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Smoked Chicken Halves

smoking chicken half

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Smoked chicken halves are a great item to serve when you have eaters with hefty appetites. There is nothing quite as wonderful as giving a hungry guest, their own half chicken and watching their face light up as they realize that that big chunk of meat is all for them.

What's really great is that chicken is fairly inexpensive and it is not difficult at all to cut these in half before you cook them. As if that's not reason enough, they even cook faster and more evenly than a whole chicken.

Helpful Information
  • Prep Time: 25 min
  • Brine Time: 2 – 3 hours
  • Cook Time: 3 hours
  • Smoker Temp: 225°F
  • Meat Finish Temp: 165°F
  • Recommended Wood: Pecan
What You'll Need
  • 2 whole chickens
  • Chicken brine (recipe below)
  • Jeff's rub
Cut Chickens in Half

To cut a chicken in half, it is easiest to first remove the backbone.

Simply use some kitchen shears and cut along both sides of the backbone.

2014-IMG_4078 2014-IMG_4080

You will then be able to open the chicken up like a book.


I like to remove the keel bone and I think it makes for better end product. To do so, make a slight cut as shown:


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Once you make this cut, press the chicken downward and the cartilage you just cut into will break open revealing the keel bone.

Slide your fingers along both sides of the keel bone, pressing down to break the membrane.

Pull up on the keel bone to free it from the chicken. If it breaks, no big deal.

Here is the keel bone removed:

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Now, simply cut the chicken in half and you are good to go.


Here is a video that I made a while back that shows me removing the keel bone in another (not so fortunate) chicken:



Brine Chicken Halves

To brine chicken, you place it in a saltwater solution for several hours. A highly complicated scientific process takes place that causes the salt water and some of whatever else is in the brine, to be drawn into the meat of the chicken.

I have been brining chicken and other poultry for years, even before it was well known and I am telling you that it is the secret to juicy, moist chicken.

Here's my really basic recipe for brine:

  • 1 cup kosher salt (kosher salt dissolves better than other course salts but you can also use pickling salt if it's all you have)
  • 1 gallon of water
  • ¾ cup of brown sugar

Place the salt and the sugar into the gallon of water and stir until everything is dissolved really well.

Put the chicken into a large Ziploc bag or a large plastic or glass bowl with a lid and pour the brine over it until the chicken is completely covered.

Close up the bag or container and place it in the fridge for about 3 hours.

When the chicken is finished brining, give it a really good rinse under cold water to remove any excess salt.

Season Chicken Halves

After the chicken is rinsed from the brining, lay it on the cutting board or other flat surface and coat it generously with my rub.

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Let it sit there for about 15 minutes or so and you'll notice that the little bit of salt in my rub recipe starts drawing some of the juice of the chicken to the surface. the juices mix with the rub and create a natural paste of goodness.

It's look like this when it's ready to turn over and rub the other side.


Note: I decided to put my original rib rub on the meat side of the chicken and my new Texas style rub on the skin side but you don't have to just because I did. I thought the two rubs worked really well together. I have often just used my original rib rub on both sides and it is also very, very good.

Turn the chicken over and coat the skin side generously with rub.

My Texas style rub recipe calls for a little more salt per tablespoon than the original rib rub so you may want to use it slightly less generously if you try it. These pictures should help you gauge how much to use.

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The chicken is now ready to smoke so leave the chicken halves right there while you go get things set up.

Get the Smoker Ready

Set up your smoker for cooking at about 225°F but you can also go as high as 275 °F or so if you want to. I like to start out on the low side then crank it up at the end to help crisp up the skin just a little.

Some smokers “crank up” better than others so just do what you can do with your particular smoker and it will turn out just fine.

Make sure to have enough smoking wood handy to keep the smoke going for at least 2 hours. You can also just keep the smoke flowing for the entire time. If you are using a wood smoker, obviously the smoke is there by default.

Smoking the Chicken

Place the chicken directly on the grate or use a Bradley rack for a great way to transport the chicken to and from the smoker. If your smoker grates are big enough, you can just lay the Bradley rack right on the grate.

Smoke the chicken with indirect heat for about 3 hours or until it reaches 165 °F in the thickest part of the leg or thigh.

If your smoker has a water pan, use it.

