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How to Smoke a Whole Chicken

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Unlike brisket and pulled pork, which take many hours to smoke, smoking a whole chicken requires less time. And with only three essential steps to follow, anyone (even beginner grillers) can get the hang of it. And smoked chicken is super versatile. Delicious to serve for dinner, smoked chicken also makes for excellent sandwiches and is delicious atop a green salad.

Read on for the tools and guidelines that will help you learn how to smoke a whole chicken like a pro.


How to Prepare a Chicken for Smoking

Smoking a whole chicken can take as little as an hour and change including prep time. The three essential steps are:

  1. Prepare the bird based on your preferred cooking method
  2. Season it
  3. Smoke it

Rubs & Seasonings

A dry rub can boost your smoked chicken's flavor and appearance. Most chicken rubs include salt, which enhances flavor, and a colorful element like paprika, chile powder, or cumin to help pale chicken skin look more appetizing when it crisps up.

At Traeger, we offer a selection of premade rubs that top grillmasters swear by. Here are three they recommend for whole chicken.

Traeger Chicken Rub: Citrus and black pepper flavor profile. Pairs well with cherry hardwood pellets.

Traeger Pork & Poultry Rub: Apple and honey flavor profile. Pairs well with apple hardwood pellets.

Traeger Rub: Oregano and basil flavor profile. Pairs well with hickory hardwood pellets.

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Brining a Chicken

In order to ensure your meat is flavorful to the bone, try out a good brine.

Brining your bird is the best way to infuse flavor deep into the meat and keep it juicy. No matter how much salt you use, a dry rub will only penetrate so far into the meat, but submerging your bird in brine pulls salt and flavor into the muscles -- and keeps it there throughout the cooking process.

"I use a brine to impart moisture in my poultry," says Traeger Pro Matt Pittman. "I keep it simple with an old school salt brine. You can use 1/2 cup salt and sugar plus a tablespoon of your favorite BBQ sauce mixed in a gallon of water."

A basic brine is ½ cup of salt (or 1 cup of kosher salt) for every gallon of liquid. You’ll need enough liquid to fully submerge your chicken. Many people — like Matt — use sugar to balance the salty flavor, and this also helps caramelize the skin, giving it an appetizing brown color.

You don’t have to use only water for the liquid. It's a lot of fun to experiment with broths, juices, beers, and more to change up the flavor. Just be wary of salt and sugar content if you’re working with juices or cooking wines. You’ll want to adjust your dry ingredients accordingly.

You can also add all sorts of herbs, vegetables, and spices to your brine to infuse even more flavor into your meat. For a more flavorful brine, check out this recipe by Dennis the Prescott.

How Long Should I Brine Chicken?

Ideally, you’ll let your bird brine overnight in the fridge, but even letting it brine for an hour will make a noticeable difference in flavor. The longer it brines, the saltier it gets, which is why we don’t recommend brining for over 24 hours. Brining for too long results in oversalted meat.

Smoked Chicken Injection

You can also inject the brine into your chicken. "I used to be a chicken briner but now am an injector," says pitmaster and Traeger Ambassador Doug Scheding.

Injecting brine is "easier and (adds) much more flavor deeper into the meat," he says. Injection is a mixture of phosphates (salt on steroids) and flavor from dissolved seasonings. It adds about 10-17% moisture to chicken.

If you want to start out simple, Doug recommends chicken broth. If you're ready to go with a more advanced brine — like the one Scheiding used to win Grand Champion at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo — try this Traeger chicken injection recipe.

How to Dry Brine Chicken

Another technique recommended by Doug Scheiding is dry-brining. This involves salting the chicken, then letting it sit in the refrigerator while the salt is absorbed. "Basically the salt on the skin dissolves and moves into the skin," says Doug. "This helps give it more bite through or perhaps even crispiness depending on how it is cooked."

Doug describes this technique in his Traeger beef ribs recipe. The same steps will work well for chicken, too.


How to Spatchcock a Chicken

Spatchcock_Chicken_BG

Spatchcocking a chicken is removing the backbone of the bird so that it can lay flat in a pan or grill. A spatchcocked chicken will usually cook more evenly, and in a shorter period of time. Our Traeger experts recommend spatchcocking as the best way to smoke a whole chicken.

This expert tutorial has all the information you need to spatchcock at home.

The basic process simply involves using a large knife to cut on either side of the backbone, through the ribs, then discarding it. Once the backbone is gone, you split the breastbone, allowing you to spread the bird flat. This recipe for Spatchcock Chile-Lime Chicken is an example of how spatchcocking can save you time — it cooks in just 40 minutes!


Beer Can Chicken Method

The beer can chicken method of smoking a whole chicken is something every grillmaster should try once. It makes for a very tender bird, as the evaporation from the beer helps keep the meat from drying out.

We like the beer can method so much, we built a special Chicken Throne to make it easier. This sturdy ceramic stand will keep your chicken from tipping over, and protect the meat from any toxins that the can could release.

Follow our beer can chicken recipe to get tender meat and smoke flavor like you've never had before.

Roasted Beer Can Chicken

How to Smoke a Whole Chicken on a Pellet Grill

Smoking a whole chicken on a pellet grill is as easy as cooking in an oven. In a pellet grill, which uses wood pellets as a source of fuel, your bird will be infused with smoke flavor.

