In my opinion, a cleanly smoked chicken breast is well-up there with the other barbecue classics like brisket and pork butt – especially when done right!
The upside is that chicken breast doesn’t take half a day to prepare and cook, so it’s perfect for an impromptu smoking session!
Although you should always go by internal temperature for doneness, it’s nice to know when to expect your chicken to be done.
Here we go through the best temperatures for smoking chicken breast, skin-on vs. skin-off options, and how long it takes to smoke chicken breast at 225°F.
A Word About Smoking Chicken
The main reason you need to cook traditional barbecue meats like brisket or pork butt low and slow is so that the meat has enough time to break down the fat and connective tissue. Turning a tough meat tender.
Chicken breast, or the rest of the chicken for that matter, doesn’t actually have any of this connective tissue. Nor does it have fat running through it like other meats.
For this reason, chicken breast doesn’t actually benefit from low and slow smoking in the same way as beef, pork, or lamb.
Instead, the main benefits that come from smoking chicken breast are the beautiful complex smoky flavors and the retention of moisture during the cook.
For extra moisture retention, try brining your chicken for 6 – 12 hours, but no longer otherwise you’ll risk over-brining it!
Best Temperature For Smoking Chicken Breast?
People throw the word “best” around a bit too much nowadays. The beauty of barbecue is that you can make it completely your style.
Still, there are several good reasons why you’d smoke chicken breast at different temperatures and it all depends on what effect you’re going for and whether you’ve got yourself skin-on or skin-off chicken.
Normally if you’re smoking chicken breast, it’s skin-off chicken breast. If this is the case then the best temperature for smoking chicken breast is 225°F.
225°F is perfect for maximizing the smoky flavor, slow cooking the chicken keeping it incredibly moist and delicious.
Smoking Chicken Breast: Skin-On Vs. Skin-Off
During the smoke, the skin of the chicken reacts in a drastically different way than the meat of the chicken.
Now, the main reason you’d leave the skin on while smoking chicken is if you’re going for that crispy skin, like that you can get from smoking chicken wings (even from frozen).
The thing is though, if you try smoke chicken with the skin-on at 225°F, you’ll more than likely end up with tough, rubbery chicken skin.
This is because the low temperatures of 225°F aren’t hot enough to draw all the moisture from the skin. Instead of becoming crispy and dehydrated, it becomes chewy and rubbery.
So, to prevent rubbery skin on smoked chicken, you need to raise the temperatures to about 300-350°F, enough to dehydrate and crispen up the skin! The trade-off is a bit less smoky flavor though!
So, skin-on chicken breast is best if you’re going for that crispy skin. Skin-off chicken breast is best if you want the more smokiness and succulent chicken!
How Long To Smoke Chicken Breast At 225°F?
Now that you’ve got your smoker preheated it’s time to put on your chicken breast – wahoo.
Although you should always go by internal temperature to check the doneness of your chicken (165°F internal) it’s good to know a rough guide of how long it’s going to take.
Although it depends on the exact type of smoker you’re using and the size of your chicken breasts, smoking chicken breast at 225°F should take roughly 60-90 minutes.
Just like when smoking other meats, you shouldn’t unnecessarily open the hood to check how things are going, as tempting as it is.
So, after placing your chicken breast in your pre-heated smoker, set your timer to about 45 minutes. This is when you’ll want to do the first temperature check to see how things are tracking.
Simply insert a reliable thermometer into the thickest part of your chicken breast to get the best reading!
If you want your chicken to get a bit of a “crust” and a slightly tougher exterior, after 45 minutes of smoking you can crank the heat up to about 350°F. This works wonders for the final color and texture of the chicken – though it’s completely up to you!
When Is Smoked Chicken Breast Done?
Putting smoking times and temperatures aside, there’s only one true way to test whether your smoked chicken is actually done.
This is done by testing the internal temperature of the meat. To be considered food-safe, the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends a minimum internal temperature of 165°F.
So, no matter if your chicken takes 30 minutes or 2 hours, it’s only considered done when it reaches at least 165°F internally, in the thickest part of the meat.
If you’re smoking chicken breast then you can simply insert a trusty thermometer into the thicker side of the breast. If you’re smoking a whole chicken you’ll want to test in three places to be extra prudent. In the breast, thigh, and leg, in the thickest part, but not touching the bone!
If you’re smoking chicken breast for a crowd, be sure to prepare roughly half a pound per person. Make sure all of your chicken is at 165°F before serving though!
Do You Rest Smoked Chicken Breast?
Chicken isn’t like other traditional barbecue meats, it doesn’t need a great deal of time to cool and redistribute the juices.
Simply removing the smoked chicken breast from the heat and allowing it to cool slightly before serving will be more than sufficient as far as resting goes.
So, to enjoy that decadent, luxurious, smoked chicken breast that we all love, you’ll want to smoke it at 225°F with the skin off, or 300°F-350°F with the skin on.
Smoking chicken breast at 225°F is the best temperature for producing a tender and succulent chicken breast with the strongest smoky flavor.
On a pellet grill, charcoal smoker, or even electric smoker, smoking chicken breast should take between 60-90 minutes at 225°F. Of course, always check that the internal temperature of your chicken has reached at least 165°F before removing it from the heat!
If you’re smoking chicken breast, remember the most important rule: save me a piece!