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How to Smoke Chicken

how to smoke chicken video thumbnail scaled

In this tutorial, I take your hand and walk you through the process of butterflying a whole chicken, prepping it with my special rub/mayo mixture and then smoking the chicken to perfection. I used my Hasty Bake Legacy with lump charcoal and pecan wood for these smoked chickens but you can do this on any smoker whether it’s a charcoal, electric, pellet smoker or even a grill.

The recipe card is below and be sure to watch the video as I demonstrate the entire process for you.

Helpful Information
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 2.5 hours
  • Smoker Temp: 275°F
  • Meat Finish Temp: 165°F
  • Recommended Wood: Pecan

What You’ll Need

Meat

  • 1 or more whole chickens

Mayo/Rub Mixture (makes enough for 1 whole chicken)

Brine

  • 1 gallon of cold water
  • 1 cup of coarse kosher salt
  • 1 cup of brown sugar

Basting Sauce

Step 1: Brining

Check out this page to learn everything you ever wanted to know about dry and wet brining.

4-6 hours before you plan to prepare and smoke the chicken(s), make the brine by adding the cold water to a large container such as a tea pitcher. Add the coarse kosher salt and stir until the salt is dissolved and the water returns to clear. Stir in the brown sugar and the brine is ready to use.

Place the chicken in a glass or plastic container and pour the brine over the chicken to cover.

Place the container into the fridge for 4-6 hours while the chicken brines.

Once the brining process is finished, remove the chicken from the brine, rinse it under cold water and pat it dry with a paper towel. Discard the brine.

Step 2: Remove Backbone

Place the chicken on a cutting board breast side down. Using kitchen shears cut along both sides of the backbone to completely remove it.

spatchcock 1

Flip the chicken over and press firmly down on the breast to cause the chicken to lay flat.

Flip the chicken back over again so the skin side is down and you have access to the inside of the chicken.

Step 3: Add Some Flavor

Now it’s time to make the good stuff that we’ll rub all over the inside and the outside of the chicken to make it taste amazing.

You’ll need:

Use about ½ of the mixture on the inside of the chicken. Spread it all over to cover and be careful of any sharp bones or ribs so you don’t cut yourself.

rub 1

Now move the chicken to skin side up and apply other half of mayo/rub mixture to skin side spreading it all over the breast, wings and legs to coat. Push some of it under the skin wherever you can.

rub 5

Step 4: Smoke Time

Setup smoker for cooking indirect at 275°F using pecan wood for smoke. If your smoker uses a water pan, leave it dry to allow the skin to crisp up a little better.

Place chicken meat side down- cook chicken until internal temperature reaches 165°F in the thickest part of the breast and thigh.

smoker 1

While the chicken is cooking, mix together 1 stick of melted butter and 2 TBS of Jeff’s original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub).

Brush this all over the skin side of the chicken 2 to 3 times during the cooking process or anytime it starts to look dry.

smoker 3

Step 5: Carve and Serve

Once the chicken is finished cooking, remove it to the counter and let it rest for about 15 minutes with foil tented over the top.

Carve the chicken and serve.


Printable Recipe

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How to Smoke Chicken

How to brine and butterfly a whole chicken, prepare it with my special rub/mayo mixture and then smoke the chicken to perfection.

  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
  • Category: Entree, Main
  • Cuisine: Barbecue

Ingredients

Units Scale

Main Prep

  • 1 Each Chicken (, Whole)
  • 1 cup Mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup Jeff's original rub

Brine

  • 1 gallon Cold water
  • 1 cup Coarse kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar ((dark or light))

Baste

  • 1 stick butter ((melted))
  • 2 TBS Jeff's original rub

Instructions

  1. Make Brine Pour 1 gallon of cold water into large pitcher. Add salt and sugar and stir until dissolved.
  2. Brine Place chicken into non-reactive container and pour brine over chicken to cover. Refrigerate.
  3. Rinse After 4 hours, remove the chicken, rinse and pat dry. Discard brine.
  4. Spatchcock Cut along both sides of backbone to remove. Press chicken open and place skin side down on cutting board.
  5. Coat Meat-side Mix together 1 cup of mayonnaise and 1/4 cup of Jeff's original rub. Place 1/2 of mixture on meat side of chicken. Spread to coat.
  6. Coat Skin-side Flip chicken to skin side up and apply other half of mayo/rub mixture to skin side spreading it all over the breast, wings and legs to coat. Push some of it under the skin wherever you can.
  7. Prepare Smoker Setup smoker for cooking indirect at 275 degrees using pecan wood for smoke. If your smoker uses a water pan, leave it dry.
  8. Smoke Place chicken meat side down- cook chicken until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F in the thickest part of the breast and thigh.
  9. Baste While the chicken is cooking, mix together 1 stick of melted butter and 2 TBS of Jeff's original rub. Brush this all over the skin side of the chicken 2 to 3 times during the cooking process or anytime it starts to look dry.
  10. Finish Once the chicken is finished cooking, remove it to the counter and let it rest for 15 minutes with foil tented over the top.
  11. Serve Carve the chicken and serve.

