The barbecue season is in full swing here and I’ve been grilling and smoking quite a bit. To be perfectly honest, I do that all the year round, even in snow. I just do it more often when the weather is nice and warm. Today is the smoked whole chicken day. Juicy, smoky, flavorful and beautifully colored smoked whole chicken is hard not to like. Seriously, the color on that bird when it comes out of the smoker is stunning.
Smoking is a lengthy process, and it will dry out the chicken. To help that I brine the chickens (soak them in salty water. The brine I use also includes vegetables and spices to add complex flavor to the otherwise bland chicken meat. In one of my past articles I went into detail about how to brine chicken.
Brining is probably the most crucial step for getting great results. You may not use a BBQ thermometer, you may fail to keep the temperature between 225F and 250F all the time and still get good chicken. However, if you skip brining you will get a mediocre product. That’s what my experience has been. Brining is also said to improve the color of the meat.
I find that smoked whole chicken turns out best when smoked at as close to 225F as possible. The texture of the smoked chicken is different from that of the roasted chicken. The higher the temperature gets above 225F the more your chicken will taste like roasted chicken. It will lose more moisture too and come out less juicy. A good BBQ thermometer helps a lot with that.
When I bring the cooked chicken inside the house everyone immediately runs into the kitchen and tries to sneak a taste. The smoky smell is so enticing that it can’t be helped. Smoked chicken is as about the taste as it is about the smell. My wood of choice is cherry or sweet cherry wood. I like it the most and will pick it over any other wood. The dark red color this wood gives the chicken is another reason I like cherry wood.
The smoke should be what many call ‘thin blue’, like on the picture below. White, billowing smoke is not good as it means it’s oxygen deprived and will make the food bitter tasting and deposit soot on the food. Not good for you! The rule of thumb though, if the smoke has a pleasant smell, it’s good for smoking.
For smoking on a gas grill or in my vertical gas smoker I like using the A-MAZE-N Smoker filled with cherry wood pellets or sawdust.
When I am looking to get crispier skin I like to turn the heat on the grill up at the end the smoking. This also helps with the color but does not affect juiciness since its only for a few minutes.
Some grills and smokers, depending on the fuel they use, may run too dry. Placing a tray of water under the chickens will help restore humidity.
Finally, make sure the chicken is dry before applying smoke. Smoking chicken when it’s wet will impact the color and smoke absorption.
Smoked Whole Chicken
- 1-2 whole chickens
- For the Chicken Brine:
- 1 gal. of cold water
- ¾ cup / 219 g of salt
- 3 oz. 85 g sugar (brown or white)
- 2 large carrots peeled and cut into pieces
- 2 medium onions peeled and cut into pieces
- 6-8 garlic cloves peeled and cut in half
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 Tbsp black pepper corns
Prepare 1 gallon of liquid chicken brine as per the instructions in the How To Brine Chicken article. Brine the whole chickens for 1 day and up to two days for larger birds.
Preheat your smoker to 225F - 250F. Try keeping the temperature closer to 225F. Smoke the chickens until internal temperature reaches 165F, about 2.5 - 3 hours.
Remove the chickens from the smoker and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.