Wondering if you should smoke your chicken breast side up or down?
How you place your chicken on the grates is the key.
However they are multiple factors to consider.
This is even more important for a chicken breast.
As it is likely to go dry or even burn!
Which side of the chicken breast goes on the grill grates?
Let’s find out.
Smoke Your Chicken Breast Skin Side Down
Place the breast meat towards the heat, the skin side down.
There you have it!
It might seem like a basic process but can often be missed.
Read further to understand techniques and why it’s so important.
As well as some tasty tips and tricks for your chicken recipe.
Why Should Chicken Skin Face the Heat?
Below are the key reasons for smoking chicken breast meat skin side down.
Rendering Down the Fat to Achieve a Golden Crispy Skin
Fat = flavor but not if it isn’t cooked properly.
Chicken skin contains mostly fat.
Fat takes a long time to cook and render.
So putting it straight on the cooking grate will ensure it has enough cooking time.
While also forming that delicious crisp skin on your chicken!
Protecting the Meat Proteins
We have all suffered eating dry chicken.
Cooking with direct heat (more of that later) will evaporate moisture.
And guess what…
These chicken juices keep the meat tender!
The skin acts as a layer of protection that stops the rate of evaporation.
Which keeps the meat moist.
Seal in the Flavor
Chicken meat tends to be a bit bland in flavor if you don’t add seasoning.
Especially the leaner white meat from the breast.
I reccomend applying mustard as a binder than your chosen rub. Then I like to baste the chicken during cook.
This absorbs into the skin.
And then infuse when you seal that side down with heat.
Considerations Before Smoking Chicken Breast Skin Side Down
At face value, smoking the skin side down seems simple.
But there are some factors to consider before doing so!
What Kind of Smoker Are You Using?
The kind of smoker you are using will have a wider impact on the overall smoking process.
But especially when it comes to placing your meat.
There are varieties of smokers on the market.
From a fancy wood pellet grill that is a computer.
Or a more traditional charcoal grill smoker without a customizable temperature gauge.
It takes experience to understand how the heat source disperses heat.
Or achieving a consistent internal temp.
I recommend first learning how your smoker functions.
So you can pinpoint adjustments and troubleshoot the below factors.
What Kind of Fuel Are You Using?
The fuel you are using for smoking and cooking is important.
What temperature can it reach?
Will it affect the flavor of your recipe?
Wood chips and charcoal are popular for smoking for chicken.
Wood burns at a higher temperature for a shorter time.
Charcoal burns at lower temperatures for a longer time.
Adjusting the Smoker Temperature Accordingly
Chicken breasts are quicker to smoke than other recipes.
Total control of your smoker temp is crucial when chicken cooking.
Direct Heat vs Indirect Heat
Direct heat is cooking directly over the heat source.
Indirect heat is cooking adjacent to the heat source.
Smoking chicken breasts with the skin side down is a mixture of both.
You are facing the skin directly on the heat.
While the breast meat is away from the heat.
What if I Am Smoking Skinless Chicken Breasts?
If you are smoking skinless breasts you can use indirect heat.
Think about placing the breasts on a higher level of grill grates.
Or you can use aluminum foil to replicate the skin and protect them.
Does This Apply to the Other Cuts of Chicken?
The same rule applies to any cut or whole chicken.
The Whole Chicken
I recommend the spatchcock chicken technique if smoking an entire chicken.
Cut out the middle breast bone with a pair of kitchen shears.
Flatten it out and smoke with the breasts facing away from the heat.
The Chicken Legs or Thighs
The legs and thigh meat contain darker meat.
Which can be more forgiving when cooking.
This is because it is closer or on the bone.
So dark meat will contain more connective tissue and fat.
Place these cuts with the thickest part of the skin down.
See how to smoke chicken legs here.
Chicken wings have a thick layer of skin.
There is a minimum amount of meat and lots of cartilage.
Face the thicker part of the joint down when cooking.
See how to smoke chicken wings perfectly here.
Tips & Tricks – Smoking Tender Chicken Breasts With Crispy Skin
Below are the key techniques when smoking chicken breasts.
Remember it all starts with the right placement of your fresh chicken.
Brining & Marinating
Brining or marinating for a period of time for a smoked chicken recipe is great.
It gives extra flavor and helps the meat proteins retain moisture.
Use acidic and aromatic ingredients.
Like lemon zest, olive oil, and chili powder.
But don’t overdo it!
Chicken breasts only need 3-4 hours maximum.
Otherwise, the meat will go mushy.
Seasoning the Breast Meat & Skin
Wipe down excess brine or marinade with paper towels.
It is time to get creative and add a seasoning mix.
The fundamentals are onion powder or garlic powder.
Apply some brown sugar on the skin for caramelization.
For a beautiful golden bird!
But be careful of excess salt.
Did you know that the wood used for smoking will also season the chicken?
I like to use mild apple wood in my electric smoker.
Cooking Temperature & Estimating the Timings
Chicken breasts are best smoked at a target temperature of 225°F.
This is on the lower side to avoid dryness through evaporation.
At this temperature, the average cooking time will be 45-60 minutes.
Internal Temperature of Chicken Breasts & How to Accurately Monitor
The safe internal temperature of chicken breast meat is 165°F.
Always use a calibrated meat thermometer when monitoring.
How Long to Let The Chicken Rest?
Rest the chicken while wrapped in foil for 5-10 minutes.
Smoking Chicken Breast Skin Side Down – The Summary
– Smoke chicken breasts with the skin side down or towards the heat source.
– Understand how your smoker works.
– Smoke at a lower temperature.
– Monitor the internal temperatures accurately.
Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi, I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking, and getting out in the yard with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork, smoky pork loin, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill)
You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling adventures with you!
You can read more on our About Us page.
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