I finally buckled and bought a small grill/smoker. This little guy is the compromise I’d been dreaming about: a compact heavy duty grill geared for smoking. Turns out, this odd-duck is the cast iron smoker box add-on to Char-Griller’s large premium model. Their baby version is also designed as a stand alone tabletop grill.
I’ve been running it through its paces and yes, it holds optimum temperatures of 250-275°F. Using the the offset smoking method, coals are fired up in a lower ash box opposite the main grill side. Two vents channel smoke up and around the food, constantly wrapping it in warm smoke.
I’m not interested in smoking food for hours on end, but I do want it thoroughly smoked and safely cooked within a reasonable amount of time. There’s a delicate balance between duration of time and establishing the proper interior heat for adequate smoking. When planning for thorough cooking of most foods, the 250-275°F range seems to be it.
Acceptable internal meat temperatures can actually differ from traditional gauges and guidelines, such as cooking poultry until 165°F. It’s been proven that holding meat at a prolonged lower cooking temp is perfectly safe, if it is held for a prescribed period of time. For example with chicken, the USDA says that bacteria like salmonella is eliminated and chicken is safe once it fully reaches 145°F and is cooked at that temperature at least 13 minutes longer.
That’s more information than you may want. Especially if you have an electric or propane grill that monitors all of that for you. But this approach works for the minimalist in me.
In my opinion chicken thighs are an ideal solution for a ‘smoking light’ session. With the bone-in and skin on they need little more to produce perfect packages of moist, blissful meat graced with just enough skin for those who may deem it important.
My approach for smoked chicken thighs includes brining. A flavored salt solution acts to purify, moisturize and enhance the thighs. It gets the job done in four hours, but may be held longer with a saltier outcome. If concerned, just dilute with more water.
After the brining, thighs air dry for 4 hours to aid in smoke adherence and absorption. To counteract flabby or rubbery skin, try a quick sear in a hot pan prior to smoking. Another solution is to sear them on the grill, but fat dripping onto coals also means flare ups and heat acceleration.
No time to brine? Try a light rub on the thighs prior to placing them on the grill—with a water pan below. A simple rub with paprika and slight pop of sumac is included; it will punch up the flavor yet allow the smoke essence to flourish.
For smoke flavoring, I soaked a combination of mesquite and apple chips for 30 minutes and drained them well before placing them in a smoker box on top of white charcoal. The coals were replenished once to maintain the grill’s interior temperature.
After 1½ hours cooking time, thigh internal temperatures ranged from 145 to 155°F. Within 15 minutes, temperatures maintained and stabilized from 148-155°F throughout. The thighs had a beautiful burnished color and were firm when pressed.
Done to perfection!
Smoked Chicken Thighs
4-6 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on
2 cups water divided
2 cloves garlic, smash and sliver
1 Tbsp each sea salt and granulated sugar
½ tsp peppercorns
1 tsp each salt, white pepper, sweet or smoked paprika, ⅛ tsp sumac
- Brine: combine 1 cup water and ingredients, bring to boil to dissolve salt and sugar. Add 1 cup cold water to the brine and set aside to cool.
Wash the thighs and trim excess skin and fat. Place in zip lock bag covered with brine. Marinate 4 hours; it becomes saltier the longer it brines.
Remove the thighs from brine, pat excess liquid. Air dry on a rack for 4 or more hours in fridge. Bring thighs to room temperature before smoking.
- Soak chips: soak wood chips in water for 20-30 minutes, drain well and place in smoker box if using.
- Prepare the smoker: ignite coals. Add a water pan below the offset smoker grill side and spray the grill. When coals begin to turn white, top with chips/smoker box.
- Optional thighs sear: heat skillet to medium high and coat it with oil. Sear skin sides only.
- Optional rub: If using rub, apply just before placing on grill.
- Smoke the thighs: when interior smoker temperature reaches 250°F place the thighs on the grill. Close the lid and set vents partially open for draft. Smoke the thighs for 90 minutes to 2 hours, until 165°F internal temp, or a sustained overall internal temp of 150°F for 5 minutes.
Note: to maintain a steady heat level check coals 30 minutes into smoke, if dwindling add a few more hot coals to bed.