Whether you’re smoking a batch of chicken wings or the whole bird, you should start with a basic timing estimate based on the smoker temperature. Here’s our ultimate guide on how long to smoke chicken at 225 degrees.
How Long To Smoke Chicken at 225 Degrees
At 225 degrees, a whole chicken should cook at a rate of 25 to 30 minutes per pound. It takes smaller cuts anywhere from 1 to 2 hours to reach the optimum serving temperature, depending on their size. If you’re in a hurry, you might consider cranking up the heat for at least part of the process.
What’s the Best Smoker Temperature to Use for Chicken?
Under ordinary circumstances, we would suggest using a higher smoker temperature for chicken than for fatty cuts like beef brisket.
The reasoning behind this is simple: Chicken is lean and cooks through quickly. It doesn’t require the low and slow treatment that brisket does, because there’s not as much fat and connective tissue involved.
So, while 225 degrees might be ideal for brisket, ribs, and pork butt, it’s a tad low for smoked chicken. We prefer to use a range of 300 to 325 for whole chickens, just to ensure that the skin crisps up nicely.
That said, if you want your chicken to take on an extra hit of smoke flavor, it’s fine to set the temperature to 225. The process will take longer, but as long as the meat cooks to a safe internal temp (see below), you should still be pleased with your results.
Optimum Internal Temperature for Chicken
This is another area in which chicken differs from cuts like pork butt and brisket. While those cuts should reach the same internal temperature throughout the cut, whole chickens consist of both white and dark meat—which require different temps.
On chickens, the white meat can be found on the breasts and the wings. These cuts should cook to just 165 degrees, or the meat will turn dry and chalky in a hurry. Pull them from the heat at the 160-mark, then let them rest for about 5 minutes before serving.
The legs, which consist of the drumsticks and thighs, can take temps up to the 190s without drying out. We typically cook them to 180, then let them rest for 5 to 10 minutes to bring the temperature up to 185 or so.
What if you’re smoking a whole chicken, and the breast meat is done before the rest? We’ve covered that in How Long To Smoke Whole Chickens at 225 Degrees, below.
How To Prepare Chicken For The Smoker
When smoking chicken—especially skin-on cuts—the key is to make sure that the meat is thoroughly dry beforehand. If there’s too much moisture involved, then the skin won’t crisp up enough, and what’s the point of smoked chicken without crispy skin?
If you want to brine or marinate the chicken, don’t leave it in the mixture for too long. This is particularly important if the marinade contains acidic ingredients, like vinegar or lemon juice. These can toughen up the meat’s protein fibers after a while.
There’s another reason why you shouldn’t leave the meat in the marinade or brine for longer than 12 hours: it might not keep for much longer. It’s best to cook chicken within 2 days of bringing it home. After that, it may begin to show signs of spoilage.
After taking the chicken out of the brine or marinade (assuming you used one), pat the meat dry with paper towels. Then season as desired, adding a thin layer of cooking spray or neutral oil to help the spices adhere.
Keep the chicken out at room temperature for 30 minutes or so before you start to cook it. This will warm the meat slightly, helping to ensure even cooking. Don’t wait too long, though—chicken shouldn’t be left out for longer than 1 to 2 hours.
How Long To Smoke Whole Chickens at 225 Degrees
Bear in mind, though, that these timing suggestions are only estimates. Every smoker is different, and every cut of meat cooks at its own pace. The chicken might be done a bit sooner or later than you’d expect.
When smoking a whole chicken, try to tuck the wings beneath the bird. That will keep the meat from overcooking, and the skin on the tips from burning before the rest of the chicken is done.
Position the chicken on the cooking grate with the breast side facing up. The only time you should place it breast side down is when the heat is coming from above—many electric smokers are configured this way.
Test the internal temperature of the breast and the thigh at your estimated halfway point. This will allow you to track your progress with greater accuracy. Should you find that the breast is cooking too fast, try tenting the bird with foil.
In the event that the breast meat has cooked to 160 degrees while the rest of the bird still has a way to go, take the chicken off the smoker. Carve away the breast portion and let it rest, loosely tented with foil, while you return the legs and thighs to the heat.
