If you are a fan of smoking chicken portions you will really like smoking the whole bird. The result is amazing because you have all the bones and skin to add moisture and flavor to meat. And, everyone will be happy because you can serve both the white and dark meat.
Smoking a whole chicken definitely takes longer than smoking a bird that has been broken down into breasts, thighs, drums, and wings. But, that shouldn’t discourage you because most of the work is being done by the brine solution and the smoker. You only have to tend to the fuel for the fire and check the temperature of the meat. Just sit back and relax.
When shopping for a whole chicken be mindful of how many people you are feeding and how much time you have. A 4 pound chicken will feed 4 to 6 people and will take approximately 4 hours to cook in a smoker. A good rule of thumb is to count on 1 hour of smoking time per 1 pound of chicken.
Pro tip #1: Cooking time is important. However, don’t rely on timing alone. Use a digital meat thermometer to check the temperature, as described in the recipe.
Should You Brine, Marinate, or Rub
While it is not absolutely necessary, I often recommend brining a whole chicken in a salty, seasoned water bath before smoking it. This will help prevent the chicken from drying out. Marinating a chicken that has been broken down into portions is fine. However, marinating a whole chicken is not as effective.
After the bird has been brined, rinsed, and patted dry, I coat the skin with a rub that is made with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, dried herbs and spices, salt, and pepper. I also rub the cavity of the chicken with this blend. The oil in the rub helps the skin to crisp and brown.
Another question I get asked quite a bit is if you should stuff the chicken. I always do to impart more flavor and to help keep the bird from collapsing slightly while cooking, which can make for some uneven cooking. I use aromatic vegetables and fresh fruits for my stuffing. I don’t eat these. They are mainly for structure and flavor.
Included in the recipe are ingredients and instructions for a smoked whole chicken brine and a smoked chicken rub. Let’s get into the steps necessary for how to make smoked chicken.
Recipe for Smoking Whole Chicken: A Step-by-Step Guide
This recipe is for smoking a 4 pound chicken. Adjust the timing if your bird or birds weigh less or more. You can always smoke more than 1 chicken at a time. Just leave space between the birds for the smoke to circulate. The prep time is approximately 15 minutes. Brining will take from 4 to 8 hours. The cook time will be 3 to 5 hours, depending on the size of the chicken.
Tools and Equipment Needed:
- A large glass bowl or stainless steel pot
- Plastic wrap or a lid
- Paper towels
- 1 smaller bowl
- Wire whisk
- Butcher’s twine
- Electric, gas, or pellet smoker*
- Apple, maple, or oak wood chips or pellets
- Digital meat thermometer (if a probe thermometer is not included with the grill)
- Clean cutting board
- Aluminum foil
- Sharp carving knife
*Pro tip #2: If you are using a charcoal grill, set it up for indirect heat and place the chicken over the cool side of the grill. Make sure the grill has a lid.
- 4 pound whole chicken
For the Brine
- 8 cups filtered water at room temperature
- 3/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons whole peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
For the Rub
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons dried sage
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black or white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
For the Stuffing
- 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
- 1 lemon, cut in half
- 1 small tart apple, quartered
Step 1: Remove the neck and giblets from the cavity of the chicken. Save these to make gravy or chicken broth. Give the chicken a quick rinse under cold running water and set aside.
Pro tip #3: You can allow the chicken to sit in the sink after rinsing. Once it goes into the brine, completely clean the sink with hot soapy water or a little bit of bleach in hot water to avoid any cross contamination.
Step 2: Prepare the brine. Place the water in a large glass or stainless steel container. Add the salt and sugar and stir until they are mostly dissolved. Stir in the peppercorns, and bay leaves. Add the chicken into the brine solution. If it is not completely submerged, add more water. Cover the container well with plastic wrap or a lid. Place the container in the refrigerator and allow the chicken to brine for 4 to 8 hours.
Pro tip #4: Always brine in a non-reactive container, such as glass or stainless steel for best results. You could also brine in a large sealable plastic bag set inside a cooler with ice.
Step 3: Remove the chicken from the brine. Rinse the chicken very well under cold running water and pat it dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Place the chicken on a platter or cutting board for 30 to 45 minutes so that it can come to room temperature.
Step 4: In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, garlic, paprika, sage, thyme, pepper, and salt. Rub the entire chicken, inside and out, with the oil and seasoning mixture. Stuff the cavity of the chicken with the onion, lemon, and apple pieces. Don’t force them if they don’t all fit. Just get at least 1 or 2 pieces of each inside the bird. Tie the ends of the legs together with butcher’s twine.
Step 5: Prepare the smoker by filling the water bowl half way. You can toss some lemon slices in the water if you would like. Add your wood chips or pellets. Preheat the smoker to 250˚F.
Pro tip #5: Make sure you have extra wood chips or pellets and water ready to replenish the smoker. Check the chips and water bowl every 45 minutes. If you don’t see any smoke it is time to replenish.
Step 6: Place the chicken, breast side up, on the smoker rack and tuck the wings under. If your smoker has an attached probe thermometer, insert it into the thickest portion of one of the thighs. Close the lid and smoke for approximately 3 to 5 hours. At 3 hours, check the internal temperature of the meat. You are looking for 170°F for dark meat and 160°F for white meat. The skin should be golden brown. Continue to smoke, if necessary, checking every 30 minutes. Prepare your side dishes while the chicken is cooking.
Pro tip #6: If you are smoking vegetables, fruits, or casseroles along with your poultry, be sure to place the chicken on a lower rack and the sides on the racks above. You don’t want raw meat juices dripping onto any other foods.
Step 7: Remove the cooked chicken to a clean cutting board and tent with foil for approximately 20 minutes to allow for all the juices to be absorbed back into the meat.
Step 8: Carve the rested chicken with a sharp knife. Cut off the whole legs at the thigh to breast joint. Then, cut the thigh from the drum. Cut off the 2 wings. Remove the breasts from the rib cage and slice the meat against the grain. Remove the tasty meat from the back of the chicken, especially the “oysters”. The backbone meat is excellent in chicken soup.
Pro tip #7: Remove the fruit and onion from the carcass and discard. Make a healthy and smoky bone broth using the carcass: Fill a soup pot with water. Add the carcass, 2 tablespoons of unfiltered apple cider vinegar, and any aromatic vegetables you like. Bring to a boil and then simmer covered for 2 to 12 hours.
Smoking a whole chicken does take some time, but that should not discourage you from trying it. Keep in mind that most of that time does not require much of your attention. You just need to brine the bird, season it, stuff it, and let it cook for a few hours. The results will definitely impress you and those you are breaking bread with.
Smoked chicken is so good. You might not go back to roasting it in an oven. It is a great way to cook a chicken on a hot summer day when you don’t want to turn on the oven inside. It is also works great in winter when you want a really hardy and warming meal.
I really like serving smoked chicken with smoked macaroni and cheese, smoked Brussels sprouts, a green salad, and finished off with smoked stuffed apples for dessert.