ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALLL?!
Translation: I am sneaking in the recipe for these completely irresistible Smoked Chicken Wings just in time for the big game this Sunday (fellow Zennials, have you lost your mind over the half time show lineup yet?) If you have a smoker or charcoal grill, these smoked wings are a MUST for the big game.
Sizzling, crunchy, juicy, and flame-kissed, they are one of the best chicken wings I have EVER had!
Pickle Juice Smoked Chicken Wings
The secret to the deliciousness of this smoked chicken wings recipe is brining them in pickle juice (yes, pickle juice!) The pickle juice not only lends an unmistakable and irresistible pickle flavor to the wings, but it also adds then locks moisture into the meat. Biting into the smokey, sizzling chicken wing skin then into the juicy, tender meat below is an experience to remember.
These babies put the good in finger lickin’ good. Also the finger lickin’. They are chicken wings, after all!
After the wings brine in the pickle juice they’re seasoned with lemon pepper before being smoked then grilled to finish cooking through. Lemon pepper might seem like an odd choice for flavoring chicken wings, but I’m telling you – it’s the perfect blend of seasonings for chicken wings – especially smoked chicken wings. And, while you can toss the hot chicken with the wings sauce of your choice, between the pickle flavor and lemon pepper seasoning, each bite is packed with flavor all on its own. A dunk in ranch, blue cheese dressing, or BBQ sauce isn’t out of the question though!
Smoker vs Charcoal Grill
No smoker? No problem! To smoke then cook these wings we utilize indirect heat – ie, create a hot and cold zone which you can just as easily do with a charcoal grill as a smoker. First the wings are smoked on the cool side of the grill or smoker, then they’re moved to the hot side to grill and finish cooking through.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke Chicken Wings?
You can smoke chicken wings for as little as 15 minutes, or up to a couple hours, but I find the sweet spot to be 30 minutes. You still get the craveable, smoky flavor in each bite without it being overwhelming. I hate when I eat smoked food then all I taste for the rest of the day is smoke. A little smoke is all you need for a big impact without a lingering flavor.
Do You Need to Flip Wings When Smoking?
No, you don’t need to flip the wings while they’re smoking, especially because they’re only smoking for 30 minutes and over indirect heat.
Prepare Ahead of Time
Another thing I love about these Smoked Chicken Wings is how far in advance you can prepare them. Marinate in the pickle juice brine for 2 – 8 hours then season and place on a cooling rack set atop a baking sheet. Store in the refrigerator, uncovered, for up to 18 hours. Love that flexibility!
Okay – ready to dive into this plate of deliciousness?!
How to Smoke Chicken Wings
Step 1: Prep the Chicken Wings
You can buy chicken wings that are already separated into wingettes and drummettes, though the price per pound is usually a couple dollars cheaper for whole chicken wings, and it’s easy to break them down yourself. Simply use a large, sharp knife to slice between the sections.
How Many Wings Per Person
This recipe is for 3lbs chicken wings and there’s usually ~10 standard size wingettes/drummettes per pound of wings. I usually plan on 1/2 – 3/4lb wings per person if you’re serving them as part of a food spread, so 3lbs of standard sized wings should feed about 4 people. If these are to be the main event, I’d plan on at least a pound per person.
Step 2: Brine the Wings
Add the wings to a gallon size Ziplock bag then add pickle juice, squeeze out all the air, and then seal the bag. Squish to combine then refrigerate anywhere from 2 – 8 hours. At two hours you get the benefit of the pickle juice brine – juicy meat and skin – but at eight hours you can really taste the pickle juice in the final smoked wings. That said, we love the flavor of pickles so we go for the whole 8 hour brine.
If you dislike the flavor of pickles, but want the benefit of the brine, instead of the pickle juice stir together warm water with salt and brown sugar (details in the recipe card below) and use that to brine the chicken wings instead.
Step 3: Season the Wings
After brining, drain the chicken wings then pat very, very dry with paper towels and add to a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle on a couple Tablespoons lemon pepper seasoning and baking powder then use your hands to evenly coat the wings in the mixture. Transfer the wings onto a cooling rack set atop a baking sheet.
Again, lemon pepper seasoning may seem like an odd choice for chicken wings, but it is PERFECTION! The baking powder will help keep the chicken wing skin from becoming rubbery, and help it crisp up.
NOW, you’ve got two choices:
- Smoke the wings right away, OR
- Store the wings uncovered in the refrigerator for up to 18 hours. So nice, right?!
