Have you noticed that the packages of cold cuts you get at the store seem to have gotten smaller while the prices keep going up? You aren’t alone, and the reality is that things are probably going to get more expensive before it gets better. If your family is like ours, cold cuts for sandwiches are practically a necessary meal item. When you buy pre-sliced sandwich meat, you don’t always know what is in it, how it was made, or even if it will taste good.
The best way to ensure your family is eating the most delicious, healthiest cold cuts is to make them yourself. It’s easier than you might think and you’ll get the opportunity to create unique and interesting flavors. The trickiest part of making smoked chicken cold cuts is preventing the chicken breast from drying out too much when you smoke it. We will explain our process for making cold cuts and give you some suggestions for flavors so you can make the most delicious sandwiches you’ve ever had.
Special Tools We Use
One of the tools that makes this process happen is a meat slicer. Now, before you stop reading because you aren’t interested in spending hundreds of dollars on a meat slicer, you should check out the 7.5-inch slicer from Meat! that we’ve been using for the past several months. It’s a compact slicer that is easy to clean and it packs enough power to make short work of some tough slicing tasks, like making cold cuts from smoked chicken breast. It’s also a much more affordable option than purchasing a full-size professional meat slicer like you’d find at your local deli. The 7.5-inch blade is a great size for slicing chicken breasts into cold cuts.
Dry Rub or Wet Brine – What’s Best for Chicken?
It’s no secret that chicken, particularly breast meat, tends to dry out easily in the smoker. The reason is pretty straightforward – the low-and-slow cooking method evaporates moisture from the meat as it cooks, resulting in dry chicken. The secret for getting tender, juicy chicken in the smoker is to use a wet brine.
How to Wet Brine Chicken Breast
A wet brine is a super-simple way to increase moisture and add flavor to your chicken breast. Mixing up a brine is simple to do and it doesn’t take long, either. The most basic brine uses 1/4 cup of coarse salt to four cups of water. This ratio will give you approximately a 6-percent salt solution which is considered to be optimal by food scientists.
How Long Does a Wet Brine Take?
One of the nice things about brining a boneless, skinless chicken breast is that it doesn’t take very long. Brining for as little as 15 minutes will improve your chicken, but the best timing is anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. Keep in mind that the longer you brine, the more likely you’ll end up with overly salty chicken breast. For our cold cut recipe, we err on the side of caution and brine for only 30 minutes, then we remove the breasts and let them drip dry on a rack in the refrigerator for a few hours.
Adding Herbs, Sugar, and Seasoning to a Brine
While adding flavor to a brine is popular, we usually skip it, and we’ll explain why in a minute. Adding ingredients to the brine can add flavor to the meat, but it only adds flavor to the surface of the meat. The particles that carry flavor are too large to pass through the cell membrane of the meat, so all you are doing is adding flavor to the surface.
The one thing that we sometimes do is replace some of the salt with one of our favorite Bearded Butcher Blend seasonings. The seasonings have a good amount of salt in them, but it isn’t entirely 1:1. Usually, we replace two teaspoons of salt with one tablespoon of seasoning blend.
Adding a Dry Rub
This next step is why we skip adding flavor to our brine. After the chicken breast has drained in the refrigerator, we add a dry rub. This is where we add flavor to our chicken breast. One trick is to skip adding salt to the dry rub because this can lead to an overly-salty chicken breast which isn’t very pleasant when it comes to cold cuts.
We like to use lots of herbs like rosemary, chives, garlic, lavender, oregano, thyme, and lots of black pepper. Some folks like to add sugar to the dry rub to enhance the crispiness of the chicken, but we usually skip it because we aren’t trying for a sweet flavor like we would if we were smoking pork ribs.
Adding the dry rub helps counter the tendency of a wet brine to reduce the crispy surface. Lots of our recipes use heaps of Bearded Butcher Blend Seasonings for the dry rub, but for this one, we are going to keep the seasoning down to prevent the chicken from getting too salty.
The dry rub can be applied while you are letting the smoker heat up right before you put the chicken in.
