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Is liquid smoke good for chicken?

What is liquid smoke?

Liquid smoke is a water-based solution of natural wood smoke components used to flavor foods. It is made by condensing and capturing the smoke from burning wood chips or sawdust. The smoke is cooled, filtered, and reformulated into a concentrate that can be used to replicate smoked flavor in meats, cheeses, and other foods.

Liquid smoke contains many of the same components as real wood smoke, including phenols, carbonyls, organic acids, furans, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These compounds give foods a smoky, woody, charbroiled flavor. However, liquid smoke lacks some volatile compounds found in real smoke that contribute to aroma.

There are three main types of liquid smoke:

  • Hickory liquid smoke – Made from hickory wood, provides a strong bacon-like flavor
  • Mesquite liquid smoke – From mesquite wood, imparts a slightly sweeter, southwestern flavor
  • Applewood liquid smoke – Milder smoke flavor reminiscent of smoked pork or ham

Compared to traditional smoking methods, liquid smoke provides a fast, convenient way to add smoky notes to a variety of foods. It can be brushed on or mixed into marinades, rubs, and sauces. A small amount goes a long way in imparting smoky depth without overpowering other flavors.

Is liquid smoke good for chicken?

Using liquid smoke to flavor chicken can be an excellent alternative to actual smoking. Here are some potential benefits:

  • Adds smoky flavor – Just a dash of liquid smoke can give chicken a tasty, charbroiled flavor like it was cooked over a wood fire.
  • Moist and tender – Liquid smoke helps keep chicken juicy and tender by promoting water retention.
  • Antimicrobial properties – Many of the phenolic compounds in liquid smoke have antioxidant and antimicrobial effects that can help preserve chicken.
  • Time saving – Gets smoky flavor into chicken much faster than traditional smoking which can take hours.
  • More versatility – Liquid smoke can be used in marinades, rubs, sauces and glazes to flavor chicken any way you like.
  • Lower calorie – Unlike fat-based rubs or sauces, liquid smoke adds flavor with negligible calories.

However, there are some potential downsides to consider:

  • Artificial flavor – Some brands use artificial smoke flavorings instead of real wood smoke.
  • Off flavors – Poor quality liquid smoke may have a chemical aftertaste.
  • Bitterness – Overusing liquid smoke can make chicken taste bitter and acrid.

To get the best results from liquid smoke, choose a natural brand without artificial additives. Hickory, mesquite, and applewood smoke flavors pair especially well with chicken. Use it sparingly in marinades, rubs, and finishes to prevent bitter flavors.

How to use liquid smoke when cooking chicken

Here are some tips for using liquid smoke to add flavor to chicken:

  • Marinades – Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon liquid smoke per cup of marinade and let chicken marinate 1-2 hours. The smoke flavor will penetrate into the meat.
  • Brines – Stir in 1/2 to 1 tablespoon liquid smoke into brines for smoked fried chicken or turkey.
  • Rubs – Mix 2-3 drops with dried spices to make a smoky rub for grilled chicken.
  • Sauces – Whisk in a few drops when making barbecue sauce, honey mustard glaze, or other sauces.
  • Finishing spray – Lightly mist chicken with diluted liquid smoke just before serving.

Marinade Recipes

Smoky BBQ Chicken Marinade

  • 1⁄2 cup ketchup
  • 1⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper

Whisk together all ingredients. Marinate chicken for 1-2 hours before grilling.

Jamaican Jerk Marinade

  • 1⁄4 cup soy sauce
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Jamaican jerk seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 sliced scotch bonnet pepper

Mix together marinade ingredients. Marinate chicken for 1-2 hours for full flavor infusion.

Smoking chicken with liquid smoke

For authentic smoked chicken flavor, you can combine liquid smoke with low heat smoking methods:

Smoker Box Method

Add 1⁄2 cup of wood chips and 1-2 tablespoons of liquid smoke to a smoker box. Place smoker box over low heat on a gas or charcoal grill. Smoke chicken for 1-2 hours at 200-225°F, adding more wood chips and liquid smoke every 30 minutes.

