A whole chicken in the smoker is a magical thing. Combining amazing smoky flavors, super juicy & tender texture, a beautiful presentation and is just so easy to make. It brings something usually so basic to the next level. Once you make it the first time, you will be hooked.
The uses for a smoked whole chicken are virtually endless. From flavorful tacos to smoky pulled chicken sandwiches, or simply enjoy tearing into it with your hands. Plus, you can easily smoke multiple chickens at once, providing a different menu for the entire week. Let's fire up the smoker and get ready to experience juicy chicken perfection.
Smoked Whole Chicken - Why You'll Love It
Brining the chicken is an extra (yet super easy) step that gives it so much flavor and keeps it juicy. The flavorful dry rub makes for a golden crust that is a stunning presentation. Whole chickens are not only economical (much cheaper per pound than individual cuts), but they give a variety of light and dark meat, so you get to pick your favorite part. You get the breasts, thighs, and wings in one tidy and easy-to-manage package.
What You'll Need
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- Spatchcock (aka butterfly) - Use kitchen poultry sheers to cut out the backbone and flatten the chicken. It will cook more quickly and very evenly. Spatchcock Smoked Turkey is also a great way to cook a large bird.
- Dry Brine - In this recipe, we used a wet brine, but you can totally use a dry brine.
- High Heat, Faster Cook - Similar to roasting a whole chicken (but in your smoker). If you are on a time crunch, you can cook it between 325° F and 400° F for about 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until the internal temperature of the breasts reaches 155° F (to account for carry-over cooking). It won't get as much smoke flavor, but it will still be really good.
- Finish with Sauce - To get the bbq chicken effect, you can brush on BBQ sauce the last 20 minutes or so of the cook.
- Use Smaller Cuts - If you don't have a whole chicken, you can also make smoked chicken thighs.
The Spice Rub
A flavorful dry rub on the skin will result in a beautiful and flavorful chicken. You can use your favorite spice rub, or even go super simple with just salt & pepper. I prefer to use this dry rub for chicken that has a combination of brown sugar for some sweetness, plus some cayenne pepper and black pepper for a little heat. Paprika will add beautiful deep colors to the chicken to enhance the presentation along with adding some subtle flavors.
A note about salt in a rub when brining: If you plan on brining the chicken (which I recommend), omit the salt from the rub, as it can make the chicken too salty.
How to Smoke a Whole Chicken
Follow these simple steps for a seriously delicious smoked chicken.
- Brine the Chicken (optional but highly recommended)
Dissolve a solution of 1 cup Diamond Kosher Salt, ¾ cup sugar and 4 quarts water. Add the chicken and refrigerate for 3 to 6 hours. Thoroughly rinse and pat dry with paper towels.
- Apply a Dry Rub
Evenly dust your spice rub on all surfaces and let it sit out to come to room temperature while you get your smoker ready.
- Setup the smoker
Set it up for indirect-heat cooking with a smoker temp of 225° F to 275° F with a drip pan filled with hot water under where the grates (according to the manufacturer's instructions).
*Note: Use a lower temperature for a pellet smoker for more smoke flavor. A higher smoker temperature will result in faster cook with crispier skin, but potentially less smoke flavor.
- Smoke the chicken
Place the chicken in the smoker breast side up and cook with the lid closed until the internal temperature of the breasts reaches 160° F and the thighs are around 180° F (about 45 to 60 minutes per pound).
Note that the temperature will continue to rise when you remove it from the heat.
- Rest the chicken for 15 minutes uncovered on a cutting board. Carve by separating the breasts, legs and wings. Enjoy!
How Long to Smoke a Whole Chicken
It will take approximately 3 to 4 hours to smoke a whole chicken. It is done cooking when the internal temperature of the breasts reaches 160° F and the thighs reach 180° F (which makes them more tender). Figure about 45 to 60 minutes per pound at 250° F.
It's always best to cook to temperature rather than to time. Use an instant-read probe thermometer to verify temperatures. There are a lot of variables, such as size and the starting temperature of the chicken, consistency in the smoker's temperature, and even the weather that day.
Perfect Sides for Smoked Chicken
Favorite sides include potato salad, macaroni salad and coleslaw. Baked beans are a wonderful hearty addition, and you can even make baked beans in the smoker, right alongside the chicken as it cooks. If doing a full plating for dinner, creamy mashed potatoes and simple sauteed corn are fantastic.
