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The Best Smoked Chicken

Introducing the best smoked chicken, you’ll ever try! The savory spices and slow smoking creates a mouth-watering, juicy chicken that’s perfect for any occasion. If you’re craving a hearty, homestyle meal, our best smoked chicken recipe is for you!

Trussed chicken in smoker
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Smoked chicken is one of the easiest proteins to cook in a smoker. 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. It’s also one of the most forgiving meats for novice outdoor cooks. If you’re new to low and slow cooking, we recommend starting with this smoked chicken recipe!

Smoked chicken 101

Smoked chicken is cooked, low and slow, in a smoker. It is brined, seasoned with a dry rub, and smoked over smoldering wood. smoked chicken considered one of the easiest proteins for novice cooks. The cooking time is relatively short (3-4 hours for a 3 1/2 pound chicken) compared to traditional BBQ staples like smoked pork or beef brisket.

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: Remember to keep a reliable meat thermometer close by! With that said. some Pitmasters swear by 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 trying the above temps to find the right tenderness for you.  
Smoking Wood Chips

Best Wood for Smoked Chicken

Chicken can absorb smoked flavor quickly. Because of this, we recommend using milder to moderate woods like maple and pecan, or fruitwood like cherry, apple, and peach. Avoid heavy smoke-flavored woods like mesquite, hickory or oak, which are better suited for pork and beef but too strong for poultry.

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, take into consideration the appetites and how many side dishes will accompany the meal. If you are serving two side dishes, plan on the chicken being enough for 4 people. If there is another protein present or 3-4 side dishes, it will enough for 6 people. Also, take into account who is attending dinner. Is it all adults? Will there be children present, etc? 

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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 cooking.
  • Pellicle: Smoked chicken tends to develop leathery skin. To help avert that, we recommend allowing the chicken to form a pellicle, which allows the smoke to adhere to the 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 chicken with kitchen twine to keep it from over-extending during cooking.
  • 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 result—one thing to note. Do not use salt in the injection marinade if planning to wet brine the chicken.
  • Rub: Along with the other building blocks of flavor (brine, injection, smoke, etc.), a good dry rub is key for producing a delicious smoked chicken. The combination of spices and herbs is the first thing you’ll taste first, followed by the smoky flavor. 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 cooking, you’ll notice a crust or bark forming on your smoked chicken. That’s good. However, this bark might have dry patchy areas that require a hit of moisture. That’s where a spritz comes into play. A simple BBQ spritz contains liquids like apple juice or apple cider vinegar, or a combination of the two. The liquid is placed into a clean kitchen-safe spray bottle then misted 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 a beef brisket or a rack of pork ribs, you’ll notice a similar red smoke ring around the meat.  

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Recipe Ingredients

How to Make Smoked Chicken

  • Remove giblets (if applicable) from chicken. Trim off any hanging bits of skin and fat.
  • Follow the steps to prepare the brine, and submerge the chicken in the brine solution 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. The skin will be dry and take on a shiny appearance once the pellicle has formed.
two-zone-set-up-n-charcoal-grill

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 or wood chips to the fire once the coals turns a white color. See above photo for reference

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, follow the steps to make 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 a thin layer of olive oil to the chicken. Next, apply the rub on the chicken, under the breast skin, and inside the cavity. 

Smoking the Chicken

  • Place your seasoned chicken skin side up, 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 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 the chicken is fully cooked.
  • Once the smoked 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. Remember to check the temp of the thickest part of the breast and thighs making sure to avoid the bone.
  • Tent the smoked chicken with aluminum foil, and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Carving a Smoked Chicken

  • Cut off the kitchen twine, and separate the leg quarter first with a sharp knife. 
  • Remove the chicken wings, and then remove the two breast pieces. Separate the breast pieces from the sides of the backbone. Plate the chicken and serve.
  • 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 BBQ sauce like Alabama White Barbecue Sauce or a vinegar-based Piedmont Barbecue Sauce.
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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 overnight in the refrigerator, then reheat in your oven at 325 degrees F.

Try our Smoked Chicken Halves Recipe, or if you need a delicious leftover chicken recipe, these delicious Smoked Chicken Enchiladas will do the trick!

the-best-smoked-chicken

The Best Smoked Chicken

Smoked Chicken is super easy to make, and it's incredibly delicious too. If you're craving a hearty homestyle chicken, this recipe is for you!
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
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

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