If you’re looking to make a classic pulled BBQ chicken sandwich or just want some smoked shredded chicken to add to other recipes, this is a simple foolproof guide you need to have in your back pocket.
Nailing the juiciest smoked or grilled chicken is one thing every pitmaster needs to make happen. Chicken is one of the most versatile proteins because it’s universally loved and can take on an endless number of flavor combinations.
I’ve spent a lot of time mastering the art of delicious smoked chicken recipes here at Bon Appeteach. From smoked chicken thighs to grilling the best crispy chicken wings, there’s no shortage here.
That being said, making this juicy and delicious classic barbecue pulled chicken recipe is never a bad way to go in my book and always hits so well with a crowd.
Below I will guide you through a variety of ways to infuse flavor into your chicken, how to prep it for your smoker or grill, and the best ways to cook it from start to finish. Grab the full guided outline below or jump to the recipe and dive on in. Let’s go!
- Large Pan (foil, cast iron, etc.)
- Aluminum foil or parchment paper
- Knife and Cutting Board
- Kitchen Shears
- Paper Towels
- Meat Thermometer
- Oven Mitts
As a culinary arts teacher, I often take detailed notes on every cook I test. Use the guide below to help you answer common cooking questions and to guide you through the cooking process.
How do you smoke chicken without drying it out?
There are a few different ways to smoke your chicken, while keeping it moist and juicy at the same time. You can check out my guide to grilling chicken for ideas, but my go-to for pulled chicken specifically is to use this apple cider vinegar brine.
Wet brining allows salt and flavor to be absorbed into the chicken and helps it retain some of the juiciness you want when it comes to enjoying BBQ pulled chicken. I find that brining 24 hours in advance helps add a lot of flavor.
Before grilling, remove your chicken from the brine and pat it dry. Add your dry rub to the top and even some baking powder as well (this helps dry out the skin). Brining also helps you cook the chicken at a higher temperature (which renders the fat on the skin, making it crispy), while still keeping your chicken juicy on the inside.
Check out the full guide to wet brining with this apple cider brine and plan accordingly! If you don’t brine, I still suggest either injecting or marinating for maximum flavor.
What temperature should you smoke a whole chicken at for pulling?
This is where I break all the BBQ rules, because I like to use a higher “hot and fast” method for cooking the chicken. This is my favorite method for cooking poultry because it gets that signature brown, crispy skin.
Lower temperatures will add a lot more smoke flavor, but often yield a rubbery outside. Traditionally, most pitmasters smoke their chicken between 225 F- 250 F. I like to smoke my chicken at 425 F. on indirect heat.
I find using a stronger wood pellet or wood chunk (hickory is my favorite with this recipe) for this recipe works best based on the higher temperature of cooking. I also recommend splitting your chicken or spatchcocking the bird as well to allow it to cook faster.
Steps for prepping and smoking a whole chicken:
- Remove your chicken from the packaging and pat it dry. I like to cut out the backbone with kitchen shears to either split the chicken into two halves (pictured) or to just spatchcock the bird entirely so it lays flat in the brine.
- Make the wet brine recipe and add the chicken to it so it’s fully covered. Place in your fridge overnight and up to 1-2 days if desired. When you’re ready to smoke the chicken, remove it from the brine and pat it as dry as possible with paper towels.
- Season your dried off chicken with your favorite BBQ dry rub all over (and under the skin if desired). I love this Cajun BBQ dry rub or my keto friendly all purpose rub (sugar free).
- Preheat your smoker to cook on high indirect heat (425 F.). Place your chicken on a pan and place on the smoker. The pan makes it easier for you to move the bird on and off the grill with ease (as it cooks and gets tender it’s harder to move when it’s whole).
- Smoked your chicken until it hits 165 degrees internal temperature in the thickest part. The cook time will vary depending on the size of your chicken, but you can roughly judge 10-12 minutes per pound. My cooks can take anywhere between 45-75 minutes typically, so plan accordingly and always use a thermometer to judge doneness.
- Remove it from your smoker and allow it to rest 15-20 minutes before pulling. This is important to retain the juices! Save any of the juice/ drippings in the pan as well to mix with your chicken.
How to pull your smoked chicken:
If you’ve ever pulled pork, then you can easily pull your chicken! I am a fan of pulling the chicken by hand. I find this give it the best texture and allows me to remove bone fragments and pieces I may not want to serve.
Using your hands, you can easily pull the thighs and legs off from the breast bone of the bird. I usually remove the skin (and save to snack on the crispy bits or to toss in later or serve on the side to preserve the crunch).
Start shredding with your fingers or two forks. You can use a knife to cut the chicken breast meat away from the breast bone and shred as well. The chicken will be super tender and easy to remove from the bones. Save the bones to make a smoky flavored stock or discard.
Pile all your shredded chicken back into your pan and toss in the juices from the smoking process if desired. I like to add a little more seasoning over the mixture and serve with some barbecue sauce right over the top. You can also serve it on the side and your guests can sauce their own.
BBQ sauce on the side also allows you to use the extra shredded chicken for other recipes like this white chicken chili this chicken and cauliflower gnocchi soup too.
Don’t have a smoker but want to make pulled BBQ chicken? Try my insanely delicious oven baked BBQ chicken recipe or get even more hands off with this pulled chicken recipe you can make in your Instant pot or slow cooker.
Simple Smoked Pulled Chicken for BBQ
- I always recommend reading through the full post above, checking out the video, and reading the full recipe through before you begin for best results!
- Start by removing your chicken from the packaging and either splitting it in half completely or butterflying the entire bird (spatchcocking) so it can lay flat for brining and faster smoking.
- Make the apple cider brine recipe and let it cool to room temperature. Place your prepped chicken into the brine and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate over night and up to 1-2 days.
- When ready to smoke your pulled chicken, remove it from the brine and pat it very dry with paper towels. Season the bird with the dry rub so it's coated all over (top to bottom and even under the skin if desired).
- Preheat your smoker for hot and fast smoking at 425 F. over indirect heat. Read the notes in the post above regarding this.
- Place your bird on a pan and transfer to your smoker. Smoke until the thickest part reaches 165 F. internally.
- Remove from the grill and let it rest 15-20 minutes before pulling.
- To pull the chicken, I recommend using your hands or two forks. Start by breaking down the chicken into pieces (thighs/legs, wings, and breast meat). I like to remove the crispy skin and set it aside. Use your fingers or forks to shred the chicken and pull it from the bones. Discard bone fragments and pieces you don't want to serve.
- Place the shredded chicken into the pan you smoked the chicken on to collect the juices. Add a little more seasoning over the top if desired. You can toss in the BBQ sauce, add a little over the top, or choose to add it to the side. Enjoy the crispy skin on it's own or add it to the top as well.