Smoked Chicken Tacos are one of the tastiest things to make when you have leftover smoked chicken. Shredded and piled high on tortillas with all the fixings, these chicken tacos are always a hit.
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Say goodbye to boring chicken and hello to these amazing smoked chicken tacos with incredible smoky flavor and aroma.
I’m a huge fan of tacos in just about any form, but whenever we’ve made a smoked chicken on the Traeger grill, we get very excited about the smoked chicken tacos we’ll be making with the leftovers. The meat is so juicy and tender, paired with tacos fixings, it’s pretty irresistible.
In this recipe, we will include instructions for smoking a whole chicken that you can then use to make smoked chicken tacos. Or if you already have the chicken, you can skip that step.
Why Chicken is Good on the Smoker
Unlike other meats, chicken absorbs smoke flavor exceptionally well, resulting in a delightfully rich and deep flavor profile. Its relatively lean meat complements the smoky flavor without being overwhelmingly greasy.
The lower fat content makes it a healthier alternative to ribs or brisket, without compromising on taste or texture. Chicken also cooks faster than heavier cuts of meat, so it’s great when you’re pressed for time.
Ideal Temperature to Smoke Chicken
The ideal temperature to smoke your chicken is around 225-250°F (107-121°C). This low-and-slow method ensures the chicken cooks evenly, stays moist, and has ample time to soak up all the smoky goodness.
You’ll know it’s done when the internal temperature at the thickest part of the breast reaches 165°F (74°C). The thighs and dark meat tends to cook a little faster, and it will need to get to 175°F to make sure it’s no longer pink at the bone.
What Smokers We Use
Did you know that Traeger created the original wood-pellet grill? The Pro Series 22 is the one most people choose because it’s compact, yet has plenty of space for cooking. You can use any type of wood pellets you like. See the Traeger Series 22 Grill on Amazon.
Best Wood for Smoking Chicken
For chicken, fruit woods like apple, cherry, or peach are a great choice, as they impart a slightly sweet, fruity smoke flavor that perfectly complements chicken’s mildness. You can also mix fruit woods with a small amount of hickory or mesquite to add a deeper, more complex flavor.
If you’re all in for the most smoky flavor you can get, go with a full hickory or mesquite, or a robust blend. These woods tend to be overpowering for the delicate chicken, but they do impart great smoky flavor none the less.
What Pellets to Use for the Smoker?
You’ll also need pellets for your smoker, if you’ve got a pellet grill like we do. Pellets come in many different types that you can choose from. I like to use hickory wood, or cherry wood pellets for mine. They also have a bourbon wood pellet that’s very good. My friend Todd swears by the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey pellets.
Ingredients You Need
Smoking the Chicken
You will likely need to smoke a whole chicken to get started with this recipe, unless you’re using store-bought chicken or going with leftovers you have.
It’s really easy to smoke a chicken, but it’ll take a good couple of hours, so be sure you have enough time. Here are the things you need to smoke the chicken are:
- 1 whole chicken (around 4-5 pounds)
- Olive oil – The olive oil coats the chicken and gives is a nice crispy texture.
- Your favorite dry rub – We use our homemade chicken rub which you can find right here. You could use any dry rub you like, or a store bought rub.
- Apple juice or chicken broth – Adding some juice or broth to a pan in the smoker will help keep moisture in and not dry out the exterior of the chicken.
- Fruit wood pellets or chips – We recommend apple, cherry, or peach.
You can also make these tacos using leftover smoked chicken meat or store-bought smoked chicken, and then you can skip the first part of the recipe where you make the chicken and just move on to making the tacos.
Making the Tacos
For the tacos you’ll need:
- Tortillas – small corn or flour tortillas work best
- Roasted corn – The extra flavor that the corn picks up from roasting in the oven add so much depth to these tacos. I wouldn’t skip the roasting.
- Cotija cheese – This add such a great saltiness to the tacos
- Jalapenos – If you don’t want your tacos super spicy, be sure to remove the seeds and ribs of the jalapenos.
- BBQ sauce or hot sauce – I always like a bit of sauce on my tacos. BBQ sauce is a great addition, but you can use any hot sauce you like as well.
- Cilantro – Freshly chopped cilantro adds a nice burst of flavor and aroma
- Avocado – slice the avocados thinly so they don’t slide off the tacos.
- Smoker – I use a Z Grills 700 series smoker for most of my smoking, though I also have a Traeger grill. You can use whatever smoker you have – they all work the same.
- Wood pellets – There are many types of pellets available. If you’ve already got pellets in your smoker, use whatever you have. I really like apple pellets for chicken.
