What’s the Internal Temp for Smoked Chicken? 155, 165, or 180?

October 6, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

When it comes to smoking my poultry, I’ve got one golden rule: 165 degrees is the magic number. Yep, that’s the minimum safe internal temperature for smoked chicken, as suggested by folks at the Department of Agriculture (USDA). So whether I’m smoking a whole bird, chicken breasts, chicken thighs, chicken wings, or even ground chicken, you can bet I’m aiming for that sweet spot.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Can’t I stop cooking a little lower, like at 155 degrees? Or maybe crank it up to a sizzling 180? Well, I’ve had those same burning questions before during my BBQ cookouts. 

In this article, I’m showing you why sticking to 165 is essential. By the time you’re done reading, you might also snag some handy tips for achieving mouthwatering results. Let’s start with some temp analyses!

internal temp for smoked chicken

Safe Internal Temperature for Smoked Chicken: Why 165°F?

Well, the folks at USDA have done their research and have some solid reasons behind their recommendation. They say you should aim for an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees (that’s around 74 degrees Celsius) when cooking chicken. And you know what? It’s all about keeping you safe and healthy.

You see, poultry products like chicken meat, can sometimes be home to harmful bacteria. These include the notorious salmonella, Campylobacter, and Clostridium perfringens. That’s according to findings made by the science gurus at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

But when you smoke that chicken to 165°F, the heat works its way in and kills off all these nasty bacteria. This is the only way to make your smoked chicken safe to chow down on without any worries.

But wait, there’s more! Hitting that number is not just about safety; it’s also about getting the best texture and flavor. When the internal temperature reaches 165°F, the connective tissues in the chicken start to break down. And what does that mean? It means your smoked chicken becomes incredibly tender and juicy. 

At 145 or 155, the smoked chicken is still way too firm. And at 170 or 180, the meat may start to dry out. Trust me, you know this is a peculiar problem with chicken. Cook chicken too much and it goes dry like jerky. It’s not a slice of fatty or juicy meat like pork that you can cook way over 200 degrees.  

How Do You Know Chicken is Done?

There are various methods to gauge chicken’s doneness. But checking the internal temperature is the most reliable. This is the approach I recommend most.

First, you need a really good and accurate digital thermometer. I always say go for something like the ThermoPro TP19H or the Alpha Grillers Instant Read Thermometer. It’s fine if you have a thermometer already. But ensure it’s calibrated. 

Now, to check that your smoked chicken is done, insert the needle part into the thickest part of the chicken. Make sure it’s not touching bone or the cooking surface as this can throw off the temperature reading. Once the thermometer reaches the safe internal temperature of 165 degrees, consider your chicken done and safe to eat.

Apart from the temp check method, there are other visual cues to look for. The chicken should have an opaque appearance, and the juices should run clear when pierced with a fork. 

If there are any traces of pink or the juices appear slightly red, continue cooking until it reaches the desired internal temperature.

Cooked Chicken with a Food Thermometer

Is Smoked Chicken Safe at 155?

In the BBQ world, you might hear people saying that smoked chicken is good to go at 145 or 155 degrees. But the thing is, at 155 degrees, those nasty bacteria in the chicken might not be totally wiped out, as I mentioned earlier. Sure, you can technically cook it to a slightly lower temperature, but it’s generally smarter to stick with the USDA guidelines for food safety.

It’s crucial to prioritize your safety and listen to reliable sources like the USDA. They recommend a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit for chicken. Following their advice gives you peace of mind, knowing that any potentially harmful stuff has been eliminated, and you’re way less likely to get hit with a nasty foodborne illness.

How Long to Smoke Chicken Breast?

When it comes to smoking chicken breasts, you’re looking at roughly 1 to 3 hours of cooking time. But hey, don’t just rely on the clock alone. Grab yourself a digital meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. You want it to hit 165 degrees in the thickest part of the chicken breast meat. 

Now, the cooking time can be affected by how hot your smoker is. For that perfect balance of tenderness and even cooking, shoot for a smoker temperature of around 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit (107-121 degrees Celsius). That’s the sweet spot!

What Are the Risks of Eating Undercooked Chicken?

Eating chicken that’s not fully cooked can seriously mess with your health. First, you might end up with a foodborne illness, which is basically a fancy term for getting sick from your food. 

You could be stuck with nausea, vomiting, intense stomach pain, explosive diarrhea (yikes!), and fever. And if things get really bad, dehydration and some serious complications. It’s definitely not something you want to mess around with, especially if you’re already not feeling your best.

Here are the specifics on what can happen if you handle or chow down on undercooked chicken:

Grilled Chicken with Lemon


One particular troublemaker found in chicken is salmonella. Salmonella can lead to something called salmonellosis. This is basically a way of saying “you’re gonna have a bad time.” 

