A whole chicken in the smoker is magical – combining amazing smoky flavors, super juicy & tender texture, and beautiful presentation. Brined and rubbed with a simple spice blend, then slowly smoked over flavorful wood chips, even beginners can achieve juicy perfection effortlessly.

The uses are endless – from flavorful tacos to smoky pulled chicken sandwiches or simply enjoyed with your hands. Plus, an affordable way to feed a crowd or have leftovers for days. Fire up the smoker for this delectable, easy-smoked 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

  • A Whole Chicken – Any size will do.
  • A Brine – Water, salt, sugar. It soaks in the brine bath, which helps keep it super juicy and flavorful as it cooks in the smoker.
  • A Dry Rub – Use your favorite or follow my chicken rub recipe.
  • Wood chunks or pellets – Apple or cherry wood are my top choices for smoking chicken. They are subtle and have slightly sweet flavors that pair wonderfully with chicken and don’t overpower it. You can use one or even a combination of the two. Hickory, maple, pecan or oak will also work great.
  • Thermometer(s) – A Two-Channel Remote Thermometer and a Thermapen Instant Read Probe Thermometer to spot check and verify.

Jump down to the recipe card to print and view all the details.

How to Smoke a Whole Chicken

Follow these step-by-step instructions for a seriously delicious smoked chicken.

brining chicken in bowl
dry rub on whole chicken for smoking
smoking a chicken in big green egg
  1. Brine the Chicken (optional but highly recommended)
    Dissolve a solution of 1 cup Diamond Kosher Salt, 3/4 cup sugar and 4 quarts water. Submerge the chicken in the brine, and refrigerate for 3 to 6 hours. Thoroughly rinse and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Apply the 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.
  3. 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). Add your wood chips or pellets for smoke.
    *Note: Use a lower temperature for a pellet smoker for more smoke flavor. A higher smoker temperature will result in faster cooking with crispier skin, but potentially less smoke flavor.
  4. 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). The cook time will be approximately 3 to 4 hours.
    Note that the temperature will continue to rise when you remove it from the heat.
  5. Rest the chicken for 15 minutes uncovered on a cutting board. Carve by separating the breasts, legs and wings. Enjoy!


  • 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 1/2 hours, or until the internal temperature of the breasts reaches 155° F (to account for carryover 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, smoked chicken breasts or smoked chicken wings.
  • Shred it Up – You can make great BBQ Pulled Chicken with the whole bird.
smoked whole chicken dry spice rub ingredients

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.

cut up smoked whole chicken

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. 

Top Tips for Success

  • Get Crispy Skin – Smoked chicken doesn’t usually get crispy skin like it does when roasted, but if crispy is the goal you can crank up the heat of your smoker toward the end of the cook to around 400° F to crisp it up for 10 to 15 minutes. Just be careful not to overcook the chicken when doing this.
  • Cook Two – If you have room in your smoker, definitely smoke two or more chickens at the same time for more leftovers with no extra effort. This will give you leftovers for days, and cooked chicken freezes great in little freezer bags. You can then just crisp it up in a skillet when you are ready to eat.
  • Use a Thermometer – The best way to tell when the chicken is done is to use a probe thermometer.
  • A Brine is a Gamechanger – Whether you wet brine (like in this recipe) or dry brine (pretty much just heavily salting the outside of the chicken and refrigerating uncovered, it is going to make a big difference in the flavor and texture. Give it a try and see the results yourself.

Keeping the Chicken From Drying Out

  • Brine the chicken before smoking to help it retain moisture.
  • Maintain a consistent low smoker temperature between 225°F-275°F.
  • Place a drip pan of water under the chicken to create humidity.
  • Monitor internal temperatures and remove chicken when breasts reach 160°F.
  • Let rest for 15 minutes before slicing to allow juices to redistribute.

Serving Suggestions

Favorite sides to serve with it include potato saladmacaroni 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.

Storage Instructions

  • Allow the smoked chicken to cool before refrigerating. Refrigerate the chicken in an airtight container for 3-4 days.
  • For longer storage, remove any remaining meat from the bones and place in a ziplock freezer bag or airtight container. Squeeze out any excess air and freeze for up to 3 months.

Leftover Inspiration

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 pulled chicken sliders or 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.

Smoked whole chicken on a sheet pan horizontal

Smoked Whole Chicken

Indulge in irresistible applewood-smoked flavor with a slight kick and hint of sweetness in this tender, juicy smoked whole chicken. Crafted with simple ingredients and foolproof smoking technique, the succulent 'yardbird' boasts mouthwatering texture perfect for feeding a crowd or savoring over multiple meals.
5 from 5 votes
Print Pin Save Rate
Course: Main
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Brine Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 7 hours 15 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 563kcal


Basic Chicken Brine

  • 4 quarts water
  • 1 cup Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt (use 3/4 cup if using Morton Kosher Salt)
  • 3/4 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.
  • Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse thoroughly, and pat dry with paper towels. Allow the chicken to come to room temperature while you set up your smoker.

To Smoke the Chicken

  • Prepare the smoker for indirect heat cooking and maintain a temperature between 225°F and 275°F (see the note below for more details). Add wood chunks or pellets according to the manufacturer's instructions, and place a drip pan filled with water below the area 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. Smoking the chicken will take approximately 3 to 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 grills, maintain a temperature of 225°F for more smoke flavor. For charcoal smokers, you can cook at a temp up to 275° F.
  • Crispy Skin: To achieve crispy skin, you can finish the chicken at a higher temperature (e.g., 350°F to 400°F) for the last 10 to 15 minutes of cooking. Monitor closely to prevent overcooking.


Calories: 563kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 36g | Fat: 29g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 6g | Monounsaturated Fat: 12g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 143mg | Sodium: 28475mg | Potassium: 387mg | Fiber: 0.3g | Sugar: 38g | Vitamin A: 346IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 97mg | Iron: 3mg

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  1. Four cups or four quarts for the brine? Says cups in the description and quarts in the recipe. Thanks!

  2. Does it take more time to smoke multiple chickens? We want smoked chicken for Thanksgiving instead of Turkey this year!

    1. Hi Ritchie! It can take longer (maybe 15%), but depends on your smoker and how full the capacity is. And BTW – love the idea of chickens for TG. 🙂

  3. 5 stars
    This was some of the most tender and juicy chicken I have had. I used the simple brine mentioned on this site and submerged the chicken inside a small ice chest overnight. I used the rub recipe recommended here with yellow mustard. Very delicious.

  4. Going to be using this recipe today for the Super Bowl! I’ve got a standup Masterbuilt electric smoker and since I’ll be using the water pan for the first time, do you have a recommendation on which rack to use (top or bottom)?

    1. Kyle – for the water pan or the chicken? The water pan should go on the bottom? For the chicken; it shouldn’t matter but somewhere in the middle will be good. Happy smoking!

      1. Sorry, I meant the chicken! Guess I should have been more specific. Appreciate the response though. Looking forward to it!