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Smoked Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

by Brad Prose

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These juicy Smoked Pulled Chicken Sandwiches are so tender, juicy, and simple to make. Whole chickens are deeply seasoned, slowly smoked, shredded, and piled on soft buns with a creamy slaw. There’s a reason pulled chicken is a classic staple in barbecue.

Smoked pulled chicken sandwiches with bbq sauce and creamy coleslaw.

Say goodbye to dry, boring chicken. Smoking and shredding the chicken for sandwiches is not only incredibly flavorful but very simple to pull off for a large crowd. Pulled chicken can soak up just about any flavors you’d like to serve, making it ideal for party planning with BBQ.

If you love smoked pulled meats, definitely try out Smoked Pulled Beef, Pulled Pork Belly, and Smoked Pulled Ham as well.

Why You’ll Love this Pulled Chicken

  • Juicy, tender chicken. Once you make this, you’ll understand. No more dry chicken breasts, everything here gets shredded and seasoned while warm, soaking up all of the juices and sauces.
  • Shorter smoke time. Smoked shredded beef or pork takes between 6-10 hours, sometimes even longer depending on the cut. Pulled chicken is typically much less time, usually 2-3 hours depending on how many you are preparing at once.
  • Easy to time. Unlike beef and pork, there aren’t large connective tissues or fat marbling that needs to render down. Smoked chicken is pretty consistent with the cooking time, taking only a couple of hours.
  • Canvas for flavors. Any flavor combination you want, this pulled chicken will soak up. Start with traditional smoky BBQ sauce, but don’t skip over trying out Buffalo BBQ Sauce, or even the Korean Honey Mustard. Use whatever you’d like.
  • Meal planning. Don’t want to eat pulled chicken sandwiches? No problem, you can use this for chicken salads, tacos, and so much more. Smoke this over the weekend and have plenty of food for the family.
Holding an assembled bbq shredded chicken sandwich.

Tips for Juicy, Smoky Pulled Chicken

There are a few keys to making the juiciest, smoked pulled chicken. Don’t ignore these tips if you want the best results.

  • Use a whole chicken – Combining the dark and light meats together creates the perfect meaty texture, not too greasy and not too dry. Cooking it this way will also lock in the moist moisture, ensuring it stays juicy at the end.
  • Split the chicken – Smoked chicken halves allow more smoke penetration and room for spices. You could use a spatchcock chicken as well, however, I find that chicken halves are easier to manage on the grill when many of them are cooking at once.
  • Brine the chicken – This recipe shows you how to use a dry-brine for the chicken, which not only seasons the meat deeply but is much easier (and cleaner) to pull off. Use your favorite wet-brine recipe if you’d like, that will have similar results for internal flavor.
  • Use a wire rack with a sheet pan – This move might seem unusual, but it serves two very specific purposes:
    • Provides the best results for dry-brining in the fridge, allowing for airflow around the chicken.
    • Collects the juices and drippings during the smoking process, which you’ll add back to the pulled chicken.
  • Keep the skin – Don’t be quick to dispose of this, it has fat and smoky flavors which you’ll need. I call this my “chicken rag”, using it at the very end to transfer all of the good stuff back to the pulled chicken.
  • Warm sauce – Right after the chicken is shredded is the best time to add in your last layer of flavor, a warm bbq sauce. Make sure it’s a little warm, doesn’t need to be hot.

More Chicken Recipes to Try

How to Split a Chicken in Half

Time to Split the Chicken

This process is pretty straightforward and allows for maximum smoke flavor and seasoning surface, without drying out the chicken. You’ll need poultry shears and a chef’s knife for equipment.

  • STEP 1: Place the chicken on a very large cutting board surface area. Pat down the outside with a paper towel to dry excess moisture. Rotate the chicken so the backbone is facing up.
  • STEP 2: Using the poultry shears, start at the tail end and work upwards, snipping through the rib bones as you go. Remove the backbone and flip the chicken over so the inside is facing down.
  • STEP 3: Spread the chicken out carefully and push firmly in the middle of the breast – you should hear a snap, which is the breastbone.
  • STEP 4: Take a large chef knife or cleaver and cut the chicken in half, pushing the blade down the center of the chicken where the breastbone is. You should now have two halves. Now it’s time to season!

Feel free to use any BBQ seasoning that you’d like for your chicken, but my top recommendation would be the Signature Sweet & Smoky Rub. This rub recipe is my go-to for grilled and smoked chicken, providing a nice, well-rounded flavor profile built off of the celery salt. This type of salt tastes incredible with chicken, giving it that bright, grassy flavor you don’t typically find.

Seasoning the chicken halves on a wire rack. They will be dry-brined overnight.

How to Cook Smoked Pulled Chicken

Now that you’ve split the chicken and made the rub, let’s get to the good part: Smoking the chicken.

STEP 1: Dry-brining the Chicken

Mix the seasoning together and apply it directly to the chicken, on all sides. I recommend using the wire rack for this process, as it’ll go into the fridge next. You can choose to brine the chicken using a wet brine recipe, but I prefer the dry-brine method for a number of reasons.

  • Less work – much less cleanup and prep time. You can use the same baking sheet and wire rack to put right into the smoker too.
  • Flavor penetration – even with the skin, the seasoning penetrates into the meat, providing flavorful bites every time.
  • Quicker process – Did I mention less work? You can season the chicken and allow it to sit in the fridge for at least an hour, though I’d recommend at least 4.

