How to Smoke a Whole Chicken

Smoking a whole chicken is quite possibly the most popular meat that I smoke. It may only pork ribs that I smoke more often than a whole bird.

We love smoked chicken and it is far superior to any rotisserie chicken you can purchase at the grocery store. The meat is moist and juicy with a wonderful smokey flavor.

One other thing we love about about smoked chicken is that it is outstanding for leftovers. We always make extras, knowing that the meat will be great in wraps, sandwiches or on pizza. Use the carcass to make some smoked chicken broth for a soup with so much flavor.

Here is a recipe for my Smoked Chicken Chowder Soup. It is AMAZING!

How to Smoke a whole chicken-4

Make sure that you generously rub the chicken with a good bbq spice rub before placing it in the smoker.

Steve’s Basic BBQ Rub

This is my ‘go-to’ rub that is great with so many things, including chicken.

How to Smoke a whole chicken-3

Set the smoker for 250F. Some smokers work more in a ‘temperature range’. If that is the case, keep it over 250F. Anywhere between 250-275F is great.

Poultry is great with many different wood choices. Some of the wood I usually use are hickory, apple, oak, pecan and maple. For this particular smoke, I used Bradley’s Whiskey Oak wood bisquettes. They resulted in a really nice flavor.

How to Smoke a whole chicken-5

Smoke the chicken until the internal temperature of the leg reaches 165F.

Some electric smokers struggle to crisp up the skin.

The taste of the meat is amazing but the skin can be on the rubbery side. If you love a crispy skin, it may be necessary to transfer the chicken to your oven for the last 30 minutes or so.

I have done this and it works really well. In this case, remove the chicken from the smoker when the internal temperature is around 145-150F. Place the bird in a 375F oven and cook until the internal temperature is 165F. 

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Let the chicken rest 15-20 minutes before carving. This will draw all the juices back into the bird.

Bradley, traeger, Masterbuilt, Cookshack and other smokers result in amazing chicken!

While the majority of pictures show the chickens being smoked in an electric smoker, I also love to cook them in my pellet grill. The picture just above shows 6 whole chickens in my pellet grill and they are amazing!! Perfect for a big BBQ party!!

To smoke the chickens in a pellet grill, follow the same instructions as for the electric smoker.

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How to Smoke a Whole Chicken using an Electric Smoker

Step by step instructions for smoking a whole chicken with final internal temperature of 165F. Great for electric smokers, pellet, grill and more. Bradley, traeger, Masterbuilt, Cookshack and other smokers result in amazing chicken!
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours
Total Time 4 hours 5 minutes
Servings 4
Author Steve Cylka

Ingredients

  • 1 or more whole chickens
  • 3 tbsp of rub for each whole chicken

Instructions

  • Setup up smoker for 250F using wood of choice. Some great wood options for poultry are hickory, apple, oak, pecan and maple. I used Bradley's Whiskey Oak wood for this smoke.
  • Rinse the chicken under cold water. Trim any excess skin or fat around the neck area or in and around the cavity of the bird.
  • Tie the legs together using kitchen string or butcher's twine. If desired, fold the wings back and under the back. This is not necessary, but nice for presentation.
  • Generously rub the bird with the spice rub. Make sure that you get all areas of the chicken covered with the spices as this will greatly enhance the flavor.
  • Place the birds on the smoker racks and leave in the smoker until they reach an internal temperature of 165F. The time it takes to reach this temperature varies greatly. Depending on the smoker and the amount of food you are smoking it can take anywhere from 3-5 hours.
  • Let the chicken rest for 15-20 minutes before carving.

How to Smoke a Whole Chicken - in the Bradley Electric Smoker

About Steve Cylka

Steve is the author of The Black Peppercorn. He is a recipe developer and food photographer. His recipes have been featured on websites like Bradley Smoker, Times Picayune, Buzzfeed, and Basil & Salt. He has also authored and co-authored a couple cookbooks.

39 comments

  1. Yet another wonderful looking smoker recipe, Steve. You have the exact smoker I’ve had on my Amazon wish list for months now lol. For now I will live vicariously through your delicious posts!

