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How Long to Smoke Chicken at 250 Degrees: A Complete Guide

Wondering how long to smoke chicken at 250 degrees? Look no further. Our ultimate guide will help you make an educated guess as to how long you can expect your chicken to be on the smoker.

How Long to Smoke Chicken at 250 Degrees

A whole chicken should cook at a rate of about 45 minutes per pound when you set the smoker temperature to 250 degrees. That means a 4-pound chicken should be ready to come off the heat in 3 hours. Smaller cuts will take less time—a batch of chicken wings might cook through in just 1 hour.

Best Smoker Temperature for Chicken

When smoking chicken, we like to set the temperature a bit higher than we would for ribs and brisket. That’s because the meat is leaner, which means it doesn’t require the same low-and-slow treatment that fattier cuts do.

300 to 325 degrees is a good smoker temperature range for chicken. It allows the skin to get nice and crispy without sacrificing too much smoke flavor. Considering that 325 is the standard temperature for roasting, the cooked meat should have a nice texture, too.

But if you really want your chicken to absorb a good hit of smoke, it’s fine to set the smoker to 250 degrees. The meat will take longer to achieve the correct temperature, but you’ll get plenty of savory smoke flavor as a reward for your patience.

Best Serving Temperature for Chicken

Poultry products, including chicken, are considered safe to consume when they’ve cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

At this temperature, the bacteria that cause food poisoning are wiped out in a matter of seconds. They’ll die off at lower temperatures as well, but it can take several minutes for that to happen. It’s safer to wait until the meat has cooked to 165 before eating it.

Since the meat will continue to cook as it rests, we advocate taking chicken breasts off the heat when they hit 160 degrees. That way, you can rest assured that the meat won’t cook too far past the ideal serving temp.

We should point out, though, that while 165 degrees is perfect for chicken breasts and wings, it’s not quite hot enough for the dark meat. Drumsticks and thighs will have a superior texture if they’re allowed to cook to 180 degrees before the resting period.

How To Tell When Smoked Chicken is Done

There’s only one way to be absolutely sure when smoked chicken has reached a safe temperature, and that’s by testing it with a meat thermometer.

Cooked chicken has other visual hallmarks—the meat will turn opaque instead of translucent, the color will shift from pink to white or brown (depending on the cut), and the juices will run clear. But a thermometer will give you a clear result.

Why is it so important to test the temperature? For one thing, it can be dangerous to consume undercooked meat, especially poultry. The flesh may harbor bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter. Thorough cooking is the only way to destroy these bacteria.

You also want to avoid overcooking the meat. As we’ve established, chicken breast isn’t nearly as palatable when it stays on the smoker too long. Even the thighs and drumsticks can turn dry and stringy if they cook past 200 degrees.

Most importantly, the visual signs can’t always be trusted. Sometimes the meat will retain a pink tinge even when it’s fully cooked. At other times, it may turn white and opaque, but it hasn’t yet cooked to a safe temperature.

Invest in a reliable instant-read meat thermometer, and be sure to calibrate it regularly. Even if you only use your smoker occasionally, you’ll be glad to have this tool on hand.

How Long to Smoke a Whole Chicken at 250 Degrees

When you use a smoker temperature of 250 degrees, estimate about 45 minutes for every pound of chicken. A 4-pound chicken, then, would need to be on the smoker for something like 3 hours.

Before smoking the chicken, trim away any excess fat and skin. You want the bird to have a fairly uniform appearance. Any loose skin will burn quickly, and the fat will drip down onto the heat source, causing potential flare-ups.

You can leave the chicken uncovered in the fridge for several hours, or overnight, to dry out the skin. Whether you take this step or not, try to remove the bird from the fridge for about 30 minutes while you wait for the smoker to heat up.

Tuck the wings beneath the bird to prevent the skin on the tips from burning. This will also keep them from overcooking, since wings are best served at 165 degrees, same as the breasts.

If you find that the breast meat is in danger of overcooking, try tenting that portion of the bird with foil. This will shield it from the heat. Don’t do it too early, though, or the skin will turn rubbery instead of crisp.

It’s also permissible to carve off the breast portion while allowing the rest of the bird to finish cooking. The presentation might not be as impressive, but that’s a small price to pay to avoid dry, overcooked meat.

One final note: If the skin isn’t getting crisp enough for your liking, try turning up the heat for the last estimated hour or so of the smoke. Cranking the smoker up to 350 degrees should give the skin that brittle, easy-to-bite-through texture that you crave.

