The barbecue season is in full swing and smoked whole chickens should be on everyone's 'to do' list. Juicy, smoky, flavorful and beautifully colored smoked whole chickens are a treat.
Smoking is a lengthy process, it will dry out the chicken. To help with that I always brine chicken. The brine I use also includes vegetables and spices to add rich flavor to the otherwise bland chicken meat.
Brining is probably the most crucial step for getting great results in this recipe. You may not use a BBQ thermometer, you may let the temperature creep above 250F and still get good chicken. However, if you skip brining you will get a mediocre product. Brining also improves the color of the smoked chicken meat.
I find that smoked chicken turns out best when smoked at as close to 225F as possible. The texture of a smoked chicken is different from that of a 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 the meat will be less juicy. A good BBQ thermometer helps a lot with that.
When I bring the cooked chicken inside the house everyone immediately runs to the kitchen and tries to sneak a taste. The smoky smell is so enticing that it can't be helped. Smoked chicken is just as about the taste as it is about the smell. My wood of choice for chicken is cherry wood. I like it the most and will pick it most of the time. The dark red color this wood gives the chicken is another reason I like cherry wood. That said, I also like pecan and hickory on smoked chicken.
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 is, if the smoke has a pleasant smell, it's good for smoking. If not, you've got to fix it.
On a gas smoker you will need to use a smoke generator, such as the A-MAZE-N Pellet Smoker or the Wood Chip Smoker Box. Lately I prefer the wood chip smoker due to generally inferior quality of smoke that pellets produce.
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.
- 2 whole chickens
For the Chicken Brine
- 1 gallon water ice cold
- ¾ cup kosher salt
- 1/3 cup sugar brown or white
- 2 large carrots peeled and cut into pieces
- 2 medium onions peeled and cut into pieces
- 6 garlic cloves peeled and cut in half
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
- To prepare the brine, bring 1 quart of the water to a boil, add the salt and the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the chopped vegetables and spices and remove from heat. Cover and let cool. Mix with the rest of the ice cold water. The resulting bring must be below 40F when adding chickens.
- Add the chicken(s) to the brine and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to a day.
- Preheat your smoker to 225F - 250F. Try keeping the temperature closer to 225F. Smoke the chicken(s) until the internal temperature reaches 160F, about 2.5 - 3 hours.
- Remove the birds from the smoker and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.