Learn how to make the best smoked chicken thighs with crispy skin right on your Traeger pellet grill!
We take you step-by-step through trimming and seasoning your chicken thighs, setting up your Traeger, and smoking your chicken thighs to perfection.
We love smoking chicken around here.
But today we are getting back to basics with some delicious smoked chicken thighs right on the classic Traeger pellet grill
First we are going to do an easy overnight 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 Traeger with medium heat indirectly until they are perfectly cooked and colored.
Then you can eat your Traeger 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 Traeger 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.
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 Traeger so that they get nice and crispy up top.
How to Get Crispy Skin on your Traeger Smoked Chicken Thighs
The problem with “most” smoked chicken is that while the meat inside gets tender and delicious, the skin usually ends up a little rubbery and unappetizing.
Smoking your chicken thighs at a high enough temperature on the Traeger 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 skin-on chicken…and turkey too.
Dry Brine the Chicken Thighs to Smoke on the Traeger
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 each thigh.
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 Traeger.
- 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 pellet grill while the inside meat stays moist.
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 it on the Traeger.
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 Traeger Smoked Chicken Thighs?
Don’t be tempted to spray butter or apple juice or cola or any of the other spritzes you might see other 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 Traeger 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 Rubs and Sauces for Traeger Smoked Chicken Thighs
Best Store Bought Rubs for Smoked 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 Traeger 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 Traeger smoked chicken thighs 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:
- 1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
- 1/4 Cup Paprika
- 1 Tbsp Coarse Ground Black Pepper
- 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt (Or 1/2 Tbsp table salt, go easy, you can always add more salt later)
- 1 Tbsp Chili Powder
- 1/2 Tbsp Granulated Garlic or Garlic Powder (adjust to taste)
- 1/2 Tbsp Onion Powder (adjust to taste)
- 1 Tsp 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 for Traeger Smoked 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.
In fact, we actually like to cut it with a less intense sauce, OR, with their Tennessee Red Sauce, which is a thinner, more vinegar based sauce, that is our hands down favorite sauce to use on our Traeger pulled pork.
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 Thighs on a Traeger Pellet Grill
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.
How a Traeger Pellet Grill Works
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. We’ll be here when you get back!
Add your Hardwood Pellets
First, you add hardwood pellets into the side hopper.
The Traeger pellet grill automatically feeds these small wood pellets via an auger mechanism to a fire pot where they are burned up, providing both heat and smokey flavor.
The pellet grill automatically controls the flow of pellets depending on your temperature setting so that you maintain an even temperature throughout the entire cook.
How to Start up the Traeger
There is a specific start up process for the Traeger brand pellet grills you can read all about in depth here if you aren’t sure how to fire it up the first time.
Otherwise, here is the basic process for how to start a Traeger before throwing on your food:
- Plug in the grill.
- Flip the power switch to ON and turn the dial to “Smoke”.
- You will hear the fan kick on and the auger start to move and begin to kick pellets into the fire pot. Your fire rod will begin to heat up as well.
- Leave the lid open for about 5-7 minutes until you start to see white billowing smoke come out of the grill. This happens when the pellets are first igniting.
- Once a smoke is being produced, close the lid and change the temperature dial to your desired temperature setting.
- Allow about 10-15 minutes to preheat the grill.
- While you are waiting, make sure you’ve got the drip pan in place and the grease bucket hanging to catch any grease that comes out during the cook. Use a grease bucket liner to minimize cleanup later.
- Put your grates on if they aren’t already in place.
- Using a good bristle free grill brush, clean off the grill grates if there is any leftover stuck on food from the last cook.
- When the pellet grill comes up to temperature go ahead and put on your food!
Why Bristle Free Grill Brushes?
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!
Want to see a great example in action of smoking chicken thighs on a Traeger pellet grill? Check out this video from Caballero Cooks.
How to Smoke Chicken Thighs on a Traeger Pellet Grill
What Temperature do you Smoke Chicken Thighs on a Traeger Pellet Grill?
You will need to watch both your cooking temperature and internal temperature carefully when smoking the chicken thighs 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 thighs on a pellet grill like a Traeger.
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 Traeger 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 for Smoked Chicken Thighs
You HAVE to use a good meat thermometer to know where the internal temperature is of your smoked chicken thighs on the Traeger.
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 grill.
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, 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 really renders out completely
How Long Does it Take to Smoke Chicken Thighs on a Traeger Pellet Grill?
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.
On a 300°F Traeger, 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 grill 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.
Serving Traeger Smoked Chicken Thighs
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 Traeger smoked chicken.
What Else Can I Smoke on my Traeger?
So glad you asked!
Check out some of our other favorite recipes below that can all be easily modified for a Traeger pellet grill if not done so already.
