This recipe makes the best Smoked Whole Chicken that turns out super juicy and with a fantastic smoky flavor and aroma.
» You might also like this Smoked Brisket Recipe and Smoked Sweet Potatoes.
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Nothing quite compares to the mouthwatering aroma and flavor of a whole smoked chicken. Smoking adds a depth of flavor to the tender, juicy meat that’s hard to replicate with other cooking methods.
In this guide, we’ll explore the benefits of smoking whole chicken, the ideal smoking temperature and duration, and share some tips to help you achieve perfectly smoked chicken every time. We’ll also cover the best ways to store and reheat your smoked chicken to ensure maximum enjoyment.
» Read up on the 8 Best Smoker Grill Combos.
Why Is Whole Smoked Chicken Good on the Smoker?
Smoking whole chicken imparts a rich, smoky flavor that complements the natural juiciness of the meat. The low-and-slow cooking process allows the chicken to absorb the flavors of the wood smoke, resulting in an incredibly tender and flavorful dish. The even heat distribution provided by a smoker also ensures that the chicken cooks uniformly, providing a succulent, fall-off-the-bone experience with each bite.
At What Temperature Should You Smoke a Whole Chicken?
The ideal temperature for smoking a whole chicken is between 225°F and 250°F (107°C and 121°C). This relatively low temperature ensures that the chicken cooks evenly without drying out the meat. Maintaining this temperature range throughout the smoking process will result in a tender, juicy, and perfectly cooked chicken.
Ingredients You’ll Need
Here is what you will need to make a whole chicken on the Traeger:
- Whole Chicken – You can cook any size whole chicken you want, just remember that the cooking time will vary. This recipe uses a 4-pound chicken.
- Brine – To make the brine, you need a large pot that can fit the brine and the chicken and also fit inside your refrigerator. Combine water, salt, lemon, thyme, rosemary, brown sugar, garlic, black peppercorns.
- Homemade Rub: Paprika, salt, pepper, dried rosemary, garlic powder, chili powder, onion powder. This rub is one that we use for all of the bbq meats we make. It’s easy to mix up and use for everything. Or try this tried and true dry rub for chicken.
- Lemon – You’ll use lemon for the brine and to stuff inside the chicken for cooking.
- Garlic – Garlic is also used in the brine and in the chicken.
- Rosemary – I love the aroma of rosemary with chicken
- Thyme – Thyme is also one of the classic chicken herbs, but you can also use oregano, marjoram or any stem herbs you like.
- Butter – I use salted butter. Mixed with the seasonings, this makes a great coating on the chicken to get a nice crispy skin.
- OPTIONAL: Smoky bourbon BBQ sauce: You don’t need bbq sauce with this chicken. It’s great all on its own, but we like to add the delicious smoky flavor of this homemade Bourbon BBQ Sauce.
- Smoker – I use a Z Grills 700 series smoker for most of my smoking, though I also have a Traeger grill. You can use whatever smoker you have – they all work the same.
- Wood pellets – There are many types of pellets available. If you’ve already got pellets in your smoker, use whatever you have. I really like Hickory pellets for chicken.
- Meat thermometer – Many smokers have a thermometer built in, but if yours doesn’t, get an instant-read thermometer. I love this Thermapen.
What Pellets to Use for the Smoker?
You’ll also need pellets for your smoker, if you’ve got a pellet grill like we do. Pellets come in many different types that you can choose from. I like to use hickory wood, or cherry wood pellets for mine. They also have a bourbon wood pellet that’s very good. My friend Todd swears by the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey pellets.
How Long Does It Take to Smoke a Whole Chicken on the Smoker?
The smoking time for a whole chicken will depend on its size and the temperature of your smoker. On average, a 4-pound (1.8 kg) whole chicken smoked at a temperature of 225°F to 250°F will take approximately 3 to 4 hours to cook through.
To ensure the chicken is cooked to perfection, use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. The chicken is done when the internal temperature reaches 165°F (74°C) in the thickest part of the breast and thigh.
How to Make Homemade Chicken Rub
A perfectly balanced dry rub does wonders for the flavor, but also seals in the juices and keeps the chicken from drying out.
We use this dry spice rub on everything, because it’s packed with flavor and adds a perfectly balanced punch of spice to every bite. The spices that go into this rub all work together to create a great flavor profile.
What you’ll need (you can find the quantities for each in the recipe at the bottom of this post):
- Salt and pepper
- Dried rosemary
- Chili powder
- Onion powder
- Garlic powder
How to Make Whole Smoked Chicken
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine 2 cups water and remaining brine ingredients. Simmer until the salt has fully dissolved. Remove from heat and cool.
Once cooled, combine the chicken brine with the remaining cold water in a large enough container to hold the water and chicken (that will fit in your refrigerator).
Submerge the chicken, breast side down, in the brine. Refrigerate for 12-20 hours (not longer than this!).
Remove the chicken from the brine and rinse it thoroughly to remove excess salt. Pat dry with a paper towel. Stuff the chicken with the lemon, garlic and herbs. Mix the butter and seasonings together and spread all over the chicken. Tie the legs together.
When ready to cook, start the grill on smoke with the lid open for 5 minutes for the fire to establish. Then close the lid and turn the temperature to 225°F and preheat for 15 minutes.
Place the chicken, breast side up, directly on the grate. Insert a meat probe in the thickest part of the breast. Cook at 225°F for about 3 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 140°F.
Increase the temperature to 325°F and continue cooking the chicken for another 30 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.
Remove the chicken from the grill and rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.
