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Smoking chicken is another one of my favorite things to do.. done correctly it can be quite tasty and very healthy as well.

I have been doing quite a few test runs on my new wood fired smoker to get everything right before I begin giving instructions on how to smoke chicken

I have to say I have been getting some very good results.. tasty results I might add.

I am going to release the details that have recently become the standard for smoking chicken at my house.

Go to the local supermarket or meat market and pick out a few plump chickens in the 3 to 3.5 pound range for the best flavor. I like to buy ones that are not full of solution.. look for words like “all natural” or “minimally processed” on the outside of the package.

Brine the chickens in a solution of:

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 cup coarse kosher salt
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • anything else you might like to add such as wine, fruit juice, spices, worcestershire, etc..

You can double the recipe if you need to. please read the page on brining for more information.

You will only need to brine the chickens for around 4 hours or so.

Build a fire that will maintain around 225°F using oak as a base wood and while the fire is getting started wash the brine off of the chickens and coat the chickens with my original rub for the best results.

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Place the chickens on the smoker breast side down and immediately throw on some hickory and let the smoke roll relentlessly out of the smoke stack. you can also mix in some apple or other fruit wood if you have a favorite.

Let the smoking chickens go for an hour and a half and then turn the chickens to breast side up so that it does not dry out the tender white meat.

You can mop the chickens with some butter or spiced olive oil if you like.. I do not mop the chickens at all as I have found that it is really not needed. The outside of the chickens tend to stay nice and moist throughout the entire smoke.

I like to use a digital probe meat thermometer to check the temperature of the chicken since the entire success of smoking chicken lies in not overcooking the chicken.

My favorite digital probe meat thermometer right now is the Maverick ET-733 which is remote. The sending unit stays with the smoker and monitors the smoker temperature AND the meat temperature. The reciever stays in your pocket or on the table next to you and you always know what’s happening. The range is about 300 feet and I’m loving it.

Better yet.. it’s only about $60 bucks on Amazon.com and it is well worth it!

Pull the chicken when the temp reaches 165°F in the thickest part of the breast.. sometimes I will pull it a few degrees shy of 165 since I know the temp will continue to rise for a few minutes after it comes out of the smoker.

I have to tell you… prepare for the attack! I did a batch of these this past weekend and you should have seen the family huddles over the counter like a crew of barbarians pickin’ that chicken to the bone!

Feel free to come up with your own variations but hopefully the details listed above will help you get started smoking the world’s favorite white meat.

Want the Skin to be Crispy?

Smoked chicken skin tends to be a little chewy at times.. if you prefer crispy chicken skin then you will need to make just a couple of adjustments to the process.

Crispy chicken skin requires about 20-25 minutes of high heat to render the fat in the skin and make it crisp up so you can either crank up the heat in the smoker to about 300-325 °F F for about the last 25 minutes or so or.. you can remove the chicken once it reaches about 140 °F or so and finish it off over high heat (300-325) on the grill or oven.

Watch the chicken carefully and turn as necessary to make sure the skin does not burn but browns evenly on all sides.

Remember.. if you have placed a sugary rub or sauce on the bird, it will burn really fast over that high heat so be careful.

Order My Smoking Meat Book

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Note: German version available under the title "American Smoker" at Amazon.de


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About the Author

Long time Industrial Engineer turned self-proclaimed fire poker, pitmaster and smoke whisperer and loving every minute of it!

44 Comments on this article. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Lloyd November 28, 2015 at 2:42 pm - Reply

    I put foil under and over the chicken that is rubbed with seasoning combination of my own

    I fill a pan with water and smoke for 4 hours at 275. No problems here b

    • Tom June 18, 2016 at 7:42 pm - Reply

      Do you burn wood? I mean when the wood gas is strong I think the foil helps? Do you take off the top foil after the smoke dies down and its just wood coals?

  2. Randy November 15, 2015 at 2:41 pm - Reply

    Just used your chicken recipe yesterday. I brined the chicken for 8 hours. I must say that this was the juiciest chicken I have ever taken off the charcoal grill. I never eat white meat because of the dryness, but I really enjoyed breast meat last night.
    Thanks for a great recipe!

