Step aside, pulled pork, because today we’re spotlighting Smoked Pulled Chicken! This succulent, smoky, and incredibly versatile meat is about to become a star on your backyard barbecue menu.
If you’ve never thought about trying it on your smoker, let me tell you now that it’s time to get on that! Chicken is great for smoking. The mild flavor makes a great palate for whatever type of wood you choose to smoke with and it stays juicy while it’s cooking.
So say goodbye to boring chicken and hello to this amazing shredded chicken with incredible smoky flavor and aroma. You can do so many fun things with this chicken – make some sandwiches, tacos, nachos, or put it in a burrito. Anything goes.
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.
What Temperature to Smoke It At
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.
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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
Here’s what you’ll need for a memorable smoked pulled chicken feast:
- 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, broth, or beer 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.
- 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
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.
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.
Enjoy your smoked pulled chicken on sandwiches, tacos, salads, or as a hearty addition to soups and stews. The possibilities are endless!
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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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Ultimate Smoked Pulled Chicken Recipe
- 5 pound (2 kg) whole chicken
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
- 1/4 cup (18 g) chicken dry rub
- apple juice or broth optional
- 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.
🥧 If you’re interested in more great recipes, I share all my favorite recipes at A Food Lover’s Kitchen, Instant Pot recipes over at A Pressure Cooker Kitchen, air fryer recipes at Air Fry Anytime, and cocktails and drinks at Savored Sips. Check it out today!
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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.