I did not plan on posting about this smoked chicken initially but the results were quite interesting and I would say they even exceeded my expectations. I am glad that I snapped a bunch of photos along the way as I often do.
Ever since I bought a JoeTisserie last Spring I’ve been drawn to it like iron to a magnet. I love the self-basting aspect of a rotisserie, no burning at higher temps and hence better crisping and caramelization of meats. I’ve even done steaks on it, and with great results I should add.
If you find your way to Big Green Egg or Kamado Joe forums you will see that people there mostly either love their JoeTisseries or don’t care about them after the novelty factor wears off. Yes, it’s a pain in the butt to take an extension cord every time you use it, as well as cleaning it, but to me it so worth it. I am a big fan.
Lately I’ve become so hooked on rotisserie chickens that I’ve been smoking chickens a lot less. I’ve been missing that intense smoky flavor and the meat texture that results from low and slow cooking. Both are fantastic if done right but taste very different.
The biggest challenge with low and slow smoked chicken is the crisping of the skin, which tends to come out tough, leathery and rubbery. You just aren’t getting any good skin. Forget about it! Sure, you can bump the temperature up at the end of the smoking and let the skin crisp up but that’s hardly a good idea. For many reasons. From technical challenges if working with charcoal grills to the fact that high heat will affect the texture of the meat to some degree.
Then I thought, what if I tried smoking a chicken over direct heat on a rotisserie over low heat. Would that give me the results I am looking for? Well, let’s see.
I preheated my grill to 250F at the dome which is about 225F at the grate level based on my measurements. The temperature pretty much stayed there the entire time and crept up to 275F closer to the end of the smoking. I suspect that was due to me opening the lid and checking the temperature a few times.
I used a minimum of charcoal to keep the temperature low. This also helps with the combustion of wood due to better air flow and gives a nice, pleasantly smelling smoke. Cherry wood is my favorite and I use it almost exclusively. I did this time as well.
Chicken prep before smoking
Since initially I was going to roast the chicken I did not brine it. All I did was to rub it with some salt, pepper, cayenne and some garlic.
The chicken remained in the smoker for approximately 3 hours, which is about the same time as when I do indirect heat smoking using a more traditional method. This is what I did not expect at all. For some reason I was sure that cooking over direct heat would shorten the smoking time. It makes sense – 225F is 225F no matter direct or indirect.
I pulled the chicken at 152F, using thermal cooking tips provided by ThermoWorks. I agree with them, 165F just doesn’t cut it and is totally unnecessary if you understand the science behind it and the motivation behind USDA pushing 165F as the safe temperature for chicken.
The skin was much better tasting than on any smoked chicken I’d made in the past. Perhaps the chickens that I smoked at higher temperatures – 275F-300F – come close. The skin on a low and slow smoked chicken is particularly bad because of the low temperature, you can check out the results here. Not this time! I’d say the improvement was very prominent. That said, the skin was not as brittle and crispy as I would get on a chicken rotisserie roasted at 400F or higher. It still remained somewhat rubbery and chewy.
The meat itself was fantastic – soft, juicy, firm, with a little more graininess compared to chicken smoked over indirect heat. I guess that’s the biggest drawback of cooking chicken meat over direct heat. That said, as great as rotisserie chicken is, it can’t compete with a low and slow smoked chicken in the juiciness of the meat department.
I also immediately noticed how the meat inside lacked flavor that comes from brining. Next time I will definitely brine my chicken before smoking it on a rotisserie. Somehow that is not an issue for me when roasting whole chicken over direct high heat even when seasoned similarly.
In the end, which method would I now prefer for smoking chicken? I guess it depends. The JoeTisserie limits the number of chickens I can smoke to one, two at the most. Two would be pushing it. That’s unless you are using a Big Joe or an XL BGE. On the grate of my Large BGE, on the other hand, I can comfortably smoke three chickens. If I only need to smoke one chicken for a family dinner and want it low and slow, I will definitely do it on the JoeTiesserie. If I need to smoke 2-3 chickens or I am fine with higher smoking temperature – 250F and up, I’d smoke over indirect heat on a grate.
Rotisserie Smoked Chicken (Low and Slow)
- 1 large roasting chicken spatchcocked
- Prepared brine - see link above
- Prepare the brine and brine the chicken for at least 4 hours and longer. Remove from the brine and pat dry with paper towels.
- Preheat grill to 250F at the dome, 225F at the grate level. Add some wood chunks with the wood of choice. I prefer cherry wood.
- Place the chicken on the rotisserie spit and secure with forks. Place the spit on the grill. Start the motor and close the lid. Smoke for about 3 hours, until the internal temperature of the meat reached 165F or use ThermoWorks' guidelines which are linked to above.