How to Smoke Chicken like a Boss

This recipe will show you step by step how to smoke the best chicken you have ever eaten. The whole chicken is one of my favorite cuts of meat to smoke. Cheap, tasty, and easy to prepare, it's always a winner at our dinner table. Whole chickens are great to smoke because you get every piece. Enough talk, let's get some smoke into our chicken.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases and get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

Supplies needed to smoke your chicken.

  • Chicken: You will need a Chicken no larger than 4 pounds. I recommend a 2.5-3.5lb pound Chicken for the best results. 
  • Smoker/Grill – You need to cook with indirect heat and provide a source of hardwood smoke. I am using an offset smoker for this technique.
  • Fuel: Not matter what fuel you use, you will need to make sure you have a way of generating smoke to flavor your chicken. I will be using a mixture of Oak and Hickory splits for this technique.
  • Instant Read Thermometer: Cook food by temperature, not time.
  • Oven Bags – You will need the bags to rest the Smoked Chicken when it comes off the grill.
  • Seasoning Blend: Whatever seasoning you use, make sure that it does not have salt in it. The Mrs. Dash line of salt-free seasonings is good to use.
  • Raw Cane Sugar: This complements the spiciness of the Rub and aids in color formation.
  • JaccardMechanical meat tenderizer.
  • Coolers: Use coolers to brine your chicken before smoking and to rest the chicken after it comes off the Smoker. You can use a cheap Styrofoam or Orange Drink Cooler.

Picking the right Chicken to Smoke.

To make sure your chicken is not terrible, you must start with the correct sized bird, a smaller chicken. I recommend purchasing a chicken no bigger than 4 pounds. There are a few reasons why.

  • The chicken is more tender since the animal is younger when slaughtered.
  • There is more surface area for the Rub to stick to.
  • The skin is thinner, which makes it easier to render out the fat and have bite-through skin.
  • It will cook quicker.
  • It will not have the stiff tendon on the drumstick.

Do not purchase a Roasting Hen for the grill. It is just a big old bird that will not be tender unless you put it in a stew. It should be called a Stew Hen. If you buy one of these monsters, you will be sorry (There is one exception to this rule, and that is a Capon).

Cleaning and Trimming the Chicken before the smoke.

Whole chicken in package.

Step 1. Remove the chicken from the packaging and place it in the sink. I cut at the bottom near the legs and run my knife along the chicken’s back to keep from cutting into the breast on accident. Allow the blood to drain completely away from the packaging before you put it in the trash.

Removing the chicken from the wrapper.

Step 2. Remove the neck bones and giblets packet from the cavity of the chicken. Make sure you get these out. I use the livers for channel catfish bait. Smoke the chicken necks for seasoning meat.

Giblet bag removed from the chicken's cavity.

Step 3. Now we can start trimming the bird out. I use a 6-inch Dexter Russell Sani-Safe boning knife. The smaller knife works better than an oversized Chef’s knife for trimming. Start by trimming the excess fat away from the thigh area.

Chicken held upside down
Cut excess fat from the thigh area.
Cutting additional fat from Breast.

Step 4. After trimming the thigh area, cut the excess skin from the neck and double-check to ensure you have trimmed away the spinal column cleanly. If the excess skin is attached to the back of the neck only, trim it out since it would not protect the breast meat anyway. Ensure you do not trim too much skin of fat from the Chicken breast since the skin will protect the meat during the smoking process.

check breast to make sure neck is cleaned up.

Step 5. Now we need to separate the skin from the meat so that we can use our seasoning to get all up under the skin and directly contact the meat to create a flavor explosion after it has brined.

Finger under skin leg q joint 1

To separate the skin from the leg quarter, insert your finger under the skin at the joint where the drumstick meets the thigh. You want to work your finger in along the joint, and you will be able to wiggle your finger back and forth to start separating the skin.

Finger under skin leg q joint 2

Step 6. Once you have the skin loosened, use a second finger together and use a rolling motion to work both fingers from the leg and thigh joint to the thigh’s backbone area without removing the skin. Do not worry if you tear it. Just use extra Rub in that area to act as a protective skin.

Finger under skin leg q joint 3

Step 7. Since the chicken is upside down, take the time to cut through or pull away the silver skin between the bottom of the breast and the chicken’s inner thigh. Separating the meat from the skin allows the seasonings to contact the meat after you brine the chicken.

Separate silverskin from leg

Step 8. To separate the skin from the breast, you use your finger to start working under the skin, loosening it on the breast’s side and front. Do not loosen the skin more than halfway down the breast, and if you do, the skin will shrink too much. Move the next step after you loosen the skin.

Separate skin from breast 1
breast sep from skin step 2
finger separating skin from front breast.

Tenderize your smoked chicken with a Jaccard.

Use the Jaccard Meat Tenderizer to help tenderize the meat and make the brine more effective by creating small channels in the meat. The Jaccard also severs the muscle fibers to keep them from contracting when the heat is applied and squeezing out the water in the individual fibers, drying out the meat. I Jaccard each chicken Breast two times and each leg quarter two times. Now drop the chicken into the brine cooler.

jaccard breast twice
jaccard leg quarter twice

Brine the chicken before you smoke it.

Your salt does not have to be blessed by a Short-haired Monk or come from a left-handed Mountain spring in the Andes Mountains. Do not add anything other than citrus juices to your brine because the only molecule small enough to pass through the cell walls of the meat is the salt molecule. Everything else is a surface treatment. The salt is needed so that the chemical reaction of the salt denaturing the protein can work. Save your money and use cheap Iodized salt and water because everything else is going down the drain. You get better results from injecting flavor and using a good quality salt-free rub after the brine. Check our our article on brining for more information.

4 cup measuring cup with salt added

Supplies needed to make the brine.

3-Step One Gallon Smoked Chicken Brine Recipe

Step 1. Pour in one cup of cold water into the 4 Cup Pyrex Measuring Cup.

Step 2. Use any plain salt and pour into the measuring cup until the water level reaches 1 ½ cups.

Step 3. Pour the saltwater slurry into the 1-gallon container, fill to the 1-gallon mark, and stir until it the salt has dissolved. Your chicken brine is now ready to use. Completely submerge your chicken in the brine and cover it with bagged ice or place it in the refrigerator. Keep the chicken in the brine for no more than 12 hours. Otherwise, it will be too salty.

Seasoning your chicken before you smoke it.

Remove the chicken from the brine and rinse.

Now that the chicken has been in the brine for 24 hours, they need to be removed and rinsed. Rinse the Turkeys to remove the excess salt and nasty bits from the surface. After you remove the chicken from the brine, it is much cleaner. The chicken is cleaner because the salt has pulled the excess blood from the chicken.

What seasoning Do I use?

Any salt-free seasoning like Mrs. Dash will work. Just make no matter what you use, make sure it DOES NOT have salt as an ingredient. I used my Uncle Bird’s Henpeck Seasoning and Raw Cane Sugar. The Uncle Bird’s HP Seasoning is savory with a little spicy kick at the end, which is complemented by adding the Raw Cane Sugar and the saltiness from the brine. If you want to inject your chicken, do it now. Make sure the injection used is salt-free as well. I like injecting straight Lemon Juice and using Mrs. Dash Lemon Pepper for the Rub.

How to apply your seasoning to the chicken.

We want to season this bird aggressively using both the Raw Cane Sugar and your salt-free Rub of choice. Do not worry about patting it dry. I never do it, and it works fine. Save your paper towels. The Raw Cane Sugar and the Rub are applied separately. I have tried blending it all, but it never is the same, so I will continue to do it this way until I can figure out a way to combine them and have it taste the same.

Step 1. Place the Rub into a pepper shaker. Start applying the Rub and sugar in the Breast area underneath the skin using the pockets we created when we separated the skin from the meat. I use two fingers to separate the skin from the meat and pour Rub and raw cane sugar between those two fingers. 

season under breast
season right breast

Step 2. Do this on the leg quarters using the same technique of pouring the Rub and raw cane sugar in between your two fingers, separating the skin from the meat.

season under skin of leg quarter

Step 3. Cover the inside cavity in the leg quarter area generously with Rub and Raw cane sugar. The final step is to add a light dusting of Rub and Raw Cane Sugar on the outside. Honestly, you do not need to cover the outside of the chicken in a heavy coating of Rub. The Rub will already season the chicken on the inside anyway.

season under skin leg and lower breast

Note: The Jaccard puts many holes in the skin that will allow the excess fat to render from the skin during the smoking process. No flabby skin. Leave the legs wide open so that the heat and smoke can flow through the chicken.

seasoning complete ready for the smoker

Smoking the Chicken

Indirect or Direct

I have cooked both ways, and with this technique, we will be using indirect heat. Indirect heat will allow us to smoke the chicken without burning it because the flame will not come in direct contact with the meat. We want the heat and smoke to flow over and through the chicken. If you do not have an offset stick burner, whatever type of grill you use, make sure you set up two zones by keeping the charcoal and wood to one side or only using the burners on one side of your gas grill. If you are using gas, I hope you are not. You will need a smoke box to create smoke for flavor. I smoke chicken using my offset stick burner with Hickory and Oak. I prefer a stronger wood because chicken does not take very long to smoke, and we need to get as much smoke in there while we can. Avoid fruit woods unless they are green.

What temperature do I smoke the chicken?

I like to smoke my chicken at between 275-300. I use a stick burner, so it is not a pellet or gas grill where you can essentially set it and forget it like an oven. Whatever grill you use, make sure the dark meat is facing the fire. Facing the dark meat near the fire will help cook the dark meat faster and protect the breast from drying out. I spray the chicken with plain Distilled White vinegar to help tenderize the meat and allow the chicken to absorb more smoke. If the chicken’s surface remains moist, the smoke particles will always have somewhere to attach to on the surface. Yummy.

How long do I smoke the chicken?

Smoke the chicken for approximately 45 minutes per pound at 275 degrees. Figure about 2-3.5 total cook time

How do I know when the smoked chicken is done?

Use an instant-read thermometer to get an accurate temperature. Check both the breast and the thigh. The breast must be 165 degrees, and the thigh must be 175 degrees in the area near the backbone. I usually pull the chicken off the Smoker when the breasts are 162 degrees, and the thighs are 172 degrees since I will rest in a pre-heated cooler, and the carryover cooking will get them to their final temperatures.

I included a link to a chart that has food safe temperatures.

163 degrees breast temp done cooking

Resting the chicken after you smoke it.

After the chicken comes off the smoker/grill, you will need to put them in plastic Ziploc or oven bags (I use oven bags now because the plastic is food safe and can be used to reheat the Smoked Chicken). Rest them in a preheated cooler to reach their final temperature. At this point, you will need to Make sure you use a different cooler than the cooler you brined in so that you do not have to worry about cross-contamination. You could also clean the cooler thoroughly with bleach and dry it out, but that is up to you.

Pre-Heating your Cooler.

To pre-heat the cooler, fill it halfway with hot water 30 minutes before the chicken comes off the Smoker. Drain the water and dry it out. If you do not have another cooler, that’s okay. Put the smoked chicken in a pre-heated oven to 165 degrees and rest with the range off and the door closed for about 30-45 minutes. This resting time will also allow the juices and heat to redistribute throughout the meat, which relaxes the muscle fibers creating an incredible eating experience.
2 smoked chickens resting on cooler

Carving the smoked chicken.

chicken completed rest ready to carve.

I usually use a 6-inch Dexter Russell boning knife to carve the Smoked chicken. If you have a Chef’s knife, you can use that as well. You do not need to have a carving knife for this. You need to make sure your knife is sharp. I like to use my Rada knife sharpener to touch up my blade before getting started.

Smoked Chicken Carving Instructions.

Step 1. Set up your cutting board.

Step 2. Start by cutting the flat from the Chicken wing.

Step 3. Use your knife to separate the legs from both thighs.

Step 4. Cut the thighs away from the backbone by cutting through the joint where the thigh meets the backbone.

Step 5. Separate the breast from the backbone by cutting through the joint where the wing attaches to the backbone.

Step 6. Remove both wing drums from the breast by cutting into the joint. Use your hand to break the wing away from the backbone. Use your knife to cut any remaining connected parts.

Step 7. Slice the breasts in a way that allows the muscle fibers to be cut short. Slicing the muscle fibers long will make them chewy. To do this, we need to cut a slit across the top of the breast where the wishbone is. Run the knife along the breastbone and peel the breast away from the carcass on both sides. You may need to use the point of your knife to help release the breast filet. Make sure that you cut the Turkey breast crosswise into slices about 1/4 inch thick. Congratulations, your smoked chicken is now ready to enjoy. You are the star of the show.

carved smoked chicken

Reheat your smoked chicken.

If you do not eat your smoked chicken immediately, you can freeze it, or if you want to prepare a day ahead, keep it in the fridge and use the following directions to reheat your Smoked chicken.

Smoked Chicken Reheating Instructions

Step 1. Pre-heat your oven to 300 degrees. Place your smoked chicken breast side up in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2 ½ inches deep if you have a chicken oven bag, place the smoked chicken in the oven bag with a half cup of water. You can also put in a shallow roasting pan with a half cup of water and wrap tightly with aluminum foil.

Step 2. Heat for approximately 30-45 minutes, when the internal temperature of the thigh reaches 145 degrees. Begin checking the chicken for doneness after 30 minutes of cook time. Your smoked chicken is ready to eat when the temperature in the thigh reaches 145 degrees. Please give the chicken a 30-minute rest before you carve it.


You may also like

Best Knife for Cutting Raw Chicken

Best Knife for Cutting Raw Chicken
Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}