- Traeger Baby Back Ribs
- Traeger Smoked Pulled Pork
- Traeger 3-2-1 Pork Ribs
- Traeger Smoked Pork Loin
- Traeger Smoked Pork Spare Ribs
- Pellet Grill Smoked Pork Chops
- Pellet Grilled Bratwurst
- Gas Grilled Bratwurst
- Smoked Fresh Holiday Ham
- Spiral Sliced Smoked Hot Dogs
- Smoked Bratwurst with Beer Braised Onions
- Roasted Pig in Your Backyard
- Traeger Smoked Prime Rib
- Traeger Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish Cream
- Traeger Smoked Beef Brisket
- Traeger Smoked Chuck Roast
- Traeger Smoked Pot Roast
- Perfect Smoked London Broil
- Smoked Ribeye Roast
- Smoked Corned Beef
- Smoked Ribeye Steaks
- Smoked Filet Mignon
- Hot and Fast Pellet Grill Beef Brisket
- Pellet Grilled Steak
- Perfect Grilled Hamburgers
- Smoked Eye of Round Roast Beef
- Easy Smoked Flank Steak
- Smoked Tomahawk Steaks
- Smoked Bottom Round Roast
- Smoked Sirloin Tip Roast
- Honey Smoked Salmon
- Smoked Oysters in a Garlic White Wine Sauce
- Smoked Scallops with Lemon Butter Sauce
- Smoked Lobster Tails
- Easy Smoked Tilapia
- Perfect Smoked Halibut
- Smoked Mahi Mahi Fillets
- Smoked Swordfish Steaks
- Smoked Crab Legs with Cajun Clarified Butter
- Smoked Mackerel with Maple Balsamic Glaze
- Smoked Catfish with Cajun BBQ Rub
- Smoked Red Snapper with Blackening Rub
- Smoked Trout
- Smoked Tuna Steaks
- Pit Boss Smoked Salmon
- Traeger Smoked Whole Chicken
- Smoked Whole Chicken in Masterbuilt Electric Smoker
- Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters
- Beer Can Chicken on a Pellet Grill
- Spatchcocked Chicken on a Pellet Grill
- Pellet Grill Smoked Turkey Breast
- Pellet Grill Turkey
- Easy Smoked Turkey Legs
- Spatchcock Smoked Turkey on a Pellet Grill
- Trash Can Turkey – OK, technically not made on a grill or smoker but one of the most fun ways there is to cook a Turkey…at over 700 degrees in only 2 hours!
- Smoked Leg of Lamb with Guinness Marinade
- Smoked Lamb Chops with a Balsamic Butter Sauce
- Smoked Rack of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary or Smoker
- Smoked and Pulled Lamb Shoulder with a Turkish Spice Rub
- Smoked Lamb Shanks
Other Odds and Ends
- Masterbuilt Smoked Cheese
- Smoked Gouda Cheese
- Smoked Asparagus
- Easy Smoked Broccoli
- Smoked Cauliflower
- Sticky Smoked Sweet Potatoes
- How to Steam Tamales
- Smoked Pineapple in a Maple Bourbon Sauce
- Smoked Carrots with a Honey Balsamic Glaze
Traeger Smoked Chicken Thighs
- 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 Thighs skin on
- 4 Tbsp Kosher Salt
- 1 Tbsp Course Ground Black Pepper
- 2 Tbsp 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 Tbsp Dark Brown Sugar
- 2 Tbsp Paprika
- 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt
- ½ Tbsp Course Ground Black Pepper
- ½ Tbsp Chili Powder
- ½ Tbsp Garlic Powder
- 1 Tsp Onion Powder
- ¼ Tsp 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
Dry Brine Overnight
- Place the chicken thighs on a wire rack placed on top of a baking sheet.
- Mix together the 4 Tbsp Kosher salt and 1 Tbsp pepper, or use your favorite BBQ rub, and sprinkle generously over the tops and bottoms of each chicken thigh. DO NOT use cooking oil to adhere or skin will not get crispy.4 Tbsp Kosher Salt, 1 Tbsp Course Ground Black Pepper
- Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 4-6 hours.
Remove the Next Day
- Take the chicken thighs out of the refrigerator and wipe off any excess salt still remaining on the outside with a damp paper towel.
- Mix the "In a Pinch" BBQ rub ingredients together and apply some to both sides of the chicken thighs. Or use sme more of your favorite BBQ rub for chicken.2 Tbsp Three Little Pigs BBQ Rub or your favorite BBQ rub for chicken, 2 Tbsp Dark Brown Sugar, 2 Tbsp Paprika, 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt, ½ Tbsp Course Ground Black Pepper, ½ Tbsp Chili Powder, ½ Tbsp Garlic Powder, 1 Tsp Onion Powder, ¼ Tsp Cayenne Pepper
Start the Traeger Pellet Grill
- 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.
Smoking the Chicken Thighs on the Traeger Pellet Grill
- Place the chicken thighs on the Traeger with the skin side UP. Flip and rotate as needed during the cook.
- 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 Traeger and place on a serving tray
- Serve immediately with extra sauce if desired.