Learn how to make the best smoked pulled chicken on ANY grill or smoker.
We show you the best kind of chicken for smoked pulled chicken plus our favorite seasoning, sauce, and the fastest way to pull a whole bunch of smoked chicken in no time!
Whether you are using a pellet grill like a Traeger, Camp Chef, or Pit Boss, an electric smoker like a Masterbuilt, or just a conventional propane grill like a Weber, we've got you covered.
But those can be a little difficult to prepare, carve and serve up to a large hungry crowd.
One of the easiest (and most delicious) ways to serve smoked chicken to a crowd at your next family barbecue is by making a big batch of smoked pulled chicken you can serve on some warmed up buns with a delicious barbecue sauce.
No trimming, no brining, no carving. no skin you need to get crispy.
We know...crazy, but true.
Let's jump in and talk about the best type of chicken to use as well as our favorite seasonings and sauces to use..
Then we'll show you how to set up almost any smoker for perfect smoked pulled chicken!
The Best Type of Chicken for Smoked Pulled Chicken
For smoked pulled chicken, you technically can use ANY type of smoked chicken you like.
Some folks like to pull a whole chicken to get the mixture of white and dark meats.
If you prefer white meat to dark meat, then smoke some chicken breasts and use those.
For our smoked pulled chicken however, we almost always choose to use boneless skinless chicken thighs.
We like the way the dark meat chicken thighs stay moist once pulled and shredded compared to white meat chicken breasts that tend to dry out faster once shredded into smaller pieces.
We also find skin unnecessary for smoked pulled chicken, and even if you do manage to get it crispy while smoking it like we show you how to do in many of our chicken recipes below, it's going to get soft and unappetizing as soon as you start pulling that chicken.
Save the skin-on chicken for when you are making whole pieces of smoked chicken.
You can follow our recipe for smoked pulled chicken using boneless skinless chicken thighs below or check out one of our (many) other smoked chicken recipes instead!
Pit Boss Chicken Recipes
- Pit Boss Smoked Whole Chicken
- Pit Boss Smoked Chicken Thighs
- Pit Boss Smoked Chicken Breasts
- Pit Boss Smoked Chicken Legs
Traeger Chicken Recipes
- Traeger Smoked Whole Chicken
- Traeger Smoked Chicken Thighs
- Traeger Smoked Chicken Breasts
- Traeger Smoked Chicken Legs
Electric Smoker Chicken Recipes
- Electric Smoker Chicken Thighs
- Electric Smoker Chicken Breasts
- Electric Smoker Chicken Legs
- Electric Smoker Whole Chicken
Other Smoked Chicken Recipes
- Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters
- Spatchcocked Chicken on a Pellet Grill
- Beer Can Chicken on a Pellet Grill
If you make one of these instead, you can then jump back in and follow our instructions to pull and sauce the smoked chicken.
Prepare the Chicken for Smoking
You shouldn't need to do much trimming if you are buying a package of boneless skinless chicken thighs to smoke.
Take them out of the package and give them a rinse in the sink.
Lay them out on a cutting board or in an aluminum pan and dry them well some paper towels. Only trim fat if you see a lot of excess on any one piece.
Our Favorite Rubs and Sauces for Smoked Pulled Chicken
Best Store Bought Rubs for Smoked Pulled Chicken
Once the boneless chicken thighs are rinsed and dried well, drizzle a little bit of regular olive oil to help the rub stick and keep the chicken moist in the smoker.
Now, you can use ANY of your favorite BBQ rubs for smoked chicken.
Since we are only smoking these at 250°F we don't need to worry about burning any sugary rubs.
We particularly like Three Little Pigs' Kansas City Championship Rub on chicken. It 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 want 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 smoked pulled chicken if you are looking for big savory flavor without any of the sugar.
And if you're going to use your smoked pulled chicken in another dish like smoked chicken salad, smoked chicken tacos, or smoked chicken enchiladas, then you may prefer the less sweet, more savory, flavor for Bad Byron's.
Homemade Rub for Smoked Pulled Chicken
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 smoked pulled chicken, then we've got you covered with this simple rub recipe with seasonings most people have on hand in the pantry:
- ¼ cup Dark Brown Sugar
- 2 tablespoon Paprika
- 1 tablespoon Chili Powder
- 1 tablespoon Kosher Salt (or ½ a teaspoon Table Salt)
- ½ tablespoon Fresh Black Pepper
- 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
- 1 teaspoon Onion Powder
- ⅛ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (optional for heat)
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 it with more paprika, smoked paprika. or increase the amount of chili powder and other savory seasonings.