It’s like the crime boss of the bacteria gang in raw chicken. If you end up with salmonella-infected chicken on your plate, brace yourself for a world of discomfort. 

Symptoms usually include the unholy trio of diarrhea, stomach cramps, and a fever that can make you feel like a human oven. Picture yourself hugging the toilet bowl while dealing with non-stop nausea, puking your guts out, and running to the bathroom. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? I don’t think so. 

And sometimes, you might even have to deal with some projectile vomiting. Not a pretty sight, trust me. It’s even worse for people who are more susceptible to getting sick, like kids, old folks, or those with a weakened immune system.


Here’s another sickness you can catch from poorly-cooked chicken. The bacteria is called Campylobacter and according to the CDC, it takes just a few of these to make you sick. And the symptoms can really ruin your day. You might end up with diarrhea (and sometimes it’s even bloody). 

Other symptoms include terrible stomach pain, a fever, and feeling nauseous. In some really bad cases, it can even lead to this rare neurological disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome. Yikes!


Handling undercooked or raw chicken can also cause cross-contamination. That means the germs can get all over your surfaces, utensils, or other foods, making you more likely to get sick. And trust me, nobody wants a foodborne illness.

Bottom line: Don’t mess around with undercooked or raw chicken. It’s a recipe for disaster. Make sure that the chicken is cooked through and through. This way, you can enjoy your meal without worrying about spending the next few days hugging the toilet. Stay safe and keep your tummy happy!

Tips for a Properly-cooked Chicken 

Achieving the perfectly smoked chicken requires careful attention to detail and some techniques. Here are some tips to help you achieve delicious and flavorful results:

  • Brine the Chicken: Brining the chicken before smoking can enhance its flavor and juiciness. A simple brine solution of water, salt, and optional herbs or spices can work wonders in improving the taste and moisture of the meat.
  • Preheat and Control the Smoker: Preheat your smoker to the desired temperature before adding the chicken. Maintaining a consistent target temperature throughout the smoking process is essential. Aim for a smoker temperature range of 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit (107-121 degrees Celsius) for low and slow cooking.
  • Indirect Heat and Even Cooking: You may set up your smoker for indirect heat by placing a water pan between the heat source and the chicken. This helps maintain moisture and prevents direct heat from drying out the meat. Ensure the chicken is evenly spaced on the cooking grate to promote consistent cooking.
  • Baste or Mop: Periodically basting or mopping the chicken with a flavorful marinade or sauce during the smoking process can add moisture. This enhances the taste and makes it possible to cook it for longer. However, avoid opening the smoker too frequently to maintain a stable target temperature.
  • Resting Period: Once the chicken reaches the target internal temp, remove it from the smoker and allow it to rest for some minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a moist and tender finished product.
Grilled Chicken Drumsticks on the Flaming Grill

Whole Smoked Chicken Recipe 


  • 1 whole chicken (approximately 4-5 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Dry rub of your choice (such as a combination of kosher salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and herbs)


Step 1: Prepare the Chicken

Remove the giblets from the whole chicken’s cavity and pat the chicken dry with paper towels.

Rub the chicken all over with olive oil, ensuring it is well coated.

Generously season the chicken with the dry rub, covering all sides, including the cavity.

Step 2: Preheat and Prepare the Smoker

Preheat your smoker to a temperature of 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit (107-121 degrees Celsius) and ensure it is set up for indirect heat.

Step 3: Smoke the Chicken

Place the seasoned whole chicken directly on the cooking grate in the smoker, breast-side up.

Close the smoker lid and maintain a consistent temperature throughout the cooking process.

Smoke the chicken for approximately 2 to 3 hours or until the internal temp reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius). The best way to test this is by measuring the thickest part of the smoked chicken breast meat or thigh using a meat thermometer.

Step 4: Rest and Serve

Once the chicken reaches the desired internal temperature, carefully remove the chicken from the smoker and transfer it to a cutting board.

Allow the smoked whole chicken to rest for 10-15 minutes.

Carve the smoked chicken into serving pieces, and serve it hot.

Juicy Grilled Whole Chicken with Spices


When you’re smoking chicken, nailing the internal temperature is seriously crucial for both safety and flavor. The CDC tells us how many harmful microorganisms are in chicken. And the USDA tells us at what temp you can eliminate these.

So, a 165 degrees temp is the ultimate number for smoked chicken. That’s the magic number that kicks nasty bacteria to the curb and guarantees your chicken is fully cooked and ready to devour.

Also, it’s always a wise move to rely on an accurate meat thermometer. This will help you double-check that target temperature and stick to reliable guidelines. Ensure these guidelines and you’ll be making smoked chicken that meets quality control and is safe to eat. 

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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