few things about making the very best smoked BBQ chicken. Here are all the tips, tricks, and secrets we have to share.
- This easy recipe is cooked low and slow with a Carolina style vinegar sauce applied at the end for added flavor.
- You can substitute with your favorite BBQ sauce or any homemade barbecue sauce.
- You can use any cut of chicken for this recipe, just cook it to the property internal temperature.
BBQ versus Grilling
Ask any pitmaster and you realize it is not semantics, it’s two separate techniques. BBQ is the process of low and slow cooking using indirect heat versus a hot grill. As authors of a cookbook focused on this style of cuisine it’s important to understand the difference.
- BBQ – Cooking your chicken at lower temperatures under 325 degrees Fahrenheit typically with charcoal and wood for a smoky flavor. Usually it’s between 225 and 275 F. Alternatively you can use certain techniques to achieve this on your gas grill. Often it can end with a BBQ sauce or glaze.
- Grilling – Whether a charcoal grill or a gas grill this is cooking at or over 400 degrees Fahrenheit using direct or two-zone grilling on a grill grate. Less smoky flavor is added and more of the char and earthiness for hot and fast cooking. With a two-zone set up you can finish the chicken on the cooler side of the grill.
The Best Cut for BBQ Chicken
We’ve learned that we definitely want to cook in separate pieces and ideally bone-in chicken. Yes, an entire smoked chicken is fun, but to be able to monitor the internal temps of chicken pieces makes it so much easier to have the bone-in breast, thighs, drums separated. Our favorite cut is the skin on chicken thighs and leg combined as they cook at similar times.
You are also able to season each piece more thoroughly when they are separated. We still do the occasional smoked whole roaster chicken, but for that it’s usually when we’re looking to do shredded (or pulled) chicken for other recipes, like smoked chicken chili or smoked buffalo chicken dip.
Related Recipe: Grilled Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
The best chicken is sourced from local ranchers at farmers markets or direct. You can also find online retailers like D’Artagnan that sources quality meats direct from small farmers around the country and delivers right to your door.
The two important factors for BBQ chicken are a good spice rub that has kosher salt and making sure you allow it to dry brine.
- Trim excess fat off the chicken. In some cases you can get really technical on say, the thighs, and actually remove the skin, scrape off the fat, and then put it back on again. But really, that’s a pain when you are in the backyard.
- After trimming add a dry rub, savory to be specific with kosher salt. Yes, you can wet brine chicken. But one challenge with wet brining is the impact that it can have on the skin (as in more rubbery). When cooked at a lower temp the skin often comes out rubbery. And ideally we are trying to achieve crispy skin to render the fat out. So when cooking low and slow, the key is avoiding too much excess moisture, but without skipping flavor. So that’s why we start with a good dry rub.
BBQ Chicken Secret – Dehydrate the Chicken
There are two ways to achieve a good texture for bbq chicken skin. Either cook at a higher heat, or dehydrate and dry brine the chicken.
To dehydrate, place the seasoned chicken in the refrigerator uncovered (like we do for our Smoked Buffalo Wings). This allows the airflow in the fridge to dehydrate the chicken while the salt in the rub help to dry brine. This will assist in the skin rendering down while smoking the chicken which is the secret to crispy chicken skin. Adding olive oil first causes the chicken to stay wet and leads to rubbery skin, so there is no need for any.
How to Smoke Chicken
- Cooking at 275 degrees is the sweet spot for the best results. It’s hot enough to help render out some fat (for that crispier skin), while still allowing that low and slow smoke to infuse your meat. Prepare your grill using lump charcoal and wood chunks. Oak and apple wood are great with chicken.
- Place the seasoned chicken on the smoker skin side down. This will allow the grate to press on the skin to help render.
- Smoke until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit, about 60 – 90 minutes. Then glaze the chicken with the BBQ sauce. Flip it so the skin side is facing up.
- Finish smoking the chicken until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s then time to remove and let the chicken rest. As it rests brush on last coating of BBQ sauce over the chicken. Then eat and enjoy.
If smoking bone-in BBQ chicken breasts follow the same directions for BBQ chicken except glaze when the chicken reaches 150 – 155 degrees Fahrenheit and then remove when the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F. Glaze on last time and serve.
This recipe will yield a nice bite to the chicken, but the skin texture still won’t be like grilled chicken. If you want to achieve a stronger crunch, then smoke at 300 – 325 degrees F or just make grilled chicken with a glaze.
Temperature of Chicken
For food safety the USDA recommends cooking chicken to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. For a standard boneless or bone-in chicken breast that can overcook the chicken. It’s best to remove at 160 and let it rest. While it rests carry over cooking will occur and take the temperature of the chicken to 165.
Bone-in chicken thighs or legs need a little more time to cook. We pull at 170 degrees to allow some of the connective tissue to soften and cook a little more. The size of your chicken pieces will cause your cooking times to vary. Always cook to temperature and not time using a high quality instant read meat thermometer.
