Learn how to make the best smoked chicken thighs with crispy skin using a Pit Boss pellet grill!
We take you step-by-step through trimming and seasoning your chicken thighs, setting up your Pit Boss for the cook, and smoking your chicken thighs to perfection.
We love smoking chicken and turkey around here.
We've done a Whole Pellet Grill Thanksgiving Turkey, the fool proof Spatchocked Turkey and Spatchcocked Chicken, Easy Smoked Turkey Legs, Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters, and the always fun and popular Beer Can Chicken.
But today we are getting back to basics with some delicious smoked chicken thighs right on our trusty Pit Boss pellet grill?
First we are going to do an easy dry brine to make sure they are moist and flavorful and that the skin stays nice and crispy.
Then, we will season them up with one our all time favorite BBQ rubs for chicken and smoke them on the Pit Boss with medium heat indirectly until they are perfectly cooked and colored.
Then you can eat your Pit Boss smoked chicken thighs crispy and smoked "as-is" or brush on one of our favorite BBQ sauces to finish them off saucy.
Trimming the Chicken Thighs
Chicken thighs only need a little bit of trimming before smoking them on the Pit Boss but it makes a BIG difference.
Flip the chicken thighs over so the bottoms are exposed and trim away the loose flabby skin that is likely hanging off each one with a good knife.
This loose skin will never get crispy while tucked under the chicken in the smoker and is best to just discard.
It also exposes more area for our seasoning to get on the bottom of each chicken thigh
Leave the top skin in place.
We are going to smoke these chicken thighs fairly hot on the PIt Boss so that they gets nice and crispy up top.
Dry Brine for Crispy Skin
The problem with "most" smoked chicken is that while the meat inside gets tender and delicious, the skin is usually a little rubbery and unappetizing.
Smoking your chicken thighs at a high enough temperature on the Pit Boss to render out the fat underneath the skin is important, but so is the seasoning and the way you do it.
So if you want the crispiest skin possible at the end, it all starts with dry brining at the beginning.
This is what will separate you from all the chicken smoking amateurs out there.
It works on all cuts of chicken...and turkey too.
After cleaning and trimming, simply coat the inside and outside of your chicken thighs with kosher salt, or your favorite BBQ rub that has already salt in it.
Do NOT use oil to help the rub adhere.
As you apply the rub the skin will start to get more wet as the salt in the rub pulls the moisture up to the surface.
This is all the moisture you need to get the salt or rub to adhere.
Place the chicken thighs on a wire rack set on top of a baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight.
We like this wire rack and baking sheet combo because you want maximum airflow around every side of the whole chicken.
This overnight seasoning does 3 things:
- That salty moisture that formed on the surface will work its way BACK into the meat to help flavor the interior of the chicken thighs.
- The salt inside will help the chicken retain moisture and not dry out while it smokes on the Pit Boss.
- It pulls moisture OUT of the skin allowing it to dry out before you smoke it and therefore crisp up better while it cooks.
Moist meat, and dry crispy skin.
Exactly what we want.
The next day the skin should look kind of powdery and very dry.
This is good.
It means the salt has penetrated into the meat where you want it to be and has taken all the moisture with it.
The skin will now crisp up nicely on the Pit Boss while the inside meat stays moist.
If you ONLY used salt for dry brining and now want to add BBQ rub at this point, make sure to use a rub with NO SALT (or make your own with no salt) because the chicken will already be plenty well seasoned. (We just brine with the entire rub mixture to make it easier, see recipe below).
Pro Tip: DO NOT use cooking oil to help additional rub adhere to the chicken skin. The more oil you apply, the less the skin will crisp up when it cooks.
If really are having a hard time getting your BBQ rub to adhere, use the smallest amount of cooking oil possible to make it stick.
What about Spraying or Spritzing my Pit Boss Smoked Chicken Thighs?
Don't be tempted to spray butter or apple juice or cola or any of the other spritzes you might see cooks use on BBQ cooking videos.
