If you want to smoke a whole chicken then I have you set with two great chicken recipes. Let me show you two different techniques and I will share all of my tips and tricks to get the most from your bird!
General Instructions For Smoking a Whole Chicken
Here are the general steps you will need to follow to smoke a chicken.
- Buy a chicken that weighs less than five pounds.
- Brine the chicken for at least four hours
- Pat the bird dry
- Season the chicken
- Smoke at 275F for a cook time of approximately two hours until the internal temperature of the breast is 165F and the thigh is 180F.
Brining the Chicken
I use the same simple chicken brine for whole chickens that I use for smoking chicken pieces like breasts, thighs and drumsticks but double the batch so there is enough brine to completely cover the birds.
- 1 gallon water
- 1 cup salt
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
Place the chicken into the brine and refrigerate for at least four hours but preferably overnight.
You want to brine the chicken to infuse the bird with seasoning and help protect it from drying out on the pit. One of the challenges of cooking a whole chicken is that the thighs and breasts do not always reach their target temperatures at the same time. You will often end up overcooking a part of the bird and the brine is a layer of protection to keep it juicy even it it does get overcooked in places.
After the bird has soaked you will need to pour off the brine and thoroughly dry the chicken with paper towels.
Now that we have the general prep work done, let’s dive into the two techniques!
Technique #1: Stuffed and Trussed Orange Delight
This bird is going to get stuffed with aromatics and then will be securely trussed before smoking. You can get creative on your aromatics. For this chicken I used onion, celery, garlic and an orange. Another classic aromatic combination that works wonders with chicken is lemon and rosemary.
This is one of those chicken recipes that does not have a firm amount for how much of each aromatic to use. I cut them into pieces and just see how much I can fit inside of the bird. A slick trick is to thinly slice some of the citrus and slip it under the skin on the breast.
Once the chicken is stuffed you will want to truss it with some twine. Trussing the bird helps it cook more evenly, insures the stuffing stays in place and creates a prettier finished product than what you would get if the wings and legs were just flopping around.
The bird already is well seasoned with salt and sugar from the brine and is going to get a ton of flavor from the aromatics. Because of this I don’t mess around with an over the top dry rub for chicken. Instead I coat the skin with a little peanut oil and sprinkle it with black pepper before it goes on the smoker.
Smoke the chicken at 275F for about 2.5 hours until the internal temperature of the chicken breast reads at least 165F and the thighs are 180F. You should always use a digital thermometer to check for doneness but if you do not have one then a good test is that the leg and thigh should easily move and almost come off the bird when twisted,.
The salt, sugar, smoke and aromatics combine to make this stuffed and trussed chicken pretty fabulous.
I smoked this chicken on a pellet smoker with a blend of clean burning oak and hickory wood pellets. If you were cooking this in an electric smoker with wood chips then I would suggest using a mild wood like apple. This cook doesn’t take very long so don’t bother with soaking the wood chips.
Recipe #2: Spatchcock
This is a completely different technique that yields an impressive looking bird that cooks quickly.
You are going to start by using a pair of kitchen shears to remove the backbone from the chicken.
Simply cut down one side of the backbone and then do the other side. Once the backbone is out, flip the chicken over and press down on the keel to flatten the bird.
Here is a nice video that walks you through the spatchcock technique.
Once the bird is prepped I brush it with peanut oil and dust it with pepper. I put the chicken on my pit skin side DOWN to get some nice grill marks for presentation.
Because the chicken is flat it will cook much faster than the stuffed chicken in the first recipe. This chicken was smoked at 275F for two hours until done.
Be careful when you remove the chicken because the legs/thighs are not secured and will sometimes fall off during transfer to a platter. It’s not a big deal if that happens, it just messes up the presentation.
FAQ About Smoking Chicken
What Size Chicken Should You Buy? I like to stick with chickens that weigh less than five pounds. Chickens that weigh more than five pounds are typically older birds that have tougher meat. Don’t worry if your bird weighs a little over five pounds but definitely stay away from 7-8 pound “roasting chickens”.
Why Smoke at 275F? I have found this temperature to be the best compromise between speed of cooking while still keeping the meat tender. If you want to speed up the cook then you can bump the temperature up to 325F but the bird will be a little tougher when finished.
Which Wood Should You Use for Smoke? More important than “which wood” is “how much wood”. Chicken can be easily overpowered by smoke flavor so it is important to go light on the smoke. A lot of people use mild fruit wood chips like apple or peach when they smoke a chicken. I cooked these on a Z pellet grill which naturally produces a light smoke profile. Since I knew the smoke was going to be mild I went with a combination of oak and hickory.
How Do I Get Crispy Skin on Smoked Chicken? A smoked chicken will never have crispy skin. What you are shooting for is tender skin that is not rubbery.
Is Pink Chicken Safe to Eat? Be prepared for this question if you intend to smoke a bunch of chicken for a crowd. The finished smoke chicken will have distinct peak bands around the outer edges of the meat as well as near the bone joints. The pink coloration is from the smoke. It is NOT a sign of undercooked chicken.