This simple BBQ pulled chicken recipe delivers all that smoky, crave-worthy goodness with just a few ingredients and easy steps. Ready in under 4 hours, you’ll want to make extra for piling high on buns for BBQ chicken sliders, stuffing into tacos, topping salads, and beyond. Freezing leftovers means even quicker meals next time.

From classic smokers to pellet grills or even the oven, you can achieve real-deal BBQ pulled chicken any way you cook it. But for the ultimate wood-fired flavor, nothing beats firing up the smoker. Chicken thighs make for the juiciest, most succulent pulled chicken, but breasts work too.

Benefits of Pulled Chicken Vs. Pulled Pork

While pulled pork is undoubtedly a barbecue favorite, smoked pulled chicken is an excellent alternative that offers several advantages:

  • Faster Cooking Time – Chicken thighs can be smoked to perfection in under an hour, while a smoked pork shoulder can easily take half a day or more.
  • Leaner Protein – Though incredibly flavorful, pork shoulder contains significantly more fat than chicken thighs.
  • Higher Yield – Boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts provide more edible meat compared to a pork shoulder with more waste.
  • More Sustainable Choice – Chicken tends to have a lower environmental impact than pork from a sustainability perspective.
bbq pulled chicken ingredients

The Ingredients You’ll Need

  • Chicken – Boneless, skinless chicken thighs provide great flavor and stay juicy, but any chicken pieces will work. If you have bone-in, skin-on thighs, just remove the skin before seasoning and you can remove the bone after they cook.
  • Kosher Salt – For seasoning the chicken before applying the rub. If your rub contains salt, then reduce the amount of salt you use.
  • Spice Rub Ingredients: garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, black pepper, brown sugar. Add a little chili powder, cayenne or chipotle for heat if desired.
  • BBQ Sauce – Saucing is optional, but will give it that traditional BBQ pulled chicken flavor and texture. Make your own, or use your favorite brand. I like ot use about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sauce per pound of shredded chicken.

See the full recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.

How to Make BBQ Pulled Chicken

Step-by-step instructions for how to season, smoke, shred and sauce chicken thighs for pulled chicken.

seasoned chicken thighs for bbq chicken
  1. Dry Brine the Chicken. Heavily salt the chicken the night before (if possible) and refrigerate uncovered.
  2. Apply the Rub. Pat the chicken dry and rub with a thin coat of neutral oil or mustard, then liberally apply the dry rub all over.
chicken thighs in smoker for pulled chicken
  1. Set up your smoker for indirect heat cooking and preheat to 275°-300°F (135°-149°C).
  2. Smoke the Chicken Place the chicken in the smoker. Smoke until the thighs reach 175°-180°F (79°-82°C) internal temperature.
thermapen thermometer check for bbq pulled chicken

Tip: Start spot-checking with an instant-read thermometer around 45 minutes in. Smaller pieces will be done before the larger ones.

close up of bbq smoked chicken thighs
  1. Rest the Chicken. Remove the smoked chicken from the smoker. Cover and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
bbq pulled chicken and bbq sauce
  1. Shred the Chicken. Shred/pull the chicken using two forks or tongs. For hands-off shredding, use paddle attachments on a stand or your hand mixer and let the appliance do the work.
sauce on bbq pulled chicken
  1. Add the Sauce. Mix the shredded chicken with 1/4 to 1/2 cup BBQ sauce per pound of pulled chicken.
    Tip: Warm sauce helps keep the pulled chicken hot.
  1. Serve Serve it and enjoy!

Tips for Success

bbq pulled chicken on serving platter horizontal

At What Temp Does Chicken Pull?

180° F (after the rest) is optimal for shredding chicken thighs. It’s always best to use thighs for making pulled chicken because they will stay much juicier. If you are using breasts, cook them to 165° F after resting.

Serving Suggestions

Smoky BBQ pulled chicken is outstanding served traditionally on lightly toasted buns with crisp creamy coleslaw on top with some extra sweet and tangy BBQ sauce. But the possibilities don’t stop there! Get creative with leftovers by piling the pulled chicken onto salads, into tacos or enchiladas, or even topping pizzas and nachos. The smoky shredded meat also makes an excellent protein base for grain bowls.

