Smoking Chicken Thighs on a Pit Boss Pellet Grill: The Tasty Tidbits

Smoking chicken thighs on a Pit Boss pellet grill involves getting the rub, smoking temp, and smoking technique just right!

A Pit Boss pellet grill was one of the first grills I owned. As a result, I perfected many of my BBQ recipes on it - including smoked chicken thighs.

In this post, I will give you a top-notch BBQ chicken thighs recipe, show you how to manage the Pit Boss grill, and show you tips and tricks for perfecting this dish. Let's begin!

How to Smoke with a Pit Boss Pellet Grill?

Before you can make Pit Boss chicken thighs, you first have to know how to work this type of grill. Good news for you - this brand of pellet grill is actually pretty easy to use! I will show you how to get smoking in just a few, simple steps.

I should preface my lesson by saying that there is more than one model for the Pit Boss pellet grill. This is why you should always read your owner's manual before you get started. This will show you the exact steps that you need to follow.

perfect bbq chicken

Before you do anything else, you will need to check the hopper of your Pit boss pellet grill. If it was emptied out during the last cook, then you will need to prime the grill before you can commence with the smoking process.

If there are pellets in the hopper, make sure that there is enough for the cook. This way, you don't have to worry about the grill stalling in the middle of smoking chicken thighs.

The next step is to plug in the Pit Boss pellet grill and open the lid. Turn the dial to Smoke and press the Power button.

In case the hopper was previously empty, you will need to press and hold the Prime button until you hear the pellets begin to drop into the firepot. Once this has happened, you can let go of the button.

Next, wait for 5 to 7 minutes until you can hear an ignition sound. This will be followed by a greater amount of smoke.

You can then set the temperature to your desired point, close the lid, and then preheat for up to 15 minutes. The chicken thighs can then be smoked.

If there were pellets in the hopper, skip the priming process. Instead, wait until you hear the ignition sound, set the temperature, and then close the lid to preheat.

The Smoke Setting on Pit Boss Grills

You would imagine that when you smoke chicken thighs that you use the Smoke setting on the Pit Boss pellet grill. Well, actually you don't - instead, you are going to set the temperature to 225 F.

According to the manufacturer, the temperature range for the Smoke setting on the Pit Boss grills is between 180 and 210 F. This is far too low to cook chicken thighs. If you were to try to make smoked chicken thighs at this temperature, it would take you a very long time.

I also want to touch upon the P-settings of the Pit Boss pellet grill. These can be used when your pellet grill is set to the Smoke mode. Essentially, the higher that you go with the P-settings, the more smoke is produced.

Even if you do decide to smoke the chicken thighs in the Smoke setting, I would advise against going above the factory setting of P-4. With the higher settings there is a greater risk of the fire going out.

Should You Dry Brine the Chicken Thighs?

Now, I am a big fan of brining before smoking. I find that this process helps the smoked chicken thighs maintain their moisture while resulting in a crispier skin.

When it comes to smoking chicken thighs, however, I wouldn't say it was completely necessary. This is because unlike with chicken breasts, chicken thighs have a higher quantity of fat. This makes them far better at staying moist as they are smoked.

At the same time, brining the chicken thighs can be a great way to get a delightfully crispy skin. And, as with the chicken breast, there really isn't such a thing as a too-moist chicken thigh.

chicken and other meat on a grill

Brining chicken thighs is easy. Place a wire rack on a baking sheet. Then, arrange the chicken thighs on this. Sprinkle kosher salt all over the surface of each chicken thigh and press into the skin.

Then place in the refrigerator overnight, uncovered. This will help to dry out the skin so that it will crisp up in the pellet smoker later on.

If you are planning on dry brining your smoked chicken thighs, I would suggest skipping the salt in the dry rub, then.

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Smoked Chicken Thighs Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 bone in chicken thighs

Dry Rub

  • 3 tbs. of brown sugar
  • 1 tbs. of smoked paprika
  • 1.5 tsp. of garlic powder
  • 1.5 tsp. of onion powder
  • 1 tbs. of chili powder
  • 1.5 tsp. of cumin powder
  • 1.5 tsp. of kosher salt
  • 1.5 tsp. of black pepper

Glaze

  • BBQ sauce

Method

Step 1

Trim the chicken thighs. Remove the skin from the underside of the thighs. Cut away any excess skin and fat.

