Learn how to make the juiciest smoked chicken breasts on your Traeger pellet grill!
We take you step-by-step through ry brining and seasoning your smoked chicken breasts, setting up your Traeger to cook them, and smoking them to perfection.
We love smoking chicken around here.
But today we are getting back to basics with some delicious smoked chicken breasts right on our Traeger pellet grill.
First we are going to do an easy overnight dry brine to make sure they are moist and flavorful and that if you have "skin-on" chicken breasts, 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 Traeger with medium heat indirectly until they are perfectly cooked and colored.
Then you can eat your Traeger smoked chicken breasts juicy and smoked "as-is" or brush on one of our favorite BBQ sauces to finish them off saucy!
Dry Brine the Chicken Breasts
After rinsing and drying, simply sprinkle the top and bottoms of your chicken breasts with kosher salt, or your favorite BBQ rub that has already salt in it.
Place the chicken breasts 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 chicken breast.
This overnight seasoning does 2 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 breasts.
- The salt inside will help the chicken retain moisture and not dry out while it smokes on the Traeger.
Moist, flavorful meat. Exactly what we want.
In the morning, if there is still A LOT of salt or seasoning on the outside, wipe it off with a dry or only slightly damp paper towel.
If you need to add MORE BBQ rub, go ahead and do this before putting them on the Traeger.
Pro Tip: DO NOT use cooking oil to help additional rub adhere to chicken skin. The more oil you apply, the less the skin will crisp up when it cooks.
If you are smoking boneless skinless chicken breast, go ahead and use a little oil to help the rub adhere.
Our Favorite Rubs
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 breast.
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 Traeger smoked chicken breasts 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 Traeger smoked chicken breasts before throwing them on, 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
- ¼ Cup Paprika
- 1 tablespoon Coarse Ground Black Pepper
- 1 tablespoon Kosher Salt (Or ½ tablespoon table salt, go easy, you can always add more salt later)
- 1 tablespoon Chili Powder
- ½ tablespoon Granulated Garlic or Garlic Powder (adjust to taste)
- ½ tablespoon Onion Powder (adjust to taste)
- 1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (optional)
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.
Our Favorite BBQ Sauces
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.)
Kosmos also makes a great lineup of BBQ sauces that work great on Traeger smoked chicken breasts, especially if you want to try some more adventurous flavors such as their Peach Habanero or Honey Jalapeno.
Choosing Wood Pellets
Poultry, like smoked 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 Traeger hopper outside.
Traeger pellets do not last forever, but will definitely last a LOT longer if stored indoors in a quality airtight container.
Start up the Traeger
In order to cook ANYTHING well on a Traeger pellet grill, you need to first have a basic understanding of how a pellet grill works.
***Completely New to Using a Traeger Pellet Grill? No Worries!****
We also recently compared our two favorite Traeger models head to head if you're in the market for a new Traeger or to upgrade your old one.
Or hop over and check out this Complete Guide to Understanding How a Pellet Grill Works first if you are interested in learning more.
You will need to watch both your cooking temperature and internal temperature carefully when smoking the chicken breasts on your Traeger.
We recommend setting up the Traeger for indirect heat to cook at 300°F.
This seems to be the best temperature for smoking chicken breasts on a Traeger.
Any lower, your smoked chicken breasts will not only take forever, but the meat may dry out.
Any higher though, 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 breasts at 325-350°F.
If you are adding a barbecue sauce at the end you want to carmelize, its OK to crank the heat up to 350-375°F for the last 5-10 minutes after brushing on the sauce.
Target Internal Temperature
You HAVE to use a good instant read meat thermometer to know where the internal temperature is of your smoked chicken breasts on the Traeger.
If your smoked chicken breasts 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 Traeger.
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 breasts up to 165°F.
Since the smoked chicken breasts are white meat, they don't need to cook as high as dark meat like legs and thighs.
If they are small chicken breasts, you can try taking them off at 160°F and letting the residual heat from the outside bring the inside up to 165°F while they rest so as not to risk overcooking them.
You'll want to monitor the internal temperature of the chicken breasts closely for doneness.
This is really the only way to know when they are close to being done.
Because chicken breasts come in a variety of sizes as well as whether they are boneless or skinless, the time it takes to smoke them can vary widely.
Remember, we are bringing them up to 165°F on your instant read thermometer.
In a 300°F Traeger, it will take roughly 40 minutes to smoke boneless chicken breasts and closer to 60 minutes for bone-in.
Depending on the size of your chicken breasts, how consistent your Traeger 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 on skin-on chicken breasts, avoid basting or spraying the chicken breasts 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 to skin-on chicken breasts, 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 after that.
Serve your smoked chicken breasts while they are still hot, with some extra warmed up BBQ sauce on the side if your guests wish.
Smoked chicken breasts 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 Traeger smoked chicken.
Traeger Smoked Chicken Breasts
- Traeger 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 Breasts boneless skinless
- 2 tablespoon Three Little Pigs BBQ Rub or your favorite BBQ rub for chicken or our "In a Pinch" Recipe Below
- ¼ Cup Blues Hog Original BBQ Sauce
- ¼ Cup Blues Hog Tennessee Red BBQ Sauce
"In a Pinch" BBQ Rub
- 2 tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar
- 2 tablespoon Paprika
- 1 tablespoon Kosher Salt adjust as needed
- ½ tablespoon Chili Powder
- 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
- 1 teaspoon Onion Powder
- ½ teaspoon Course Ground Black Pepper
- ¼ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper optional
Wash the Chicken Breasts
- Remove the chicken breasts from their packaging and rinse under cold running water. Pay dry with paper towels.8 Chicken Breasts
Dry Brine Overnight
- Place the chicken breasts on a wire rack placed on top of a baking sheet.
- Use your favorite BBQ rub, or our "In a Pinch" recipe above, and sprinkle generously over the tops and bottoms of each chicken breast.2 tablespoon Three Little Pigs BBQ Rub or your favorite BBQ rub for chicken or our "In a Pinch" Recipe Below
- Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 4-6 hours.
- Remove the next day right before smoking.
Start the Traeger Pellet Grill
- Remove the fire pot from the bottom of the Traeger 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.
- Load the hopper of the Traeger with your chosen wood pellets.
- Turn on the Traeger and move the dial to the "Smoke" setting.
- Leave the lid open for 5-7 minutes until you start seeing white billowing smoke coming out of the grill. This means the initial pellets are igniting.
- Close the lid and turn the temperature dial to 300°F. Allow 10-15 minutes for the grill to come up to temperature.
- Clean the grill grates with a good grill brush and close the lid again.
Smoke the Chicken Breasts
- Place the chicken breasts on the Traeger. You can flip and rotate periodically for even cooking on the Traeger.
- Continue smoking the chicken breasts, rotating occasionally, until the internal temperature of each breast reaches 140°F internally. This may take about 45 minutes.
- Mix the two types of Blues Hog BBQ sauce together in a small bowl, 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 breasts reaches 165°F, remove them from the Traeger and place on a serving tray
- Serve immediately with extra sauce if desired.