Our Favorite Sauce for Smoked Pulled Chicken
Now, there is no law you have to use a barbecue sauce on smoked pulled chicken.
We actually think it tastes great with a just a rub like Three Little Pigs.
But if you DO want a barbecue sauce, Blues Hog wins the day with their amazing lineup of sauces.
While their rubs are great, their sauces are WORLD CLASS.
Tennessee Red Sauce, which is a thinner, more vinegar based sauce compared to typical barbecue sauces, works great on smoked pulled chicken.
In fact, it is also our hands down favorite sauce to use on our pulled pork.
It is fairly concentrated in flavor so mix in just a little once you pull your smoked chicken and taste as you go rather than pouring a large amount in all at once and overpowering the meat.
Best Wood Choices for Smoked Pulled Chicken
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.
If you want to keep it simple and straightforward, choose a lighter smoking wood like oak, apple, or peach.
Middle of the road? Try hickory or cherry.
Mesquite will give a very aggressive smoke flavor and should only be used if mixed in with some of the other types mentioned above.
We recommend staying away from mesquite unless you cut it with another type of wood chip or pellet.
A little goes a long way with mesquite.
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, if you are using a pellet grill or pellet tube smoker, store your unused pellets in a sealed room temperature container like this 20 lb pellet container rather than in the hopper outside.
Pellets do not last forever, but will definitely last a LOT longer if stored indoors in a quality, airtight container.
Best Times and Temperatures for Smoked Pulled Chicken
What is the Best Temperature to Smoke Boneless Chicken Thighs for Pulled Chicken?
We are going to set up the grill or smoker for moderately low and slow indirect cooking at 250°F.
This will give the boneless skinless chicken thighs plenty of time to absorb smokey flavor and will not burn any sugar in our rub.
The extra fat in the dark meat thighs will keep them from drying out like smoked chicken breasts might do if smoked at this low of a temperature.
However, if you are more crunched for time, you can turn the temperature up to 300°F if need to but they won't get as much smoke flavor.
Target Internal Temperature for Chicken Thighs for Smoked Pulled Chicken
You HAVE to use a good instant read meat thermometer to know where the internal temperature is of your smoked boneless chicken thighs, so as to make sure they are not over, or worse, under cooked.
We are particular fans of this one from ThermoPro because of its durability and affordable price.
We are targeting a final internal temperature of 175°F on the smoked boneless skinless chicken thighs to know that they are safe to eat and ready to pull.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke Boneless Chicken Thighs for Smoked Pulled Chicken?
At 250°F, our smoked boneless skinless chicken thighs will take about 1 hour to cook and come up to 175°F internally.
This gives the smoked chicken thighs plenty of time to absorb a good amount of smoke and really develop some great flavors on the smoker.
They may take a little longer or less time depending on the size of your thighs.
That is why you need a good instant read thermometer and why we always cook to TEMPERATURE, not TIME.
Setting up your Grill or Smoker for Smoked Pulled Chicken
Ok, we have prepared our boneless chicken thighs for smoking to make smoked pulled chicken and know all our times and temperatures.
Now it's time to get down to the business of setting up the grill or smoker to cook these smoked chicken thighs and the pulling our smoked chicken.
(Feel free to jump to the section with the kind of grill or smoker you own.)
Vertical or Offset Charcoal Smoker
Fill your firebox or lower charcoal basin with about a chimneys full of unlit charcoal and create a small hollowed out depression in the center where you can add your lit briquets.
If your smoker comes with a water pan, like the Weber Smokey Mountain, fill the water pan as well to help stabilize the temperature and add moisture to the cooking chamber.
Light a charcoal chimney about ¼ way with charcoal and wait about 15 minutes for it to fully ignite.
You will not need too many lit briquets here because we are trying to keep the smoker temperature no higher than 250°F.
Fill your water pan first, then add the lit briquets to the center depression you created.
Keep the dampers about ½ way to ¾ open until the cooking chamber temperature reaches about 200°F. Then slowly close them down until they are just barely open and you are maintaining a temperature of 250° F.
Place 1 chunk of your chosen smoking wood on top of your lit charcoal once the smoker is up to temperature and put your boneless chicken thighs on once the smoker is actively producing smoke..
Propane or Electric Smoker
Propane and electric options are some of the easiest smokers for beginners to start with.
For Propane: Open your gas valve and light the bottom burner. Adjust it to keep the temperature constant at 250° F.
