Smoking Chicken

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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.

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.


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  1. Jeff,
    I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to create this site. I have been using it off and on for years. I recently upgraded to a Louisiana-Grills champion series competition pro electric pellet smoker. The first thing I am smoking in it is 4 chickens(I could put 8 6 pound chickens in the main barrel without a problem), and I came back here to refresh my timings.

  2. Jeff,
    The recipe looks great. I am trying to convince my wife to get me the Camp Chef Woodwind smoker for Christmas.
    Once, if I get it, I will need expert advice on using it. I know you have one, so I know you can help.
    Are you planning to put out another cookbook? I have your cookbook and love it.

  3. Jeff,
    With a pellet smoker is there still a need to flip the bird (no pun intended) since it also acts like a convection? Going to try this today on my pitboss pellet smoker.

  4. 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

    1. 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?

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

    Boerne, TX

    1. 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?

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

    1. 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..

    2. 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.

  11. 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”?




    1. 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!!

  12. 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?

    1. 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’!

  13. 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.

    1. 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. 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?

  15. 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.

  16. 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?

    1. 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.

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

  18. 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?



  19. 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!

  20. 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?



  21. 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?


    Super Novice

    1. 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!

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

  22. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

  23. 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!!

    1. 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.

    2. 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.  

    3. 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.