Note: I get asked a lot about smoking on the Big Green Egg and other ceramic cookers. All of my recipes, unless otherwise stated, require a platesetter or similar device to create an indirect cooking method.

Serve the Chicken

Serve the chicken right away by giving each person their own smoked chicken half.

  • If your smoker is capable of hitting temperatures near 275-300°F , you can definitely get chicken done a lot faster and help to crisp up the skin. The downside to this is that it limits the time with the smoke reducing the smoke flavor, and you have to watch the rub to make sure it does not burn.
  • If you want to take the time to do it, a lot of flavor can be had by mixing rub with olive oil and sucking some of it up in a turkey baster. Squirt the oily rub up under the skin.

Printable Recipe

3.5 from 20 votes

Smoked Chicken Halves

Smoked chicken halves are the perfect meat when you have hungry eaters that show up at your house. Everyone gets their own and it is designed to please.
Prep Time25 minutes
Cook Time3 hours
Total Time3 hours 25 minutes
Servings: 4



Cut Chickens in Half

  • Remove backbone by cutting along both sides of the backbone with kitchen shears
  • Remove keel bone
  • Cut through center of chicken to divide into two halves
  • Watch video at http://youtu.be/PYVaWI3LaG0 for full instructions

Brine Chicken Halves

  • Place chickens into plastic or glass bowl with a lid
  • Mix 1 cup of koshers salt, 1 gallon of water and ¾ cup of brown sugar and stir until well dissolved.
  • Pour brine mixture over chicken until covered and refrigerate for 3 hours
  • After 3 hours, rinse chicken well under cold water

Smoking the Chicken

  • Set up smoker for cooking at about 225°F.
  • Place chicken directly on smoker grate
  • Smoke chicken for 3 hours or until a meat thermometer inserted in the leg or thigh measures 165°F
  • Serve immediately


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Recipe Rating


  1. 2 stars
    One thing that got me immediately about your recipe is that you withhold the recipe of your rub for a “nominal fee” when some of the most famous smokers and chefs out there doesn’t. It normally would of immediately turned me off from your recipe but I gave you a chance. The halving instructions were informative and I am new to using an electric smoker so you helped me there also. I’m glad I checked the chicken after an hour and a half cause the chicken was done. Maybe giving a time per pound would of been a smarter choice. I found a phenomenal rub elsewhere, for free by the way. I showed your recipe to a local bbq place and the main cook found the recipe wrong and the fact that you charge for your rub insulting. Two stars for the butchering info.

    1. Ken, saying I should give everything away for free would be like me expecting my tire guy to change my tires for free or expecting my local grocery store to give me the meat for free. Every recipe on my website is free except for a couple which I started selling more than 15 years ago to help support the site and that’s perfectly ok. Ask your main cook to not charge anyone for what he has created and see how that goes😉

      If you want to give something away, I commend you for that but don’t knock other people for making a living with their own hands. That is the greatest insult.

  2. Used hickory chips instead of pecan,but followed the rest of the recipe as is. Delicious. We turned up the smoker at the end,as recommended for crispier skin,but it didn’t really happen.

  3. Recipe…..great. Brine…..Great. The chicken came out very juicy. Cooking time….not so great. At 225° It only took 1 1/2 hours to reach 165° internal temperature of the breast meat.

  4. tried the half chicken instruction and photos great help and worked well. very succulant and great taste with the rub. Recommend to all. Rgds
    Onwards and upwards

  5. Did this recipe on Fathers day (2014) and it was outstanding!… the brine was a great idea and the flavor of the chicken was a huge hit.

    I cut up the pieces into drumsticks, thighs and breasts after the cooking and that was good for mixing it up with kids and adults.


  6. Hey Jeff, THANK YOU! I enjoy your newsletter. I too love to smoke chicken in a barrel. I use olive oil as my binder for the rub. I use apple wood for smoking. I quarter the chicken. It smokes about 90 minutes. It is fun to learn how different people smoke chicken.

  7. Would like your option on brining chicken. I don’t know if you have every stumbled on my postings in the forum or not but….
    I’ve been bring my chicken in pickle juice, specifily in Famous Dave’s Spicy pickle juice. I like the out come and so do all that have tried it. I also inject with same pickle juice.
    My question is …. Have you ever tried it?? If not would you be willing to? I would like your feedback/advise.
    Bob Gustafson.