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.
Thanks for writing this! I've been bbqing all summer and looking forward to it again this weekend! Excited to try pulled pork for my next cookout.
Victor @ Taste of Artisan
Just what I've been looking for.
Purchase a DigiQ tempeture control system. Only way to go.
I'm having a hard time keeping my smoker below 300 degrees how do you do it?? I also have the big green egg smoker.
Hey Patrick, sorry to hear about your challenges with the temps. I actually can keep the temps below 150F on mine as I use it sometimes to smoke sausage. I use a few techniques, which one depends on what I smoke and on my mood I guess. The most important piece is to not let the fire get too big and too hot. I load the charcoal in the smoker, light one of those white fire starter cubes and place it just below the surface so it's surrounded by a few pieces of charcoal and also place one on top. Once the charcoal starts burning, about 5 min later, I close the lid and open the dampers on the lid and on the bottom wide open. Then I watch the temperature very closely - once the temp at the dome hits 120-150-180F - really depends on what temp you are aiming at - close the dampers. Say I want 225F - I would close the dampers at 175-180F, leaving about 1/2" at the top and 1/4" - 3/8" at the bottom. Then monitor for about 10-15 min and adjust if needed. This works very well.
Now, I use bigger charcoal chunks for lower temps as that allows for better air flow. If you want good 'thin blue' you need good air flow for proper combustion, especially with the dampers closed down like that.
A also use as little charcoal as I can - about as much as you can fit on both your palms. That's about half a chimney I'd guess.
I sometimes snake the charcoal around the bottom so it ignites in a controlled manner - this is mostly for smoking sausages. I took a small SS bowl and drilled 1" holes all over and then place it on the bottom of the smoker up side down. Then snake the charcoal around it, leaving a 4" gap, and light up one end.
Also, use a dual probe thermometer for monitoring grate and grill temps. One probe is fine too, for the meat, the dome temp is normally 25F higher compared to the grate level temps. Place the chicken on the smoker very quickly then shut the lid and don't open until the meat temps are at the target. The more you open the higher your temps will will shoot with not way to bring them down.
Hope this helps.
Great article.... Thanks for sharing! I too own a large BGE and have been cooking on it for over 24 years. Yes, 24 years, and If taken care of they last forever! Brining does make a huge difference and I do it often. Many times however, my wife will return from the grocery store with a chicken that she wants me to smoke for dinner. In that case, I won't have the time to brine so here's what I do:
I mix up the following ingredients in an old honey bottle (the large hole in the yellow snap lid allows the ingredients to flow with no blockage) and store remainder left in bottle in the garage refrigerator for next time.
Fresh chicken (organic is best,or at least one that doesn't have "water added")
1/3 lowery's garlic salt
1/3 lemon juice
Shake it up in your bottle and always do so just before using. Old ketchup bottles work great too!
Wash chicken and pat dry. Apply garlic salt and fresh ground pepper and let stand at room temp. Light your BGE and get it up to 210-225. I use fresh apple from a tree in my backyard along with some hickory chips. Many times I use oak or mesquite. My BGE is too old and won't accept the newly crafted plate setter, so I use two grates. The bottom is the original grate and the upper is a Weber charcoal holding grate (bought at Home Depot). It rests on three tuna sized cans (equally spaced in the shape of a triangle) that have had they're tops and bottoms cut out (to let heat and smoke pass) and provide about 3-4" between the grates and just enough room for an aluminum pan (Bush's small baked bean cans work great too because your can opener can be used to remove both the top and bottom of the cans). Once the egg is holding temps and the smoke is blue I'll get my chicken resting on the top grate with drip pan underneath. Every bird usually gets 3-4 squirts, or so, and I'll open the egg and squirt the whole chicken with the mix. Any mix that falls into the pan will just help maintain the juiciness and drive the neighbors over. If timed right, The bird will come out smoked and with great crunchy skin (try not to add any the last 15 minutes to help crunch up the skin and practice helps). I also squirt it into the cavity the first squirts as I lay the bird flat on its back for this type of cook. The meat on the bird, including the breast and thighs will have a "smokey zing" to them and the skin will be crispy. If it's not crispy don't despair as this bird rocks! I've done hundreds this way in all types of weather and they come out great. Some crispy some not so crispy, but they always get eaten. 🙂 And for extra zing, squeeze an orange, or lime, into your mix from time to time and wow your family all over again.
My family loves chicken cooked this way and this method was taught to me over 30 years ago by my father-in-law. He's 80 now and still smoking/ cooking! I just thought I'd share because you did.
Thank you very much, Joe. I am always on the lookout for good recipes and cooking methods, and will definitely try yours based on your recommendation. Frankly, I've never used acidic ingredients for smoking chicken so I am very curious. Thank you again for sharing!