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.
If you want a great variation of this, try our guide on how to spatchcock chicken where you remove the backbone and flatten the chicken.
Smoked Whole Chicken is one of the most common things we cook on our smokers. We typically smoke one or two on any given Sunday, then use the meat throughout the week for our meals, like tacos or smoked chicken tortilla soup.
Smoked Whole Chicken
One of the common downfalls with smoking a whole chicken at a low temperature, is that it can result in rubbery skin. It is difficult at lower temperature to actually render the fat and get that crispy texture on the skin. 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 styles of grills, and works every time to get a juicy and smoky interior, and a crispy skin on the exterior.
What Size Chicken is Best?
Roaster chickens, or chickens around 5 pounds, are the best option. Some of the chickens may have the giblets. Simply 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 length of time (the breasts taking the longest).
BUT for low and slow chicken we love cooking a whole chicken (without butchering it down), because it comes to temperature much slower and more consistently.
So if you’ve never smoked a whole roaster chicken before, get excited. You may be doing it much more often now.
After purchasing the chicken, the goal is to dry out the chicken and add the rub for a few hours before smoking.
- Remove any giblets from the chicken and discard (or use for stock or gravy).
- Pat dry the bird with a paper towel. Coat with olive oil and season with poultry seasoning, both inside the cavity and on the outside, and place in the refrigerator. Try to do this at least four hours prior to smoking. The salt in the rub will go through a dry brining process, essentially using osmosis that will add flavor to the skin and help with minimizing rubber skin texture. This will help dehydrate the bird as well, helping with the skin texture.
How to Smoke a Whole Chicken
- Pre-heat grill to 225 – 250 degrees (we like to use apple wood): The lower temperature will allow smoke flavor to get into the chicken.
- Stuff the cavity of the bird: Stuff the cavity to add additional flavor and aromatics. We like to stuff it with lemon, onion, and garlic. You can also add some herbs like thyme or rosemary.
- Next tie up the legs: to get them closer the body of the chicken so they don’t dry out or overcook. You can tie the wings too, or just fold them under the chicken.
- Smoke Chicken: Place the whole roaster chicken on the smoker, breast up. Smoke for one hour at 225 – 250 degrees.
- Increase Temperature of Grill: Then, after one hour, increase temperature of the smoker to 350 – 375 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). This will take roughly 90 additional minutes, but start checking the temperature at the one hour mark.
- Remove, and rest for 15 minutes, then slice and serve.
Temperature for Smoked Whole Chicken
Start by smoking the whole chicken at 225 – 250 degrees F, keeping it fairly low. If we continued cooking at that range for the entire length of the cook it would take several hours to get a properly smoked chicken. 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 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 or their Smoke Unit. 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 ½ hours from start to finish to smoke a whole chicken using this method. But always go by temperature, not exact time. This particular example was a 5 pound bird, and it was on 250 for 1 hour, then about 90 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 for Chicken
For chicken we use 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.
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
This recipe was first published in July 2018 and updated in February of 2021 with more details on the recipe and a video.
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I plan on cooking two whole chickens — do I need to cook them separately or can they be cooked at the same time?
Sean Martin says
You can definitely cook them at the same time. If your smoker is smaller add some extra time to the cook but if you have a decent amount of space in between the chickens it should be around the same time.
Hi! Has anyone wet brined their chicken over night before smoking? Is it worth the effort?
Sean Martin says
Kathy it does add moisture and some salt flavor to the bird. It’s definitely worth it.
Thank you! It’s in the brine as I type
I made this for the first time 3 weeks ago and it was a hit. I’m making 2 today and I use the Meat Church Holy Gospel rub on my chickens a day in advance to really let the flavors meld into the skin and meat. I have a few soup recipes for these chickens this and next week. I made homemade stock with the carcass of the chicken from 3w ago and the chicken noodle soup really had a delicious Smokey flavor that was easily detected and was better than a typical restaurant soup. Thanks for a recipe outside the “beer can” chicken recipe.
Sean Martin says
Awesome Nathan! Thanks for sharing and oh that soup sounds amazing!
Beck & Bulow says
Excellent! I’m not a fan of chicken breasts because they are too fat.,this recipe was very little work and tastes awesome. My dad loves it and he is very critical. Will be making this from now on. Thank you for sharing. We are also offering online meat delivery Services. please visit: https://www.beckandbulow.com
Martha Woods says
I used a pellet grill and the chicken was excellent.
Sean Martin says
Thank you Martha!
Bruce Bjorkman says
Pellet grills are fabulous for cooking/smoking chicken. My wife and I will typically, oil and then season a whole chicken. We then place it on a vertical roaster and then smoke it for 3 hours. At the end of the smoke session , we raise the grill temp to 425F to crisp up the skln. This usually takes 20 minutes.
Hillary Harper says
What a beautiful meal! I love a good dry rub on roasted chicken. Such a crowd pleaser!
we have never done this — such a great idea. and it looks so impressive. We have people over quite a bit and this looks perfect for that.
Jenni LeBaron says
This chicken looks perfect! I love when the skin gets nice and crispy on the outside. It looks incredibly flavorful.
Summer Sorensen says
That looks delicious! I’ve never thought of smoking a whole chicken on the grill before. I might have to try it!
Marlynn | UrbanBlissLife says
This is the prettiest smoked whole chicken I have ever seen! As always, I just love all of the tips and grilling nuggets of wisdom you include. I’ve never smoked a whole chicken before but this makes me want to try it right now!
Jade Helm / Tasting Pour says
There is something about the title of this post that reminds me of the book “How to Eat an Elephant.” I love making stock when Mark smokes a turkey but find the smoked stock is super pungent and I temper it with non smokey stock. It is really good for making a big pot of peas – like black eye or field (Southern Girl) Your chicken looks delicious I hope it did not have a name. 😉
Haha nope. This one did not have a name (that I know of!). I’ll have to try the stock with black eyed peas next time! Great idea!
Catherine @ To & Fro Fam says
I can just imagine serving this at Thanksgiving or another big family gathering. It’d be so impressive at the center of a big table with all your friends and family around!