  3. dudley April 9, 2015 at 7:31 am - Reply

    a local truck-trailer sells the best “pollo asado” iv’e ever eaten; the chicken skin is crispy with the meat exhibiting a deep redness much like the red rind of a long smoked brisket. I know they use hardwood lump charcoal in big sacks from mexico. any thoughts of how they are cooking their chickens? cause I wake up in the middle of the night having dreamed of their food, and want to make it at home.

  4. chris pierce February 1, 2015 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    Trying this now… my first chicken to smoke… just got smoker last weekend and did a beef tri-tip and it was amazing. I have 4 racks of beef finger ribs on there now too.

    What happens if you dont soak? Some folks say they don’t soak.

    Thanks.
    Chris.
    Boerne, TX

    • Mark February 1, 2015 at 11:19 pm - Reply

      soaking wood is not recommended. the water hardly penetrates the wood. besides, all it does is create steam in the beginning as the water evaporates. then the wood burns.

      on the other hand, wood chips. they can be soaked, but they’ll still burn.

      besides, some coals can lose heat when wet chips touch them.

      why bother?

  5. Dirk D. November 3, 2014 at 8:36 pm - Reply

    Came out juicy and perfect. I was only able to brine it for three hours and I used indirect heat on a kettle grill. Thanks for the tips!

  6. Tom April 2, 2014 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    I always brine whole chicken overnight or at least 8 hours. However, you’ll want to thoroughly rinse the bird, including inside the cavity, under cold water; then thoroughly dry it with paper towels before placing it in the smoker.

  7. Larry February 5, 2014 at 11:56 am - Reply

    Jeff, you said to brine 4 hours or so. Is it ok to brine over night?

  8. Charlie December 27, 2013 at 4:00 am - Reply

    Followed your instructions for smoking a whole chicken.  I removed chicken when breast was 165 degrees. Also allowed chicken to stand for 30 minutes before carving.  Breast was great, but thighs were under cooked. There was even some blood close to the bone.  Using your technique, how do you get the whole chicken done, with dark meat done but white meat not overcooked?  Thanks.

    • Ben Dover January 27, 2014 at 12:39 pm - Reply

      Turn your chicken over in the smoker you left it breast down longer than bottom down so the heat did not have a good chance to cook the thighs..

    • Tom April 2, 2014 at 5:14 pm - Reply

      If you have plenty of grill space, cut the backbone out of the chicken with heavy kitchen shears (I actually have a pair of tin snips dedicated to this work) and lay both halves flat on the grill breast side up. I have found that the chicken cooks a little faster and more evenly this way. It also seems to be more flavorful because the smoke can now get to the cavity side rather than just the outside of the bird.

  9. Joseph December 22, 2013 at 6:53 pm - Reply

    I believe the 400 is for the offset side firebox on a drum smoker not the temp where the meat is cooking?

  10. greg schmidt October 11, 2013 at 9:51 am - Reply

    i recently heard from a griller in nixon texas, tjat “the secret” to cooking quality meat is getting the maximum flavor from the wood and never mixing woods. now it was said that the maximum favor from the woods was achived, now all woods are difffernt but he seemed his temps were a lil high. all above 400 degrees. to get the most flavor from wood. i have never heard of these temps being so high i usally get more smoke which is flavor from lower temps. what is your take on this “secret”?

     

     

     

    • Hunker Down October 15, 2013 at 6:48 am - Reply

      Smoking any meat at over 400 degrees is ridiculous and absurd!! If someone is in that big of a hurry they should go to McDonalds and forget about being a good pitmaster!!

  11. Seth September 15, 2013 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    Just got a brinkman charcoal smoker and I have done brats and chicken. They turned out well, but my heat is too high(400 degrees)and its cooking to fast.I’m using standard briquette charcoal. if i use less charcoal will i get less heat, if so what about lasting long enough. or should i use lump charcoal?

    • Mark October 4, 2013 at 11:48 pm - Reply

      Seth and others,

      there are many factors that lead to the heat being too high. but I can list a few of them that are most common:

      1) you may have used too much charcoal/fuel. it is advised that you use a chimney starter. it is an extremely helpful tool for determining the amount of charcoal/lump coal, as well as a quick way to get the fuel going before dumping it in.

      2) check for the air leaks in the smoker then patch up the holes. Brinkmans are well known for leaks. I have a custom built smoker and I would find leaks over the time then patch them up. best way to check for holes is to look inside for any light peeking through. plus, the vent dampeners at the bottom need to be tweaked and it is up to you to determine how much air go through while keeping the temps around 230F. also, on windy days the temps can change wildly, so consider creating a buffer around the smoker.

