It's time to cook up a smoky and juicy smoked whole chicken for your next BBQ or family dinner. Low and slow to impart that smoke flavor then finish it HOT and fast! After smoking a whole chicken, it will become the ONLY way you will cook a yard bird from now on.
Video - How to smoke whole chicken
What you need to smoke a whole chicken
- Whole Chicken - Start with a 5-7lb whole chicken from your local grocery store. They are quite inexpensive and easy to find. Remember, might as well grab two chickens!
- Brine - Brining a chicken in fresh water, kosher salt, apple juice, & dark brown sugar helps keep the chicken moist during cooking and will churn out a nice tender bird.
- Seasoning - Succulent flavors and great ingredients. We're doing two different flavors with these smoked whole chickens. Salt, pepper, garlic, butter, & parsley are good seasonings to go with.
- Wood chips - Using fruit woods such as cherry wood or apple wood chips are the best wood for smoking chicken. They don't overpower the chicken flavor, imparting a nice mild smoke on the bird.
- Potatoes, Carrots, & Brussel sprouts - Choose your favorite side to serve with these succulent chickens.
Prepping the chicken
Before starting the smoker or seasoning the chicken, we need to brine these bad boys to make sure our finished smoked chicken is tender and juicy.
Brining the chickens before seasoning and smoking is optional. This will help keep the chickens moist while cooking, but is not required. To brine the chicken, grab a bucket big enough to submerge the chicken(s) fully in water, such as a 5 gallon bucket commonly found at Lowes or Home Depot.
In a pot combine brine ingredients and heat to boiling.
- 3 gallons fresh water
- 3 cups kosher salt
- 4 cups apple juice
- 2 cups dark brown sugar
After bringing to a low boil, stir pot until all ingredients are dissolved into the water. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Ice cubes can be added to speed up the cooling process.
Add chicken(s) to the 5 gallon bucket and pour the cooled brine water over the chickens until they are fully submerged. Place bucket in your refrigerator and brine for at least 4 hours, if not overnight.
Remove the chicken from the brine and rinse with fresh cold water. Discard the brine, do NOT save to brine chickens in the future. Always use fresh brine when brining chickens or turkeys.
Pat the whole chickens dry with paper towels making sure to get around the legs and under any skin. Tie the legs together with butcher twine. This helps the bird cook evenly and prevents the breast meat from drying out faster than the legs and thighs.
Rub the entire chicken with olive oil or softened butter, outside and underneath the skin. Using your fingers, separate the skin from the breast meat and cover inside with olive oil or butter. The oil/butter will help the skin crisp up, the BEST part of the chicken!
Season liberally with SPG (salt, fresh ground black pepper, & garlic powder). Parsley and rosemary are also great to sprinkle onto the chicken skin before cooking.
Have a favorite chicken rub? Use it! Any one of your favorite seasonings can be used when smoking whole chicken. I personally love using Meat Church's seasonings. My favorite they have for chickens are their Honey Hog and VooDoo.
How to smoke whole chickens
Now that we have the chicken brined, dried, and seasoned; it's time to fire up those smokers and get to the fun part, cooking the chicken!
Smoke Low & Slow
Pre-heat your smoker to 225°F with a fruit wood such as cherry or apple. As mentioned earlier, this is the best wood for smoking chicken.
Once the smoker temperature has leveled at 225° Fahrenheit, place the whole chicken in smoker directly on the grill grates breast side up.
Smoke for 45 minutes to impart that great smoke flavor into the whole chickens. You can continue to smoke the chicken at this low temperature until it probes an internal temperature of 165°F, but keep in mind that the skin will turn out rubbery instead of crispy.
I recommend increasing the temperature and finishing the chickens off hot and fast to crisp that skin up!
Finish Hot & Fast
So to get that crispy skin, after 45 minutes increase the temperature in the smoker up to 350-400°F. Don't bother removing the chicken while you increase the temperature, simply leave them in the smoker.
Finish cooking the whole chicken (about another hour) until the internal temperature registers 165°F when checked with an instant read thermometer between the thigh and breast. The thickest part of the breast should also read 165°F.
Resting the bird
Once the whole chicken in the smoker probes 165°F, remove and place on a cutting board. Allow the bird to rest for 10-15 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the chicken resulting in a tender and juicy smoked whole chicken!
