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Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts

Originally posted: 10/01/2002
Last updated: 06/30/2014

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Summary

  • Brine the chicken breasts for 30-60 minutes to add flavor and prevent dry meat.
  • Use 1 chimney of fully lit Kingsford charcoal briquettes.
  • Place the foil-lined water pan in the cooker, but leave it empty.
  • Smoke the chicken at 250-275°F for 1 hour to an internal temperature of 160-165°F.
  • Baste with sauce during the last 10-15 minutes of cooking.
  • Smoke chicken breasts in bulk and freeze leftovers for use later.

Chicken
breasts in brine solution

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts ready to serve
 

If you think cooking whole chicken is easy using the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, wait until you try boneless, skinless chicken breasts. There's hardly any prep, they cook quickly, they taste great, and they're good for you. How can you beat that?

Here are some photos I took on September 13, 2002 when I cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts on the Weber Bullet.

As always...click on any of the pictures to view a larger image.


Preparing And Brining The Chicken

Bulk boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Photo 1
Brining the chicken breasts
Photo 2
     

What's cool about smoking chicken breasts is you can buy them in bulk at the wholesale warehouse store (cheap), spend virtually no time prepping them (lazy), cook up a whole mess of them (save time), and freeze the leftovers for use later in delicious sandwiches, salads, and quesadillas (convenient). Of course, they also taste good (yum) and are heart-smart (healthy).

Start with a bulk pack of boneless, skinless breasts containing about 12 pieces. Pat pieces dry with paper towels.

At this point, either apply your favorite rub and cook the chicken as-is, or take the additional step of brining some or all of the pieces. The brining process adds flavor to the meat and keeps the meat moist, even if slightly overcooked. 

I brined 6 pieces for 1 hour using the recipe below; the other 6 pieces were not brined.

All-Purpose Brine
2 quarts cool water
1/2 cup table salt
1/2 cup sugar
Mix in a non-reactive container until dissolved. Substitutions for table salt: 1 cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 3/4 cup Morton's kosher salt. Makes enough brine for 8 chicken breasts. Brine the chicken pieces for 30-60 minutes.

After brining, pat each piece dry with paper towels and apply your favorite rub. Remember, the brine has seasoned the meat already, so go easy on that salty rub. You may even choose to go with a low- or no-salt rub.

I divided the breasts into 3 groups and applied a different rub to each group—some hot, some not—then let them sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes while firing up the cooker.

Lighting The Cooker

Firing the cooker
Photo 3
       

Light a full chimney of Kingsford charcoal briquettes and spread them evenly over the charcoal grate when they're good and hot. Place three small chunks of dry smoke wood on the hot coals and assemble the cooker. I used 2 small chunks of apple and 1 small chunk of hickory.

Put the foil-lined water pan in place, but leave it empty.

Set the 3 bottom vents to 100% open. Open the top vent fully and leave it that way throughout the entire cook.

Smoking The Chicken

Breasts go into the smoker
Photo 4
       

Cook the chicken breasts with the smooth presentation side facing up for 1 hour at 250-275°F measured at the lid, until they reach an internal temp of 160-165°F.

The cooker temperature will drop when the meat goes into the cooker, so just keep an eye on the temp as it begins to rise and adjust the bottom vents as needed to keep the cooker in the 250-275°F zone—a little higher or lower won't hurt anything.

I did not turn the chicken during cooking (you can if you like) and I basted half of the pieces with a tomato-based barbecue sauce at the 50 minute mark.

Chicken Breasts Galore

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts after smoking
Photo 5
       

Here's the finished product as it looked coming off the cooker. The basted breasts looked more attractive, but the unsauced ones were destined for use in salads and other dishes in which barbecue sauce would not be appropriate.

The brined pieces were especially moist and tender, and the normally bland meat was flavorful throughout. The pieces that weren't brined were pretty moist, too, but didn't have the same flavor. Try this sometime and see if you can taste the difference side-by-side.

If you click on this picture and wonder what those toothpicks are doing in some of the breasts, that's just my way of keeping track of which pieces were brined and which rubs were applied to the various pieces.

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