Smoking meat is a great way to lock in its flavors while giving it a beautiful, tender finish. It’s one of the best ways to cook meat, and is wildly popular with BBQ enthusiasts.
Smoked chicken is one of the best examples of this, and if you’re new to smoking then is definitely one of the first skills to master.
Why should you be preparing your whole chickens in a smoker? Put simply, the quality of the finished article is so much more superior than any other form of cooked chicken, whether that be rotisserie or store bought. Smoked whole chicken is what you need to have in your life today.
It’s moist. It’s juicy. And, yep, it’s smokey.
Compared to other forms of chicken it also makes for great leftovers, which can then in turn be used for a whole range of recipes, from wraps to salads, and even soups.
If this is your first foray into meat smoking then be sure to check out my list of the best meats to smoke.
Be warned, it is a long process. However I promise that it’s worth the wait. The BBQ enthusiasts out there will love the satisfying smoking process, while anyone will be proud of the fantastic results to come from it. Here’s how to smoke a whole chicken.
Low and slow
With smoking we often talk about ‘low and slow’, which is exactly what it sounds like: Low cooking temperatures and long cooking times. Nowhere is this more true than with a whole chicken.
What we achieve with this process is we allow the chicken to absorb the rich smoky aromas of the wood while also letting the chicken cook in its own juices. Anyone who has ever cooked a Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey will know how the latter can enhance the meat’s flavors.
Aim to cook the chicken at 225°F/110°C for the best results. The cooking time will very much depend on the size of the chicken, but I’d recommend smoking it for about 45 minutes per pound of chicken. However be sure to check on it regularly as this time could still vary, so keep monitoring it until the chicken is fully cooked throughout. If you like to be a bit more precise, then try using a meat thermometer by inserting it into the meatiest part of the chicken (more often than not this is the breast). We want to be aiming for about 160°F/70°C
The danger of cooking chicken for a long time is it’ll be prone to drying out and as anyone can testify, dry chicken is no fun.
To counter this, I recommend brining the chicken before smoking it. Meat brining is a way to keep it moist and tender before roasting it, and is particularly crucial for meats that are vulnerable to drying out, such as turkey and… you guessed it… chicken.
In simple terms, brining is a process by which you soak meat in salted water. This encourages the meat to absorb the water, leaving it moist when cooked.
If you haven’t tried brining before, then check out my guide on how to brine chicken wings.
A crucial but often neglected part of meat cooking is seasoning, and the same is true when it comes to meat smoking.
According to your own taste preferences you can easily season with just salt and pepper, but I strongly recommend investing in a dry rub. There are a ton of dry rub types out there, and you can even make your own. While you can pick any flavor combination you like, I urge you to stay consistent with chicken and select an appropriate one that will match the meat perfectly.
If you would like to make your own rub then here’s a simple recipe:
- 3 tablespoons oil (canola, olive, or extra virgin olive oil)
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder or garlic salt
- 2 tablespoon onion powder
- 2 teaspoon ground thyme
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
Be sure when you apply the rub to thoroughly coat your chicken as much as possible, and don’t forget to rub it in the inside cavity as well.
Also, no less crucial is to separate the chicken breast skin from the meat by pulling them. You will want to rub in the seasoning between here so that we can get the flavors into the meat as much as possible. No cutting corners here.
Picking and preparing wood chips
Any seasoned smoker will tell you that pairing the right kind of wood chips with your chosen meat is key to the best results. Different wood chips give different aromas, which help infuse your chicken with its flavors. Choose the perfect wood chip type, and you can elevate the taste profile of your meal perfectly.
I recommend trying something fruit-based, like apple, cherry or peach.
To prepare smoker, soak your wood chips in water for at least an hour (but no more than two!) before smoking. Soaking wood chips allows them to smoke for longer than they would if dry.
Start ‘em up
Just like you would with an oven or charcoal grill, we need to start up our smoker. If using a charcoal smoker, light it up at least 30 minutes in advance. Just like with a BBQ grill, we want to wait until the coals have turned from completely black to a slightly gray ash-like color.
Remove your soaked wood chips from the water and dry off any excess water. Wrap them in an aluminum foil pouch. Punch holes in the top for ventilation and so that the smoke that will emanate from the chips can escape. If using a charcoal smoker, place this pouch immediately on top of the charcoals. If using an electric smoker then be sure to insert them following your smoker’s directions.
Do note that a pouch will only last 90-120 minutes, so if you require a much longer cooking time then you will have to prepare at least one more bag of wood chips to swap in later. For a whole chicken I recommend making at least two spare.
Put the chicken in the smoker
Finally the fun part. Put the whole chicken in the smoker. If your smoker vents are adjustable, open them to about 50%-75% of the way open and try to position them over the top of the chicken. This will help draw the smoke towards the chicken before then escaping the smoker.
Check your chicken about once every hour but ensure not to check your chicken more than this. Doing so will risk losing too much heat from the smoker and drying out the bird.
The whole smoking process will take about 45 minutes per pound of chicken. In most cases this means about 4 hours for an average sized chicken.
- 1 whole chicken washed
- apple, preach or cherry wood chips
- 3 tbsp oil
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp garlic powder or garlic salt
- 2 tbsp onion powder
- 2 tsp ground thyme
- 2 tbsp chili powder
- 2 tsp paprika
- 2 tsp black pepper
Soak your wood chips in water for one hour
Coat the chicken thoroughly, also applying the rub inside the chicken cavity wall.
- Lightly pull the breast skin from the flesh. Apply the rub here too, to help get the flavors into the meat as much as possible.
Preheat your smoker to 225°F/110°C. If you are using a charcoal smoker then aim to light it at least 30 minutes prior to cooking. We want to wait until the coals have turned from completely black to a slightly gray ash-like color.
Dry off your wood chips and divide into two groups. Wrap both in an aluminum foil pouch each. Punch holes in the top for ventilation.
Place one pouch in your smoker, and leave the other to one side for later. If using a charcoal smoker, place this pouch immediately on top of the charcoals. If using an electric smoker then be sure to insert them following your smoker’s directions.
Place your prepared chicken in the smoker. Open your smoker vents to about 50%-75% of the way open.
Check your chicken about once every hour.
Cook for about 4 hours, or until cooked through.