What’s the best wood for smoked chicken? Most pair well with poultry, so let your other flavors guide you. If you need to add sweetness, any fruit tree or maple will help. If you want bold flavor try hickory or mesquite, and if you’re just not sure, feel free to try a premade blend.

Doug's opinion? "For chicken, fish, and turkey it is always apple."

After you choose your smoke flavor, set the pellet grill to 225 degrees Fahrenheit and use the Super Smoke setting on your Traeger if you have it. (Temps for smoking can vary, but they're usually 275 degrees Fahrenheit and under. As the temperature of the grill increases, you get less smoke.)

Place the whole chicken in your Traeger and cook at it at 225 degrees Fahrenheit until the internal temperature of the bird (as measured at the thickest part of the breast) is165 degrees Fahrenheit. This can take between 3 and four hourts. This low and slow start will let the smoke flavor penetrate the bird.

To measure the temperature of a whole chicken, insert MEATER 2 Plus wireless meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast. The chicken is ready to take off the grill when the temperature reaches 165 degrees F.

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How Long to Smoke a Whole Chicken

The cooking time for a smoked whole chicken will depend on the size of your chicken, how you've prepared it, the temperature you've set, and the final product you're looking for. The important thing is to cook it until it's at a safe temperature for eating (165 degrees Fahrenheit); this can take between 3 and 4 hours if smoking low and slow.

The method above will give your bird a smoky flavor, but may not result in crispy skin. One way to get smoky flavor and crisp skin is to smoke the bird for about an hour and then crank up the heat and roast it until the skin is crisp and the chicken is cooked through. This also decreases the total cook time.


Reheating Smoked Chicken

To reheat, it’s perfectly fine to leave meat on the bone. Create a tent of tin foil to cover your smoked chicken, and before closing it, add a tablespoon of water. This will create steam inside the foil that cooks the meat quickly while moistening it.

Heat your oven or pellet grill to 325 degrees and cook until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. The best way to ensure your internal temp is right where it needs to be is with a MEATER wireless meat thermometer.

If you’re eager to use or discard the carcass you can use shredded chicken in all kinds of recipes. Just be wary of overcooking it. Typically, you’ll want to make sure the vegetables are done or close to done before adding precooked meat.


Leftover Smoked Chicken Recipes

The flavor of smoked chicken is unique, and the leftovers make an irresistible topping for pizza, salads, sandwiches, and more. Or, you can give your leftover smoked chicken a new home in these tasty recipes.

White Chicken Chili Recipe

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This White Chicken Chili recipe is a warm and cozy option for leftover chicken. And it's incredibly easy. Just add chicken broth, leftover chicken, white beans, salsa, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt/pepper to taste to an oven-safe pot. Bake in your oven (or Traeger grill) at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for four hours.

Pour into bowls and top with avocado, sour cream, and chopped cilantro.

Smoked Chicken Salad Sandwich

This spicy chicken salad recipe calls for brining, then smoking chicken, but you can just use your leftover chicken instead of cooking a new batch.

Dice the chicken and add chopped red bell pepper, green bell pepper, scallions, and pickled jalapeño peppers. Then make a dressing by whisking together the mayonnaise, lime juice, cumin, black pepper, and garlic salt. Stir in the cilantro, then stir the chicken mixture in with the dressing. You can make this ahead and chill it for up to 3 days.

Loaded Grilled Chicken Tacos

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Replace the grilled chicken in this Loaded Grilled Chicken Tacos recipe with your leftover smoked chicken. The recipe has instructions for making fresh pico de gallo, guacamole, and spiked sour cream to serve with the tacos — serve them over warm tortillas or in crispy shells, your call.

Traeger Whole Smoked Chicken

by Traeger Kitchen

Prep Time

10 Min

Cook Time

3 Hr

Serves

6

Pellets

Mesquite

Wrap your next poultry cook with a little smoke. This whole chicken is brined, seasoned with our chicken rub, lemon, garlic, and fresh thyme, and mesquite-smoked for some smokin' flavor.

Ingredients
Brine
1 Gallonwater
1/2 Cupkosher salt
1 Cupbrown sugar
1 Whole(3 to 3-1/2 lb) whole chicken
Seasoning
1 Teaspoonminced garlic
To TasteTraeger Chicken Rub
1 lemon, halved
1 Mediumyellow onion, quartered
3 Wholegarlic cloves
5 Sprigfresh thyme
    Steps
  • 1

    Make the brine: In a large pot, combine the salt, sugar, and water, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Add the chicken to the brine, making sure it is fully submerged and weighing down if necessary. Refrigerate overnight.

  • 2

    When ready to cook, set the Traeger temperature to 225℉ and preheat with the lid closed for 15 minutes. For optimal flavor, use Super Smoke, if available.

  • 3

    While the grill preheats, remove the chicken from the brine and rinse well, then pat dry with paper towels. Rub the outside with the minced garlic and Traeger Chicken Rub. Stuff the cavity with the lemon, onion, whole garlic cloves, and thyme. Tie the legs together.

  • 4

    Insert the probe into the thickest part of the chicken breast. Place the chicken directly on the grill grates, close the lid, and smoke until the internal temperature reaches 160℉, 2 1/2-3 hours.

  • 5

    Remove the chicken from the grill and let rest for 15 minutes before carving. The internal temperature will rise to 165℉ while the chicken rests. Enjoy!

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