      3) there are several types of charcoal briquettes and lump coals but a variety of differences in between them are minimal at best. the biggest concern you would have is the amount of ashes that each types of fuel produce. lump coals produce less than others, for instance.

      on to happy smokin’!
      Mark

  12. Russell September 1, 2013 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    How long should I smoke a 7.8lb whole chicken in a electric smoker?

  13. Joe August 22, 2013 at 8:13 am - Reply

    I am going to try this tomorrow. I know that you mentioned about anything in the brine and I am thinking about adding some home made Bourbon about 1/4 C just for a little flavor. I know that the alcahol usually cooks off when I cook with wine and spirits on my stove but will it do the same in the smoker at such a low temp? I do not want to do this is you think it will leave some residual alcahol in the chicken.

    • Jeff Phillips August 22, 2013 at 2:07 pm - Reply

      According to my research, it takes about 3 hours to get the alcohol content to below 5% when you are baking/simmering. At the higher temperatures that I recommended for this dish, almost all of the alcohol should have been dissipated by the time it gets finished but there will always be trace amounts in the food.

  14. JEROME MANUEL August 7, 2013 at 6:45 pm - Reply

    HOW DO I KEEP THE THE SKIN OF CHICKEN FROM BEING TOO CHEWEY??

  15. Donnie Morris July 10, 2013 at 1:07 am - Reply

    i must say finally someone i can understand and rightoff you have helped me.  question,  why do i get sick after i eat my hickory smoked barbque? i love it but it hurts afterwards.  to much hickory?

  16. David July 3, 2013 at 12:04 pm - Reply

    Beware! This chicken is dangerous. It’s the only time I’ve had to have a Heimlich performed on me. Don’t stuff to much of this amazingly good food in your mouth at one time.

  17. Steve Woodring June 5, 2013 at 8:31 pm - Reply

    Question

    This weekend I smoked 200 half chickens for an event. Wet smoked on a 8ft smoker with apple and cherry wood. 62 at a time smoked for 2 1/2 hours at 250 degrees.

    Then I placed them in a warming cabinet for 5 hours at 170 degrees. Here is the Rub I had three a** H****s tell me that the chicken was raw. Because the meet was red around the bone. I tried to explain but you know a** H***s.

    I say because they where cooked slow and wet that the chicken bone marrow penetrated and turned the meat red. Am I correct? And is there something I can print out for the people that don't understand smoked chicken?

    The chicken feel apart and was the best chicken I have smoked. My opinion.

    Am I correct in my assumptions?

    • Jay June 16, 2013 at 3:44 pm - Reply

      Steve you should never serve raw chicken 

    • peter October 6, 2013 at 8:10 pm - Reply

      Smoked chicken usually end up red around the bone, thats normal, the meat is cooked when it reaches the desired temp and the meat falls off the bone.  People should learn about smoking so they do not screw up on stupid comments abou raw meat! They make some uneducated comments about it.  They should read and learn, so they dont look stupid.  Ive got a smokehouse restaurant and smoke chickens everyday and they are just the best tasting meat aroound.  Keep smoking pals.

    • wlwolford June 11, 2014 at 11:52 am - Reply

      have the same problem but the internal temp is 170

  18. Ron roteman June 2, 2013 at 4:45 pm - Reply

    Just put a 6.5 pound whole chicken on the smoker. Steady between 225-250. Any estimate on cook time? Thank you.

  19. Terry May 18, 2013 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    I'm brand new to smoking.  I just bought the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker (18-1/2").  I'm using it tomorrow for the first time.  I'll be cooking 1 chicken and 2 racks of St. Louis style ribs.

    I have a question about chickens.  Which is preferred: A large Roasting chicken or the regular small fryers?

    Thanks,

    Terry

  20. fatmike April 27, 2013 at 6:51 pm - Reply

    I have this site saved on my favorites list.  I bought an electric smoker about 3 months ago, and have been smoking everything from chicken to fish to ribs and lamb.  Than you so much for this site!

  21. toddmanley April 23, 2013 at 8:57 am - Reply

    what about beer can chicken in smoker? or is it not nessasary after brining?