If you are looking to sauce it up, a side of sweet & tangy BBQ sauce goes great, or a bright, fresh chimichurri. If you are making a salad, go with a BBQ vinaigrette (or balsamic vinaigrette) which are both great for lettuce and also dipping the chicken in.
It is best to refrigerate the chicken immediately after it is cooled down in an airtight container.
It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four days. If you want to store it for longer, place it in a ziplock freezer bag, remove the air and freeze for up to 3 months.
It's not a requirement to brine the chicken before you smoke it. However, it can make a pretty big difference in the final result of a super juicy and flavorful bird. If you are in a time crunch, you can skip the brine step and add more salt to your dry spice rub.
Brining the chicken before smoking is the best way to keep the breast moist. You also want to make sure the temperature of your smoker doesn't get too high during the cook. Keeping a drip pan filled with water in your smoker will also create a more humid environment that is optimal for keeping the meat moist as well as attracting smoke.
A smoked whole chicken is absolutely perfect for leftovers, and it will taste even better the next day. Pulled chicken, tacos, quesadillas, smoky breakfast hash, smoked chicken sandwiches, smoked chicken salad, smoked chicken alfredo pasta, the most amazing smoky chicken enchiladas, or just shred it and serve over grilled caesar salad, a kale salad with a creamy dressing or a tangy vinaigrette. The possibilities are nearly endless.
Definitely make chicken stock with the bones for even more meals.
A brine is a great way to infuse flavors into the chicken. You can add fresh herbs such as thyme and rosemary, lemon, garlic, peppercorns or whatever you can think of that you love with chicken. This is something I will generally do when roasting a chicken in the oven, but not when smoking, as I prefer the rub and the smoke to do the work of flavoring the meat.
If you do wish to add flavors to the brine, you can boil ¼ of the water and add all of the brine flavoring ingredients to steep in the warm water for about 20 minutes. This will pull out those flavors into the water, whereas the cold water won't. Then add the remaining cold water/ice and make sure it isn't warm before adding the chicken to brine as you would.
More Delicious Chicken and Top Smoker Recipes
Smoked Whole Chicken Recipe
Basic Chicken Brine
- 4 quarts Water
- 1 cup Diamond Kosher Salt (Use ¾ cup if using Morton Kosher Salt)
- ¾ cup Sugar
To Brine the Chicken (optional but recommended)
- In a large bowl or container large enough to easily fit the chicken, whisk the salt and sugar with the water until it is dissolved. Submerge the chicken in the brine, then cover and refrigerate for 3 to 6 hours.
- Thoroughly rinse and pat the chicken dry with paper towels and discard the brine. Let the chicken sit out on the counter to come up to temperature while you set up your smoker.
To Smoke the Chicken
- Prep the smoker for indirect heat cooking and bring the temperature between 225° and 275* F 250° F *see note. Add wood chunks or pellets according to the manufacturer's instructions and place a drip pan filled with water below where the chicken will smoke.
- Apply a light slather (canola oil, mustard or hot sauce) all over the skin of the chicken to help the spice rub stick. Sprinkle about 2 to 3 tablespoons of dry rub with a shaker for even distribution all over the skin. Do the presentation side (breasts) last.
- Place the chicken in the smoker and cook until the internal temperature of the breasts reaches 160° F and thighs the are around 180° F. This will take between 3 and 4 hours. Use a probe thermometer to verify. The temperature will continue to rise about 5 degrees once removed from the heat.
- Rest the chicken on a cutting board for 15 minutes before carving and serving.
- You can optionally tie the legs of the chicken together with kitchen twine to help it cook more evenly and for a better presentation.
- If the chicken won't stay submerged while brining, place a heavy bowl on top to help keep it below the surface.
- If brining the chicken for more than 6 hours; reduce the amount of salt by half.
- Be careful not to use too much salt in the spice rub when seasoning a brined chicken.
- Smoker temp: For pellet smokers, use 225° F as it will give more smoke flavor. For charcoal smokers, you can go up to 275° F, but 250° F is the sweet spot.
- Crispy Skin: While chicken skin is an amazingly tasty thing, it's really not the best when you smoke a chicken at a lower temp like 250 degrees. To get crispy skin, you will need to finish the chicken at a higher temp for the last 10 to 15 minutes. Be careful not to overcook it.