Smoked Whole Chicken is absolutely delicious and easy to make. Below we’ll explain how to smoke a whole chicken on a pellet grill or other style smoker for the best chicken you will make.
Smoked Whole Chicken is one of the most common things we cook on our smokers because we make a few on Sunday. Then throughout the week we have chicken for our meals, like smoked chicken tortilla soup.
Smoked Whole Chicken
Our collection of grills and smokers are like our kids, we can’t choose a favorite. They’re each unique in their own way, they all have their strengths and also downfalls, and we love them all for different reasons.
One thing that is common for smoked chicken, is rubbery skin. It is difficult at lower temperature to actually render the fat and get that crispy texture. So the best approach is a modified version of reverse searing.
- Smoke the chicken at low temperature to get a smoked chicken flavor.
- Increase the heat to let it finish and crisp up the skin.
We have used this method on our MAK Two-Star General pellet grill as well as our Big Green Egg. The method applies to both.
Roaster chickens, or chickens around 5 pounds are the best option. Some of the chickens may have the giblets. Discard the giblets for this recipe.
If we’re grilling (i.e. hot and fast) chicken, we typically break the chicken up into smaller pieces, like in our perfect grilled chicken because each piece cooks at a different time (the breasts taking the longest).
BUT for low and slow chicken we love a whole chicken, because it comes to temperature much slower and more consistently. Sure you can spatchcock it (cutting the backbone out and smoking or grilling the whole chicken flat) but a whole chicken makes for a pretty presentation and no need to worry about cutting your chicken in half prior to the cook.
So if you’ve never smoked a whole roaster chicken before, get excited. You may be doing it much more often now.
How to Smoke a Whole Chicken
- Get your grill pre-heated to 250 degrees (we like to use apple wood). The lower temperature will allow smoke flavor to get into the chicken.
- Clean and pat dry your chicken and cover with our poultry seasoning. It’s a great all purpose dry rub for chicken. Make sure to also stuff the cavity to add additional flavor (we like to stuff it with lemon, onion, and garlic. You can also add some herbs like thyme or rosemary).
- Next tie up the wings and legs to get them closer the body of the chicken so they don’t dry out or overcook.
- Place the whole roaster chicken on the grill, breast up.
- Place on smoker for one hour. Then, after one hour, increase temperature of the smoker to 350 degrees, and leave until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the bird reads 160 – 165 degrees (this is going to allow the skin to get crispy).
- Remove, and rest for 15 minutes, then slice and serve.
Pro Tip – Add 1 tablespoon corn starch to the rub to get a fried chicken like texture.
We start at 250, keeping it fairly low, if we continued cooking at 250 it would take hours to get a properly smoked chicken and the skin tends to be rubbery. You can extend the time on smoke for more smoke flavor, but our goal is both smoke and a crispy skin texture.
After one hour we’ll raise the temperature of the grill to 350 degrees F to ensure a nice crispy outer skin. If you go too hot, it can overcook parts of the meat, so that’s why we shoot for 350 after the initial smoke.
Alternatively you can roast it at the same temperature that you would in the oven (375 degrees) like this whole roasted chicken recipe. But you won’t get as much of a sweet smoke flavor as it will cook much quicker. We prefer to do it this way for full flavor intensity!
If you have one we recommend inserting a leave-in thermometer to monitor temps, like this BlueDOT Bluetooth Thermometer from ThermoWorks. This one is great because you can monitor the temps from your phone via an iPhone app, or just check on the receiver so you don’t have to constantly open and shut your lid. Make sure to insert it into the thickest part of the meat, where it will take the longest time to cook.
Alternatively, you can use any digital thermometer to occasionally check temps in the breast and thighs.
How Long to Smoke a Whole Chicken?
Plan approximately 2 hours from start to finish to smoke a whole chicken. But always go by temperature, not exact time. This particular example was a 3.5 lb bird, and it was on 250 for 1 hour, then about 45 mins at 350 degrees. Your chicken will vary based on various factors (exact size of your bird, exact temperature of smoker, fluctuations, etc.). Below are ranges for how long to smoke a whole chicken.
- Under 4 pound roaster chicken – 1 hour 45 minutes
- 4 – 5 pound roaster chicken – 2 hours 15 minutes
- Over 5 pound roaster chicken – 2 hours 30 minutes
Make sure to save that chicken carcass for stock. You can find our favorite way to do chicken stock in our cookbook, Fire and Wine.
What Wood is Best
Any local woods are great. For chicken we focus on fruit woods like apple or cherry because it burns sweet and adds a nice smoke element without it tasting too much like campfire. Another alternative wood is hickory.
Wine Pairing with Chicken
I typically reach for a Chardonnay or full bodied white wine with chicken. Even if a smoked whole chicken recipe (pending they do not have any BBQ sauce on them). But because of the dry rub we use, which has some bold and smoky flavors, we opt for red. In this case Pinot Noir.
But you’re going to want a bolder style Pinot Noir for this (nothing too delicate). Côtes du Rhône blends work well too. You want something fruity, but not too intense or tannic (think Cab). Remember, there’s no sauce on this, just the tender meat and dry rub on the crispy skin. Zinfandel works nicely too, as long as it’s not too intense of a Zin.
More Chicken Recipes for Your Grill or Smoker
- Grilled Chicken with Ancho Chilies and Prunes
- Dry Brined Smoked Chicken with a Carolina Glaze
- The BEST Smoked Buffalo Chicken Wings (with Crispy Skin!)
- Grilled Wine Can Chicken
Use any Leftover Chicken for these Recipes
- Smoked Buffalo Chicken Jalapeno Poppers
- Smoked Buffalo Chicken Dip
- Smoked Chicken Verde Soup
- Chipotle Honey Grilled Chicken Tacos
- Smoked Chicken Chili
- Chicken Tortilla Soup
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Smoked Whole Chicken Recipe
- 1 4-pound whole roaster chicken (we prefer organic birds, which can be on the smaller side)
- 1/4 cup poultry rub the exact amount will vary based on exact size of your bird
- 4 cloves garlic, lightly smashed
- 1/2 red onion, roughly chopped
- 1/2 lemon, sliced in half to fit inside the chicken cavity
- Preheat smoker to 250 degrees (we used apple wood).
- Remove any giblets from the cavity of the chicken. Clean and pat dry your chicken with paper towel and cover with dry rub.
- Optional: Stuff the cavity of the bird with garlic cloves, onion, and lemon (cut up).
- Next tie up the wings and legs to get them closer the body of the chicken so they don’t dry out.
- Place on smoker for one hour. Then, after one hour, increase temperature of the smoker to 350 degrees, and continue cooking until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the bird reads between 160 – 165 degrees (this could take up to another hour depending on the size of your bird).
- Remove, and let sit for about 15 minutes, then slice and serve.