You will never believe how easy and spectacular this smoked whole chicken recipe is until you try it yourself. Full of tips and tricks, this post will help you make the best smoked chicken recipe you’ve ever had in your life!
If you’re looking to get your feet wet on smoking meats, it doesn’t get any easier than smoked whole chicken. You may have considered our smoked turkey recipe but been intimidated by it because of the size of the bird.
I’m here to tell you though, there is no reason whatsoever to worry. I’ll walk you through this smoked whole chicken recipe and you’re going to be so thrilled with the results, you’ll be making it all year long!
Before you smoke the chicken, you have to choose the chicken you want to smoke. Because we’re making a smoked whole chicken, let’s go over some of the tips you’ll need to choose a good chicken. Smoked chicken is a pretty pain-free process if you remember the following three things.
Start with a fresh bird. Hello Captain Obvious, right?
But seriously, there are a couple of things to look for beyond just the “Use by” date on the label. Look for milky white skin with pink-ish flesh.
It shouldn’t like much of anything and it certainly should not smell off or bad at all. You also want to avoid any purple or red splotches which can indicate rough handling of the chicken.
If you’re thawing a frozen whole chicken, thaw it in the refrigerator either on a rimmed plate or in cold water. Never thaw on the counter or under running water in the sink. That is a food safety no-go.
You can choose any size chicken you want, just be aware it will affect the overall cooking time. Small bird, medium bird, big bird; it really doesn’t matter.
Just plan the cooking time appropriately, and use a probe thermometer that can stay in if you can. This particular model of probe thermometer runs about $38.
If that’s out of your budget, choose one spot on the chicken you check with an inexpensive instant read thermometer. You can find them around or under $10 at most stores!
Smoked Chicken Rub
Whether you make your own smoked chicken rub, or purchase one, you’ll want to be sure you have enough on hand to rub that chicken down generously inside and out. You can go as simple as generous amounts of salt and pepper if you want to be a purist.
As for how much to use, this is up to you! The general rule of thumb is to use at least 1 tablespoon of rub per pound of chicken.
Smoked Chicken Recipe
You have a couple of options on how to proceed depending on how important the chicken skin is to you. I love chicken skin, so I go with the second option.
The Easiest and Fastest way to smoke a whole chicken
Place your chicken on a rimmed plate and rub it generously inside and out with smoked chicken rub or seasoning. Pop the plate in the refrigerator while you pre-heat your smoker.
This is the easiest and fastest way to prep your chicken. It will be delicious, but the skin will be a little soft.
If this doesn’t bother you, it’s certainly the fastest way to get a smoked whole chicken. If you want to know how to smoke a whole chicken and get crispy skin on it, read on!
Dry-Brining a whole chicken
Position a rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Place the whole chicken on the rack and rub it generously inside and out with your favourite chicken rub or seasoning.
Slide the uncovered chicken on the pan into your refrigerator on a low shelf away from other foods for 12-24 hours. This is called dry-brining your chicken.
When you dry brine a whole chicken, you are salting and resting the meat before smoking it. This
The net effect of dry-brining your chicken is an ultra-flavourful, moist smoked whole chicken that has crispy skin. The closer you get to 24 hours of dry-brining, the crispier the skin will be.
Smoked whole chicken is really more about the meat than the skin, though. The dry-brined chicken is definitely more flavourful, but the easy method is still divine.
Make the decision on which method you’ll use based on your available time and refrigerator space. The end result of both techniques is amazing.
Whichever method you use to prep your whole chicken, you can add a little extra flavour boost. Using the same technique that we use for our smoked turkey, we add half of an apple, half of an onion, and a stalk of celery to the cavity of the chicken.
This simple addition to the chicken adds incredible flavour and a little needed moisture to the smoking process. You’ll be so happy you did!
How to Smoke a Whole Chicken
I am a huge fan of my Traeger wood-pellet combination smoker/grill. It makes smoking and grilling as easy as setting the temperature on an oven.
Traeger isn’t the only manufacturer who makes this style of combination grill-and-smoker, but it is the only one I have personal experience with. I recommend it without reservation.
You can also use a much more economical electric smoker to make your smoked whole chicken. This is a great solution if you want to smoke foods frequently and have a tighter budget.
Now the smoker isn’t the only decision you have to make… If you’d like to collect the drippings from your chicken as it cooks, you need to position a rimmed pan underneath the rack you’ll be smoking it on.
On the Traeger, this means you’ll remove the cooking rack and place a pan on the built in drip tray to collect the fat and drippings. Then you’ll replace the rack so you can cook the chicken directly on it.
If you’re using an electric smoker, this is a much easier proposition. Simply position the chicken on a rack in the upper third of the smoker and place a roasting pan on a shelf directly beneath it to collect the goodies.
Why would you want the drippings? Four words: smoked chicken fat potatoes.
Smoked Whole Chicken
To Dry-Brine a Whole Chicken
Position a whole chicken on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Generously rub the chicken inside and out with the dry rub. Place the pan with the chicken, uncovered, in the refrigerator on a low shelf away from other food for 12-24 hours.
To Smoke a Whole Chicken:
If you haven’t dry-brined your chicken, you’ll want to rub it with the seasoning inside and out now. Set it aside.
Preheat your smoker to 275ºF for at least 30 minutes. Stuff the apple, onion, and celery in the chicken’s cavity and tie the legs together using butcher’s twine. Tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders.
Place the chicken directly on the grate and smoke until the breast meat reaches 160º to 165ºF * and the thigh meat reaches 170º to 175ºF. (See Notes) This will take about 30 to 40 minutes per pound, on average.
If you are using a Traeger or another smoker where you can also grill, raise the temperature to 400º when the chicken reaches 140ºF. Raising the heat like this for the last 20º of cooking will help crisp the skin up, too.
Smoked Whole Chicken
- 6 pound whole chicken
- 6 tablespoons dry rub or more, depending on preferences
- ½ apple
- ½ onion
- 1 stalk celery
To Dry-Brine a Whole Chicken
- Position a whole chicken on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Generously rub the chicken inside and out with the dry rub. Place the pan with the chicken, uncovered, in the refrigerator on a low shelf away from other food for 12-24 hours.
To Smoke a Whole Chicken:
- If you haven’t dry-brined your chicken, you’ll want to rub it with the seasoning inside and out now. Set it aside.
- Preheat your smoker to 275ºF for at least 30 minutes. Stuff the apple, onion, and celery in the chicken’s cavity and tie the legs together using butcher’s twine. Tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders.
- Place the chicken directly on the grate and smoke until the breast meat reaches 160º to 165ºF * and the thigh meat reaches 170º to 175ºF. (See Notes) This will take about 30 to 40 minutes per pound, on average.