Brining the chicken is completely optional but it's easy to do if you want to ensure that the finished product is flavorful and as juicy and moist as it can be.
Brining is simply soaking the meat in a saltwater solution for x amount of hours. During this time the salt is drawn into the meat along with some of the flavor that is in the water.
The ratio of salt to water that I recommend is 1 cup coarse kosher salt to 1 gallon of water.
A typical recipe for 1 gallon of brine would be as follows:
- 1 gallon of water
- 1 cup of coarse kosher salt
- 1 cup of brown sugar
Add the salt to the water and stir until the salt is dissolved and the water returns to clear. Add the brown sugar and stir to mix it into the water.
Place the chicken into a food safe plastic or glass bowl and pour the brine over the chicken to cover. You can also use a large zip top bag.
Close or cover the container and place it in the fridge for about 4 hours.
After the brining has finished, rinse the outside of the chicken with cold water to remove any residual salt.
Optional: with the outside of the chicken dried off, place it back in the fridge for 4 hours or even overnight to let the chicken skin dry and tighten up. This seems to help the smoked chicken skin to end up with a better texture. Often I will brine the evening before, remove and rinse before bedtime and place it back in the fridge to dry and tighten overnight. It'll be ready to season and go on the smoker the next morning.
Pour maple syrup onto the chicken and use a brush to coat the chicken all over.
Sprinkle Jeff's original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) all over the top, sides and bottom of the chicken making sure to get the rub down in all of the hard to reach spots.
It is also a good idea to get some of the maple syrup and rub down under the skin wherever you can.
Ready to go on the smoker now!
Set up your smoker for cooking at 250°F if possible. Some smokers will not cook this hot so a lower temperature will work but it will require a longer cook time for the chicken to get done.
Be sure to set up non-conventional smokers such as Kamado, Charcoal/Gas grills, fire pits, etc. for indirect cooking. This just means to make sure the heat is not directly under the meat.
In a 3-burner gas grill you might turn on a burner on each side and place the chicken over the middle (unlit) burner. In a charcoal grill or fire pit, you would place the charcoal on one side or on both sides and leave an area in the center open with no charcoal.
Most Kamado cookers have a way to make them indirect. The Big Green Egg, for instance, uses a place setter to force the heat to come up the sides of the cooker.
Pellet smokers like the Camp Chef Woodwind, also do a great job on chicken.
Regardless of what you have to do to create that indirect cooking method, this setup is important for all meat smoking. Most conventional electric, gas, charcoal and wood smokers are already set up this way by design.
Once the smoker is ready, place the chicken on the grate breast side down.
In gas, electric, charcoal and non-conventional cookers, apply smoke (I recommend pecan for this recipe) for the entire time the chicken is cooking. The skin does a great job of protecting the meat from the smoke and just enough gets through to make it deliciously smoky.
My 4 lb chicken took about 2 hours and 10 minutes to reach 165°F. Times will vary from cooker to cooker so be sure to let the internal temperature of the chicken decide when it's done.
Use a digital probe meat thermometer such as the Smoke by ThermoWorks, in the thickest part of the thigh or breast to monitor the meat temperature while it cooks. You can also check the temperature with a Thermapan when you baste. With the Thermapen, you can get an accurate reading in around 2-3 seconds.
After the first hour, begin to apply the maple barbecue mop sauce every 20 minutes (recipe below):
Maple Barbecue Mop Sauce
Heat the maple syrup in the microwave then add the rub. Mix well then continuously mix while using.
Simple yet so amazing!
Once the chicken reaches 165°F it is done cooking and should be removed from the smoker. Allow it to rest for 10 minutes or so before carving to allow the juices to cool down a little and redistribute throughout the meat.
Cooking the chicken at 250°F, the chicken skin should have decent bite through but it will not be crispy like fried chicken.
Cooking it hotter than 250°F will also help but you also take the risk of burning the rub and maple syrup.
Enjoy what might be the best chicken you've ever eaten!