Need a refresher? Check our our Complete Guide to How to Use a Propane Smoker HERE.
Fill the water tray if there is one and oil up the racks so the chicken does not stick.
Place your boneless chicken thighs either directly on the racks and close the door.
You will need to refill the wood chips every 30 minutes or so as they smolder out in the chip loader, which will end up being about 1-2 times during the 1 hour cook.
However, we recently found a great solution.
If you are tired of having to reload fresh wood chips into your electric smoker, especially on longer cooks like pork butt and brisket, then check out this Masterbuilt Automatic Slow Smoker Attachment.
It basically burns new fresh wood chips at a constant rate, much like how a pellet grill works, freeing you up to do other things while getting your food nice and smokey!
Fill the pellet hopper with your choice of smoking wood pellets.
Plug in the pellet grill, turn it on and let it run through its start up process.
Then turn the temperature to 250°F.
When the pellet grill has come up to temperature, oil up the grates and place your chicken thighs on them.
Never used a pellet grill like a Traeger or a Pit Boss before?
Read our ultimate guide to pellet grills to learn why they are so easy to use and how to set one up for success every time.
Gas or Charcoal Grill
And if you need a full lesson on how to smoke on a gas grill the RIGHT way, check out our Ultimate Guide to Smoking on a Gas Grill HERE.
In the case of smoked boneless skinless chicken thighs for smoked pulled chicken, we would opt for just using the smoker box filled with wood chips since we will only be cooking the chicken for about one hour.
Set up your gas or charcoal grill for indirect cooking with the burners or a small amount of lit briquets on one side and plan for your chicken to be on the other side.
For a 250°F cooking temperature, light just one, maybe two of the burners on one side if using a gas grill.
Once the grill is up to temperature, place the closed smoker box full of DRY wood chips over the lit burners and close the lid.
Wait about 10 minutes for the smoker box to start producing smoke.
Oil the grates so that the chicken does not stick.
Put your chicken thighs directly on the gas grill grates on the FAR side from the lit burners. Close the lid and monitor the internal temperature occasionally as the chicken thighs smoke.
You may need to dump the wood chips from the smoker box after about 30 minutes and add fresh ones for the second half of the cook.
Once the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 175°F you can remove the chicken thighs form the grill.
If using a charcoal grill, put about half a chimney's worth of unlit charcoal in the base, pushed to one side.
Then light about ¼ chimney's worth of charcoal and pour it in a small pile on top of the unlit coals.
Put the lid on the grill.
Open the vents about halfway and then close them down to a ¼ open once the grill is up to 225°F and place your smoking wood chunk on top of the lit coals.
Once the grill is making smoke and the temperature is near 250°F, oil the grates so that the chicken does not stick.
Put your chicken thighs directly on the charcoal grates on the FAR side away from the lit charcoal. Close the lid and monitor the internal temperature occasionally as the chicken thighs smoke.
Once the internal temperature reaches 175°F, remove the smoked chicken thighs from the grill to get ready to pull.
Monitor your Smoker Temperature
Almost every grill and smoker will have some sort of temperature gauge on them.
This is what makes them so convenient!
If, however, you are using a charcoal or propane grill/smoker, you can't rely on the cheap lid mounted temperature gauge that come installed on them.
We have found these can sometimes be up to 30°F off from the true actual temperature at the grill grate level!
This is unacceptable.
This is why you will always see competition cooks, and backyard chefs who know their stuff, using wireless digital probe thermometers to keep track of both their meat AND their cooking chamber.
We are big fans of the ThermoPro Wireless Digital Meat Thermometer series for doing this.
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 pulled chicken...
Again, we are going to bring the internal temperature of our smoked boneless chicken thighs up to 175°F.
Since the smoked boneless chicken thighs are dark meat, 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 and is actually easier to pull when cooked that high as all the fat really renders out completely.
Pulling, Saucing, and Serving the Smoked Chicken
Once you've removed the chicken from the smoker, it's time to pull that meat!
You can use 2 forks, or better yet a pair of BBQ Bear Claws to make the job even faster (and fun)!
Start with one of the chicken thighs and push down and pull each fork or bear claw away from the other one.
Then keep repeating until the smoked chicken is nicely pulled and shredded and then move on to the next one.
Once you have pulled the smoked chicken, test it for seasoning, you may need to add some salt depending how much rub you initially used.
As far as sauce, our hands down favorite sauce for smoked pulled chicken as we mentioned before is Blues Hog Tennessee Red Sauce.