Step 2

Combine the chicken rub ingredients in a small bowl.

Sprinkle the spice rub all over each chicken thigh, working some under the skin as well.

Press into the meat and skin to stick.

Step 3

Preheat the Pit Boss pellet grill to 225 F.

Arrange the chicken thighs on the pellet grill grates. Leave some space in between each chicken thigh.

Close the lid and smoke chicken thighs until the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees F. This may take around 90 minutes.

You can flip the chicken wings halfway through the cook if you wish.

Step 4

Take the smoked chicken thighs out of the grill.

Turn the Pit Boss pellet grill smoker temperature up to 400 degrees F.

Lightly baste the smoked chicken thighs with the BBQ sauce.

Place the smoked chicken thighs back in the smoker and smoke for a few minutes before flipping the chicken thighs over.

Take out when the internal temperature reaches 175 degrees F.

Let the smoked chicken thighs rest for up to 10 minutes before serving.

Choosing the Chicken Thighs

The first step to making smoked chicken thighs is choosing the right chicken thighs for the job.

My advice to you would be to get bone in chicken thighs with the skin on. Now, I know this isn't something that some people want to hear.

Boneless chicken thighs tend to cook quicker and may even cook more evenly. Chicken skin can be rather high in saturated fat and calories. So, if you are being mindful of your weight or health, this isn't your ideal option.

marinated meat

Well, hear me out.

Chicken thighs with the bone in are a lot tastier as the bone adds flavor. Furthermore, bones are great for helping the meat retain moisture as well.

As for the skin, it is tasty and crisps up really well as it is smoked. It is also great for trapping in moisture. This is why if you are making smoked chicken thighs, I would suggest being a little unhealthy this time around.

The other piece of advice that I would offer up here is to look for chicken thighs that are more or less a similar shape and size. This will ensure that they cook at a similar rate. Then, you will not have to check the internal temp of each at regular intervals.

Instead, you can simply take the smoked chicken thighs off the pellet grill at the same time.

Prepping the Chicken Thighs

While some skin on the chicken thighs adds flavor and moisture, you don't want the entire thigh wrapped up in it. This prevents the smoke flavor from permeating into the meat.

This is why you should remove the skin from the underside of the thighs, but keep the bit on the top.

Make sure to trim off any excess fat as well. These pieces will simply char when the chicken thighs are smoked for as long as they will be.

Letting the Chicken Thighs Warm Up

When dealing with raw meat, it is important to avoid letting it reach room temperature. At this point, the risk of a foodborne illness is too high.

At the same time, you don't want to try to smoke cold chicken thighs. This is because they can cook unevenly. They will also take longer to cook.

It is all about timing it just right. I like t take the chicken thighs out of the refrigerator about half an hour or so before they are meant to be smoked.

Just make sure that they don't stay out on the counter for longer than an hour. It is also a good idea to cover the chicken thighs while they are outside, too.

Choosing Your Chicken Rub

As you can see from the recipe, I have gone with a more traditional BBQ rub. This is because I feel like these ingredients work best with the smoked chicken thighs flavor. What's more, since I add barbecue sauce later on, I find that the rub complements the sauce as well.

If BBQ chicken thighs aren't really your thing, though, you can experiment with other types of rubs - there are lots to choose from. Or, you can simply improve upon this basic rub. For instance, some people like to add chili pepper flakes or cayenne pepper to increase the spice factor.

If you are planning on basting the smoked chicken thighs later on, it is a good idea to consider if your spice rub matches the flavor profile of the sauce.

Applying the Spice Rub

You will have seen that before brining the chicken thighs that I placed them on a wire rack that was stacked on a baking sheet. The reason that I did this was so that air could circulate all around the chicken thighs. This helps to dry out the chicken for a crispier skin.

There is another reason that I like this set up. In this position, you can apply the rub without worrying about the ingredients sticking to the work surface.

Now, I know that it can be tricky to get the spice rub to stick to the chicken thighs sometimes. Despite this, I would avoid using olive oil or cooking oil to get the ingredients to stay in place.

Keep in mind that you have worked really hard to dry out the skin so that it gets crispy later on. Applying oil to the chicken thighs undoes this hard work.

The only time that I would suggest using olive oil to the surface of the chicken thighs is if you are using skinless thighs. In this case, you will need the help.

