Smoking food is a form of curing meat that originated prior to the introduction of refrigerators. It was used as a way to preserve meat. As well, through the heat of the smoke it permeates the food, and imparts flavor elements redolent of the hard firewood used in the process. Chicken breasts have a neutrality of flavor lends itself well to smoking, which allows the aromatic qualities of the wood to augment the taste of any seasonings used in the preparation.
Remove the skin from the chicken breasts, rinse under cool-running water and dry with paper towels. Removing the skin allows smoke to color and permeate the meat without being obstructed and rinsing removes any moisture released from the chicken during storage.
Season the chicken to taste, with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Alternately, seasonings of choice such as spice rubs and other flavorings can be added to the chicken. Commonly used seasonings for smoked chicken include garlic powder, onion powder, ground sage, ground rosemary and paprika.
Heat the smoker 225 degrees Fahrenheit and add hard firewood of choice. Woods commonly used for smoking chicken include hickory, cherry, apple and mesquite.
Place the chicken bone-side-down in the smoker. Insert the probe of a digital oven thermometer in the thickest portion of the chicken breast and place the digital display outside of the smoker. Digital oven thermometers have 18-inch to 24-inch lead wires running to the display, which allow the chicken’s temperature to be monitored without removal from the smoker.
Smoke the chicken until its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit, or approximately 45 minutes to one hour.
Remove the chicken, cover loosely with aluminum foil and allow it to rest for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Resting the chicken breasts prompts the moisture mobilized during smoking to redistribute throughout. If the chicken is cut prior to this resting period, the juices leak out of the chicken instead of being reabsorbed.
References and Resources"The Professional Chef 8th Edition"; The Culinary Institute of America; 2006
Smoker Cooking: Smoking Chicken Breasts
Serious Eats: The Food Lab: The Importance of Resting Meat