I want to get back to something that I think is the best meat to learn on and incidentally gives me the most email questions.. whole smoked chicken.
Furthermore, I am smoking it on the Weber Smoky Mountain charcoal smoker which is a cinch to use and this also gives me plenty of room to smoke up to 6 large chickens comfortably if I need that many. I can squeeze up to 8 chickens on there if I put them real close together but I don’t like to do that.
In this writeup, I will also show you the best way to get the charcoal started without using lighter fluid.
Whole chicken is very inexpensive compared to other meats, can be smoked in around 4 hours and as long as you brine it (I’ll tell you all about this as well, in case you don’t know what it is), it will end up delicious and juicy even if you overcook the dumplings out of it. For these reasons and more, it is a wonderful meat to smoke and there are so many fun and easy things you can do to really ramp up the flavor of the finished product.
One of the things that I get lots of questions about is how to crisp the skin. When cooked at low temperatures chicken skin tends to be tough and rubbery and in this article I will show you how to crisp the skin a bit. Granted it won’t be as crispy as fried chicken skin and never will be unless you fry it but we can remove some of the toughness associated with smoking it at low temperatures.
What You’ll Need
- Whole Chicken (1 chicken serves about 4 people)
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Jeff’s original rub
- 1/3 cup honey
The first step in preparing chicken for smoking should be brining it which makes it juicier and more flavorful. Here’s my instructions for brining:
I’m gonna make brining meat real simple for you.. without getting scientific about it, you soak chicken and/or other meats in a salt water solution and the water gets drawn into the meat along with any other flavorings, spices, oils, juices, etc. that is in the water.
Since we know that cooking meat, tends to dry it out, the extra water in the meat results in a more juicy product and if you added flavorings to the water, it will end up more tasty as well.
Making a brine is as easy as putting 1 cup of kosher salt in a gallon of water and stirring it up until the salt is dissolved. It’s that easy! Here’s my standard recipe:
- 1 gallon of water
- 1 cup of kosher salt
- 1 cup of brown sugar
I like to make the brine in a 1-gallon tea pitcher using filtered water. I pour in the salt and stir it with a long wooden spoon until the water is clear. I then add the brown sugar and stir it until it looks dissolved.
Place the chickens in a large plastic bowl or food safe plastic bucket and pour the brine over the chicken(s) until they are completely covered.
Brine chicken(s) about 4 hours and rinse well under cool water before cooking them.
- You can also use a large ziploc bag or a drink cooler
- Make sure the brine is cold before you pour it over the chicken(s)
- Keep the brine and chickens cold (below 40 degrees F. during the entire process
- No room in the fridge? Reduce the water in the brine by about 25% and add enough ice to keep the brine below 40 degrees F.
- You can replace part or all of the water with other liquids such as juice, buttermilk, Dr. Pepper, etc.
- Brine chicken for about 4 hours
- Rinse the chicken well after brining to remove any excess surface salt
- Replace about 1/2 cup of the water in the brine with orange juice for extra orange flavor in the chicken
Preparing the Chicken
Place the chicken in a 2-gallon ziploc bag and pour about 1/4 cup of olive oil down in the bag and over the chicken. Zip it up and massage the oil all over the chicken making sure to get it into every nook and cranny. If you feel like you need more, use it.. it’s impossible to use too much olive oil;-)
Here’s where you have an option, you can pour about 1/4 cup of my rub down in the bag and massage it onto the chicken through the plastic or you can take the oiled chickens out of the bag and lay them on a large cookie sheet then sprinkle the rub all over the outside of the meat.
I usually pour the original rub down in the bag but this time I decided to sprinkle it on. To accomplish this, I stuck one hand up in the cavity of the chicken to allow me to maneuver it around, I then used the other hand to sprinkle on the rub. I put the rub into a large container that has 1/8 inch holes and it works perfectly. The oil adds a lot of flavor to the skin and helps the rub to stick really well.
Once the chicken is coated with the rub, it is ready to go in the smoker.
- You can put quartered onions, carrots, celery, and/or garlic cloves in the cavity for extra flavor if you so desire
- Try adding a couple of orange halves in the cavity to go with the orange theme and to add even more citrus flavor to the chicken.
Getting the Smoker Ready
I usually go out and get the smoker ready while the chicken is in the last 20-30 minutes of brining. In this recipe, I used the Weber Smoky Mountain charcoal smoker to smoke the chicken with regular charcoal briquettes for fuel.
Step one is to make sure your smoker is free of ash and unused bits of charcoal, the grates and water pan are clean and that it is in tip-top shape for cooking. I usually clean my smoker pretty well when I get done using it but if it’s been a while since I’ve used it, it doesn’t hurt to rinse out the charcoal basin, water bowl and wipe down the grates with some spray cleaner and a paper towel.
Once the smoker is clean and ready to use, it’s time to prepare the charcoal and the best way to do this is in the Weber charcoal chimney.