How Long to Smoke Chicken Breast at 250 Degrees

Despite what we said earlier about smoking chicken at a higher temperature, 250 degrees is actually a nice temperature for chicken breast. The lean meat won’t take as long to cook through as a whole bird would, and it will still be succulent and tender.

Since chicken breast sizes can vary wildly depending on the type of chicken they came from, the cooking times can be hard to pin down. Plan on about 1 hour for smaller breasts (weighing 4 to 5 ounces), and 1-1/2 to 2 hours for breasts weighing 8 ounces or more.

When smoking multiple chicken breasts, try to choose cuts that are roughly the same size. This should help them reach the optimum serving temperature at the same time. In fact, this is a good rule of thumb to follow no matter which cut you’re dealing with.

How Long to Smoke Chicken Leg Quarters at 250 Degrees

Though chicken legs are typically divided into thighs and drumsticks (see the sections below), you can also find them packaged whole. These are often called “chicken leg quarters” because a whole leg makes up about one-quarter of the chicken.

When smoked at 250 degrees, chicken leg quarters should take 2 to 2-1/2 hours to cook through. Since the legs are considered dark meat, remember to cook them to 180 degrees instead of 160, then rest them for about 5 to 10 minutes prior to serving.

You can divide the leg quarters yourself once they’ve finished cooking, or serve one per diner. Be aware that they offer up more meat than the standard recommended serving, so you might find yourself dealing with a lot of leftovers.

How Long to Smoke Chicken Thighs at 250 Degrees

A smoker temperature of 250 degrees calls for an estimated cooking time of about 2 hours for bone-in chicken thighs. Boneless and skinless thighs should be ready in 1 to 1-1/2 hours, depending on how large they are.

We prefer to use bone-in thighs when using the smoker. The bones and skin will imbue the chicken with a richer flavor, and the crispy skin provides an amazing counterpoint to the juicy meat. But if you’re in a hurry, boneless thighs will taste great as well.

How Long to Smoke Chicken Drumsticks at 250 Degrees

Plan on cooking chicken drumsticks for about 1-1/2 to 2 hours in a 250-degree smoker. It’s a good idea to turn them after 45 minutes to help them cook more evenly.

Try brushing a little bit of sauce on the drumsticks during the last few minutes of cooking. A traditional barbecue sauce works best, but you can experiment with other flavors if you prefer. Just don’t add the sauce too soon, or it will burn.

How Long to Smoke Chicken Wings at 250 Degrees

Smoked chicken wings take about 1 hour to cook through at 250 degrees. As with the drumsticks, you’ll want to turn them at the estimated halfway point to ensure even cooking and uniformly crispy skin on each one.

Toss the cooked wings with sauce immediately after taking them off the heat, if you opt to use a sauce (the wings will taste fine without!). Since they’re so small, they don’t need to rest as long as the other cuts. Just dress and enjoy.

Other Tips for Smoking Chicken

Dry the chicken thoroughly before putting it on the smoker, especially if it’s a skin-on cut. Excess moisture may lead to rubbery skin.

Test the temperature at your estimated halfway point to see how things are progressing. Otherwise, try to keep the lid closed as much as possible to keep the heat inside the smoker.

Check the smoker temperature at regular intervals to make sure it isn’t dipping too low or climbing too high. If the temperature is erratic, you won’t be able to trust your timing estimates.

Select the right smoking wood. Apple, pecan, and maple are all nice choices. Cherry is another option, but be forewarned that it will give the chicken a reddish color.

If you opt to brine the chicken, don’t leave it in the mixture for longer than 12 hours. In fact, you can brine chicken breast for just a few hours and still enjoy the benefits—namely, juicier meat and improved flavor.

Use a binder to help the seasoning adhere to the meat. For chicken, we prefer cooking spray or a thin layer of neutral oil, but you can also use butter, mustard or mayonnaise.

Because chicken has such a mild flavor on its own, you can use bold seasonings in the rub. Smoked paprika, chili powder, oregano, and garlic powder are standard additions.

You can serve smoked chicken shredded (or “pulled”), or carve it into slices as you would a roast chicken. The former method is preferable if you want to make sandwiches, but the latter makes for a more elegant presentation—plus you get to enjoy the skin.

Always wash your hands before and after handling raw chicken. Clean any utensils as soon as possible, and never reuse any tools that have come into contact with the raw meat without washing them first.

Final Thoughts

Smoking chicken at 250 degrees takes time, but the good news is that you don’t have to watch the smoker the entire time. Once the meat is cooking, you can leave it alone and tend to other matters—which is ideal if you’re entertaining.

Happy grilling!