Using a smoked chicken rub is a simple way to smoke chicken that is tender and juicy on the inside and packed with delicious flavors and crispy skin on the outside.
This dry rub for smoked chicken uses a combination of smoked paprika, brown sugar, ground cumin, garlic powder, and chipotle to highlight the flavors from the smoker without overpowering the chicken.
There are a couple of reasons why smoking chicken is growing in popularity. The first is because it is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to feed lots of people. The second is because it is a straightforward way to add flavor and moisture to a protein that is often underseasoned and overcooked.
In this piece
Why You Should Use a Dry Rub When Grilling or Smoking Chicken
A good dry rub uses herbs and spices, usually with salt and pepper, to impart flavor to the meat or vegetable being cooked. The best dry rubs have a point of view in that they create a flavor profile for what’s being cooked that uses how it’s being prepared to deliver a delicious dish with balanced flavors.
This dry rub uses a combination of sweet and heat that was created specifically for smoking chicken with a robust barbecue forward flavor profile. It is a perfect way to season chicken that will be smoked or grilled.
What makes this blend of spices so good is how it combines ingredients to create deep, bold flavors rather than one that is cloyingly sweet or so hot it burns your tongue.
A Dynamite Smoked Chicken Rub
To create a dynamite smoked chicken rub, we combine spices that bring some sweetness, some heat, and a little bit of smokiness. The sweet and heat come from a combination of brown sugar, which promotes caramelization, along with smoked paprika that accentuates the smoky flavor, while the chili and chipotle powders add some heat and pizzaz.
This versatile dry rub recipe works with whole chickens, chicken wings, chicken thighs, drumsticks, chicken breasts, and chicken quarters.
The rub can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the pantry. If it’s being made ahead of time, we recommend doubling or tripling the amount being made to make it even easier to season your next batch. The rub will essentially last indefinitely, but like all spices, its potency will decline over time.
In general, one batch makes just under a cup of rub and will cover 2 to 4 pounds of meat, depending on how it’s prepared. For instance, it will season a whole bird, 4 to 6 quarters, 8 drumsticks, or 2 lbs of wings.
The ingredients for this dry rub include:
Brown Sugar – Using brown sugar adds sweetness to the chicken while promoting caramelization.
Smoked Paprika – An almost essential item for great barbecue, smoked paprika has the ability to add depth of flavor, smokiness, and a small bit of bite to rubs and sauces.
Chili Powder – A good chili powder can serve as the foundation for lots of dry rubs and barbecue sauces.
Garlic Powder – When it comes to dry rubs, the best way to add garlic flavor is to use garlic powder. It combines effortlessly with the other ingredients and won’t burn like fresh garlic can when subject to the intense heat of the grill or the long cook time of the smoker.
Ground Cumin – Ground cumin has the ability to add bite to a rub while also brightening its overall flavor profile. It’s the type of ingredient that makes a dish stand out when it’s used, and taste like something is missing when it’s left out.
Ground Chipolte – The reason we use ground chipotle in so many of our dry rubs is it has the perfect combination of heat and smokiness that allows us to adjust the heat in a rub up or down simply by adding or subtracting the chipotle a 1/4 tsp at a time. If you don’t have any chipotle available, substitute cayenne pepper.
Black Pepper – Using a good quality black pepper rounds out the flavors in a dry rub.
Kosher Salt – The large flakes in kosher salt help the spices penetrate the meat while adding enough salt to bring out its flavors.
Here are a few simple ways to adjust the heat and flavor in the dry rub to fit your taste.
- Sweeter – Add a 1/2 tsp of brown sugar
- Hotter – Add a 1/2 tsp of ground chipotle
- Smokier – Add a 1/2 tsp of smoked paprika
- Smokier and Hotter – Add a 1/2 tsp of ground chipotle
Applying a Dry Rub
The best way to infuse the rub’s flavors deep into the meat is to get it under the skin and into all of the nooks and crannies. The rub can be applied up to a day in advance, giving it and the bird time to bond.
To help the seasoning stick, it can be helpful to coat the pieces in a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar before spreading on the rub.
