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How Long to Smoke Chicken Tenders

How Long to Smoke Chicken Tenders? (Smoked Chicken Tenders Recipe)

Chicken tenders are a delicious and versatile meal that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Smoking chicken tenders infuses them with a wonderful smoky flavor while keeping them juicy and tender on the inside. But exactly how long does it take to smoke chicken tenderloins to perfection?

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about smoking chicken tenderloins, from the equipment needed, ingredients and seasonings, step-by-step smoking instructions, tips for checking doneness, to how long it takes to smoke chicken tenderloins based on temperature and thickness.

What are Chicken Tenders?

Chicken tenders, also known as chicken tenderloins or chicken strips, refer to the small, narrow strips of meat attached to the underside of chicken breast. They connect the breast meat to the keel bone of the chicken.

Compared to chicken breasts, chicken tenderloins are smaller in size and faster to cook. They have a uniform shape and thickness, allowing them to cook evenly. The meat is extremely tender, flavorful, and lean.

When battered or breaded and deep fried, chicken tenderloins are often referred to as chicken tenders or chicken fingers. They make for a quick and easy snack or appetizer.

For smoked chicken tenders, the tenderloins are seasoned with a dry rub, then smoked over low heat until perfectly cooked.

Benefits of Smoked Chicken Tenders

Here are some of the reasons smoked chicken tenders are such a popular appetizer or meal:

  • Infused with delicious smoky flavor
  • Remain juicy and moist
  • Can be smoked in a relatively short time
  • Tenderloins cook evenly
  • End up tasty and flavorful
  • Lean source of protein
  • Kid-friendly meal
  • Easy to pair with various sauces or seasonings

Equipment Needed for Smoking Chicken Tenders

To make tender and juicy smoked chicken tenders at home, you will need the following basic equipment:

  • Smoker – This can be a charcoal, electric, propane, or pellet smoker. Each has its own benefits.
  • Wood Chips – Popular wood chips for smoking include hickory, apple, cherry, mesquite, pecan, and oak.
  • Aluminum Foil – This is used to make foil pouches for the wood chips.
  • Meat Thermometer – Essential for monitoring the internal temperature.
  • Tongs – For handling the chicken.
  • Oven mitts – For handling the smoker.
  • Cooling racks – For resting chicken after smoking.
  • Spray bottle – For spritzing chicken with apple juice or broth.

Ingredients for Smoked Chicken Tenders

For flavorful smoked chicken tenders, you will need:

  • 2 lbs chicken tenderloins
  • Brine (optional):
    • 4 cups cold water
    • 1/4 cup kosher salt
    • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • Dry rub:
    • 2 tsp garlic powder
    • 2 tsp onion powder
    • 2 tsp smoked paprika
    • 1 tsp black pepper
    • 1/2 tsp cumin

How to Make Smoked Chicken Tenders

Follow this simple process for juicy, flavor-packed smoked chicken tenders:

Step 1 – Prepare the Chicken Tenders

Optional Brining: Dissolve salt and brown sugar in 4 cups cold water. Add chicken and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 2 hours. This brine helps keep chicken moist and enhances flavor. Pat chicken dry before proceeding.

Step 2 – Season the Chicken

Place chicken in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and rub dry seasoning all over until evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Step 3 – Set Up Smoker

Set up your smoker with water pan and bring temperature to 225°F. Soak wood chips in water for 30 minutes, then make foil pouches. Add pouches to the smoker box.

Step 4 – Smoke the Chicken

Place chicken directly on the smoker grates. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part. Smoke for around 1-1.5 hours until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. Spritz with apple juice every 30 minutes if desired.

Step 5 – Finish and Serve

When chicken is done, remove from smoker and let rest for 5-10 minutes. Serve warm with your favorite sauces or as part of dishes like salads, wraps, or nachos.

Tips for Smoking Chicken Tenders

Follow these tips for the very best results when smoking chicken tenderloins:

  • Use indirect heat and keep temperature between 225-250°F.
  • Brining adds moisture and flavor (optional).
  • Allow chicken to air dry after brining for better smoke absorption.
  • Apply a dry rub for flavor and crispy texture.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check internal temperature.
  • Spritz with juice or broth every 30 minutes for added moisture.
  • Allow chicken to rest before cutting for juicier meat.
  • Serve warm or chilled.

How to Tell When Smoked Chicken is Done

Here are some ways to test if your smoked chicken tenders are fully cooked and ready to eat:

  • Use an instant read thermometer – the internal temperature should reach 165°F for chicken to be considered safe to eat. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the breast or tenderloin avoiding bone.
  • Check the internal color – The meat should appear white throughout with no traces of pink. This indicates it has been cooked to a safe internal temperature.
  • Cut into the thickest part of the chicken. The juices should run clear with no traces of blood. Any sign of pink liquid means it needs more time.
  • examine the texture – Properly smoked chicken will become firm and opaque throughout rather than glossy. It will feel firm when poked with tongs rather than soft.
  • Pierce the chicken pieces with a fork or tongs. There should be little resistance when the meat is pierced and it should feel firm.
  • Look for an internal temperature of at least 165°F for breasts, legs, wings and 170°F for whole chickens.
  • The bones should wiggle loosely or come out clean when pulled on.
  • Check for any thick white smoke emerging, signaling the collagen has rendered and chicken is cooked through.

How Long Does it Take to Smoke Chicken Tenders?

The exact time required to smoke chicken tenderloins can vary based on a few factors:

Smoker Temperature

The hotter the smoker temperature, the less time needed:

  • At 225°F, tenderloins take around 1-1.5 hours.
  • At 250°F, tenderloins take about 45 minutes.


Thicker tenderloins take more time. Very thin takes 30-45 minutes while thick can take up to 2 hours if stacked.


The more chicken you smoke, the longer it will take. Smoking a few tenderloins takes less time than a packed smoker.

Doneness Preference

Cooking to a higher internal temp of 175°F makes the tenders very well done but requires more time.


What temperature do you smoke chicken tenderloins?

Most recipes call for smoking chicken tenderloins at a temperature between 225-250°F.

How long does it take to smoke chicken breasts at 250°F?

Boneless chicken breasts take about 1 hour to smoke at 250°F to reach an internal temperature of 165°F.

What is the best wood for smoking chicken?

Hickory, apple, pecan, cherry, and maple are great woods for smoking chicken. Each provides a slightly different flavor.

Should you brine chicken before smoking?

Brining is optional but helps keep chicken extra moist and flavorful after smoking.

Can you smoke frozen chicken tenderloins?

It’s best to thaw chicken tenderloins before smoking. Frozen chicken may not cook evenly.


With the right temperature, time, and seasoning, smoked chicken tenderloins turn out incredibly juicy, tender and packed with smoky flavor. For the most part, smoking tenderloins at 225°F takes 1-1.5 hours and at 250°F takes 30-45 minutes. Use a thermometer and test for doneness before serving. With this guide, you can enjoy succulent smoked chicken tenderloins with ease right at home.

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