And don’t forget – leftover BBQ pulled chicken is delicious cold for quick sandwiches or sliders the next day. If you don’t plan on eating it within a few days, I like to vacuum-seal and freeze it for a quick and easy future meal.

For more leftover inspiration, check out the leftover pulled pork recipes.

Some of my favorite sides include potato salad, creamy coleslaw and bread and butter pickles. But there are so many more options that are pair perfectly.

bbq pulled chicken on serving platter horizontal

BBQ Pulled Chicken

Smoky, succulent, and crave-worthy. This wood-smoked pulled chicken so tender and saucy, you'll want to pile it high on everything from buns to nachos to salads. 4 ingredients and a 1 hour cook time in the smoker.
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Course: Main
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Resting Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Servings: 6
Calories: 365kcal


  • 3 to 4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or any chicken pieces you prefer)
  • kosher salt
  • neutral oil (such as canola or avocado oil)
  • 1 cup BBQ sauce (use 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup per pound of shredded chicken, or to taste)

For the BBQ Rub (makes about 1/4 cup)

  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • made a little less than 1/4 cup


  • Dry brine the chicken overnight to allow the salt to go all the way through and fully season the chicken. If you don't have time to dry brine overnight, season at least 1 hour before cooking.
  • Make the rub by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl. Pat the chicken dry and rub with a thin coat of neutral oil or mustard, then liberally apply the dry rub all over. Let the coated chicken sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour before cooking to allow it to take on the seasoning and come closer to room temp for more even cooking. Insert a remote probe thermometer into the thickest part of one of the thighs.
  • Set up your smoker for indirect heat cooking according to the manufacturer's instructions. Preheat the smoker to 275°-300°F (135°-149°C).
    Use a sweet fruitwood like apple or cherry, or use hickory or pecan pellets, wood chunks or chips for smoke.
  • Smoke the chicken. Place the chicken in the smoker. Smoke until the thighs reach 175°-180°F (79°-82°C) internal temperature.
    Start spot-checking with an instant-read thermometer around 45 minutes in, but expect 45 minutes to 1 hour total cook time depending on the smoker temp and the thickness of the chicken pieces. Bone-in thighs will take longer to cook.
  • Remove the chicken from the smoker and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes, covered, until cool enough to handle.
  • Shred/pull the chicken using two forks or tongs to pull it apart into shreds.
    For hands-off shredding, you can use paddle attachments on a stand mixer or hand mixer.
  • Mix the shredded chicken with your desired amount of BBQ sauce, approximately 1/4 to 1/2 cup sauce per pound of pulled chicken.
    Tip: Warm sauce helps keep the pulled chicken hot.
  • Serve the saucy BBQ pulled chicken piled onto Hawaiian-style buns, topped with coleslaw and extra BBQ sauce on the side.


  • Don’t skip the brining step – it makes a huge difference in keeping the chicken moist and flavorful as it cooks. For extra juicy and flavorful chicken, dry brine the chicken overnight or wet brine for 3-4 hours.
  • Chicken breasts can be used instead of thighs, but thighs tend to stay more moist and juicy when smoked/cooked low and slow. Set your smoker to 225° F when smoking breasts and cook to a pull temperature of 158° F. 
  • For easier smoking, you can place the chicken in a disposable aluminum pan or foil roasting pan rather than directly on the grates of the smoker. This makes moving and saucing easier, but they might absorb less smoke.
  • Leftover pulled chicken keeps well refrigerated for 3-4 days. Reheat gently with extra sauce to prevent drying out.
  • For more smoky flavor, add a little liquid smoke at the saucing step if your smoker doesn’t produce enough smoke.


Calories: 365kcal | Carbohydrates: 23g | Protein: 44g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Trans Fat: 0.04g | Cholesterol: 215mg | Sodium: 695mg | Potassium: 706mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 17g | Vitamin A: 491IU | Vitamin C: 0.5mg | Calcium: 44mg | Iron: 2mg

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