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22 Comments

  1. I’m a professional Pit Master and lover of BBQ. I used to add molasses to brines and came to the conclusion that salt is the only ingredient that absorbs through osmosis. All other ingredients at best coat the surface. Additionally, there’s some debate (and you do a great job of using this technique) as to whether meats (including chicken) benefit from wet vs dry brining. Has anyone ever determined whether those pickling spices used during the curing process of pastrami or corned beef actually permeate the meat and add any flavor? Seems like a waste of $ unless you add as a rub during cooking.

  2. Awful…….if you follow this recipe to the letter as i did your chicken skin will be soft and inedible, the rub is ok…out of 10, i’d give it a generous 3

    1. Didn’t sound like you actually tried it Dave. Why leave a negative comment about it before even trying it? Be humble enough to accept there’s more than just your way to cook. We all learn something new every time we try something new.

    2. Hey Jeff huge fan and purchased your rub recipe years ago and use it often. Wondering if it would make a big difference if you place the chicken meat side up on the smoker. Seems like it would be easier to apply the butter mixture on the skin this way.

      1. Rob, I may have not made this clear enough in the recipe but I usually place these meat/skin side up. This gives me great access to the skin so it can be basted throughout the cook.

        1. Jeff,
          I think the confusion might come from the line in the instructions above that says:

          “Place chicken meat side down- cook chicken until internal temperature reaches 165°F in the thickest part of the breast and thigh.”

          … but the photos show it meat side up.

          I’ve been following your site for years. Thanks for all the help and keep up the good work.

          1. AP.. I think you are absolutely correct. I was thinking meat vs skin whereas most people are seeing the meat side to be the same as the skin side.

            I can never figure out what to call the bottom side when you spatchcock the bird ;-)

            Any ideas?

            I will re-write that section and hopefully remove that confusion it’s causing. Thank you for the insight!

          2. Jeff,
            Good question on what to call each side…

            To me, the meat side and skin side of a spatchcocked bird are the same. Maybe just “front” (meat side) and “back”? Maybe say “breast side up”?

            AP

  3. Wow. Just wow. The brining is amazing and your directions outstanding. Your rub is world class. Used full stick seasoned hackberry.

  4. Jeff,
    I have a recipe that i use for turkey every Thanksgiving where I dry brine the turkey for 4 days prior to the big event. I use coarse kosher salt and a myriad of other herbs for the brine. I haven’t cooked it in the smoker yet but believe I will the year. Cooked in the oven at 375 for just afew hours and the skin is so crisp and the meat so moist, it is a crowd favorite.
    I want to give your chicken recipe a shot dry brined in the smoker. What do you think? Love this recipe by the way and have made it several times.

  5. I much prefer the spatchcock method, but just seasoned under skin, all over under skin. Dry skin & refrgerate to further dry. Then pat dry again, then very lightly spritz w/pnut oil & prepare smoker for 400° approx 1 hour, until crispy skin. Remove at 155° or crispy skin. Rest, carve & serve. Crispy skin, & juicy chicken.

  6. Hi! I tried this recipe and for some reason the skin of the chicken was really thick and soggy. The rub and mayo mixture didn’t caramelize and get dark. I know it’s something I did wrong, but I’m not sure what. Any ideas of what I could try next time?

    1. Hey Sawyer! Sometimes you get chicken like that and the skin is really thick and just doesn’t get to the right texture. Smoked chicken is never going to be crispy but we do want it to have a good “bite-thru”.

      There’s a couple of things you can do, one being to place the chicken in the fridge open to the air overnight. This causes the skin to dry and tighten up. That will help some.

      Another thing you can do is to smoke the chicken for a while and then at about the half way point, switch to high heat to finish.. 300 to 375 would not be out of the question but you do have to watch it carefully to make sure the rub and sauce does not burn and I would definitely not put the sauce on until the chicken gets within a few minutes of being done.

      Were you able to maintain 275 throughout the process? Also what kind of smoke do you have?

  7. I attempted to find the pan and grill that sits in the pan that you used in the pulled pot roast video and recommended from Amazon. I was unsuccessful in locating it. Could you tell me the exact name of the items or a link to the items. Thank you

  8. How is the skin with this cook? I’ve had bad luck with just smoking my chickens and the skin getting that leathery, hard, or unchewable consistency without throwing it on direct flame when I’m done to try and crisp it up and make it edible.

  9. I had gotten the recipe from being subscribed and gave it a go last weekend. I did half with mayo and half with mustard as a comparison but it was harder to tell which was which than you may think.

    This chicken was excellent and I did drums and thighs. I agree the skin needs to be there to keep the moisture in whether you wanna eat it or not. It sure did turn a nice brown. We did the first meal with some scalloped potatoes and a salad then for dinner the next night made the homemade cole slaw and did sandwiches. Jeff does an outstanding job!

  10. How to Smoke Chicken an amazing article I loved the way you have taught in your blog to smoke chicken and the recipe you have provided us is too easy. Thanks for the lovely article you have given to us.

    1. The meat will dry out if you do this. If you are wanting to not eat the skin, I recommend using something like a rubber spatula or chopsticks (tips from readers) to loosen the skin and get as much rub as you can up under the skin. Cook it with the skin on then remove the skin when it’s done. The skin does a great job of keeping the meat from drying out while letting plenty of smoke through and is best left on while cooking for this very reason.

      The other option would be to remove the skin and then wrap the chicken with cheesecloth or something similar to protect the meat during the cooking process. a basting of melted butter and rub every 20 minutes or so would be a great idea.