No basting, no spraying.
Not if you want crispy skin.
If you want to put BBQ sauce on your Pit Boss Smoked Chicken Thighs, great.
But it goes on at the very end, AFTER the skin has already gotten nice and crispy.
If you put BBQ sauce on while the chicken skin is still raw it will NEVER crisp up.
Our Favorite BBQ Rubs for Chicken Thighs
Now, you can use ANY of your favorite BBQ rubs for smoked chicken.
Since we are only smoking these at 300°F we don't need to worry about burning any sugary rubs.
So choose any rub you like and sprinkle it on generously on both sides of each chicken thigh.
Again, no need to oil them up, this will just inhibit the skin from getting crispy.
Three Little Pigs Touch of Cherry is one of our personal favorite rubs for smoked chicken, and their Kansas City Championship Rub will give you a good hit of garlic, onion, and some heat if you like more of those flavors.
You can always mix it in with a more balanced rub like Blues Hog if you just want to add a little of those flavors.
If you want a quality rub without ANY sugar, we are big fans of Bad Byron's Butt Rub Seasoning.
Although we typically use it on cuts of beef and steaks where we are going for a more savory flavor, there is no real reason you can't apply it to your Pit Boss smoked chicken thighs if you are looking for big flavor without all the sugar.
Homemade "In a Pinch" Rub
Sometimes, you forgot you ran out of your favorite rub, or don't have all the ingredients on hand to make a complex one from scratch.
If you just want to get a good classic BBQ rub on your Pit Boss smoked chicken thighs before throwing them in, then we've got you covered with this simple rub recipe with seasonings most people have on hand in the pantry:
- 2 tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar
- 2 tablespoon Paprika
- 2 tablespoon Kosher Salt (Or 1 tablespoon table salt, go easy, you can always add more salt later)
- ½ tablespoon Coarse Ground Black Pepper
- ½ tablespoon Chili Powder
- 1 teaspoon Granulated Garlic or Garlic Powder (adjust to taste)
- 1 teaspoon Onion Powder (adjust to taste)
- ¼ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (optional)
This will be enough rub for about 8 smoked chicken thighs so adjust accordingly.
Mix thoroughly, (using a re-usable plastic shaker works best), and then sprinkle directly on your chicken.
If you don't want that much sugar, you can replace with more paprika, smoked paprika. or increase the amount of chili powder and other savory seasonings.
Again, you can dry brine with JUST the salt the night before, or brine with the entire rub recipe, but don't add the salt TWICE!
Our Favorite BBQ Sauces for Chicken Thighs
Blues Hog again wins the day here with their amazing lineup of sauces. While their rubs are great, their sauces are WORLD CLASS.
Their Original BBQ Sauce is VERY thick, VERY sweet, and incredibly heavy on flavor, so a little goes a LONG way.
You can pick up both and mix them like we do, or mix some Blues Hog Original in with one of your other favorites (we'd suggest more savory sauces to balance the sugar, like this one from Aaron Franklin.)
The Best Wood Pellets for Smoking Chicken
Poultry, like fish, absorbs smoke very quickly and a little goes a long way.
The best woods for smoking chicken include the fruitwoods like apple, cherry, and peach, but also the milder smoking woods like pecan, oak and alder.
Mesquite and hickory will give a very aggressive smoke flavor and should only be used if mixed in with some of the other types mentioned above.
For fun, you can choose your woods seasonally, using beech and cherry in spring and summer and pecan and apple into the fall and winter.
For the best results, store your unused pellets in a sealed room temperature container like this 20 lb pellet container rather than in the Pit Boss hopper outside.
Pellets do not last forever, but will definitely last a LOT longer if stored indoors in a quality airtight container.
Prepare the Pit Boss
We have previously covered how to season a Pit Boss, how to start a Pit Boss, as well as how to troubleshoot the smoke level of your pellet grill.
