Smoked Chicken Thighs Brine | Wet and Dry Brining Methods

September 13, 2022

As a busy chef that spends 50 weekly hours or thereabout in my kitchen and by my outdoor grill, I have smoked bone-in chicken breasts, whole chicken, and even chicken wings. So it was high time I tried smoked chicken thighs. I like my smoked chicken thighs brined to get them moisturized and tender. 

So, in today’s article, I’ll show you how I make my smoked chicken thighs brine recipe using two brine methods. The secret of this cooking is how the brining is prepared and the chicken thighs are refrigerated. So, without further ado, let’s get started. 

Smoked chicken thighs brine

Wet Brined Smoked Chicken Thighs Recipe

In the first smoked chicken thighs recipe, we’ll take the chicken through a dry brine solution. First, here are the things you’ll need:

Chicken thighs servings: For 6 persons

Items You Need:

  • A pack of chicken thighs (6 pieces)
  • Dry rub 
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
  • BBQ sauce
  • Rubber gloves
  • Meat thermometer 
  • Smoker 
  • Refrigerator
Honey Mustard Chicken Thighs

Method

Step 1: Open and Trim the Chicken Thighs if You Want 

Start by opening the pack and get the chicken thighs out. For around $6 to $10 (depending on your location), you can get a big whole pack of chicken thighs of about six pounds. 

If you want to trim them up, by all means, go ahead. Chicken cuts sometimes have little lips from the skin. You can do without trimming them. They are pretty much already trimmed and have the backbone already removed. 

I don’t particularly appreciate removing the skin on chicken thighs because I want to keep the fat in there. So if you leave it that way, you will get the chicken skin crispy and each chicken thigh cooked through. 

Meanwhile, if you have to remove the skin on chicken thighs, don’t throw the skin and the trimmings away. You can fry them up to make chicken chicharrones.

Step 2: Rub the Chicken Thighs 

First, we will be dry brining the chicken thighs for refrigeration. Mix 1/4 cup each of kosher salt and brine rub together. You may also add the same quantity of brown sugar to the mix.

The rub I like to use for this is the Aromasong Brine. I highly recommend this BBQ rub because it’s not expensive, and it’s the best bang for your buck brining rub. 

I like to use it for making thanksgiving Turkey. But it’s generally great for poultry products. It is a fantastic rub that enhances the taste and texture of the meat. 

If you have the rub or your favorite rub, mix it with the salt and rub the mix generously on the meat side of each chicken thigh. 

Step 3: Pat Dry the Rub on the Meat 

When you’ve rubbed the meat, pat the rub in with your hand. However, you need a pair of rubber gloves on before doing this. So, get some kitchen-approved disposable nitrile latex-free gloves on. A top recommendation for me is the Vaingarb Set of Nitrile Gloves.

By patting the chicken with the rub on, you will get the rub to adhere to the chicken. 

Step 4: Repeat the Steps for the Rest of the Thighs 

Repeat the above steps (from 1-3) from trimming to rubbing for each chicken thigh you have and lay them on a rack. 

Ensure that you place a drip tray below the refrigerator rack to catch all the drips from the chicken, so they don’t mess up your refrigerator. 

Step 5: Refrigerate the Chicken 

Let the chicken sit in the fridge overnight for around 6 to 12 hours so the skin can dry out a little bit, and the seasoning can penetrate. 

Tip

The brining preparations should be donw the night before smoking chicken thighs. Then, first thing in the morning, you can get them on the smoker. 

Raw Chicken Thigh

Step 6: Prepare and Temp Up the Smoker 

Now that the chicken thighs have brined in the fridge overnight with the rub, it’s time to smoke them. 

The Pit Boss is one of the smokers I like to use for smoking. Add your wood chips and turn on the Pit Boss or whatever type of smoker you have. Apple wood chips are best for adding that smoky flavor to this recipe.

Set it to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. With this, you will get a good smoky-flavored chicken. Why do you want to wait long to cook chicken when you could have done it in a little over an hour? 

If you have a pellet grill that can go up to 325 degrees, that’s probably the temperature I’d suggest. But 300 is fine. 

When you first turn on your Pit Boss, you’ll notice that you start getting thick white smoke after a couple of minutes. I usually leave the lid open and let the thick nasty smoke come out. 

Then, as soon as you hear the pellets catch flame, the smoke will begin to clear. Once the pellets catch flame, close the lid and let it come to the set temp. 

Step 7: Smoke for an Hour 

Continue by laying down your chicken once the temperature hits around 310 degrees. 

Ensure that you space out the chicken on the grill. Close the lid and come back to check it in about one hour. 

Step 8: Rub the Smoked Chicken With Barbecue Sauce

When that time is up, check them out to ensure they’re not burnt. Bring out your digital meat thermometer, and insert it into the core part of one of the smoked chicken thighs. 

The temperature you should shoot for is around 185 degrees. 

Dark meat like chicken thighs and drumsticks are more forgiving. You can cook it a little longer to have crispy skin on the chicken and still have a juicy chicken. Take that time to apply your favorite BBQ sauce to the chicken thighs for more flavors.

After one hour of cooking, they are still going to be a little bit behind. Check the internal temperature of those that may be further away from the heat and pull them over close to the heat from the pellets. 

On average, they should now all be around 175 degrees cooked internally and smell really good. 

Step 9: Finish the Cooking 

Give the chicken about 10 to 15 more minutes to finish cooking on the grill. 

After that, the meat will be nice, tender, and juicy. Take the rack out and let them rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving them. 

Wet-brined Smoked Chicken Thighs Recipe 

Next, I’ll show you how to make smoked chicken thighs in a wet brine solution.