STEP 2: Smoking the Chicken

The goal here is to pick up as much smoke flavor as possible while keeping the meat moist. Thankfully the chicken is insulated with a layer of fat under the skin, so a lower temperature isn’t going to dry it out.

I recommend smoking at 225-250°F, depending on how much smoke flavor you want. Personally, on my smoker, 250°F put out enough smoke that I don’t need to lower the temps and also increase the cooking time. Cook the chicken until the breast meat reaches 165°F. Normally I would pull a chicken earlier (for grilled chicken) but in this case, I cook it all the way, allowing it to shred easier.

Crispy skin is not important for this recipe. If you want to chop it up and add it in at the end, be my guest. In my experience, the skin gets quite rubbery after sitting in a pan with the shredded chicken, providing an odd texture throughout. The skin is here to protect the meat from getting dry, and to transfer its fat and seasonings to the meat afterward.

Smoked chicken is cooling and ready to be shredded.

STEP 3: Shred and Season the Chicken

Let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes at room temperature, until it’s cool enough to shred. Pick apart all of the meat and shred quite well, mixing the dark and light meat together. You might want to wear insulated cotton gloves under your black latex gloves to shred, protecting your hands.

Whatever you do, keep that chicken skin! If you can manage to tear it off in 1 piece, even better.

Season with the Chicken Skin

Let’s grab that chicken rag and go at it. rub the shredded chicken firmly with both sides of the chicken skin, transferring the fats and flavor into the meat. Do this until most of the smoky rub is missing from the skin.

Pour in the Warm Pan Juices

Remember that baking sheet I told you to use? It will likely have juices that have dripped off the chicken. Pour all of those into the smoked pulled chicken and mix around. That’s liquid gold right there!

Add Warm BBQ Sauce

If you’re going to mix some BBQ sauce in, now is one of the best times. A warm sauce will be the best, allowing it to completely infuse the chicken with flavor, rather than coating the outside and cooling off the meat.

What to Serve on Smoked Chicken Sandwiches?

Chicken by itself is pretty lean, though mixing white and dark meat with some BBQ sauce really helps. I highly recommend using a slaw to top it with, such as my Creamy Southwestern Slaw which also adds a little fat. The choice is yours!

Try out the Maple Chipotle BBQ Sauce, the spicy Buffalo BBQ Sauce, the Korean Honey Mustard, or even my homemade Teriyaki Sauce.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make this using just chicken breasts?

If you do, I would recommend bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. The biggest challenge is keeping them moist enough for shredding, and the bone with skin will help insulate the meat. Timing will vary, so watch temps.

Does it have to be bone-in chicken?

Boneless chicken loses the added insulation from the air circulating. I highly recommend using bone-in chicken to make sure it doesn’t dry out.

Can I make this ahead of time?

Absolutely. Shred and season the meat as instructed and vacuum-seal it when it’s cool enough. This is a fantastic make-ahead meal for the week!

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Sides to Serve with Smoked Pulled Chicken

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Smoked pulled chicken sandwiches with bbq sauce and creamy coleslaw.

Smoked Pulled Chicken Sandwich

These juicy Smoked Pulled Chicken Sandwiches are so tender, juicy, and simple to make. Whole chickens are deeply seasoned, slowly smoked, shredded, and piled on soft buns with a creamy slaw.

  • Total Time: 3 hours, 20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves about 6

Ingredients

Scale

Instructions

  1. Split the chicken in half, see notes below for steps.
  2. Place the chicken halves on a wire rack with a baking sheet. Sprinkle the seasoning from up above, evenly coating all sides of the chicken. Allow the chicken to rest in the fridge, uncovered, for at least an hour or up to overnight.
  3. Preheat the smoker to 250°F. You can use a lower temp such as 225°F for more smoke, but the cooking will take longer. Take the chicken out of the fridge while the smoker is warming up.
  4. Place the entire baking sheet with chicken into the smoker. Allow it to smoke for about 2 hours, longer if needed. The internal temperature of the breast meat should be about 165°F. This allows it to shred easily.
  5. Remove the baking sheet and cover the chicken with loosely tented foil, allowing it to rest for about 10 minutes.
  6. Using gloves, remove the skin in one piece if you can. Set aside. Remove the smoked chicken from the bones and place into a large bowl. Shred the chicken into smaller strands, mixing the white and dark meat.
  7. Take the smoked chicken skin and rub the chicken, transferring the fat and smoked seasonings back into the meat.
  8. Pour the juices from the baking sheet into the chicken and mix.
  9. (optional) Add the warmed BBQ sauce to the chicken and mix. 
  10. Serve immediately by adding to a soft bun with slaw, or pickled vegetables of choice. Top with additional BBQ sauce as desired.

Notes

  • This recipe provides enough rub for about 2 whole chickens.
  • To split a chicken in half: Place the chicken on a very cutting board surface area. Pat down the outside with a paper towel to dry excess moisture. Rotate the chicken so the backbone is facing up. Start at the tail end and work upwards, snipping through the rib bones as you go. Remove the backbone and flip the chicken over so the inside is facing down. Spread the chicken out carefully and push firmly in the middle of the breast – you should hear a snap, which is the breastbone. Take a large chef knife or cleaver and cut the chicken in half, pushing the blade down the center of the chicken where the breastbone is. You should now have two halves.
  • Author: Brad Prose
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Marinate Time: 1 hour
  • Cook Time: 2 hours
  • Category: Chicken & Poultry
  • Method: Smoking
  • Cuisine: Dinner

Keywords: Smoked chicken, pulled chicken, shredded chicken, smoked pulled chicken, bbq chicken sandwich, smoked chicken sandwich

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