So if you need a more in-depth review on how to use your Pit Boss for the first time, check those articles out first!
Make sure to start with clean grates before adding your chicken.
Check out our Ultimate Guide to How to Keep your Family Safe by using ONLY Bristle Free Grill Brushes, along with a selection of some of our favorites!
You will need to watch both your cooking temperature and internal temperature carefully when smoking the chicken thighs on your Pit Boss.
We recommend setting up the grill or smoker for indirect heat to cook at 300°F.
This seems to be the best temperature for smoking chicken thighs on a Pit Boss.
Any lower, your smoked chicken thighs will not only take forever, but the skin likely won't crisp up.
Any higher, and you risk burning the sugar in your BBQ rub.
However, if you are using a no-sugar rub like Bad Byron's, feel free to smoke the chicken thighs at 325-350°F.
If you find the skin still isn't getting crispy enough for your liking when cooked at 300°F, smoke the chicken at this temperature until the internal temperature is roughly 155°F.
Then, crank the heat on the Pit Boss for the last 10-15 minutes and bring the cooking temperature up to 350-375°F to really crisp the skin.
If brought to this range for only the last 10-15 minutes, you should avoid burning your sugary rub but still render most of the fat out of the chicken skin.
Target Internal Temperature
You HAVE to use a good instant read meat thermometer to know where the internal temperature is of your smoked chicken thighs on the Pit Boss.
If your smoked chicken thighs are big enough, you'll want a good leave in probe thermometer like the Thermopro as well as a second instant read thermometer to spot check as you get close to pulling them off the Pit Boss.
If you don't yet own an instant read thermometer, ThermoPro makes a good one of these too.
While we have used and recommended ThermoPro for years, lately we have also become big fans of the MEATER leave in thermometer.
It is extremely accurate and has an incredible 165 foot Bluetooth range and works right with your smartphone so you don't need to carry a separate controller around with you like many other remote thermometers require.
It's got a great free app that is constantly being updated and even has an algorithm to predict how much longer your type of meat will take to cook based on cooking temperature, target temperature, current internal temperature.
It's like a GPS for your meat!
Anyways, back to our smoked chicken...
We are going to bring the internal temperature of our smoked chicken thighs up to 175°F.
Since the smoked chicken thighs are dark meat, being thighs and legs, they need to cook up a little higher than say a white meat chicken breast that only needs to hit 165°F internally.
We also think the meat just tastes better when cooked that high as all the fat renders out completely
You'll want to monitor the internal temperature of the chicken thighs closely for doneness.
Remember, we are bringing them all the way up to 175°F on your instant read thermometer.
In a 300°F Pit Boss, it will take roughly 1.5-2 hours to smoke bone-in chicken thighs.
We are attempting to slow cook them and crisp up the skin at the same time, and it takes time for that tougher dark meat to get fall off the bone tender and all the fat to render out from under the skin.
Depending on the size of your chicken thighs, how consistent your Pit Boss temperature is, the humidity outside, as well a number of other factors, your cooking time may be more or less, so be prepared.
Pro Tip: If you want the crispiest skin possible, avoid basting or spraying the chicken thighs with anything while they are smoking.
Keep the lid closed as much as possible, and use the temperature probes to tell you when they are done.
Pro Tip #2: If you're going to apply a BBQ sauce at the end, wait as long as possible until the skin has fully crisped up. If you add sauce before the skin gets crispy, IT WILL NEVER GET CRISPY at that point.
We've all had BBQ chicken with rubbery, flabby, skin soaked in sauce. This is because they did not allow the skin to crisp up before gently applying the sauce.
Don't serve flabby chicken.
Serve your smoked chicken thighs while they are still hot, with some extra warmed up BBQ sauce on the side if your guests wish.
Smoked chicken thighs are great on their own, or you can pair them with our maple bourbon smoked pineapple for a Hawaiian theme.