Homemade vs. Commercial Rubs

As you will have seen, there are more commercial rubs than you can imagine. There are various blends of herbs and spices - many of these can get pretty creative.

bbq sausages

So, should you make your own or choose a commercial version?

When it comes to rubs, I have to say that the store bought versions can be pretty great as long as you buy a tried and trusted brand. That being said, I do prefer to make my own.

For one thing, I know for a certainty that there will be no preservatives or additives in my mix.

What's more, I also like having complete control over all the ingredients - creating a balance that I am happy with. It has taken a while for me to perfect my mix and I really like the spice rub that I have put together.

Thus, it is up to you to decide what you like.

Choosing the Wood Pellets

The key to the best smoked chicken thighs is choosing the right wood pellets. This is what will ensure that you get the perfect smoke flavor.

The first thing that I want to say about wood pellets is to choose the best brand possible. It is a good idea to choose the Pit Boss brand as there is a greater guarantee of these working well with the pellet grill.

However, you can certainly choose your favorite brand if you like. Just make sure that they are a good quality option.

Personally, I feel that sweet fruit woods like cherry wood, apple, or even maple is a good option for chicken. For one thing, this is a smaller cut of meat. For another, the flavor of chicken thighs is a bit mild.

Due to this, you don't want to use any woods that would overpower it.

Some people do like a stronger smoke flavor and will choose hickory. If you do, I would suggest only using a small amount of hickory and filling the rest of the hopper with cherry wood.

Last, but certainly not least, make sure to store your wood pellet properly. Do not keep them in the Pit Boss pellet grill hopper for longer than a week. They can get soft and become difficult to smoke.

At the same time, even in their packaging, store them properly. They should be in a cool, dry place away from any damp.

Keep in mind that even the best wood pellets have a best-by date. Pay attention to this and you will get the best possible results out of your wood pellets.

Choosing the Smoker Temperature

When smoking chicken thighs - or any part of the chicken - I like to err on the side of caution. Poultry has a tendency to dry out so the last thing that I want is to smoke the meat at a too-high temperature.

This is why I prefer to smoke it at 225 degrees F. The chicken cooks more slowly, allowing to track the internal temperature a bit better.

That being said, if you want extra crispy skin or want to reduce the risk of rubbery chicken, then you should consider changing the pellet grill temperature to 250 degrees F.

bbq chicken and fries

Now, if you do this, I would suggest that you keep a closer eye on the internal temp of the smoked chicken thighs. They will cook faster and you will need to track this carefully to ensure that the thighs are taken out at the right point.

Increasing the Smoker Temperature

As you can see from the recipe, I boost the temperature up to 400 degrees towards the end. This is to ensure that the skin gets nice and crispy since I am smoking the chicken thighs at 225 degrees.

If you wish to skip this step to have more control over the situation, then you absolutely can! Simply maintain the temperature at 225 F and smoke chicken thighs until they hit an internal temp of 175 degrees.

If you decide to turn the pellet grill up, though, it is very important that you continue to check the internal temperature during this period. With the temperature turned up so high, it is easy to overcook the smoked chicken thighs.

Arranging the Chicken Thighs

If you are cooking for a crowd, it can be temping to try and cram as many of the chicken thighs on the grill grates as you can manage. I am here to dissuade you from doing this.

It is important to make sure that there is a little bit of space between each thigh. This way, the heat and air is allowed to circulate around the thighs, ensuring that they cook evenly and at a similar rate.

If you have a lot of chicken thighs to smoke, I would suggest doing this in batches.

Keeping the Lid Closed

This seems like really basic information but you would be surprised at how often people will keep lifting the lid of their pellet grill to check on their chicken thighs.

I get it, but here's the thing - checking on the color of your chicken thighs isn't going to tell you much. The only way to know how close your smoked chicken thighs are to being done is to check the internal temp.

Now, I know a lot of people prefer a traditional instant read thermometer. While these are fine, it does mean that you have to keep opening the door to check on the temp.

When this happens, you let cold air in and let hot air rush out. This can cause the temperature inside the cooking chamber to fluctuate. In turn, this can lengthen the time of your cook.

If your Pit Boss has a temperature probe, then this isn't an issue for you. The probe will tell you the internal temp without you needing to open the lid.