Use 2 cups BBQ sauce and combine with ⅔rds cup honey to get a nice shine and flavor. It’s that easy.
This is where your favorite flavors can stand out. Like mixing sweet with heat and savory. In our case, we use a Carolina style BBQ sauce, honey, and the heat from the rub. All three make for a complex flavor bomb when you bite into the chicken with minimal work. It should still be moist and delicious in every bite, both white and dark meat.
If you like a sweeter and stickier style sauce, check out our Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce recipe too! But if you have your favorite store bought sauce, use that in the same ratios.
Related Article: Various Styles of BBQ Sauce
When to Glaze
Here is where the flavor really pops. Right before the chicken is done dip the chicken into a bowl of your prepared glaze then place back on your cooker for those final minutes.
The dipping method allows for a uniform sauce application, and it also creates this gorgeous glossy look! So pretty!
Or you can use a silicon brush to apply right on the grill too.
This allows a few minutes to set the glaze but avoid burning. After the bird reaches 160 degrees F internal temp, remove and dip again in the glaze. Let sit for about 10 minutes and then enjoy.
If you are wondering about the chicken temperature, check out this great article from Thermoworks about when chicken is really done and safe to eat.
Side Inspirations for BBQ Chicken
Wine Pairing With BBQ Chicken
We’ve got a few things going on here that will effect the wine pairing. We love Syrah for this recipe. There’s the savory, slightly sweet, and just barely spicy dry rub. And then we have the chicken glaze. For our glaze we went with a Carolina style sauce and some honey, so that means vinegar (acid) and sweet. You’ll find lovely integration of fruit, herbs, spice, and even some floral notes, without becoming rich or jammy. Those from Santa Barbara are a wonderful match. But feel free to find a Syrah from your favorite region.
If you go with a KC, or sweeter-style BBQ sauce that will create an even sweeter and smokier glaze. We strive for a balance of savory/smoky/sweet, which we achieved. This allows for more options with wine like Zinfandel or Barbera.
Want more BBQ Chicken Recipes?
Follow our guide to How To Grill Chicken perfectly or try these amazing dishes.
- Smoked Whole Chicken
- Wine Can Chicken
- Grilled Chicken with Cranberry Chipotle Citrus Glaze
- Grilled Chicken with Cherry Chipotle BBQ Glaze
- Dry Brined Smoked Chicken with a Carolina Glaze
- Grilled Chicken with Ancho Chilies and Prunes
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This BBQ Chicken Recipe was originally published in April of 2016 and updated in August of 2022 to include new photos, recipe instructions, sourcing chicken, and details to the sauce.
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This looks so insanely delicious!! I’m hungry now!
OK now I need to buy a smoker. Lol. Seriously this looks delicious 🙂
This is one of my fav dishes… glazed bbq chicken! I think this recipe looks delish, I can’t wait to try it at our next bbq! Thank you for sharing!
Brettni Brumfield says
Goodness gracious. I’ve never seen chicken look so tasty. Pinning this!!
Thank you so much!! I can assure you it tastes as good as it looks 🙂
Droooool… this looks so good! And I appreciate that you used a Carolina style sauce. I don’t have a smoker or make chicken myself since F is vegetarian, but if I could I’d make this in a heartbeat! The bbq chicken at barbecue joints in PDX have nothing on what you just made!
WOW! Thanks so much. What an awesome compliment! And the hubs is a hard core Carolina fan, so we usually focus on that style when it comes to a sauce. I can go both ways, but am finding KC styles are now too sweet for my taste.
give me barbecue chicken for EVERY meal! this looks mouth-watering to my eyes. 🙂
Thanks so much 🙂
Marlynn @ UrbanBlissLife says
Another amazing recipe! That glaze looks and sounds soooo delicious. And thanks for the tips for getting crispy skin. I’m definitely in the crispy skin fan club!
Thanks! Once you’ve had rubbery skin it haunts you. You learn to never make that mistake again 😉
Ohhhh… man! I have GOT to buy another grill. We moved into a new place where they don’t allow charcoal grills (what we had before) and we haven’t bought a gas grill YET. I love BBQd chicken and the glaze just looks like it puts it over the top. I love grilling half chickens. I can just sit and eat the skin. Gross, I know, but so tasty.
Ha. Not gross at all, especially if it’s nice and crispy and full of flavor 🙂
I hope you get to get a grill soon. That would be a deal breaker for us 😉
Erin @ Platings and Pairings says
Oh my gosh – How yummy does this look? I want to dive right into this juicy grilled chicken!
Ha 😉 Thanks!
My husband once came home from a poker night hosted at a friend’s house and said he’d just had the best meal of his life: chicken smoked in the friend’s smoker. He’s been wanting to get one ever since!
That’s awesome!!! I can attest that it’s the best chicken you’ll have! If you ever need help looking at different smoker types/styles you know where to find us 🙂