Keto as a Way of Life
Chicken Thighs – Bacon Wrapped & Smoked
Chicken Thighs – Bacon Wrapped, Smoked, Filled with Cream Cheese, Keto, etc…
The title of this post really doesn’t describe the whole dish.
I just couldn’t make the title longer, though, because the URL would be crazy. The real title should have been something like, “Jalapeño & Cream Cheese Stuffed, Bacon Wrapped, Spicy, Keto, Smoked Chicken Thighs OMG These Are Friggin’ Good!”
Not Safe Around Teenagers
When I first started tinkering with this bacon-wrapped chicken thigh recipe, our then 17 year old son still lived at home.
His mom and I had one chicken thigh each for dinner, as did he. They turned out so good, we wrapped up the considerable left overs (I never cook just a small amount of anything) and put them in the fridge, excited about having them for lunch the next day.
When it came time to eat, I went to the ol’ chill chest and looked inside to find…. nothing. They were gone.
ALL of them!!!
The boy had taken care of at least 8 more whole bacon wrapped chicken thighs over night! Clearly, he thought there were good. Oh to be 17 again and have a metabolism that could burn off that many calories in my sleep.
At any rate, it gave me an excuse to make more. After all, the recipe hadn’t been perfected yet. So I got to work.
Following is the fruit of that labor.
Gather Your Ingredients
See the list in the recipe below. Here are just a couple notes about them.
Not only are chicken thighs the best tasting part of the chicken, they are also a great meat for Keto.
We created a chart comparing 50 cuts of meat and how they rank for Keto. Chicken thighs ranked favorably on that chart.
We source our Chicken Thighs from Porter Road, a local (to us) meat supplier that specializes in high quality, non GMO, pasture raised meats.
Chicken thighs are one of the better meats for Keto because of the macros.
We did a post a while back that ranks 50 cuts of meat on a scale from best to worse for Keto. You can check that out here.
We even created a handy charts that you can download for free.
I know most people like thick cut bacon, but get thin cut bacon for this recipe. Thinnly sliced bacon wraps easier. Also, you’re using 3 bacon pieces per thigh, so that might turn into too much bacon if you get thick cut. (I know right? Too much bacon? Wtf does that even mean?!)
Again, Porter Road is a great source for bacon. They use all pasture-raised pork, sourced from Rittenberry Farms in Kentucky.
Nothing flavors a dish like garlic.
It's nice to use fresh garlic when possible, but it's not always convenient or on hand.
I keep this minced garlic in my kitchen all the time. It's really just as good as fresh garlic, but it's a lot easier and faster to add it to a recipe. And it has a much longer shelf life.
Chipotle Peppers in Adobo
I discovered these a few years ago while trying out a recipe for jalapeno poppers.
When I discovered how much spicy, smoky flavors these bad boys bring to the party, I fell in love with them.
There aren't many canned ingredients that I use regularly, but this is one of them. You just can't beat it for adding some Southwest flavor to a recipe.
Brine the Chicken Thighs
If you want tasty, juicy chicken, no matter the cooking method, you really should brine it first.
For a slow cooking method like smoking, brining the chicken first is absolutely necessary to keep the chicken from drying out.
Even though we’re using thighs, which is a fattier piece of meat, and we’re wrapping them in bacon, brining will still keep the juices locked inside the meat.
The brine recipe I used for these chicken thighs is below, but here are basic steps:
Add kosher salt, red pepper flakes and black pepper to approximately a gallon of cold water and mix it all up. Then drop in your chicken thighs. If there isn’t enough water to cover the chicken, add a little until all of it is submerged.
You can do this in a big Tupperware bowl or in a gallon freezer bag. Either way, let these sit in your fridge for at least 8 hours. Over night works perfectly.
Prepare the Jalapeños
Wash your peppers, pat them dry, cut and seed them. Here are some tips for that:
- Wear rubber gloves for this! (powder free, latex gloves please)
- Slice the tops off, cut them in two down the center. The sharper your knife, the better. If you use a dull knife, you risk releasing pepper oil into the air. It turns into a really mild sort of pepper spray. Trust me on this!
- Remove the seeds and membrane.
- Hold the pepper in the palm of one hand and use your thumb on your other hand to rake the seeds and membrane out of the pepper.
- Be firm, but gentle so you won’t tear up the pepper.
- Scrape AWAY from your face. I find it works best to do this over a plastic bag (the one that the peppers came in from the store works well) to capture all the seeds.
- Do NOT do this under running water. It splashes magical, deadly, eye watering essence of pepper juice everywhere! Or…. so I’m told. re: Pepper Spray.
Make the Cheese Mixture
I use my food processor for this, but it’s not entirely necessary. You can finely chop the peppers with a knife and mix everything together. It just takes longer. Otherwise, this is easy.
- Put the cream cheese in the food processor and give it a few pulses to get it started.
- Add your peppers, adobo sauce, salt and chipotle peppers.
- Pulse processor 7-8 times.
