Smoked Chicken Thighs: An Easy Trick for Bite Through Skin

Smoked Chicken Thighs with BBQ Sauce

Smoked chicken thighs are an easy and CHEAP way to feed a crowd some great barbecue.  The one thing you have to figure out though is how you are going to deal with the skin.

  • Do them wrong one way and the skin comes out like leather.
  • Do them wrong another way and the skin comes out like rubber.
  • Do them like they do in competitions and you will never want to cook thighs again.

Hang with me here and I will show you a SIMPLE way of Smoked chicken thighs that has delicious skin and will make you excited to put these on your pit any time a crowd needs feeding.
Smoked Chicken Thighs with BBQ Sauce

The Chicken Skin Problem

You are never going to get crispy skin on a smoked chicken thighs.  The temperatures that we will be working with are just too low.

What you aim for with thighs is skin that is so tender that you can cleanly bite through it.

The standard way of getting tender skin of thighs for a barbecue competition starts by peeling back the skin and scraping all of the fat off the back of the skin until it is translucent.

Scrape the Skin

After the skin is scraped it is reapplied to the chicken and then the teams apply their secret rubs, injections, etc.

Scraping the skin is a miserable job and is the last thing you will want to do if you are cooking a bunch of these for a crowd.

Here is the easy way.

Prepare for the Smoked Chicken Thighs 

Start by brining the thighs for at least three hours.  I used the brine recipe for chicken breasts for these thighs and let them soak for four hours in the refrigerator.

Chicken Brine Recipe

  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar.

Remove the thighs from the brine, pat dry with paper towels and trim.  Flip the thigh so it is skin side down and trim the excess fat and skin away from the thighs.

Trim Thigh Before Smoking

After the thighs have been trimmed season liberally on both side with your favorite chicken rub.  If you don’t have a good chicken rub then you can use this recipe.

Dry Rub for smoked chicken thighs

  • 1/2 cup turbinado sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons seasoning salt (Lawry’s)
  • 1 Tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chile powder (Mexene)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated onion


Seasoned Thighs


Here is where the trick comes in!

Get a disposable foil pan and add a tablespoon of Parkay or margarine for each thigh.

Place the chicken thighs, SKIN SIDE DOWN, onto the Parkay.  I added a few extra dollops of Parkay for good measure 🙂

Thighs in Foil Pan

The Parkay is going to melt in the smoker and will then render the fat from the chicken skin and make it incredibly tender. 

Smoke the Thighs at 250F

Put the pan onto your smoker running at 250F.  I was using a Z Grills pellet grill and was burning a blend of hickory and apple for smoke.

When I was cooking these I went ahead and put some other thighs directly onto the grate for a comparison test.

Thighs on the Smoker

Let the thighs smoke for an hour at 250F.  During this hour the skin is going to poach in the Parkay/margarine and get extremely tender.

After an hour remove the thighs from the pan and place them skin side up on your smoker grates.  The skin will look pale and most of the seasoning will have washed off.  That’s okay, just hit the skin with a little more dry rub and you will be good to go 🙂

Season the Skin Again

Let the thighs cook until they hit an internal temperature of 175F, about another 45 minutes.

Once the thighs hit 175F I will coat them with some barbecue sauce and return them to the smoker for another 5-10 minutes so the sauce will set.

My ideal final internal temperature for thighs is 180F which is about what I target for smoked chicken legs and is about 20 degrees hotter than targeted for smoked chicken breasts.  Both sets of thighs finished at about the same time.  The foil pan does not speed up the cooking process.

So how did they turn out?

The thighs that were on the grate the entire time had a darker color since the rub had a better chance to form a crust.  I was pleased with the color of both versions.

The flavor on both versions were excellent with the foil pan thighs having a bit of a “buttery” note.

The skin on the foil pan thighs (left picture) was bite through tender and delicious.  The skin on the regular chicken (right picture) was tasty, rubbery and almost completely came off on the first bite.

Bite Through Skin

Give this recipe a try; I think you are going to love it!

Smoked Chicken Thighs with BBQ Sauce

Smoked Chicken Thighs with Bite Through Skin

Chicken thighs are brined before being smoked skin side down in a Parkay bath. The chicken skin becomes incredibly tender and the meat tastes amazing.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Calories 350 kcal


  • 1 quarts water Brine Ingredient
  • 1/2 cup salt Brine Ingredient
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar Brine Ingredient
  • 6 Chicken thighs (Bone In, Skin On)
  • 1/2 cup turbinado sugar Dry Rub Ingredient
  • 2 tbsp Lawry's Seasoned Salt Dry Rub Ingredient (or Morton's Seasoned Salt)
  • 1 tbsp black pepper Dry Rub Ingredient
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika Dry Rub Ingredient
  • 1 tsp chile powder Dry Rub Ingredient
  • 1 tsp granulated onion Dry Rub Ingredient
  • 1/2 cup barbecue sauce Sweet Baby Ray's
  • 1/2 cup Parkay margarine


  • Combine the brine ingredients and stir to dissolve.
  • Brine the chicken thighs in the refrigerator for four hours.
  • Trim the thighs of excess fat and skin.
  • Combine the dry rub ingredients, mix well and season both sides of the meat.
  • Add the Parkay to an aluminum foil pan and place the thighs skin side down into the pan.
  • Smoke at 250F for one hour.
  • Remove the thighs from the pan and place them skin side up on the smoker. Apply more dry rub if desired.
  • Smoke until an internal temperature of 170-185F and apply bbq sauce.


These smoked thighs are a great and easy way to feed a crowd.  You can load up your pellet grill with several pans and manage them pretty easy.  Great side dishes would be a classic Cole slaw, baked beans and a creamy potato salad.
Keyword Smoked Chicken Thighs

Related Post

How to Smoke a Whole Chicken


  1. Dave Herron

    These are on point! Ive made these 4 times now and have tweaked the brine ever so slightly each time as it was a bit salty for us although we only do 4 thighs at a time which may be why. I dont alter the method though and they turn out awesome. Thanks for the recipe / method!

    So far, the best were 4 thighs brined in a ziplock for 45 minutes with just enough water to cover and about 2-3 tbsp of Cattlemans Grill Ranchero which is basically salt/garlic/herb. I dry rubbed with Plowboys Fin and Feather. Sauced with Lillies Q Carolina.

    • David

      Awesome, Dave! Glad to be of service 🙂

      Smoke on!

  2. Ben Fender

    I’m fairly new to smoking and I kinda butchered a brisket earlier and thought I would give it another try…..and idk if it was the recipe or my amazing grill master skills bu these things are amazing!!! Thank you for the help and I will def be making them from this recipe for years to come.

    • David

      Awesome, Ben! Glad to be of service 🙂

  3. Lauren

    Can I use butter instead of margarine?

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