Learn how to make smokehouse-quality smoked chicken at home on a simple charcoal grill.
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Cooking a whole chicken is one of the most affordable ways to feed the whole family. But before you make a last-minute run to the supermarket for a pre-bagged rotisserie chicken, consider smoking your own instead. It will take some forethought, as it can take up to five hours to smoke a whole chicken, but it's an extremely hands-off approach to cooking. The end result? A juicy, tender, and irresistibly smoky meat-main that the whole family will love. 

You don't need a professional-grade smoker to get restaurant-quality smoked chicken. It can all be done with a simple charcoal grill — or whatever you use to grill. Here you'll learn step-by-step how to smoke a whole chicken at home.

close up of whole smoked chicken
Credit: Meredith

How to Prep a Whole Chicken For Smoking

To get your bird ready for smoking, you'll need to take a few preliminary steps to make sure you get the best results. If they aren't already, the wings of the chicken should be tucked underneath the front of the chicken to keep them from burning on the tips. You'll also want to tie up the legs with a piece of twine to keep them from burning.

Remove any giblets from the cavity if they haven't already been removed. Now you're ready to season and smoke your turkey — keep reading to learn how.

Best Wood for Smoking Chicken

This is going to come down to personal preference. The best wood for smoking chicken is any wood that complements the poultry flavor.

Some popular options include, apple, hickory, cherry, mesquite, pecan, and maple woods — all of which can be found on Amazon for anywhere from $2 to $10 a bag. Regardless of which one you choose, wood chips are essential to giving the chicken that desired smoky flavor. 

How Long to Smoke a Whole Chicken 

Depending on the size of the bird and the temperature it's cooked at, it can take anywhere from two to five hours to smoke a whole chicken. The easiest way to know when your chicken is done is to use a digital meat thermometer ($14; Amazon) to check the internal temperature. The breast should read between 160 and 165 degrees F, while the thigh should be between 170 and 175 degrees F. 

How to Smoke a Whole Chicken Step-by-Step

For a simple, smoked, whole chicken, we're going to be using this recipe from Allrecipes Community Member CAJUN MOMMA who says, "I use chunks of hickory in my grill to impart a smoky flavor to the meat." Refer to our collection of Whole Chicken Recipes for more seasoning ideas such as dry rubs or brines.

Equipment: 

  • Outdoor grill [like a gas ($180; Amazon) or charcoal grill ($165; Amazon)] OR a smoker ($99; Amazon)
  • Wood chips ($2-$10; Amazon)
  • Meat thermometer ($14; Amazon) and/or fork

Ingredients: 

  • 1 whole chicken, about 4 pounds
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley 
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped

Instructions:

  1. Preheat an outdoor grill on low heat or preheat a smoker to 225 degrees F. Load wood chips of your choice into your grill or smoker. