Smoked Whole Chicken is absolutely delicious and easy to make. To make the best whole smoked chicken, we will explain how to do it on a pellet grill or charcoal smoker. Follow our instructions for a perfect result of crispy chicken skin and juicy tender meat.
Want a great variation of this? Try our guide on how to spatchcock chicken. This involves removing the backbone and flattening the chicken. It speeds up the cooking process.
- Just smoking a whole chicken at low temperature results in rubbery skin and takes hours.
- This recipe shows how to smoke and then finish over a high temperature for juicy chicken with crispy skin in half the time while maintaining great smoke flavor.
- If you own a pellet grill then you can also check out our Pellet Grill Roast Chicken.
- Recipe Highlights
- Smoked Whole Chicken
- What Size Chicken is Best?
- Preparation for Smoked Whole Chicken
- How to Smoke a Whole Chicken
- Important Tools
- Ranges for Smoking Time Based on Chicken Weight at 250
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Wine Pairing with Smoked Chicken
- Use any Leftover Chicken for these Recipes
- Smoked Whole Chicken Recipe
Smoked Whole Chicken is one of the most common things we cook on our smokers. We typically smoke two on any given Sunday, then use the meat throughout the week for our meals, like chicken 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 the outside of the chicken to get rubbery skin. It is difficult at lower temperature to actually render the fat and get that crispy texture on the skin. So a great way to smoke chicken is a modified version of reverse searing.
- Smoke the chicken at low temperature to get a smoky flavor.
- Increase the heat to let it finish and crisp up the skin.
We have used this method on our pellet grill as well as our Big Green Egg with the same results. The method works for all types of grills. It ensures a juicy and smoky inside and a crispy outside each time.
- Whole Chicken – We buy roaster chickens that generally fall in the 5 to 6 pound range.
- Seasoning – We use our grilled chicken seasoning with a combination of kosher salt, black pepper, granulated garlic (versus garlic powder) and herbs. It is also sugar free. But if you want a more traditional BBQ seasoning with brown sugar you can also use our ultimate dry rub. Or you can use your favorite spice rub.
- Aromatics – We like to stuff the cavity for aromatics as the chicken smokes. We use lemon, onion, and garlic.
What Size Chicken is Best?
Roaster chickens, or chickens around 5 pounds, are the best option. Some of the whole birds may still have the giblets. Simply discard the giblets for this recipe. The larger the size of your chicken the longer the cooking time.
If we’re grilling chicken (hot and fast), 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 (with the breasts taking the longest).
BUT for low and slow whole chicken we love cooking a whole chicken (without butchering it down), because it comes to temperature much slower and more consistently.
Preparation for Smoked Whole Chicken
After purchasing the chicken, the goal is to dry out the chicken (if possible) 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 paper towels. 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 dry brine the chicken, 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 get crispy.
Safety Note: Avoid rinsing the chicken with cold water. That just causes cross contamination. Instead be sure the whole bird is dry inside and outside with paper towels. Then add the oil and season.
How to Smoke a Whole Chicken
- Pre-heat grill to 250 degrees. The best wood to use is apple or fruit wood. The lower temperature will allow smoky 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.
- Use butcher twine to tie up the chicken legs. This will bring them close to the body. Doing this will help them avoid drying out or becoming overcooked. You can tie the wings too, or just fold them under the chicken.
- Smoke Chicken: Place the whole roaster chicken on the grill grates, breast up. Smoke for one hour at 225 – 250 degrees F.
- Increase Temperature of Grill: Then, after one hour, increase temperature of the smoker to 350 – 375 degrees, and leave the chicken in the smoker until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the breast reads 160 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. The high heat will render the fat and get the crispy skin.
- Remove, and let the chicken rest for 15 minutes, then slice and serve.
The proper internal temperature of chicken dictates when the whole chicken is done. Having a good digital meat thermometer is important as well as a good leave-in thermometer.
- Leave-In Thermometer – If you cook low and slow you need a good thermometer you can leave in the meat and read the temperature of the smoker. We recommend the Smoke Unit from Thermoworks.
- Instant Read Thermometer – We recommend the Thermoworks Thermapen One. You’ll use this to check the internal temperature of the chicken thighs and breast to determine when it’s done.
Ranges for Smoking Time Based on Chicken Weight at 250
This range is intended to include the high heat grilling. So, 60 minutes at 250 degrees F, then the remaining time at 350-375 degrees F.
- 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 + Wine.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
It will take 4 – 5 hours if smoking a whole chicken at 225 degrees F. We find that it will also results in rubbery skin. We recommend smoking for an hour at 250 degrees and then finishing at higher heat.
Plan approximately 2 ½ hours from start to finish to smoke a whole chicken using this recipe. 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.).
Wine Pairing with Smoked Chicken
I typically reach for a Chardonnay or full bodied white wine with chicken, even a smoked whole chicken recipe (pending they do not have any BBQ sauce on them). But because of the dry rub we use in this case, 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
Mary (a certified sommelier and recipe developer) and Sean (backyard pitmaster) are co-authors of the critically acclaimed cookbook, Fire + Wine, and have been creating content for the IACP nominated website Vindulge since 2009. They live in Oregon on a farm just outside Portland.
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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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