How Long To Smoke Chicken Breast at 225 Degrees
If you want to smoke chicken at 225 degrees, the breast portion is a nice cut to choose. It will cook through at a faster rate than the thighs or drumsticks while still absorbing plenty of smoke flavor.
The total cooking time will depend on the size of the breast portion. On average, though, you can expect to smoke a whole chicken breast for 1 to 1-1/2 hours when the smoker is set to 225.
Set the chicken breast on the smoker with the skin side facing up. In addition to keeping the meat away from the direct heat source, this will give the finished product a more appetizing appearance.
The chicken breast is done when a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest portion registers 165 degrees. As we’ve established, you can take it off the heat at 160, then let carryover cooking take care of the last 5 degrees.
How Long To Smoke Chicken Thighs at 225 Degrees
The average cooking time for bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs is 1 to 2 hours when using a smoker temperature of 225. The exact cooking time depends on the size of the thighs, as well as the reliability of the smoker.
Choose chicken thighs that are plump and fresh-looking, with skin that isn’t too loose. If the meat has a slimy texture, or if it’s turning slightly gray, don’t buy it.
You should trim off any excess fat from the thighs before seasoning and cooking them. The meat will still have enough fat to keep the meat nice and juicy, but excess fat might lead to flare-ups.
After you’ve seasoned the thighs, let them sit at room temperature while you wait for the smoker to heat up. Don’t add the meat to the smoker until the unit has achieved the right cooking temperature.
The chicken thighs are ready to come off the heat when they’ve cooked to 180 degrees. At this point, they should be tender enough to come right off the bone, but not so overdone that they’re falling apart. Let them rest for 5 minutes before serving.
How Long To Smoke Chicken Leg Quarters at 225 Degrees
Since the whole leg quarters are bigger than the thighs, expect them to take a bit longer to cook. When smoking chicken at 225 degrees, 2 to 3 hours is a good ballpark estimate for this cut.
While we’re on the subject of size: Try to select smaller chicken leg quarters. They’ll be easier to manage and will cook through more quickly. They may also be closer to the standard recommended serving size than larger specimens.
You might consider pan-searing the chicken for a few minutes per side before adding it to the smoker. In addition to speeding the cooking process, this will give the skin a crisper texture right from the beginning.
Since the legs are made up of dark meat, you should cook them to 180 degrees before allowing them to rest. You can either serve them whole, or divide them into thighs and drumsticks before adding them to the serving platter.
How Long To Smoke Chicken Drumsticks at 225 Degrees
The drumstick, or the lower portion of the chicken leg, is a lot of fun to eat. The bone protruding from one end gives diners something to grip while they gnaw the chicken off the other, meatier end.
Plan on smoking chicken drumsticks for 1-1/2 to 2 hours at 225 degrees. You want the meat to be tender and succulent, with no unpleasant stringy bits. If you’d like, brush the drumsticks with barbecue sauce when they’re nearly finished cooking.
How Long To Smoke Chicken Wings at 225 Degrees
Chicken wings are both small and relatively lean, which makes them a great choice for the smoker. While they’re typically deep-fried, smoking the wings gives them more flavor while allowing them to retain their silken texture.
We would suggest smoking the chicken wings for 45 minutes at 225, then flipping them over and allowing them to smoke for an additional 45 minutes. That brings the total cooking time up to 1-1/2 hours.
You don’t need to let wings rest as long as other cuts, due to their compact size. However, feel free to toss them in your favorite sauce just before you serve them. Buffalo sauce is the traditional choice for this cut, but barbecue sauce helps to balance out the smokiness.
What’s The Best Wood to Use When Smoking Chicken?
We prefer to use mild woods when smoked chicken is on the menu. Apple, cherry, maple and pecan are all wonderful choices. If you want something a bit heartier, oak should work well.
Bold woods like hickory and mesquite can be used sparingly, but be careful. They tend to overpower the taste of the chicken, especially the leaner breast meat. Try mixing in a handful of these chips with one of the milder woods, just for an extra hit of flavor.
It takes a while to smoke chicken at 225 degrees, no matter which cut you choose. If you want to get dinner on the table faster, it’s fine to crank up the heat. In fact, you can start the smoke at 225, then raise it for the last hour or so to speed things along.