  22. Jim April 16, 2013 at 11:51 am - Reply

    Thanks to your newsletter and website I've become well known around the 'hood and office as "Meatman". Butts, ribs, briscuits . . . all good. I am now venturing into smoking chicken (which I personally think is one of the toughest things to get right). I've got an amateur competition coming up in a few weeks and my team assigned me chicken (halves). I've tried your rub on chicken one other time and felt it a little "heavy". Do you have a rub or alteration that you use for poultry? I was thinking of toying with either ginger or cinamon. Obviously the office and family will be eating lots of chicken over the next couple of weeks as I experiment but I'm really wanting a drop dead, sure fire chicken. Any suggestions?

     

    thanks

  23. Rambo March 27, 2013 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    What is the usual total cooking time?  I will be smoking 4 – 3.5lb to 4lb chickens today.

    Or how much longer usually after I turn them over should they take?

    Thanks,

    Super Novice

    • Jeff Phillips March 28, 2013 at 1:47 am - Reply

      Perhaps too late but just so you’ll know, whole chickens usually require about 3.5 to 4 hours if cooked at 225-240 degrees. Just remember to watch the thermometer closely and let that be the judge of when the meat is done cooking rather than time.

      You might need to figure on a little extra time for 4 chickens since that adds quite a bit of cold mass to the smoker.

      I hope they turned out great for you!

      • Stanley December 13, 2014 at 2:06 pm - Reply

        I have recently purchased a Traeger grill/smoker in the last few months. Will your book “Smoking Meats” apply to smoking on this grill?

  24. Cliff March 26, 2013 at 11:11 am - Reply

    I tried your "Smoking Chicken" brining and smoking process and it worked great. This was my first attempt at a whole chicken.  I was able to even get the skin crispy by following your suggestion.   I picked up digital/portable meat thermometor which helpled immensely.  Thanks for the help.

  25. Mike Cowan March 10, 2013 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    Should I delete salt from my rub recipe if I brine the chiken before smoking? If I don't will it be too salty?

    • Big Rizz March 10, 2013 at 7:32 pm - Reply

      I can speak from personal experience on this one. I just smoked a couple of chickens this weekend after first brining overnight and using a rub that had added salt. The chickens were too salty, in my view. My wife loved them because she loves salt but next time around, I'll ease off the salt in the rub.

  26. Bob March 3, 2013 at 11:42 am - Reply

    Can you add liquid smoke to the brine?

    • Jeff Phillips March 3, 2013 at 9:52 pm - Reply

      You can add almost anything that you like to the brine and it will end up flavoring the meat all the way through. I’m not a big fan of liquid smoke personally but if you like it then go for it. I add things that I like to the brine like hot sauce, crab boil, etc. and it always amazes me how it gets so deep into the meat.

      I’d say go easy with it the first time until you find out how it does.

  27. Esther Smith February 18, 2013 at 1:29 pm - Reply

    Kind of new to smoking and just have a few quick questions in regards to smoking chickens. Do you have to inject the chickens with any Tenderquik or other solution prior to smoking so bacteria does not form? Should you always brine your chickens prior to smoking? Was worried about smoking at a low temperature and bacteria forming? Any help would surely be appreicated. Thank you so much!!

    • Jeff Phillips February 18, 2013 at 1:36 pm - Reply

      The kind of smoking that I teach here mostly is hot smoking which is just cooking the meat with smoke added. We do cook the meat a little lower than you would in the house but there is no need for adding tenderquick or any other curing salts.

      Chickens are usually cooked at about 240-275 degrees F in most cases and will get done in about 4 hours or so.

      You don’t have to brine the chicken but it is a good practice for making sure they are juicy, tender and flavorful as they can be. I highly recommend it.

    • JJ April 6, 2013 at 6:53 pm - Reply

      Just smoked a drunk chicken and it turned out amazing.  It was juicy and tender.  I didn't brine it as suggested.  It took about 3 hours @ 250-275 degrees.  Every hour I applied a mop made with apple cider vinegar and eevo.  

    • JJ April 6, 2013 at 6:54 pm - Reply

      Just smoked a drunk chicken and it turned out amazing.  It was juicy and tender.  I didn't brine it as suggested.  It took about 3 hours @ 250-275 degrees.  Every hour I applied a mop made with apple cider vinegar and eevo.  

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