Place the chimney upside down on a hard, fire-proof surface.
Roll a couple of sections of dry newspaper into a good “swatting” size and then bend each one into a “C” shape or a donut and place it into the bottom of the charcoal chimney.
Return the chimney to right side up and fill with about 50 charcoal briquettes. This is about half full in my Weber charcoal chimney.
Light the paper on about 3 sides and let it do it’s thing. In about 15 minutes, the charcoal will be ready to use.
- Fill the charcoal chimney with charcoal and place it on the lit side burner of your gas grill. No newspaper required.
- Drizzle a slight bit of vegetable oil on the rolled up newspapers before you put them in the chimney and it will help them to burn better and longer.
While the charcoal is getting ready, you should get the smoker set up. Take the Weber Smoky Mountain smoker apart by removing the lid, grates, and middle section.
Make sure the water pan is set into the middle section but you don’t need to fill it with water just yet.
Once the coals are ready, pour them into the charcoal basin as shown in the picture
Place middle section of smoker on top of the charcoal basin
Fill water pan with about 1 gallon of water. Feel free to substitute some of the water with apple juice, beer, etc. if you are so inclined.
Place grate(s) on smoker and you’re almost ready to cook. I only needed the top grate so I left the bottom grate off to keep it clean.
Place the lid on the top and adjust the vents to full-open to let it come up to temperature.
Once the smoker reaches about 200 degrees F., I close the vents on the bottom to about 1/4 open and the top vent to about 3/4 open to slow the climb by reducing the airflow. I further close and/or adjust the vents to maintain my goal temperature.
On my smoker, I have to close the bottom vents to about 1/8 open to maintain 225 degrees but this will vary with each smoker depending on how tight it is. The large door on the front doesn’t always fit snugly and does allow in some air by design or defect (not sure which).
I don’t trust ANY smoker thermometers so I always use a backup at grate level to get the actual reading. The Thermoworks smoke comes with a very handy clip which allows you to easily attach the smoker probe just above grate level. Perfect!!
Continue to add more lit charcoal during the smoking process as needed to maintain about 225 degrees.
Smoking the Chicken
Place the chicken(s) on the grate breast side down and quickly replace the lid to maintain the temperature. Place about 6 chunks of wood or a 3×10 inch split on top of the coals once the chicken is in place.
You can put the smoking wood on earlier, but in this smoker you will have instant smoking action once you place the wood on top of the coals so it’s easier to just wait until the meat is in place and the lid is on.
I recommend orange wood even if you have to order some but if you don’t have any right now and you want to try this recipe, feel free to use cherry, pecan, oak or almost any smoking wood. I think fruit woods work really well with chicken.
Keep adding smoking wood to keep the smoke flowing throughout the entire smoke for best results. Here the chicken is at about 150 degrees internal temperature.
Where to find Orange Wood
This recipe calls for using orange wood to get that wonderful citrus smoke flavor that only orange can give. You can also use another fruit wood such as apple or cherry if you can’t find the orange wood.
Once the chicken reaches about 150 degrees (about 3 hours or so), put about 1/2 cup of honey in a microwave safe bowl or container and heat it for about 20 seconds to make it easy to brush on.
Brush the honey all over the chicken mixing it with the original rub that is already on the chicken.
Replace the lid on the smoker and open all of the vents to full open to allow the temperature to come up to 300-350 degrees F.
Be sure to use a digital probe meat thermometer such as the Thermoworks Smoke in the thickest part of the thigh and breast so you’ll know when the chicken reaches its safe temperature at 165°F (74°C).
By ramping up the heat during the last 15 degrees (about 30 minutes) of the cooking process, the honey/rub mixture will caramelize and and the skin will be dark, delicious and a lot more crispy than normal smoked chicken skin.
Let the chicken rest with foil tented over it for about 10 minutes before carving to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat.
Eat and Enjoy!!
- Brine chicken for 4 hours (keep it under 40 degrees F)
- Coat chicken with olive oil and Jeff’s original rub
- Smoke chicken with orange wood at 225 degrees F for about 3 hours (to 150 degrees F)
- At 150 degrees, ramp smoker heat up to about 300-350°F to help crisp the skin
- Brush on warmed honey during the last 30 minutes or until the chicken reaches 165 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh and breast
- Remove chicken from smoker and let rest for 10 minutes before carving
- Recommended smoking wood is orange but feel free to use another fruit wood or whatever hardwood you have on hand.
- Total cooking time for 5-6 lb roasters should be about 3.5 hours
- Keep the smoke going the entire time for best smoke flavor
- You can also use the Minion method as explained HERE
- Chicken quarters, chicken halves and even chicken pieces such as legs and thighs can be prepared and smoked in the same way.
Note: You can also order the formulas for my rubs and sauce and make these yourself at home. Grab those HERE and download immediately.