Smoking Chicken is Easy!

Here are the secrets to smoking chicken that will give you melt-in-your-mouth, smoke flavored, roasted chicken, that's far easier than grilling. The "Cookin Cousins" walk you through this easy, step-by-step method to smoking chicken starting with our "6 Secrets to Smoking Meat".

This is one of our favorite ways to barbecue a whole chicken, and do it often! The only other method that will give you that incomparable result is, "beer can chicken" which we cover on our "Beer Can Chicken" pageBut lets use that smoker and...

Start with the stuff you'll need...

Patience Low and slow is the real secret to that great smoking chicken experience. We're talking about holding the temperature around 235°F (113°C) for an extended cooking period. You should figure about an hour/pound.

Meat Try to buy a fresh, plump, 3-5 pound broiler-fryer! Go to Secret #1 for more on this.

Spices We use rubs when barbecuing and enjoy putting together our own with these basic fresh ingredients:

  • Salt (Kosher preferred)
  • Sugar (turbinado or brown)
  • Paprika (Hungarian much preferred for best flavor)
  • Pepper, black (fresh ground!)
  • Chili powder
  • Garlic, granulate or powder
  • Onion powder

Go to Secret #2 for more on this.

Smoker  The vertical "wet-pan" type is the most popular backyard smoker, so we wrote this smoking chicken recipe from our experience with this fun cooker. You can buy these wonders at any "big box" store, hardware store, or try the garage/yard ("jumble") sales for a real bargain! Our two favorite, economical, easy to use, backyard units are the Masterbuilt 2-Door Propane Smoker or the rust proof stainless steel vertical smoker.

Hardwood chunks/chips Use only hardwood for any barbecue, like Pecan, Oak, Mesquite, Cherry, Apple, etc., or a combination, to your taste. When it comes to smoking chicken, we found Hickory a little strong, but great!

Oven thermometer  We don't rely on the built in thermometers. For greater accuracy we like the CDN High Heat Oven Thermometer or the Admetior Kitchen Oven Thermometer.

Instant-Read probe type thermometer  All fowl must be fully cooked! Be safe and ensure the meat has reached the ideal temperature of 165°F (74°C). Our two favorite inexpensive and accurate thermometers are the fast reading CDN ProAccurate Quick-Read Thermometer and the Thermoworks Super Fast Water-Resistant Digital Pocket Thermometer.  If you want a very fast professional tool, consider the Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer. Not real pocket friendly, but it's the top-of-the-line, braggin' rights chef's tool. Remember, everyone hates partially cooked chicken.

Tongs  A good pair of tongs are essential when handling anything at the barbecue. Long and strong is the secret, so we suggest the professional type Weber Style Professional-Grade Chef's Tongs or the Oxo Good Grips 16-Inch Locking Tongs. Good tongs are important, but more often we use...

Insulated Food Gloves  These things are fantastic for smoked chicken, or your roast! We love our insulated barbecue gloves for fast, no-burnt-fingers, out of the smoker, onto the platter, ease.

Chimney Starter  For the charcoal smoker folks this is the best way to start, and maintain, the coals. If you've never used one of these ingenious tools, you're going to love the experience! Our favorite top performer is the Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter. Lot of chimney starters out there, but this is the champ.

Great smoked chicken recipes start with a rub!

The chicken is first "rubbed", with a simple, dry, spice accented rub recipe and then smoked slow, with low indirect heat. All for that unforgettable tender, perfectly seasoned, eating experience!

Sometimes, when time is a factor, we will use the readily available "Lemon Pepper" seasoning from our favorite purveyors. Works great, but for more fun and adventure...

Let's start with a classic rub that will impart all of the flavors your drooling chops are hankerin' for. Do not let the simplicity of this basic rub fool you. It works great, and you can adjust the recipe (as the "pros" do) to make it "yours". Look at our Rubs page for other great recipes and ideas.

Basic Rub Recipe

Mix together thoroughly the following:

  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar (packed). We prefer "turbinado sugar" for ease of use, but either one works fine.
  • 1/4 cup sweet paprika (Hungarian, if you can get it)
  • 3 tblsp kosher salt
  • 1 tblsp ground pepper (fresh peppercorns recently ground!)
  • 1 tblsp garlic powder or 2 tblsp granulated (not garlic salt)
  • 1 tblsp onion powder
  • 1 tblsp chili powder (no, it will not be "hot")
  • 1 tblsp cayenne powder

You can see other simple dry rub recipes that work wonders, at our dry rub recipes page.

Now, let's prepare the meat...

NOTE: Chicken should be always kept in the refrigerator (below 40°F/4.4° C) before preparation.

  • Take the thawed chicken out of the refrigerator, clean and rinse all pieces thoroughly - pat dry.
  • Apply the rub generously over the pieces, all sides and under the skin, if you can. We like to do this at least a couple of hours, and preferably 1-3 days, before cooking for the maximum effect. Remember to keep the chicken in the refrigerator until you are ready to put it on the fire.

Get that Smoker Ready...

Our recipe for smoking chicken is written for the vertical 'box", or "bullet" wet-pan type smokers, regardless of the heat source so...

  • Fill the water pan to within an inch of the top (or at least 2/3 full). Use hot water to help avoid wasting fuel.
  • For gas or electric smokers, place the chips (presoaked in water 20 min. to an hour) in the wood chip box. One full box of chips will last for several hours, which will be sufficient for the whole cooking time.
  • Fire-up the cooker and get the temperature to about 235°F (113°C) and prepare to keep that temperature as steady as you can! Maintain the temperature between 200 - 235°F (93-113°C) for the ideal smoked chicken.

NOTE: If you are smoking chicken using a charcoal fired smoker, soak 3 - 4 cups of (dry) chips/chunks for about an hour, drain and place them directly on the coals, once the smoker has reached temperature. This will be sufficient for the entire cooking period, regardless of the addition of more coals. Too much smoke = bitter and nasty!

Control the temperature using the bottom vents only. The top vent should always remain open and not used to control oxygen intake. Each cooker is different so, when smoking chicken, experience rules!

Cook 'Em

NOTE: Always use tongs and a heat proof glove/mit when smoking chicken! Never use the forked, sharp, pokey thing that seems to come with all backyard barbecue tool sets. It will pierce the meat and allow the juices to run out.

When the temperature (inside the smoker at the grill) has reached 235°F (113°C)...

  • Place chicken in the smoker, breast side down to start. After 1 1/2 to 2 hours, turn it over to finish.
  • Resist peeking! You're loosing precious heat and smoke. Open the lid/door only far enough to do the job and don't tarry!
  • You have time! If you have judiciously maintained the cooking temperature, peeked, and turned the chicken quickly, you can leave your station several times before the bird(s) are done. When smoking chicken think 4+ hours 'til end-of-shift.
  • Check the chicken at the meatiest part of the breast between the bones, looking for 160°F (71°C) to be the magic number. Remove the bird(s) and let it rest for at least 10 minutes to allow it to "finish" (allows the juices to return to the bird's center).

Serve Em!...

For the Cookin' Cousins" taste, smoked chicken has all the flavor we need however many folks like a barbecue sauce to add more flavor to the chicken. Lets eat! 

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