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Smoked Chicken

Smoked Chicken is one of the easiest BBQ proteins to cook, and it’s incredibly delicious too! While most of us are well acquainted with barbecued chicken thighs, wings, and breasts, a whole smoked chicken will offer so much more. They can be smoked, carved, and served just like roasted chicken. Or cooked a little longer, shredded, and used for pulled chicken sandwiches or chicken salads.

Trussed chicken in smoker
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What is Smoked Chicken?

Smoked chicken is cooked, low and slow, in a smoker. A whole chicken is brined, seasoned with a dry rub, and smoked over smoldering wood. It is considered one of the easiest proteins to smoke, and the cooking time is relatively short compared to BBQ staples like smoked pork or brisket.

What does Smoked Chicken Taste Like?

Smoked chicken has a slightly smoky explosion of flavor when done right. The meat is tender, juicy, and moist. 

How Long Does it Take to Smoke a Chicken?

The average 3 1/2 pound chicken will take about 3-4 hours to cook. Keep in mind that smoked chickens cook at a low temperature. 

Smoked Chicken Temperature

  • Cooking Temperature: Aim for a cooking temperature between 250-275 degrees. Some backyard cooks swear by 225 degrees, but we find that 250-275 works best.
  • Doneness Temperature: Conventional knowledge says to aim for an internal temperature of 165 degrees in the breast section and 175 degrees in the thigh. However, we’ve found thigh meat is less chewy when cooked to 185 degrees F. We recommend experimenting to find the right consistency.  
Smoking Wood Chips

Best Wood for Smoked Chicken

Chicken has a way of absorbing a lot of smoke very quickly. We recommend using fruitwoods like cherry, apple, and peach to avoid a bitter-tasting chicken. 

How Much Chicken Per Person?

A 3-3 1/2-pound chicken is enough to feed 4-6 people or roughly 1/2 pound of meat per person. Of course, you must consider both appetites and other food offerings. If you are serving two side dishes, plan on this chicken serving 4 people. If there is another protein present or 3-4 side dishes, it’s enough for 6 people. Also, take into account who is attending dinner. Is it all adults? Will there be children present? 

Trussed whole smoked chicken on white cutting board
derrickriches.com

Important Steps

  • Brine: Though it is not necessary to brine the chicken, we recommend using our chicken brine recipe to keep it moist, plump, and juicy during the cooking process.
  • Pellicle: Smoked chicken tends to develop leathery skin. To help avert that, we recommend forming a pellicle, which allows the smoke to adhere to the meat’s skin and surface. It also helps crisp it. See below in the step-by-step section for instructions on forming a pellicle on a chicken.
  • Trussing: We like to truss the legs of the chicken to keep it from over-extending during the cooking process. It is especially important if you’re looking for a nice, neat presentation. 
  • Injection Marinade: In addition to brining, we use an injection marinade to add extra flavor deep inside the meat. You can skip the brining step entirely and use a chicken injection marinade, or vice versa. However, we use both to produce a flavorful chicken—one thing to note. Do not use salt in the injection if planning to wet brine the chicken first.
  • Rub: Along with the other building blocks of flavor (brine, injection, smoke, etc.), a dry rub is one of the most important factors for producing a delicious smoked chicken. This combination of spices and herbs is the first thing you’ll taste when you bite into the chicken. It should marry well with the smoke. Look for a mild to moderate spice rub, and if you plan to use a wet brine, choose a salt-free or low-salt rub.
  • BBQ spritz: After the first hour of cook time, you’ll notice a crust or bark forming on your smoked chicken. That’s good. However, this bark might have dry patchy areas that need moistening. A BBQ spritz usually contains apple juice or apple cider vinegar, or a combination of the two. This liquid is placed into a clean kitchen-safe spray bottle then sprayed onto the surface of the smoked chicken.

Why is smoked chicken pink?

Once rested and carved, you’ll notice that the surface of the meat, under the skin, has a pink color. Don’t worry; your chicken is cooked through. It’s just smoked. Because we smoke chicken at such a low temperature, the myoglobin doesn’t have the time to break down, resulting in meat with a pink color. If you’ve smoked up a beef brisket or a rack of pork ribs, you’ll notice a similar red smoke ring around the meat.  

Raw trussed chicken with injection marinade and spice rubs
derrickriches.com

Recipe Ingredients

How to Make Smoked Chicken

  • Remove giblets (if applicable). Trim off any loose skin and fat.
  • Follow the steps to prepare the brine, and brine the chicken for 8-12 hours.
  • Once brined, remove the chicken from the solution and gently pat dry with paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible.
  • Place chicken onto a clean plate, and place it into the refrigerator, uncovered, for 2-3 hours, or until pellicle forms on the skin. That means that the skin will be dry and take on a shiny appearance.

