Chicken is delicate meat that lends itself well to different kinds of cooking. You can pan roast it, cook it in the oven, braise it, and grill it for great results. However, one of the most delicious ways to have perfectly cooked chicken for your backyard parties is to smoke a whole chicken. 

The process is a little involved and you definitely need to understand a few important points before you start getting really good at it.

Chicken can stand up well to strong, robust flavors while still retaining its own natural flavor. To get the best results from smoking a whole chicken, the first thing you need to get right is your choice of wood. With the right wood, the cooking temperature, and the right cook time, your whole chicken can come out of your smoker juicy, flavorful, and imbued with the flavor of wood smoke. 

Let us take a look at some of the best wood chips for smoking chicken.


Hickory is a popular favorite when it comes to smoking many kinds of meat. It has a strong, robust natural taste that is savory and resembles bacon. While it represents the signature taste of Southern BBQ when smoking red meat, you can get excellent results by pairing hickory with chicken. I believe hickory is the best wood for smoking chicken wings as it compliments most of the chicken wing sauces.

Unlike other traditional choices like oak or mesquite, hickory is less likely to overwhelm the natural flavor of the chicken or introduce unpleasant elements to the taste. Rather, when used correctly, it can help build layers of complex flavors over the natural flavor profile of the chicken and create a self-sufficient chicken dish your friends can enjoy.

For beginners, it is recommended to start off with smaller amounts and gradually arrive at the right balance of temperature and cooking time. You have to start somewhere!

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Fruitwoods are extremely popular when it comes to smoking chicken. These have mild, sweet, fruity flavors that do not overwhelm the natural flavors of the chicken while adding the right mild smokiness and sweetness that can really make the bird delicious.

Applewood is a salient example of this. It is a lot mellower than most other fruitwoods and can be the perfect foil for your whole chicken or jointed chicken pieces. The delicate nature of the smoke flavor also lends itself perfectly to using a marinade or dry rub for your chicken and finishing it with a sweet glaze or sauce.

Since the flavor is mild, this is also a great choice for BBQ beginners.

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Maple is often paired with pork cuts. It can also yield excellent results for smoking chicken. The key here is the rich, sweet taste that can permeate your chicken and the right golden color that can make your bird ripe for elevated presentation. If you are planning to pair your chicken with sweet sauces and sides, smoking with maple can be an excellent choice.

Maple is also quite forgiving when it comes to temperature and cooking times. However, since the flavor is more intense than something like apple, you need to be a little careful.

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Smoking with cherry wood can be a great way to cook your chicken, especially if you are looking for that perfect balance between great taste, a heady aroma, and a beautiful aesthetic finish. Cherry wood imparts a lovely dark red finish to your chicken making it instantly ready for presentation.

The flavor is reminiscent of the fruit itself—deep, rich, and luxuriously sweet while being mild enough so as not to overpower the chicken. If you are planning to smoke your chicken over cherry wood, it can be a salient idea to brine it thoroughly first, making it ready to absorb and imbibe all that smoke for the best results.

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A stellar departure from traditional smoked chicken recipes involves going the Jamaican route and creating an authentic smoked jerk chicken. If this adventure appeals to you, you need to smoke your chicken over pimento wood. 

Pimento wood might not be easy to find in some areas. However, if you can lay your hands on it, smoking your jerk marinated chicken over this unique wood creates the signature taste and aroma of jerk chicken that is known and loved by many.

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If you want a robust, assertive flavor profile that can perfectly complement the natural flavor of the chicken, look no further than pecan wood. Pecan wood imparts a unique savory, nutty flavor to the meat that can be the perfect foil for chicken.

Pecan is also a great way to start your journey towards creating your own signature flavor. You can mix one or more fruitwoods with pecan to create a unique, layered flavor profile that you can call your own.

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Key Facts

If you are planning to smoke a whole chicken or chicken cuts, using one or more of the woods mentioned above, the results will be impressive – most likely even that stubborn relative would give you a thumbs up. The trick is to remember that chicken cooks relatively fast and to balance your temperature and cooking time so as not to dry the bird out. This can result in a deliciously smoky and flavorful chicken that remains moist and juicy.

Smoking Turkey is slightly different. Here we go over the best woods for smoking turkey.

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