If you’ve got a pellet grill or an offset smoker, you want to know how to smoke a whole chicken. When properly smoked, the chicken will be some of the juiciest and most tender chicken you’ll ever have. The trick is to figure out the best way for smoking whole chicken.
One of the biggest problems when it comes to smoking a whole chicken is ensuring all the meat is done properly. Chicken breasts are extremely lean cuts of meat so they will dry out if even a little overcooked. Chicken thighs are more forgiving than chicken breasts, but they can take longer to cook.
Properly monitoring the temperature can help you when smoking whole chickens. A multi-probe wireless meat thermometer like the ThermoWorks Signals can be your best friend, especially when you want to monitor both the chicken breast and the chicken thigh of your whole chicken.
Another way to help you smoke a whole chicken is by spatchcocking the chicken. You can do this with any poultry, whether it be a whole chicken or a turkey for Thanksgiving.
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Spatchcocking To Smoke A Whole Chicken
Spatchcocking before smoking a whole chicken can help the chicken cook more evenly and in a shorter period of time. While it does take a little bit of extra time for preparation, it’s well worth the end result of quickly cooked, tender, and juicy chicken.
So how do you spatchcock a chicken? Here’s a quick three-step process to get a chicken to lay flat on your grill grates. The only tool you really need for spatchcocking is a good pair of kitchen shears sharp and strong enough to cut through small bones.
Flip the chicken breast side down and locate the backbone. From the cavity-end of the chicken, cut along one side of the backbone with your kitchen shears. If you encounter a tough spot, don’t be afraid to use both hands on the shears.
Once you’ve cut down one entire side of the backbone, repeat the process on the other side of the backbone. Once you have the backbone separated from the rest of the chicken, you can save it for making chicken stock or throw it away.
Flip the whole chicken over. Spread the chicken legs out so they are not under the chicken. Firmly press down with both hands on the breastbone until you hear a small pop. Now the chicken should lie flat on your preparation surface.
This will take up a little more room on your smoker, but it allows the chicken to cook more evenly and quicker since there’s no cavity in the middle of the chicken anymore.
To Brine Or Not Brine For Smoking A Whole Chicken
Brining is a common way to prepare turkey for roasting and it can be done for chicken as well. The real question is it necessary for smoking a whole chicken? See our brined and smoked turkey recipe here.
The answer is not really. It will add flavor and ensure that a whole chicken will have moisture locked in. However, smoking a whole chicken, especially with it spatchcocked, will ensure that it stays juicy and tender as long as you don’t overcook your chicken.
However, if you want to get as much flavor and moisture into your whole chicken ahead of going on the smoker, you absolutely can brine it. The simplest way to make a brine is just a combination of salt and water. The ratio depends on whether you are using table salt versus kosher salt. If you are using kosher salt, it’s typically four tablespoons to every four cups of water. You should use around three tablespoons of table salt for the same amount of water.
One of the typical containers used for brining a large bird like a turkey is a five-gallon bucket thoroughly cleaned beforehand. While a whole chicken is nowhere near as large as a Thanksgiving turkey, you can still use that same bucket. Just ensure you use enough water to fully cover the chicken and you’re good to go.
Store the chicken in the fridge for 10-12 hours, then pat it dry. After that, you’re good to continue your preparations for smoking a whole chicken.
How Long To Smoke A Whole Chicken?
We all know that barbecue can take varying lengths of time. You could spend 14+ hours smoking brisket or somewhere around 3 ½ to 5 hours smoking ribs. Where does smoking a whole chicken rank?
As always, it depends, because you’re cooking to the correct internal temperature of 165°F. It also depends on what temperature you’re smoking your chicken at. So how long does it take to smoke a whole chicken? It will take approximately 30-45 minutes a pound. If you’re smoking at 225°F, it’ll trend more towards the longer end of the range. Smoking a whole chicken at 250°F will be a little quicker than at 225°F.
How To Smoke A Whole Chicken
Now that you’ve figured out if you’re brining or not and spatchcocking or not, it’s time to get the whole chicken ready for the smoker. The best part of smoking a whole chicken is that you can flavor it any way you want. You can go a sweeter barbecue route or a spicier route for perhaps a Buffalo chicken bent. Regardless, season both sides of the whole chicken well with your preferred rub.
