When it comes to cooking chicken, two of the most popular methods include smoking and grilling. While both techniques will provide you with deliciously cooked chicken, they offer distinct flavors and textures. The main differences between the two cooking methods are heat levels and cooking times.

Grilling is typically done over high heat for a short amount of time, while smoking uses low heat over the course of several hours. The good news is that both cooking methods are healthy and produce delicious flavors and textures - especially for chicken. Let’s explore further!

The Cooking Process

Smoking and grilling involve different cooking processes. With grilling, you’ll cook the chicken over an open flame or hot coals for direct heat. This sears the chicken quickly, creating a charred exterior and moist interior. Grilled chicken is a great pick for when you’re short on time but want to cook outdoors.

Smoking involves slow cooking the chicken at a lower temperature, often over indirect heat generated by wood chips or pellets. This slow cooking process certainly takes longer, but it also allows the smoky flavor to penetrate the meat, leaving you with tender, flavorful chicken. If you choose this cooking method, make sure to leave yourself several hours.

Flavor Profile

A noticeable difference between smoked and grilled chicken is the flavor profile they provide. Grilled chicken tends to have a smoky and charred taste due to the direct heat and open flames. The high heat caramelizes the sugars and proteins on the chicken’s surface, creating a flavorful crust.

Smoked chicken has a more subtle yet complex flavor. The wood chips or pellets infuse the chicken with a smoky taste that can range from mild to bold. Plus, you have more freedom to pick the flavor profile you want based on the pellets you buy.

Texture and Moisture

The cooking methods used in smoking and grilling also affect how the chicken turns out. Grilled chicken tends to have a firmer texture due to the quick cooking process. The high heat seals in the juices, making the chicken slightly drier on the outside but moist on the inside.

Smoking, on the other hand, delivers a tender and juicy texture. Cooking the chicken slowly at a low temperature allows the chicken to maintain its moisture while breaking down connective tissue and collagen. This is why the chicken turns out especially tender!

Time and Preparation

Another factor to consider when deciding between smoked or grilled chicken is the time and preparation involved. Grilling is a relatively quick method, usually taking around 20 to 30 minutes. You can also marinate or season the chicken beforehand to give it better taste and flavor.

Smoking is a longer process that can take several hours. You’ll definitely need to plan ahead for this type of cooking. You may also choose to marinate or brine the chicken in advance, which will also require more time. Also, depending on the type of smoker you have, there may be some slight babysitting involved.


Both grilling and smoking offer versatility in cooking chicken. You can grill most cuts of chicken, including breasts, thighs, wings and even whole chickens. You can also experiment with different marinades and flavors.

Smoked chicken is usually ideal for larger cuts or whole chickens, as the cooking process allows the smoke flavor to penetrate deep into the chicken while also dispersing it more evenly. However, smokers can also accommodate smaller pieces of chicken.

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