Preparing your smoker

  • As discussed above, we like to cook our smoked chicken at 275 degrees F. If you are using a pellet grill (Pit Boss, Traeger, GMG, etc.), follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper preheating. Use fruitwood pellets like cherry, apple, or peach.
  • We smoked our chicken using our Big Green Egg XL and set it up for indirect cooking (all the hot coals banked evenly on one side). Add a few fruitwood chunks to the fire once the coals turn white-ish.

Trussing, Injecting, and Applying the Rub

  • Trussing the chicken: There are multiple ways to truss a chicken and many great sources online to help you get it right. The main objective is to secure the wings and legs close to the body with kitchen twine.
  • Injection marinade and rub application: After trussing the chicken, follow the steps for making the injection marinade for the smoked chicken. Remember to use a low salt or no salt seasoning in the marinade.
  • Slowly inject the marinade into the breast and thigh sections of the bird. Blot away any spillage with paper towels.
  • Rub application: Using your hands, apply the rub evenly onto the chicken, under the breast skin, and inside the cavity. 

Smoking the Chicken

  • Place your seasoned chicken onto the grill (the indirect side if using a charcoal grill), close the lid, and let it cook for 1 hour.
  • After 1 hour, spritz the chicken with a little apple cider vinegar or apple juice. 
  • Do not spray too close or forcefully onto the chicken, but slightly above it. Think of it as “misting” the chicken.
  • Close the lid and continue cooking.
  • Spritz chicken every 30 minutes until it is fully cooked.
  • Once the chicken reaches 165 degrees in the breast and 175 degrees in the thigh (or higher), remove the chicken from your smoker and place it onto a clean cutting board. 
  • Tent the smoked chicken with aluminum foil, and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Carving a Smoked Chicken

  • Remove the twine, and separate the leg quarter first. 
  • Cut through the wings, and then remove the two breast pieces. Slice the breast pieces and plate the chicken for serving.
  • If you want to make pulled chicken sandwiches, wear heat-resistant gloves, and shred the chicken by hand. 
  • Serve either version of the smoked chicken with Alabama White Barbecue Sauce or a vinegar-based Piedmont Barbecue Sauce.
Smoked chicken trussed and on cutting board
derrickriches.com

Pairings

Storing Leftovers

Store your leftover smoked chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days, or freeze for 1 month. Rewarm in the oven. If frozen, thaw it first in your refrigerator, then reheat in your oven.

Featured Image Smoked Chicken

Smoked Chicken

Smoked Chicken is super easy to make, and it’s incredibly delicious too! While most of us are well acquainted with barbecued chicken thighs, wings, and breasts, a whole smoked chicken will offer so much more.
5 from 2 votes
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Course: Main Course, Main Dish
Cuisine: American BBQ
Keyword: chicken smoked, smoked chicken, smoked whole chicken
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 4 hours
Servings: 5 servings
Calories: 362kcal
Author: Derrick Riches and Sabrina Baksh

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Remove giblets (if applicable). Trim off any loose skin and fat.
  • Follow the steps to prepare the brine, and brine the chicken for 8-12 hours.
  • Once brined, remove the chicken from the solution and gently pat dry with paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible.
  • Place chicken onto a clean plate, and place it into the refrigerator, uncovered, for 2-3 hours, or until pellicle forms on the skin. That means that the skin will be dry and take on a shiny appearance.
  • Prepare smoker for 275 degrees F. If using a pellet grill, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper preheating. Use fruitwood pellets like cherry, apple, or peach.
  • For a charcoal unit, set up for indirect cooking (all the hot coals banked evenly on one side). Add a few fruitwood chunks to the fire once the coals turn grayish-white.
  • Truss the chicken with kitchen twine.
  • Next, inject the chicken with marinade.
  • Apply rub evenly, getting some under the breast skin and cavity.
  • Place seasoned chicken on the grill (the indirect side if using a charcoal grill), close the lid, and let it cook for 1 hour.
  • After 1 hour, spritz the chicken with apple cider vinegar or apple juice, close the lid and continue cooking. Repeat the process every 30 minutes until the chicken is fully cooked.
  • Once the chicken reaches 165 degrees in the breast and 175 degrees in the thigh (or higher), remove the chicken from your smoker and place it onto a clean cutting board.
  • Tent the smoked chicken with aluminum foil, and let it rest for 20 minutes.
  • Carve and serve.
  • You can also shred the chicken and serve it in sandwiches.
  • Store the leftover smoked chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days. You can also freeze your leftovers for up to 1 month.

Nutrition

Calories: 362kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 29g | Fat: 26g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 12g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 116mg | Sodium: 120mg | Potassium: 313mg | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 233IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 31mg | Iron: 1mg

Photos by: Sabrina Baksh/derrickriches.com

Derrick Riches

I began writing about Barbecue & Grilling in 1997 with one mission, to help the backyard chef have the best experience possible.

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