It has everything: spice, acid, sweetness, and gives you that truly authentic vinegary carolina pulled pork flavor that perfectly counterbalances and cuts through the rich fat and smokiness of your Pit Boss pulled pork.
Stir the sauce first as it may have settled in the jar and then pour some in a small dish to drizzle on the smoked pulled chicken.
Keep in mind a little goes a long way because it has SO MUCH FLAVOR.
Stir it around and then check for how it tastes.
You can always add more so don't go dousing it in a ton of bbq sauce immediately!
Pro Tip: For a large crowd it's usually best to offer BBQ sauce on the side and let your guests choose whether to add it and how much to add rather than slopping it all over your meat and possibly turning folks off.
You can serve your smoked pulled chicken as is, or on some nice brioche buns for an out of this world smoked pulled chicken sandwich!
You can pair the smoked pulled chicken with our Maple Bourbon Smoked Pineapple for a Hawaiian theme.
Smoked Pulled Chicken
- Gas Grill, Pellet Grill, or Smoker
- Wood pellets, chunks, or a pellet tube smoker with pellets or a smoker box with wood chips
- Paper Towels
- Aluminum Foil Trays
- Instant Read Thermometer
- Grill Tongs
- Bear Claws or two forks to shred
- 8 Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs
- 2 tablespoon Olive Oil
- Your favorite BBQ rub such as Three Little Pigs or our Pulled Chicken BBQ rub below
- ¼ Cup Barbecue Sauce such as Blues Hog Tennessee Red optional
- 4 Large Brioche Buns or any hamburger buns
BBQ Rub for Smoked Pulled Chicken
- ¼ cup Dark Brown Sugar
- 2 Tbsp Paprika
- 1 tablespoon Chili Powder
- 1 tablespoon Kosher Salt or ½ tablespoon Table Salt
- ½ tablespoon Fresh Black Pepper
- 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
- 1 teaspoon Onion Powder
- ⅛ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper optional for heat
Rinse, Dry, and Season the Boneless Chicken Thighs
- Rinse the chicken thighs under cold running water. Place on a cutting board or in an aluminum pan and pat dry with paper towels8 Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs
- Brush a light coating of regular olive oil on all sides of each boneless chicken thigh.2 tablespoon Olive Oil
- Sprinkle on your favorite BBQ rub or mix up our BBQ Rub for Smoked Pulled Chicken and rub on all sides of each chicken thigh.Your favorite BBQ rub such as Three Little Pigs or our Pulled Chicken BBQ rub below, ¼ cup Dark Brown Sugar, 2 tablespoon Paprika, 1 tablespoon Chili Powder, 1 tablespoon Kosher Salt, ½ tablespoon Fresh Black Pepper, 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder, 1 teaspoon Onion Powder, ⅛ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
Set up your Grill or Smoker
- Light or turn on your smoker, grill or pellet grill and set up the temperature to 250°F. If using a grill, only light a small amount of charcoal or light a single burner on one side for indirect cooking
- Brush the grill grates with oil to keep the chicken from sticking.
- Add your wood chunks directly to the firebox of a smoker, or use chips in a smoker box, or pellets in a tube smoker or pellet grill.
- Once smoke is being produced and the grill or smoker is at 250°F, put your seasoned chicken on the COOL side of the grill or in the smoker.
Smoking the Chicken Thighs for Pulled Chicken
- Smoke the chicken for about 1 hour, flipping and rotating occasionally, until the internal temperature reaches 175°F using an instant read thermometer.
- Remove the smoked boneless chicken thighs from the smoker and place in a large aluminum foil tray to shred.
Pulling the Smoked Chicken
- Use two forks or a pair of bear claws, push down and pull each one from the other one. Then keep repeating until the smoked chicken thigh is nicely pulled and shredded and then move on to the next one.
- Once you have pulled the smoked chicken, test it for seasoning, you may need to add some salt depending how much rub you initially used. If not, move on to saucing the chicken if you wish.
- Start with half the sauce and then add more after tasting.
- Stir the sauce first as it may have settled in the jar and then pour some in a small dish to drizzle on the smoked pulled chicken.¼ Cup Barbecue Sauce such as Blues Hog Tennessee Red
- Stir it around and then check for how it tastes. Add more as desired and mix up thoroughly with the smoked pulled chicken.
- Serve on large brioche or hamburger buns with extra sauce on the side for guests to add if they wish and enjoy!4 Large Brioche Buns