Water Smoking Method

Add 2 tablespoons liquid smoke to a foil pan filled with 1⁄2 inch water. Place foil pan under chicken on the grill. The dripping liquid will create smoky steam that gently smokes the chicken. Smoke for 1-2 hours at 200-225°F, adding more liquid smoke every 30 minutes.

Stovetop Smoking

Place chicken in a wok or sauté pan. Add 1⁄2 cup wood chips to smoker box. Follow manufacturer’s instructions to generate smoke. Cover pan and smoke chicken for 20-30 minutes over medium-low heat.

These methods infuse chicken with smoky flavor inside and out. For fully cooked smoked chicken, finish on a hot grill or in the oven until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.

Best recipes for liquid smoke chicken

Here are some delicious ways to use liquid smoke when cooking chicken:

Smoked Chicken Thighs

  • 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1⁄4 cup olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper

1. Mix olive oil, garlic, paprika, liquid smoke, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat. Marinate 30 minutes up to overnight.

2. Grill chicken over medium heat 15-20 minutes until cooked through, turning occasionally.

3. Serve smoked chicken thighs hot, room temperature, or cold.

Smoky BBQ Pulled Chicken

  • 1 whole chicken or 2 breasts (3-4 lbs)
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce
  • 1⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon liquid smoke
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder

1. Bring chicken and enough water to cover to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 40 minutes until tender.

2. Remove chicken and shred meat with two forks. Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid.

3. In a saucepan, mix barbecue sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, liquid smoke, and chili powder. Simmer 5 minutes.

4. Add shredded chicken and 1⁄2 cup reserved cooking liquid. Heat through until warmed and combined.

5. Serve pulled chicken on buns with extra barbecue sauce.

Smoky Chicken Chili

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15-oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic 5 minutes.

2. Add ground chicken and cook, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon until no longer pink.

3. Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top chili with shredded cheese, onions, cilantro, etc.

Cola Smoked Chicken Wings

  • 3 lbs chicken wings
  • 1 cup cola
  • 1⁄4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons liquid smoke
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder

1. In a large bowl, mix together cola, soy sauce, liquid smoke, Worcestershire, brown sugar, garlic powder, and onion powder.

2. Add wings and turn to coat in marinade. Cover and refrigerate 2-4 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with foil.

4. Place wings on baking sheet and bake 35-40 minutes until crispy, turning once.

5. Serve smoked cola wings hot with ranch or blue cheese dressing.

Tips for buying and storing liquid smoke

Look for these features when purchasing liquid smoke:

  • Real smoke flavoring – Avoid brands with artificial smoke flavor.
  • Short ingredient list – Simplest products have water, natural wood smoke, vinegar, and salt.
  • Reputable brand – Select a recognizable brand for best quality.
  • Tightly sealed – Check bottle for leaks which can affect flavor.
  • Color and consistency – Liquid should be dark brown and pourable like water.

Once opened, liquid smoke should be stored:

  • In a cool, dark place like a pantry or cupboard
  • Tightly sealed to prevent evaporation
  • Away from direct light which can affect flavor
  • At room temperature or slightly cooler
  • For up to 1-2 years when unopened
  • For up to 6 months after opening

Aged, evaporated, or improperly stored liquid smoke may develop harsh flavors. If smoke becomes thick and syrupy or smells odd, it’s best to discard and purchase a fresh bottle.


Liquid smoke can be an excellent way to add smoky barbecue flavor to chicken dishes. It provides convenience compared to traditional smoking methods. Use liquid smoke sparingly in marinades, rubs, and sauces to prevent bitter flavors. Combining with low, slow smoking techniques allows the smoke to fully permeate chicken. Follow recipe guidelines to end up with tender, juicy chicken infused with delicious smoky notes. With the proper techniques, liquid smoke can replicate the flavors of true wood-smoked chicken without the hassle.