Our mouthwatering Smoked Pulled Chicken recipe will elevate your outdoor grilling game. The meat is seasoned to perfection using a homemade BBQ rub and drizzled in a simple marinade to keep the meat juicy. Perfectly crafted on a Traeger or any pellet grill, this tender pulled chicken is a BBQ lover’s dream.
This post contains affiliate links. Please read my full disclosure here.
Why You Will Love This Recipe
- Rich Smoky Flavor: Smoking imparts a distinct and rich smoky flavor to the chicken that is hard to replicate with other cooking methods. The infusion of smokiness adds depth to the taste, creating a unique experience.
- Tender and Juicy Texture: Smoking involves slow-cooking the chicken at low temperatures, resulting in a tender and juicy texture. The slow process allows the connective tissues to break down, making the chicken incredibly succulent and easy to pull apart.
- Versatility in Seasonings: The smoky flavor pairs well with different flavor profiles, from sweet and tangy barbecue to savory and spicy blends.
- Authentic Barbecue Experience: Smoking is a traditional barbecue method that evokes a sense of connection to regional barbecue traditions. It brings the spirit of outdoor cooking.
- Perfect for Gatherings: This is a crowd-pleaser, making it ideal for gatherings and barbecues. The flavorful and tender meat is likely to be a hit with friends and family, adding to the enjoyment of shared meals.
What Type of Chicken to Use
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs work best. Both cuts of chicken work well for making tender, juicy, and flavorful pulled chicken, though chicken thighs have the extra edge due to it’s fat content.
- Chicken Breasts:
- Leaner: Chicken breasts are leaner compared to thighs, which means they have less fat and are lower in calories.
- Milder Flavor: Chicken breasts have a milder flavor compared to thighs, allowing them to absorb the flavors of the seasoning and sauce.
- Chicken Thighs:
- More Moist and Tender: Chicken thighs have a higher fat content, which makes them more forgiving during cooking and results in a juicier, more tender pulled chicken.
- Richer Flavor: Thighs have a slightly richer flavor due to the higher fat content, which can enhance the overall taste of the pulled chicken.
I used chicken thighs. You can also use bone-in thighs if you wish. Boneless are just easier to work with. If you want to use a whole chicken, check out my Traeger Smoked Whole Chicken.
Do You Have to Marinate it in Advance?
While marinating is not strictly necessary, it will enhance the overall taste and tenderness of the meat. You can marinate the meat in advance for 30 minutes to overnight.
The smoking and slow cooking process alone can produce wonderfully flavored and tender pulled chicken, but experimenting with rubs or marinades can add an extra layer of taste and complexity to the final dish.
Marinade and Dry Rub Spices
To keep the chicken moist during the smoking process, I use a combination of a liquid marinade (soy sauce) and my Homemade BBQ Dry Rub Seasoning. You can also use a store-bought rub if you prefer.
Soy sauce contains enzymes that break down proteins in the meat. It also helps the chicken retain moisture, preventing it from becoming dry during cooking. You can use apple cider vinegar if you prefer.
How to Make Smoked Pulled Chicken
Detailed measurements and full instructions can be found in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
- If you plan to marinate the chicken in advance, combine soy sauce and a BBQ rub and drizzle it over the chicken in a large bowl or plastic bag. Place the chicken in the fridge (covered) for 30 minutes to overnight.
- Add the chicken along with the seasoned liquid marinade to a pan safe for the smoker/grill.
- Place the pan on the smoker and smoke the chicken.
I recommend 225 degrees to cook the chicken low and slow so the smoky flavor penetrates the meat.
Cook Time and How to Tell When it’s Done and Finished Cooking
I like to smoke the chicken for an hour uncovered. From there, cover the chicken with foil. This will keep the chicken from drying out. Smoke the chicken for an additional hour or for however long it takes to reach an internal temperature of 175 degrees.
Chicken is safe to eat when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees, but with pulled chicken when the internal temp reaches 175 degrees, it will typically shred really easily and yield tender meat. Use a meat thermometer.
Pulled chicken should be tender and easily shred with forks or tongs. If the meat resists shredding or feels tough, it may need more time to cook.
What Flavor of Wood/Pellets to Use
The choice of wood for smoking can greatly influence the flavor profile of the meat. Different types of wood impart distinct flavors, ranging from mild and sweet to strong. I love use the Traeger Signature Blend or apple. Here are some options:
- Apple: Provides a mild and slightly sweet flavor that pairs wonderfully with poultry. It adds a delicate smokiness without overpowering the natural taste.
- Cherry: Similar to apple, cherry offers a subtle fruity and sweet aroma.