Step 4: Prepare the Smoker or Grill
When it’s time to cook, prepare your smoker or charcoal grill to smoke over indirect heat – meaning, create a hot zone on one side, and a cool zone on the other. Bring the smoker to 250 degrees as measured by a digital thermometer clipped into the grate on the cool side. We love this ThermoWorks Digital Remote Thermometer.
We like to use natural all-wood charcoal like this Oak Hardwood Lump Charcoal and also place one piece each cherry and oak wood onto the charcoal once it’s come to temperature. We prefer these larger pieces of wood to wood chips, which you have to soak first.
Step 5: Smoke the Wings
Once the cool zone on the smoker or grill has reached 250 degrees, place chicken wings on the grate, shut the lid, then smoke for 30 minutes – DO NOT LIFT THE LID! The temperature might fluctuate a bit, but as long as it stays between 225 and 275, you’re good.
Woo!! The skin on the smoked chicken wings might look a little dry, like in the photo below, which is normal.
Step 6: Grill the Wings
The chicken wings won’t be completely cooked through at the end of the smoking process, plus we need to crisp that skin up, so the last step is to grill the wings. I’ve tried Air Frying them at this point but do prefer the flavor and texture of a grill finish.
That said, increase the temperature of the hot zone to 450 degrees (alternatively you could heat a gas grill over medium-high heat) then move the chicken wings over to the hot zone and grill, flipping often and moving the wings back over to the cool zone if necessary to prevent scorching, until the internal temperature of the wings reaches 175 – 185 degrees. Chicken wings benefit from a higher final cooking temperature because it breaks down some of that stringy connective tissue.
Step 7: Let the Wings Rest
These smoked chicken wings truly benefit from a 10-15 minute rest before serving. You can taste the pickle juice and lemon pepper seasoning better when they’re a little cooler, plus the skin gets even crispier as they sit. YUM!!!!! Serve with carrots and celery and you’re set. I hope you LOVE these smoke and flame-kissed chicken wings – enjoy, enjoy!
More Game Day Recipes
- Air Fryer Chicken Wings >
- Pickle Wrap Dip >
- Easy Baked Ribs >
- Thai Sticky Chicken Fingers >
- Signature Smokey, Spicy, Sweet Chili >
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Smoked Chicken Wings
Smoked Chicken Wings are proof that big things come in small packages. These wings are juicy, sizzling, and packed with flavor!
- 3lbs chicken wings, broken in to wingettes and drumettes
- 1-1/2 cups pickle juice (see notes)
- 2 Tablespoons lemon pepper seasoning
- 1-1/2 Tablespoons baking powder
- Add wings to a gallon Ziplock bag then add pickle juice, seal and remove all the air, and then squish to combine. Refrigerate anywhere from 2-8 hours – the longer the wings sit in the pickle juice, the more “pickley” they’ll taste in the end. (See notes section for a non-pickle juice brine alternative.)
- Drain wings in a colander then pat very dry with paper towels. Add wings to a large mixing bowl then sprinkle lemon pepper seasoning and baking powder on top and mix with your hands to evenly coat. Place wings on a cooling rack set atop a baking sheet then refrigerate while you prepare the smoker.
- Prepare your smoker or charcoal grill to smoke over indirect heat (ie, create a hot zone and a cool zone) then bring the temperature to 250 degrees as measured by a digital thermometer clipped into the cool zone. Add wood chips, if using (we use one pice of cherry wood and one piece of oak wood) then place wings on the grate over the cool zone. Shut the lid then smoke for 30 minutes – heat should stay between 225-250 degrees.
- If your smoker also functions as a grill, raise the temperature in the hot zone to 450 degrees – alternatively you can heat a gas grill over medium-high heat. Transfer wings over to the hot zone then grill, turning often and moving wings to the cool zone if scorching occurs, until the internal temperature reaches 170 – 190 degrees (180-185 makes for some very tender wings!)
- Let wings rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. If you choose to toss the wings in sauce before serving, make sure the sauce has been warmed up first. These wings are DELICIOUS “plain”/served as it.
- Here is the digital thermometer we use >
- If you don’t plan on smoking the wings right after marinating, you can store them uncovered in the fridge on the cooling rack set atop a baking sheet for up to 18 hours before smoking.
- If you don't have pickle juice, or don't like the flavor of pickles, stir 2 Tablespoons each salt and brown sugar into 2 cups warm water until dissolved, then add mixture to a gallon Ziplock bag with the chicken wings.
This recipe is courtesy of Iowa Girl Eats, http://iowagirleats.com.