By contributing writer, Mary Cressler
Tacos are a staple in my house. Whenever we can’t think of anything to eat…tacos. They are my go-to lunch (I eat them about 5 days a week for lunch), because they are simple. You can just throw whatever you have into a corn tortilla and call it a taco. And for an easy (and affordable) dinner for a crowd, they are perfect (everyone builds their own!). And with Cinco de Mayo on the horizon, these smoked chicken tacos are built for a party! Whether you are planning to have friends over to celebrate or cooking for a small family and just excited about the leftover potential of smoking a whole roaster chicken, this recipe for smoked shredded chicken tacos is completely flexible, delicious, and incredibly budget friendly.
With Cinco de Mayo on the horizon, these smoked chicken tacos are built for a party! Whether you are planning to have friends over to celebrate or cooking for a small family and just excited about the leftover potential of smoking a whole roaster chicken, this recipe for smoked shredded chicken tacos is completely flexible, delicious, and incredibly budget friendly.
And don’t let the word smoked scare you if you don’t own a smoker. This chicken can be smoked, grilled, or roasted in the oven. Heck, you can even buy a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken (but I promise you the flavor of the meat won’t be even close!).
The idea for this chicken is to cover your chicken in a full-flavored, savory, and sweet, dry rub, and then slow smoke it to get that great flavor. Shortly after you remove it, while it’s still warm, you’ll want to shred the chicken. I generally get about 6 cups of shredded meat from a 4 – 5 pound chicken. That should be plenty to provide tacos for about 8-10 people (depending on how hungry they are). You can do this up to 2 days in advance and just keep the shredded meat in the fridge and reheat it when it’s taco time.
And don’t throw away that chicken carcass! Also, I hate the word carcass, but I have to use it here because this is my public service announcement for the day. Whenever we smoke a whole chicken (which is often in my house) I use the carcass (ahh I said it again) to make smoked chicken stock. Never had smoked chicken stock before? It will change your life! I’m not lying. Use it for soups, stews, or whatever else you use stock for to give it an inviting smoky tone. You can find my recipe for smoked chicken stock here.
While your chicken is cooking, you can make the simple cumin slaw and avocado crema to fill your tacos with. Whether for Taco Tuesday or upcoming Cinco de Mayo, I’m certain you will love these tacos.
- 4 - 5 pound whole roaster chicken (we used organic, and find that organic birds can be on the smaller side. Adjust your seasonings according to the size of your bird.)
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons salt
- ½ tablespoon fresh ground pepper
- 2 cups red cabbage, shredded
- ¼ cup shallot, sliced very thin
- 1 tablespoon jalapeño, finely diced
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (approx ½ a lime, save the rest for the avocado crema)
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- A few grinds of fresh ground pepper
- ½ avocado
- ½ cup sour cream (Greek yogurt works well too)
- ½ lime, juiced
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- A few dashes of hot sauce (optional)
- 10 - 12+ corn tortillas
- Optional toppings: avocado slices, cheese, lime wedges, cilantro
- Preheat smoker to 250° F.
- Combine all dry rub ingredients together in a bowl. Set aside.
- Remove giblets from chicken, rinse with cold water and pat dry with paper towel. Coat bird with olive oil and then liberally with the dry rub (approximately 1 tablespoon per pound), include seasoning inside the cavity.
- Place the chicken on the smoker for roughly 90 minutes to two hours or more importantly until internal temperature reads 165° F.
- Remove from smoker and let stand loosely covered in foil for 20 minutes allowing juices to redistribute.
- Shred the chicken, discarding the skin, and set aside for taco time.
- Cooking the chicken can be done up to 2 days in advance. If done in advance, store your shredded chicken in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
- Toss all slaw ingredients together in a large bowl. Taste and adjust flavors to your preference.
- Place all ingredients (except hot sauce) into a food processor. Pulse until well combined and creamy.
- Taste and adjust flavors. Add a couple dashes of hot sauce if you desire.
- Heat up a corn tortilla. Layer the taco with approximately ¼ cup of the shredded smoked chicken, then coleslaw, avocado crema, and any preferred toppings. Enjoy!
For the chicken: The time it takes to roast your chicken will depend on the size of your bird and your smoker. It's important to not focus on exact cooking time, but rather cooking until the temperature of the bird has come to a safe 165 degrees.
Alternative cooking method: If you don’t have a smoker, then prep the chicken as you would for the smoker, but roast it in the oven at 425° F for approximately 1 - 1½ hours (depending on size of chicken), until temperature reads 165.
Don’t worry too much about the smoke flavor here. We aim for a mild smoke infusion so it’s not overbearing. There’s also very little heat here, so you don’t need to worry about anything spicy interacting with your wine. And besides, the meat is one of several ingredients working in harmony to create these tacos. We have some sweet corn from the tortillas, the crunchy and acidic flavors of the slaw, the creamy, herbal, and citrus flavors from the avocado crema, and a fresh burst of lime at the end.
You can choose a red if you must, but I would advise against it due to all of the citrus and fresh elements. If you do, go with a Beaujolais-style wine (lighter bodied), fruity Grenache, or a light fruity Pinot Noir.
For me, I want something that has some fresh, bright, and citrus elements to compliment the toppings, but also something with some body and weight to stand up to the smoked meat. Don’t shy away from barrel-aged whites, like oaked Chardonnay for this. The have all the elements we’re looking for – texture and richness, but also bright citrus and other fresh fruits.
Now it can be hard to tell sometimes if a Chardonnay has been aged in oak. They don’t often tell you on the bottle. Your best bet is to ask the wine steward at your wine shop. But if there are none available, try one from California that doesn’t indicate that it is “unoaked.” Unless it says otherwise, you can assume it has a bit of oak. Here are a few that you can find in the Wine4.Me app that would pair well with these tacos:
- Artesa Vineyards Chardonnay (California)
- St. Francis Chardonnay (California)
- The Dreaming Tree Chardonnay (California)
- Rodney Strong Alexander Valley Chardonnay (California)
- Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Chardonnay (Washington)
Or, when in doubt, go with a refreshing rosé.
What about you? What are your favorite wines for chicken tacos?
Mary Cressler is a Certified Sommelier, a Wine Location Specialist, and the proprietor of Vindulge: Wine Education & Consulting. She conducts wine classes and events and offers consulting for individuals, restaurants, and event planners. She writes about wine, food, and travel on her blog Vindulge. Mary resides in Portland, Oregon with her husband, twin boys, and two Chihuahuas.