- Pecan: Delivers a rich and nutty flavor, adding a deeper dimension to the taste.
- Hickory: A classic choice for smoking meats, including poultry. It has a strong and hearty flavor that works well.
- Maple: Infuses the chicken with a slightly sweet and smoky taste, making it another excellent option for smoking.
- Oak: A versatile wood that imparts a balanced, medium-level smokiness, allowing the natural flavors of the chicken to shine through.
Allow the Meat to Rest
Remove the chicken from the smoker and allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes prior to slicing. Resting allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a more evenly moist and flavorful dish. Resting can also enhance the flavor. The additional time allows the seasonings and smoky flavors to settle, providing a more balanced and integrated taste.
How to Use the Chicken
- Pulled Chicken Sandwiches: Load pulled chicken onto a soft bun or roll. Top it with your favorite coleslaw, pickles, or additional sauce for a classic sandwich.
- Tacos and Burritos: Create tasty tacos or burritos by filling tortillas with chicken, along with your choice of toppings such as salsa, guacamole, shredded cheese, and sour cream.
- Chicken Salad: Toss the chicken with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, and your favorite dressing for a light and refreshing salad.
- Chicken Wraps: Roll the chicken in a tortilla with fresh vegetables, lettuce, and a drizzle of dressing for a quick and satisfying wrap.
- Quesadillas: Layer the chicken between tortillas with cheese and any desired extras, then cook until the cheese is melted and the tortillas are crispy.
- Chicken Pizza: Use pulled chicken as a pizza topping along with barbecue sauce, red onions, and cheese for a unique and flavorful pizza.
- Chicken Nachos: Top tortilla chips with chicken, cheese, black beans, jalapeños, and other nacho toppings. Bake until the cheese is melted, and then add fresh salsa and sour cream.
- Chicken Soup: Use my Homestyle Chicken Noodle Soup or Rotisserie Chicken Soup recipes.
- Stir Fry: Use my Shrimp Stir Fry recipe and incorporate the chicken into a stir fry with colorful vegetables and a savory sauce. Serve it over rice or noodles for a quick and flavorful meal.
- Stuffed Peppers: Mix the chicken with rice, black beans, corn, and salsa. Stuff bell peppers with the mixture and bake until the peppers are tender.
- Pulled Chicken Enchiladas: Use my Rotisserie Chicken Enchiladas recipe and roll the chicken in tortillas, cover it with enchilada sauce, and bake it with cheese for a comforting and flavorful enchilada dish.
- Chicken Mac and Cheese: Add the chicken to my Southern Soul Food Baked Mac and Cheese recipe for a protein-packed twist on this classic comfort food.
- Lettuce Wraps: Use my PF Changs Lettuce Wraps recipe.
How to Store
The dish can be stored tightly covered and sealed for 3-4 days in the fridge. I like to store it with the juices leftover from the slow cooker. This helps keep it from drying out.
How to Reheat
The best way to reheat it is on the stove at medium heat with liquids. This helps to keep the initial texture intact.
You can also heat it in the microwave in 1-minute intervals, stirring between each interval.
You can use the air fryer or oven at 350 degrees until warm.
If the chicken seems dry, you can add a small amount of broth, water, or sauce during reheating to add moisture.
You can freeze it tightly covered and sealed for 2-3 months (for optimal quality). Defrost in the fridge overnight.
Pair With These Recipes
Smoked Pulled Chicken
- 2-3 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs or breasts
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar or sweetener
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- salt and pepper to taste I like to add this once the chicken is cooked and taste repeatedly and adjust.
- 1 cup BBQ sauce Optional for sauced chicken.
- If you plan to marinate the chicken in advance, combine the soy sauce and all of the spices and drizzle it over the chicken in a large bowl or plastic bag. Place the chicken in the fridge (covered) for 30 minutes to overnight.
- Preheat the smoker to 225 degrees.
- Add the chicken along with the seasoned liquid marinade to a pan safe for the smoker/grill. I use a cast iron skillet.
- Place the pan on the smoker and smoke the chicken for 1 hour.
- Cover the pan with foil and smoke the chicken for an additional hour or for however long it takes to reach an internal temperature of 175 degrees.Chicken is safe to eat when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees, but with pulled chicken when the internal temp reaches 175 degrees, it will typically shred easily and yield tender meat. Use a meat thermometer.
- Allow the chicken to rest for 10-15 minutes before shredding.
- Shred the chicken with forks or tongs. Taste the chicken repeatedly and adjust the spices as necessary to suit your taste. Drizzle BBQ sauce throughout if preferred.