Cooking Temperature for Chicken
To ensure that chicken is cooked safely and properly, it should reach an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C). Using a food thermometer, insert it into the thickest part of the meat without touching the bone to accurately measure the internal temperature.
Chicken breasts, being leaner and containing less fat, cook relatively quickly and can become dry if overcooked, so you’d want to remove it from the grill when it reaches 160°F, then rest it so it reaches165°F.
On the other hand, chicken thighs have a higher fat content, which means they can be cooked longer without drying out and are often more forgiving in terms of cooking time.
To ensure meat at the bone is no longer pink, you’d want to cook bone-in pieces, like thighs and wings, to 165°F and let it rest to come up to 170°F.
Thermapen ONE (read our review)
» Reading in one second or less
» Accuracy of ± 0.5°
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What Smokers We Use
Z Grills 7002C2E Pellet Grill & Smoker
We use the 7002C2E, which has dual temperature probes, a huge pellet hopper and pellet viewing window, with a large grill space and streamlined design. See this grill and more on the Z Grills site.
Traeger Grills Pro Series 22 Pellet Grill & Smoker
Did you know that Traeger created the original wood-pellet grill? The Pro Series 22 is the one most people choose because it’s compact, yet has plenty of space for cooking. You can use any type of wood pellets you like. See the Traeger Series 22 Grill on Amazon.
Tips for Smoking Whole Chicken
- Choose a fresh, high-quality chicken: A fresh, high-quality chicken will yield the best results when smoking. Look for a chicken with a firm texture and a pleasant smell. Avoid chickens with a slimy texture or an off odor.
- Brine the chicken: Brining the chicken before smoking can help to enhance its flavor and juiciness. Submerge the chicken in a mixture of water, salt, and your choice of spices for at least 4 hours, or overnight for best results.
- Dry the chicken: After brining, pat the chicken dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture. This step is essential for achieving crispy skin during the smoking process.
- Season the chicken: Rub the chicken with a mixture of your favorite spices and herbs, making sure to get the seasoning under the skin as well as on the surface.
- Use a reliable meat thermometer: To ensure that your chicken is cooked to perfection, use a reliable meat thermometer to check the internal temperature during the smoking process. The chicken is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) in the thickest part of the breast and thigh.
- Choose the right wood: Fruitwoods like apple, cherry, or peach impart a mild, slightly sweet flavor that complements chicken well. Alternatively, hardwoods like hickory or oak will give the chicken a more robust, smoky flavor.
How To Store Leftover Smoked Whole Chicken
- Allow the chicken to cool: Let the smoked chicken cool to room temperature before storing. Avoid leaving it out for more than 2 hours, as this increases the risk of bacterial growth.
- Separate the chicken into smaller portions: Cut the chicken into smaller pieces, such as breasts, thighs, and wings. This will make it easier to store and reheat later.
- Wrap or use airtight containers: Wrap each cooled chicken piece individually in aluminum foil or plastic wrap, or place them in an airtight container. This will help maintain freshness and prevent the chicken from drying out or absorbing odors from other foods in the refrigerator or freezer.
- Refrigerate or freeze: Store the wrapped or containerized chicken pieces in the refrigerator if you plan to consume them within 3 to 4 days. For longer storage, place the chicken in the freezer, where it can be stored for up to 3 months.
- Label and date: Label the container or wrapping with the date and contents, so you can easily keep track of when the chicken was smoked and ensure it is consumed within the appropriate time frame.
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Smoked Whole Chicken
For the brine:
- 2 quarts water divided
- 1/3 cup salt
- 1 lemon quartered
- 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme and rosemary
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 4 cloves garlic smashed
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
For the chicken
- 4 pound whole chicken
- 1 lemon halved
- 4 cloves garlic smashed
- 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme and rosemary
- 2 tablespoons butter melted
For the dry rub:
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- In a saucepan over medium heat, combine 2 cups water and remaining brine ingredients. Simmer until the salt has fully dissolved. Remove from heat and cool.
- Once cooled, combine the brine with the remaining cold water in a large enough container to hold the water and chicken (that will fit in your refrigerator).
- Submerge the chicken, breast side down, in the brine. Refrigerate for 12-20 hours (not longer than this!).
- Remove the chicken from the brine and rinse it thoroughly to remove excess salt. Pat dry with a paper towel. Stuff the chicken with the lemon, garlic and herbs. Mix the butter and seasonings together and spread all over the chicken. Tie the legs together.
- When ready to cook, start the grill on smoke with the lid open for 5 minutes for the fire to establish. Close the lid, turn up the heat to 225° F and preheat the grill with the lid closed for 15 minutes.
- Place the chicken, breast side up, directly on the grate. Insert a meat probe in the thickest part of the breast. Cook at 225°F for about 3 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 140°F. Increase the temperature to 325°F and continue cooking the chicken for another 30 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.
- Remove the chicken from the grill and rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.
- You may need to restock the pellets in the hopper on your Traeger, if they start to run low. With a 3 hour cook, refilling once is a good idea.
🥧 If you’re interested in more great recipes, I share all my favorite recipes at A Food Lover’s Kitchen, Instant Pot recipes over at A Pressure Cooker Kitchen, air fryer recipes at Air Fry Anytime, and cocktails and drinks at Savored Sips. Check it out today!
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Laura is a passionate home cook and grill enthusiast who has spent years perfecting her culinary skills, with a particular focus on grilling techniques and flavor combinations. Her fascination with the grill, smoke, and the mouthwatering results they produce has led her on an exciting journey to discover the best methods for grilling delicious and unforgettable meals.