Smoking the Chicken Breast
No matter what type of smoker you are using, you’ll want the temperature stable at 225-degrees when you are smoking the chicken. When we use the Traeger, we just set it at 225 and leave it. When we use the Big Green Egg or an offset charcoal smoker, we bring the temperature up to about 250-degrees before putting the chicken in, then stabilize the temperature at 225 when it starts to come back up. Starting a little over the target helps to keep the smoker’s internal temperature from going too far down.
How Long to Smoke Chicken Breast
Regardless of whether you use a dry rub, a wet brine, or both, boneless, skinless chicken breast will dry out easily if you smoke it too long. We typically aim for between one hour and an hour and a half. This tends to be the right amount of time to get the chicken up to the proper internal temperature without drying it out.
When to Remove the Chicken Breast
Use an internal meat thermometer to keep tabs on the temperature of your chicken breast. You want to remove them as soon as they hit 160-degrees. Once you remove the chicken breast, place them in a large bowl, cooler, or wrap them in foil to rest. The rest period will raise the internal temperature of the chicken breast to at least 165-degrees, the safe temperature for cooked chicken.
Once the chicken breasts have rested for about 15-minutes, place them in the refrigerator to cool down the rest of the way. We usually leave them in the fridge for three to four hours or overnight.
Slicing the Chicken Breast
One of the things we really like about the 75-inch meat slicer is that it stores easily, even when you have limited storage space. Before you use the meat slicer, make sure everything is clean including the area behind the blade, around the rigid plate, and on all parts of the sliding mechanism. A light coat of vegetable oil on the slide rod and the plate helps the slicer work smoothly.
We place the chicken breast flat against the plate and use the toothed guard to hold it in place. We start slicing on the “top” of the breast, that is the side that would have skin on it. The first few slices should start out as thin as possible, then increase the slice size a bit until you are getting thin and consistent slices.
Storing the Sliced Smoked Chicken Breast
One of our favorite products these days is pink butcher paper and it makes the perfect solution for storing chicken breast after you slice it. Simply wrap the chicken breast slices in the paper and store it in the refrigerator. It’s best to consume it within about a week.
Smoked Chicken Breast Cold Cut Sandwich Recipe
Ingredients for Chicken Breasts:
- 4-6 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
- 1/4 cup coarse salt
- 4 cups warm water
- 2-3 tbsp ground black pepper
- 1-2 tbsp garlic powder or granules
- 1-2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tbsp Bearded Butcher Blend Seasoning Original
Ingredients for Sandwich:
All ingredients are to taste:
- Stone-ground mustard or Dijon
- Sliced tomato, heirloom and beefsteak work best
- Lettuce, green leaf and iceberg are popular
- Sprouts, grow them yourself easily and save money
- Optional: several slices of bacon, preferably homemade
We recommend using fresh Brioche buns for this sandwich, but pretty much any type of bread works great.
- Mix salt and warm water until salt has dissolved. Allow the salt solution to cool to room temperature before adding it to chicken. Use a bag or a non-reactive bowl to brine the chicken, ensuring that the breasts are fully submerged. Use a plate to hold the chicken down if needed. Brine for 30 minutes.
- Remove the chicken breast from the brine solution and pat dry. Place the breasts on a rack over a baking sheet and allow to drip dry. This can take anywhere from half an hour up to several hours.
- Place the dry rub ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add the chicken breasts to the bowl and mix until the chicken is fully coated.
- Preheat the smoker to 225-250 degrees. We suggest using high-quality lump charcoal along with hickory or apple wood chunks for additional flavor. Add wood chunks every 30-45 minutes to give the chicken a deep smokey flavor.
- Remove the chicken breasts when the internal temperature reads 160-degrees and place in a bowl or cooler to rest for about 15 minutes. Place the chicken breasts in the refrigerator to cool completely.
- Slice the chicken breasts starting at the skin-side in thin slices. Put mustard and mayo on the bread, then pile the bread with thin sliced, smoked chicken breast. Add lettuce, tomato, and a handful of sprouts. Top with bacon, if using.
This is a simple way to make awesome, delicious smoked chicken cold cuts and the results give you one of the most delicious and satisfying sandwiches out there. Our favorite things about this recipe is that it doesn’t take long to turn out a great-tasting meal and there aren’t any fussy steps or ingredients. It’s all straightforward and gives you delicious, healthy, and flavorful sliced chicken cold cuts.
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