- Meat thermometer – Many smokers have a thermometer built in, but if yours doesn’t, get an instant-read thermometer. I love this Thermapen.
How to Make Smoked Pulled Chicken
To Smoke the Chicken
Filling you pellet grill or smoker with your choice of fruit wood pellets or chips. Preheat the smoker to 225-250°F (107-121°C).
Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and rub it all over with olive oil. This helps the dry rub stick better and contributes to a beautiful golden finish.
Apply your dry rub generously all over the chicken, inside and out. Don’t be shy here—the more flavor, the better! Place a drip pan filled with apple juice or chicken broth below the grate to add moisture and catch drippings.
Put the chicken on the smoker, breast side up, and close the lid. Let it smoke for about 4-5 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F (74°C) in the thickest part of the breast.
Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the smoker and let it rest until it’s cool enough to handle. The best way to pull the chicken is to use your hands. If the chicken is too hot, you won’t be able to do that.
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To Make the Tacos
Spread the corn kernels on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Roast it at 400° F for 40 minutes, until it’s a bit charred. Stir it a few times to ensure all the kernels get some char.
Heat the tortillas for 1-2 minutes on the stovetop or for 15 seconds in the microwave. Mix the shredded chicken and BBQ sauce together in a bowl.
Fill the tortillas with chicken, roasted corn, cotija cheese, jalapeno slices, cilantro, and avocado. Top with BBQ sauce, if desired.
How to Store It Properly
Proper storage is key to maintaining the flavor and quality of your smoked pulled chicken. Allow the chicken to cool completely before storing it.
Place the pulled chicken in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag, then store it in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
For longer storage, you can freeze it for up to 3 months. To reheat, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight, then warm it gently in a saucepan over medium heat, adding a bit of broth or barbecue sauce to keep it moist.
Frequently Asked Questions
At what temperature does chicken pull apart?
Chicken isn’t like beef that has to be cooked to a much higher temperature in order to be shredded. It doesn’t have the connective tissue and collagen that has to break down. So when it reaches 165° F, it’s done, and ready to be pulled.
What is the difference between pulled chicken and shredded chicken?
There’s absolutely no difference between the two. Pulled chicken and shredded chicken are exactly the same thing, they just go by two different names. You can use pulled chicken in many different ways, so it’s a very versatile way to serve chicken.
Should I smoke chicken at 225°F or 250°F?
There is and will always be a debate raging on about exactly what temperature is perfect for smoking meat, like chicken. It’s fine to decide this for yourself. At 225°F, which is our preferred smoking temperature, the meat will have enough time to really soak up the smoke flavor and aroma. It will cook faster at 250°F and will likely take in slightly less smoke flavor, so that’s the trade off.
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Smoked Chicken Tacos Recipe
For a whole chicken:
- 3 pound (1 kg) whole chicken
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
- 1/4 cup (18 g) chicken dry rub
For pulled chicken:
- 1 pound (454 g) pulled chicken
For the tacos:
- 1/2 cup (82 g) roasted corn kernels
- 10 tortillas corn or flour
- 1/4 cup (38 g) Cotija cheese crumbled
- 2 jalapenos sliced
- 1/4 cup (4 g) cilantro chopped
- 1 avocado thinly sliced
- BBQ sauce or hot sauce optional
To smoke the chicken:
- Fill your pellet grill or smoker with your choice of fruit wood pellets or chips. Preheat the smoker to 225-250°F (107-121°C).
- Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and rub it all over with olive oil.
- Apply dry rub generously all over the chicken, inside and out.
- Place a drip pan filled with apple juice or chicken broth below the grate to add moisture and catch drippings.
- Put the chicken on the smoker, breast side up, and close the lid. Let it smoke for about 3-4 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F (74°C) in the thickest part of the breast.
- Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the smoker and let it rest until it’s cool enough to handle.
- Pull the chicken off the bones and shred it with a fork or with your hands. You can leave the skin on or remove it and chop it up with a knife to add back into the pulled chicken later on.
To make the tacos:
- Spread the corn kernels on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Roast it at 400° F for 40 minutes, until it’s a bit charred.
- Mix the shredded chicken with BBQ sauce.
- Heat the tortillas for 1-2 minutes on the stovetop or for 15 seconds in the microwave.
- Fill the tortillas with chicken, roasted corn, cotija cheese, jalapeno slices, cilantro, and avocado. Top with BBQ sauce, if desired.
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Laura is a passionate home cook and grill enthusiast who has spent years perfecting her culinary skills, with a particular focus on grilling techniques and flavor combinations. Her fascination with the grill, smoke, and the mouthwatering results they produce has led her on an exciting journey to discover the best methods for grilling delicious and unforgettable meals.