  2. Great tip on getting the chicken to the oven for the final stint there to crisp up the skin. I have been looking for some info on how to get a chicken cooked in an electric smoker, because some of the basic smokers don’t even have a high enough temperature setting! Good to know though, Bradley is the way to go!

  3. Aaahhh we have really enjoyed smoking chickens but felt the skin was a bit “boingy”. Now I will try putting it in the oven. Thanks Steve!!

  4. I have the same Bradley smoker as you do. The last time my husband smoked chicken for me, it was too smoky. I’m going to give him your recipe and make him do it again. LOL!

    • ExpatDanInSaudiArabia

      @ Skinny Decadence

      I just bought a digital Bradley smoker and did a brisket. It came out very smoky as well. I did 4 hours of chips – I did my beef jerky (next item) for only 2 hours – much more pleasant level of smoke. think I’m going to cap my smoking to two hours, unless it’s a monster piece of meat (did a 4 lb brisket).

      Doing the chicken today so keep all posted on the result.

  5. Does anybody know anything about the little chief smoker?

    • YES!!! Just fixed our first whole chicken on it!!! LOVE IT!!!! The little chief does not have a temperature gauge, so I just kept using the internal probe on the chicken and then brought it inside and put it in the oven for 30 minutes!!! It smells as good as it TASTES!!! Oh yeah, this is the first time we have used the little chief smoker!!! GREAT!!!!

  6. Barbara Street

    Do you need to foil the chicken after initial smoking to keep it moist?

  7. Lip smackingly good! Just upgraded to a Bradley digital and this was the first think I’ve hot smoked it it. Can’t wait to try some more stuff now. And chicken chowder tomorrow. 🙂

  8. Anthony Quinonez

    How long do you smoke the vegetables for in that picture?

  9. If you spatchcock (butterfly) the chicken it will cook faster and more evenly. A small bird will be cooked in 2 1/2 hrs at 250 f

  10. Followed yoi directions and bird came out moist and tasting amazing. Stioo3d the smoke after 2hours. Keep posting you amazing recipes. Thanks

  11. What rack do you place the chicken on? I have a master built electric smoker

  12. Wow that was what I call a smoker! I want to show this to John but fear I may end up with more outdoor cooking appliances! You have enough yummy food in there to throw a heck of a gathering!

  13. This looks so moist, juicy and bursting with flavor!! Pinning to try later!

  14. Great instructions! Saving this recipe… We often grill whole chickens, but we definitely need to try your recipe. They look so, so good!

  15. Do you use the water pan to keep it moist? If so do you use water or another liquid like Apple juice? I always do beer can chicken in my smoker because I’m afraid the chicken will dry out if not.

    • No I have not ever really used a water pan and don’t find it dries out. I just make sure that I am monitoring the temperature and remove the bird from the smoker once it reads 165F

  16. Is it necessary to add or replace the wood chips at all while the chicken is smoking?

    • If your smoker does not have a feeder to advance fresh wood chips then you likely will need to add/replace the wood chips. Once you notice that the wood chips in there are no longer producing any more smoke you will need to add more.

  17. I also brine the bird, and stuff it with rosemary and onions. Brine it with whatever you like, it works fantastic. Used fruit wood, but not too much because chicken is so delicate and a little goes a long way. These directions are perfect, four hours on the nose for my electric smoker, I don’t mess with the skin with five dogs, they do! Thanks for your great tips.

  18. We love smoked chicken and it is far superior to any rotisserie chicken you can purchase at the grocery store. The meat is moist and juicy with a wonderful smokey flavor.

  19. I have a basic Masterbuilt electric smoker. It is simple to regulate the temperature, and I’m sure the meat tastes just as good as it would in a $500 smoker with digital temperature control. I made perfect ribs the first time and I’ve never used a smoker or made smoked anything before. I got mine on sale for $99.99.

  20. Made this tonight and it turned out incredible. It is a definate make again. The white meat was just a juicy and the dark meat. I used black cherry chips soaked in water with a little apple whisky for flavour. Soooo good.

  21. Have you ever tried an apple rub with cherry chips? I’ve also have researched that some people cut the backbone out and lay it flat….. Have you ever tried this, if so which way produces better results?

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