Do NOT cover the chicken in aluminum foil when resting, this will result in soggy skin. We DON'T want that! You worked hard for that crispy skin, let's keep it that way!
How many people does one chicken serve?
Count on one 4-5lb roaster chicken serving 4-6 people. I recommend that if you are going to fire up the smoker, drink some beer, and make a day out of smoking a chicken. You might as well grab two chickens and smoke two at the same time. They both WILL definitely get eaten!
Choosing a smoker
Like always, the best smoker you can use is the one you already have! If you don't have one, it's time to decide whether you want to go with a pellet grill or a traditional offset smoker.
I'm smoking this chicken on my wood pellet grill, just like the Camp Chef 36 smoker or Traeger 780. Wood pellet smokers are an easy and great way to impart fantastic smoke flavor and are extremely easy to use.
They operate on wood pellets and hold a very steady temperature just like an oven. No worrying about temp spikes or dips with one of these bad boys.
A traditional offset smoker is another great smoker to use. These can get very hot (which is great for cooking chicken) and are normally less expensive than a pellet smoker.
A traditional offset smoker, like this Oklahoma Joe's Smoker is a great option to use. Though it takes a little more attention than a pellet smoker, this produces amazing flavored meat.
Using a propane grill or charcoal grill is another great way to get that extra flavor over cooking a chicken in the oven.
There is no need to cook at a low temperature with a grill. Simply cook hot and fast until the bird is finished. An inexpensive charcoal grill and one I love cooking with is the classic Weber Kettle Grill.
Any grill will work however, fire up the one you have and I guarantee your chicken will turn out better than an oven roasted chicken.
Perfect side dishes
Time to serve up this smoked whole chicken with some exceptional and complimentary side dishes. Here are my favorite sides to pair this whole chicken with.
It should take 2 hours to smoke a whole chicken when following the method above and turning up the heat after 45 minutes. If you are going to smoke low and slow at 225°F the entire time, plan on 3-5 hours.
Apple juice or a 50:50 apple cider/water mixture works great!
No. If you wrap the chicken you will not get a nice smoke flavor and the skin will NOT turn out crispy.
Fruit woods such as cherry or apple are the best woods to use.
Temperature. Once the bird reaches an internal temperature of 165°F in the thickest part of the breast as well as the area between the thigh and the breast.
My favorite way to store leftovers from a whole chicken is to pull all the meat off the chicken by hand. Use gloves when doing this. Then store in tupperware with a tight lid.
An oven or toaster oven set to a temperature of 350°F. This will not dry out the meat. 5-10 minutes and it will be nice and hot. You can always use a microwave if time is an issue.
Trying smoking this!
- 5 lb roaster chicken (giblets removed)
- 3 gallons water
- 3 cups kosher salt
- 4 cups apple juice
- 2 cups dark brown sugar
Seasoning Rub #1
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 teaspoon parsley
Seasoning Rub #2
- ½ stick salted butter (softened)
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 teaspoon parsley
- Pre-heat smoker to 225°F.
- Remove giblets from inside of roaster chicken and rinse bird with fresh water.
- Brine chicken for 4-24 hours in a wet brine or simply rinse with fresh water. Add brine ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil to dissolve salt & sugar. Remove from heat.
- Allow brine to cool COMPLETELY before adding & submerging chicken into liquid. Once finished, rinse with cool fresh water.
- Dry chicken with paper towels and tie the legs together with butcher twine. Coat with olive oil or butter. Make sure to get both sides of the bird and in between the skin and breast meat.
- Season bird with rub seasoning everywhere you put olive oil or butter.
- Lay chicken directly on grill rack breast side up and smoke for 45 minutes. Turn up temperature to 375-400°F and cook until the internal temperature is 165°F when checked with an instant read thermometer, about another 45 minutes.
- Let rest 10-15 minutes and serve.
- Tie chickens legs together to prevent the breast meat from cooking faster than the legs and thighs.
- Use a fruit wood when smoking for best flavor.
- If using meat for sandwiches, tear the meat off the bones when the chicken is still warm. The meat comes off better when it's warm.
Simple, tasty smoking recipe that works.
Julie @ Back To My Southern Roots says
This looks fantastic! I linked to this in my chicken soup recipe!
Thanks for sharing the recipe!
Houston Istorico says
Thanks for sharing this! I've been bbqing all year and looking forward to it again this weekend! Excited to try ribs for my next cookout.