The vinegar helps improve the overall flavor while giving the spices something to hold on to. To add more heat, add a little Tabasco or other hot sauce at the same time as the vinegar.
This versatile dry rub can also be used on pork, salmon, turkey, and other poultry.
Tips for Smoking Chicken
One of the most common questions when it comes to smoking chicken is how long the rub needs to be on before it goes in the smoker. Since it will cook for a couple of hours in the smoker, it’s much more important that the rub completely coats each piece than how long it spends on the bird before it’s smoked.
Our process is usually to season the chicken and then set up the smoker, giving the seasoning enough time to work its magic without complicating the meal prep.
Both dry and wet brining will help keep the meat moist and tender but add extra steps that can add a lot of mess and bother and aren’t necessary if the bird is smoked properly.
To keep the chicken moist and juicy, make sure to smoke it at a low temperature, generally between 225℉ (107℃) and 250℉ (121℃), and only until it comes up to temperature. The USDA considers chicken safe for consumption when its internal temperature has reached 165℉ (74℃).
The primary cause of dry chicken is from cooking it too long or not watching its internal temperature and letting it get too hot for too long. We like to use this Digital Thermometer to keep track of the internal temperature of things we’re smoking.
To see time and temperature recommendations for specific cuts, follow the links in the recipes listed below.
Choosing the Right Wood for Smoking Chicken
It’s easy to pick the right wood for smoking chicken once you think about the flavors you want the meat to have when it’s finished. The smoked chicken rub recipe we’ve developed delivers bold barbecue flavors, which make it perfect for mesquite, hickory, or maple.
A more herbaceous rub, one that uses rosemary, thyme, or lemon juice to season the chicken, would taste better smoked with apple, black cherry, or other fruit wood.
Avoid using oak or other heavy wood when smoking lighter items like poultry or fish.
How to Get Smoked Chicken Skin Crispy
The best way we’ve found to crisp up the skin is to use a hot grill for a few minutes at the end of the smoking process.
To crisp the chicken skin on a grill, wait until it has finished cooking, then place it on a medium-high grill for 2 to 3 minutes per side or until the skin has reached the desired level of crispiness.
This is also the best time to sauce the bird using the Flip, Fire, and Paint Method and some Old No. 44 BBQ Sauce. Saucing is a somewhat controversial practice when it comes to smoking meats, and if it’s being done, it should only be done at the end of the process.
The chicken should rest on a cooling rack for 3 to 5 minutes before being served.
Favorite Smoked Chicken Recipes
As big fans of smoked chicken, we’ve worked hard to develop recipes for different cuts over the years.
Here are a few of our favorites.
Smoked Chicken Quarters With Crispy Skin – Smoked quarters have a rich smoky flavor and warm buttery texture that melts in your mouth. This recipe includes everything you need to know to get the meat tender and juicy on the inside with crispy golden brown skin on the outside.
Smoked Chicken Wings – These tasty smoked wings use Tabasco and a homemade spice rub with deep smoky flavors and some heat to create bold, flavorful smoked wings that are nice and crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside.
Smoked Drumsticks – Smoked drumsticks are one of the simplest ways to make tasty, smokey chicken legs for a crowd. What makes smoking drumsticks such a great choice is how they absorb the flavors from the smoke and homemade dry rub while staying tender and juicy.
Grilled BBQ Chicken – This sweet, tangy barbecue recipe is a simple way to make slow-cooked, delicious barbecue chicken thighs on the grill.
For more ideas for the smoker, read The Best Meats to Smoke & How to Make them Taste Delicious.
Dry Rub Ingredients
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp cumin, ground
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp chipotle powder
- Mix the brown sugar, smoked paprika, cumin, chili, garlic, and chipotle powders with the salt and pepper in a small bowl.2 tsp brown sugar, 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp chipotle powder
- Spread the rub on the meat, taking the time to get it under the skin and into all the nooks and crannies.
- Using a smoking temperature between 225℉ (107℃) and 250℉ (121℃), depending on the cuts being smoked, the meat should be smoked until its internal temperature reaches 165℉ (74℃).