- Scrape down the sides of the processor
- Repeat until everything is well incorporated
We use the Cuisinart 14 Cup Food processor.
I've had mine for almost 10 years now.
It has a good, heavy (and powerful) motor, solid parts, and is easy to set up and use.
Though it's seen heavy, sometimes daily use, this work horse is still going strong!
I love this thing!
Fill the Peppers
There’s no right or wrong way to do this. Just use a spoon and dip some of the cream cheese mixture into each of your jalapeños. You don’t have to make them perfect or pretty. They’re going to be hidden inside the chicken thigh anyway.
Stuff the Thighs
Remove your chicken thighs from the brine and pat them dry with a paper towel. Arrange them on your cutting board or piece of parchment paper so the inside of the thigh is facing up.
Season lightly with salt and pepper. We’re layering flavors here, so we want every part of the chicken thigh to be seasoned.
Lay a cheese-stuffed jalapeño half in the middle of each thigh and gentle fold the thigh over, almost like it’s a taco. When all thighs are stuffed, season them front and back with your favorite chicken seasoning.
There are lots of poultry seasonings out there, but you can simply use salt and pepper if you prefer. The chicken season I use is my own recipe. I intend to post that recipe soon.
Wrap the Thighs
Use three pieces of bacon per thigh. I find it works best to do this in a specific order.
Wrap the thigh long way with one piece of bacon first. Don’t wrap so tight that it bunches up the thigh or tears the bacon, but wrap it firmly.
Then wrap two pieces around the chicken thigh non-length wise. This will hold the thigh closed and keep everything inside.
Again, wrap the bacon firmly, but not super tight. Be careful while you do this because the jalapeño inside might want to slip out before you get these wrapped up and secure.
If you can wrap them so that the ends of the bacon are on the same side, you can lay the thigh on the smoker/grill/baking sheet with those ends down to keep them in place.
No need to secure them with tooth picks or anything, though that’s an option if you just can’t get them to stay.
To the Smoker!
Get your smoker going and heated up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. I used my Traeger Texas Elite 34 Pellet Grill for my chicken thighs.
I like it because I can control the temperature and it stays constant throughout the cook. It’s also big enough to allow me to do 20 of these at once.
You can easily cook 50 of chicken thighs at the same time on the Texas Elite, but I’m a fan of the smaller pellet grills for people who don’t have hungry teenagers at home.
Traeger Pellet Grill
The smoker/grill I use is the Traeger Texas Elite 34 pellet grill. I can’t tell you enough how much we love this bad boy!
I've cooked everything from cake to ribs on mine. Yes... I said cake! (keto cake, of course)
It makes smoking meats easy, and gets hot enough to grill as well. It's been well worth every penny for us.
You NEED one of these in your backyard.
Let your chicken thighs go for about an hour and a half, then check the temperature.
On a pellet grill, you don’t need to flip them because the temp stays constant inside. If you’re using a grill with any hot spots, though, you may need to flip these and move them around a bit.
You’re looking for an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. It almost always takes close to two hours, depending on the ambient temperature outside, but I like to start checking them at an hour and a half and then about every ten minutes thereafter until they reach 165.
For this recipe, I used straight hickory, but I’ve had a lot of success with a mix of hickory and apple wood. Cherry is good too, and maple really gives these a great flavor.
Oak is another wood that works well with poultry.
The point here is, use the wood that you like best. And as long as you stay with hard or fruit woods, you can’t go wrong.
Natural Hardwood Pellets for the Traeger Pellet Grill
Amazon has several types of Traeger pellets, so check them all out; Alder, Apple, Cherry, Hickory, Maple, Mesquite, Oak, Pecan, Texas Beef Blend, and Turkey.
They're conveniently all listed on this one page on Amazon.
There's nothing like the flavor that hardwood smoke adds to food. They all have their own character, and I love every. single. one.
NOTE: You can cook these in your oven as well and they turn out great. You can use the same times and cooking temperatures if you like. Or you can speed up the process since you’re not trying to get any smoke flavor into the meat. In that case, you can cook these on 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
Thanks for Reading
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Chicken Thighs - Bacon Wrapped & Smoked
For the Brine
For the Cheese Mixture
Brine the chicken thighs at least 8 hours in the fridge in large bowl or zip lock bag
Cut off tops of jalapenos, cut in half lengthwise and remove seeds and membranes (use gloves!)
In food processor, combine cream cheese, garlic, chipotle peppers, adobo, and sea salt. Pulse until well mixed.
Fill jalapeno halves with chipotle cream cheese mixture
Lay chicken thighs out, bone side up and season with salt and pepper to taste
Place cheese-filled jalapeno halves in center of chicken thighs
Wrap chicken thighs around jalapeno halves like a taco
Season all sides of chicken thigh wrap with favorite poultry seasoning
Wrap three pieces of bacon around chicken thighs, securing the stuffing inside
Place chicken thighs in preheated smoker at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 1 and half hours until internal temp is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove from smoker and let rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.
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