How To Smoke A Whole Chicken

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Smoked Whole Chicken
Juicy Smoked Whole Chicken

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 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. 

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.

Step 1.

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.

Spatchcocking Chicken Step 1

Step 2.

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.

Spatchcocking Chicken Step 2

Step 3.

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.

Spatchcocked Chicken

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. 

Submerging turkey in brine
Turkey in Brine

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.

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 smoking here.

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 Chicken
Smoked Whole Chicken
Print Recipe
5 from 1 vote

Smoked Whole Chicken

Smoking a whole chicken is easy and doesn't take that long. Try our simple recipe with your favorite backyard smoker and get funky with that chicken.
Prep Time45 mins
Cook Time2 hrs 30 mins
Resting Time15 mins
Total Time3 hrs 30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, BBQ
Keyword: bbq chicken, Smoked Chicken, smoked whole chicken
Servings: 4
Calories: 477kcal
Author: Jeremy Pike
Cost: $10

Ingredients

  • 1 One whole chicken 3-5 pounds
  • 2 tbsp Olive oil enough to coat the chicken lightly
  • 2 tbsp Preferred Chicken Rub

Instructions

  • 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.
    Spatchcocking Chicken Step 1
  • Coat the chicken with oil evenly, then season both the skin side and the bottom side with your preferred rub.
    Spatchcocked Chicken
  • 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.
    Smoking a Whole Chicken
  • Remove the chicken and let it rest for 10-15 minutes, then serve.
    Smoked Chicken

Notes

One of the biggest problems with smoking a whole chicken is the skin. The recipe calls for coating the chicken with oil. This helps prevent leathery, near-inedible chicken skin, but if you smoke the chicken at 225-250°F for the entire process, the skin will not crisp at all.
If you want to get crispy skin on your smoked whole chicken, crank the temperature to around 400°F on your smoker when the chicken gets within 10-15 degrees of being finished. This burst of high heat can add some crispiness and a little char to your chicken skin, making the experience of smoking a whole chicken even better.

Nutrition

Calories: 477kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 36g | Fat: 36g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 7g | Monounsaturated Fat: 17g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 143mg | Sodium: 134mg | Potassium: 374mg | Fiber: 0.2g | Sugar: 0.1g | Vitamin A: 319IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 41mg | Iron: 2mg

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