In case you have an older model, I would suggest getting one that has a wire that can be arranged outside of the hood. This allows you to keep track of the temperature while keeping the lid closed.

Should You Flip the Chicken Thighs?

When it comes to grilling chicken thighs, you are used to flipping the thighs on a regular basis. With smoking, though, you usually just let the meat sit there on the grates. Is this something that you should do for smoked chicken thighs as well?

I like to this at the halfway point - about 45 minutes into the cook. This is simply so that both sides of the smoked chicken thighs have grill marks on them. I also feel that this helps to cook the chicken thighs more evenly.

juicy bbq chicken

Even if you let the chicken thighs remain in the smoker without flipping them, make sure to do this when searing the thighs towards the end of the cook.

Understanding the Internal Temp of Smoked Chicken Thighs

There is a bit more to the internal temp of smoked chicken thighs than most people realize.

For most chicken parts, you would smoke to an internal temperature of 165 F. In this case, however, I smoke chicken thighs past this point.

Now, I covered this in a post about chicken thighs temperature but let me break it down for you here:

Chicken thighs are dark meat, which means that they have more collagen than white meat. Now, this collagen only breaks down at higher temperatures. When it does break down, though, it results in juicier and tastier smoked chicken thighs.

This is why smoked chicken thighs taste better when they are cooked to between 180 and 185 degrees.

Now, due to the process of carryover cooking, the temperature of smoked chicken thighs can go up by as much as 10 degrees once they have been taken off the Pit Boss pellet grill.

It is due to this that I take the smoked chicken thighs off at 175 degrees. If you want to prevent them from overcooking, you can take them off sooner.

Basting the Chicken Thighs - Should You Do It?

If you have checked out any of my other recipes, then you will know that I am not the biggest fan of basting. This is because this liquid tends to serve no other purpose than to wash the spice rub off.

In the case of smoked chicken thighs, though, I make an exception. This is because it is really more of a glaze than it is basting.

As you can see, I only add it towards the end of the cook when the skin has gotten nice and crispy. Due to this, you get to enjoy the delicious taste of the rub.

However, is it really necessary for you to take this step? No, not really. You can easily skip it and simply serve the chicken thighs with a side of sauce.

Personally, though, I end joy the sticky sweetness of the glaze.

Even if you do apply BBQ sauce to the chicken thighs, make sure to do so only in a thin layer. I would advise you to use a pastry brush. Dip it in a bowl of sauce and paint on a thin layer all over the thighs.

This way, you don't take away from the rub or overpower the natural taste of the chicken.

Homemade vs. Store Bought BBQ Sauce

Yes, buying store bought barbecue sauce is easier. And, you may even have a favorite that you really like.

Despite this, I would urge you to make your own BBQ sauce, just once. The thing that I have found with most commercial brands is that that there tends to be a slight chemical-like after taste to the sauce that can ruin all of your hard work.

grilled meat on a wooden plate with a drink

Most commercial sauces are also incredibly sweet - to the point where you can't really taste much else.

When you make your own batch, however, you get to control how much of each ingredient that you use. This makes it easier to balance out the sweet with the tangy. You can even add a little fire into the mix if you would like.

Best of all, though, there is a taste of freshness that you just can't replicate with the homemade version.

Making your own BBQ sauce can seem a bit intimidating but it isn't too difficult at all. Add the ingredients and let it simmer for a while - it is as easy as that!

Resting the Smoked Chicken

It is easy to forget that chicken thighs need to be rested too. People are aware that they should do this for the whole chicken and for large cuts of meat but most don't realize that chicken thighs needed to be rested too.

In fact, I would argue that they need this period even more than other cuts of meat. As I have mentioned, chicken has a tendency to dry out. Thus, the resting period is an opportunity for the thighs to reabsorb any juices or liquids that they have lost during the smoking process.

Some like to wrap up the chicken thighs in aluminum foil during this period so that the meat becomes more moist. I would advise against it, though. I have found that it makes the skin rather soggy.

Instead, just take the thighs off the pellet grill and place on a serving tray or cutting board. Once it is done resting, you can serve it.

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Wrapping It Up

If you wanted to know how to make the best smoked chicken thighs on a Pit Boss pellet grill, congratulations! You have just read the ultimate guide. From smoking on a Pit Boss grill to the perfect recipe, you have all the pieces. Go ahead and put them together!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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