I did an adaptation of our Kansas City-Style Brisket dry rub recipe, removing the cayenne pepper because my two youngest do not like any spiciness whatsoever. Otherwise, I followed the recipe to the letter. The blend of paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, black pepper, and brown sugar gives you a well-rounded bbq dry rub.
I also rubbed the whole chicken down with vegetable oil prior to applying the rub. This can help prevent leathery chicken skin that sometimes occurs during the smoking process.
I preheated my Z Grills 450B pellet grill to 225°F loaded with Bear Mountain BBQ Woods Oak pellets because I’m a big fan of oak and chicken despite what others may like. If you’re not certain what type of wood to use when smoking a whole chicken or any other type of meat, check out our breakdown on wood flavors here.
When your smoker reaches temperature, put the chicken on. When you do this, take care to tuck the wings under the thighs if possible. In the top picture, one of the wings did come out while the other stayed tucked. Tucking the wings helps prevent the wing tips from burning during the cooking process.
Once you load your whole chicken on the smoker, keep monitoring the internal temperature of both the chicken breast and the chicken thigh to ensure everything cooks properly without drying out. Let the chicken smoke until it reaches 165°F, then pull it off and let it rest for 10-15 minutes to ensure all the juices settle back in, then slice or pull and serve!
Smoked Whole Chicken Recipe
- 1 One whole chicken 3-5 pounds
- 2 tbsp Olive oil enough to coat the chicken lightly
- 2 tbsp Preferred Chicken Rub
- Preheat your smoker to 225°F. I used a pellet smoker, but any smoker will do.
- Spatchcock the chicken if desired. Use kitchen shears to remove the backbone, then firmly press on the breastbone to make the chicken lay flat.
- Coat the chicken with oil evenly, then season both the skin side and the bottom side with your preferred rub.
- Spread the legs out and tuck the wings under to keep them in place.
- Place the whole chicken on your preheated smoker. Insert temperature probes.
- Smoke until the chicken reaches 165°F.
- Remove the chicken and let it rest for 10-15 minutes, then serve.
Question: What Wood Flavor Should I Use When Smoking A Whole Chicken?
Answer: If you’re looking for the best wood flavors to use when smoking a whole chicken, we have you covered. If you’re looking for a stronger wood flavor, we would recommend using hickory. We would probably stay away from mesquite as it can overpower, but you can always experiment to find your favorite flavor. If you’re looking for a sweeter and more mild flavor, you can’t go wrong with cherry, apple, pecan, or maple. For a full breakdown of the different flavors of wood, check out our article on choosing the best wood for smoking.
Question: Can I Use BBQ Sauce On My Smoked Chicken?
Answer: You can absolutely add your favorite barbecue sauce to your BBQ chicken. If you want it on the skin, you’ll want to add it at the end of the cooking process. You don’t want it to burn, you simply want it to set and start to caramelize a little bit. Sauce your chicken with about 10 minutes left in the process for the best results.
Question: Can I Smoke A Whole Chicken On A Charcoal Grill?
Answer: Yes, you absolutely can. It requires a bit more care than if you’re cooking on a pellet grill like a Traeger, Camp Chef, or Z Grills, but it can be done well. You’ll want to set your charcoal grill up for indirect, two-zone cooking. That will allow you to cook the chicken low and slow. You can use either wood chips or wood chunks for that smoky flavor, too. Check out our guide to wood chunks vs wood chips for more information.
Question: What Are Some Great Side Dishes For Smoked Chicken?
Answer: Smoked chicken is a great centerpiece to a meal, but it isn’t a whole meal. So what are some great side dishes to pair with it? A classic BBQ side dish is mac and cheese, and we’ve got a smoked version for you to check out. Also, what BBQ meal would be complete without some version of potatoes? If you’re a fan of cheesy potatoes, check out our recipe for cheesy smashed potatoes. Plus, you can’t go wrong with corn on the cob, especially grilled during the summer.