If you want something a little richer, check out our Sticky Smoked Sweet Potatoes to cook and serve alongside your Pit Boss smoked chicken.
Pit Boss Smoked Chicken Thighs
- Pit Boss Pellet Grill
- Wood Pellets preferably a fruitwood like apple or cherry; or oak
- Large Baking Sheet with Wire Rack
- Meat Carving Knife
- Paper Towels
- Instant Read and/or Leave in Probe Thermometer
- Basting brush
- Cutting Board
- 8 Chicken Thighs skin on
- ¼ Cup Blues Hog Original BBQ Sauce
- ¼ Cup Blues Hog Tennessee Red BBQ Sauce
"In a Pinch" BBQ Rub for Chicken Thighs
- 2 tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar
- 2 tablespoon Paprika
- 2 tablespoon Kosher Salt or 1 tablespoon Table Salt
- ½ tablespoon Course Ground Black Pepper
- ½ tablespoon Chili Powder
- 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
- 1 teaspoon Onion Powder
- ¼ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper optional
Wash and Trim the Chicken Thighs
- Remove the chicken thighs from their packaging and rinse under cold running water. Pay dry with paper towels.8 Chicken Thighs
- Flip each chicken thigh upside down and carefully remove the excess skin on the bottom of each one with a good meat carving knife
- Place the chicken thighs on a wire rack placed on top of a baking sheet.
- Mix the rub ingredients together and sprinkle over the tops and bottoms of each chicken thigh. DO NOT use cooking oil to adhere or skin will not get crispy.2 tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar, 2 tablespoon Paprika, 2 tablespoon Kosher Salt, ½ tablespoon Course Ground Black Pepper, ½ tablespoon Chili Powder, 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder, 1 teaspoon Onion Powder, ¼ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
- Ideally place the baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 4-6 hours, or at least allow the rub about 30 minutes to "set" on the chicken.
Start the Pit Boss Pellet Grill
- Remove the fire pot from the bottom of the Pit Boss and clean out any ashes left over from the last cook. Replace it and make sure it is secured in place with the clips on either side. Also, wrap the drip tray in aluminum foil to limit cleanup needed later.
- Add your chosen pellets to the hopper, start the Pit Boss pellet grill and put it on the "Smoke" setting.
- If there are no pellets in the auger, hold the "Prime" button until you hear pellets begin falling in the fire pot. This will speed up the auger to prime it full of pellets before you start preheating.
- Once the Pit boss begins to produce thick white smoke, let it run for about 5-7 minutes until the smoke turns more of a clearish blue color. This means the fire rod has fully heated up to burn the pellets more cleanly.
- Next, set the temperature to preheat the Pit Boss pellet grill to 350°F. We will drop this temperature before we start cooking.
- Fill an aluminum pan with water pan if you want to add extra moisture, and place it on the far left side of the Pit Boss pellet grill. Place a disposable bucket liner in the grease bucket as well if you want to limit cleanup later.
- Once the Pit Boss has come up to 350°F, drop the temperature on the control panel to 300° and clean the grill grates with a good grill brush and close the lid.
Smoking the Chicken Thighs on the Pit Boss Pellet Grill
- Place the chicken thighs on the Pit Boss with the skin side UP. No need to flip during the cook. You can even leave them on the wire rack if you wish.
- Continue smoking the chicken thighs, rotating occasionally, until the internal temperature reaches 160-165°F internally. This may take 1.5-2 hours.
- Mix the two types of Blues Hog BBQ sauce together in a small bowl, and once the skin on the chicken thighs is crispy, gently baste the sauce on with a basting brush. Close the lid and continue cooking.¼ Cup Blues Hog Original BBQ Sauce, ¼ Cup Blues Hog Tennessee Red BBQ Sauce
- Once the internal temperature of the smoked chicken thighs reaches 175°F, remove them from the Pit Boss and place on a serving tray
- Serve immediately with extra sauce if desired.