Items You Need:

  • 6 pcs chicken thighs (whole, with skin)
  • Spice mix for sprinkling
  • Ziplock bag or bowl
  • BBQ sauce

The Brine Ingredients:

  • 0.5-gallon water
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 8g  ground black pepper
  • 4g garlic granules
  • 2g  Mediterranean herbal mix
  • 2 pcs bay leaf
  • 6 pcs juniper berries
Green Lemon Chicken with Potatoes

Method 

Step 1

First, you have to make the brine with the specified spices for the brine. Boil all the spices up briefly in water and then cool them down again.

Step 2

Now, put your chicken thighs in a ziplock bag and pour the brine over the chicken thighs until they are completely covered. Then put them in the fridge for one to two days.

Step 3

After the brining phase, remove the thighs from the brine into a basket until they are all dripped and dry. 

You may also dry them individually with a kitchen roll and season them with pepper and paprika spice. 

This spice mixture can be in the form of 60% black pepper and 40% paprika powder. Of course, you can also use a mix that you like best.

Step 4

Next, you can hang or put them in the smoker or grill and cook them for two hours at about 230 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Step 5

In the last half hour, you may need to add more shavings for smoking and apply BBQ sauce to the chicken thighs. You should have an internal temperature of around 165 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Your wet-brined and smoked chicken thighs are ready. 

What Is Brining?

Brining is the act of putting raw meat in salted water and refrigerating it. There are rules to follow.

Originally, brining was used for food preservation in the pre-refrigerator era.

Without refrigeration, food spoiled or fermented much faster. Fortunately, the discovery of the effect of using a solution made up of water and salt (or sodium chloride) has made it possible to extend the life of many food products.

Brining adds flavor and texture to meat. It infuses the meat with savory, finger-licking flavors while tenderizing it to a smooth, buttery texture.

How Does It Work?

Let’s go back for a moment to 5th-grade science. Does the word “osmosis” mean anything to you?

This is how brining works: When you place meat in a bath of salty, aromatic liquid (in this case, water), the solution moves through the meat to equalize the salt levels.

This means that even before it is heated, your meat has a higher liquid content. So, when you cook it, it loses the same amount of moisture, but it’s juicier.

As you brine your meat, it not only gains liquid, it also gains salt, and the higher concentration of salt will begin to break down the protein.

Think of meat proteins as tight, stubborn structures – the salt comes in, gives them a deep massage, and they start to relax.  The meat is more tender in the mouth and less hard to chew.

You can then pass the food through the smoker or make preserves in jars since the brine has already had its antibacterial effect.

How to Wet-Brine Meat?

It’s always best if you have a brined chicken thighs when making smoked chicken thighs. This will add flavor to the smoked chicken thighs and reduce the texture. It’s a better option than drizzling olive oil on the meat when smoking. 

The ratio for a wet brine is one tablespoon of kosher or table salt for every cup of water.

If you want a fancy flavor, add crushed peppercorns, garlic cloves, citrus fruits (also crushed), and a sweetener such as brown sugar. You can also use honey instead of brown sugar.

Wet Brining Vs. Dry Brining

I’ve shown you two ways to brine your chicken in the two recipes above. The first was wet brining, and the second was dry brining. 

Without a doubt, wet brining is the best method if you want a juicy cooked tender chicken. 

However, the flavor may be a little watered down. Dry brining is for lazy folks who want a quick recipe. 

Chicken Marination

What Is Dry Brine?

Dry brining is a technically flawed definition. “Brining” is a term that implies liquid. However, dry-brining is considered a dry rubbing or “curing” for meat. In both cases, the result is similar.  

By coating meat in a salty mixture for some hours or days, you redistribute the moisture and work the seasoning deep inside themeat.

Dry brine is also a simple, clean seasoning option if, for some reason, you don’t want to have your refrigerator filled with large containers submerged with meat.

How to Dry-Brine Meat?

The method for dry brining meat is to use a half teaspoon of kosher salt for every pound of meat. Then, you can add any other herbs and spices of your choice.  

Grind everything to a sandy texture and rub on your meat. This salting is the basis of cooked ham and other recipes involving a large piece of pork or other.

Finally, put the meat inside a Ziplock bag and refrigerate them for 1-3 days. 

TipYou may add one or two pinches of sugar to the dry brine to help the meat get caramelized while cooking.

FAQs 

Should You Brine Chicken Before You Smoke?

Yes, brining is required for meat cuts that are too lean. Although smoked chicken thighs contain more fat than chicken breast, it’s still considered a lean cut of meat. Fat naturally adds juiciness and tenderness to the meat. In the absence of that, brining is required. 

Can You Brine Chicken Thighs for Too Long?

Yes, chicken thighs that are brined too long will become mushy, oversalted, and unappetizing. The brine would have over-penetrated the meat fibers, tearing them apart. So it’s going to end up like a bad-quality soft chicken. 

Can I Brine Chicken for 24 Hours?

24 hours is still on the safe side for dry and wet brining, although for some ingredients, 12 hours is enough, especially for dry brining. You generally need at least 12 hours to 2 days for brining.   

Conclusion 

Who doesn’t love chicken thighs? Smoked chicken thighs are best brined before cooking. It is an effective way to increase the juiciness and tenderness of smoked chicken thighs. It is ideal for those who don’t like the injection process of tenderizing meat. 

This is especially important with chicken because it tends to dry out in the oven or grill. Soaking the chicken in salt water causes it to absorb some water through osmosis, making it juicier when cooked, while retaining the meat’s natural juiciness. Dry brining is also a faster and easier method for starters. 

I hope you can give any of the two smoked chicken thighs recipes a try. Have fun tinkering and bon appetit!

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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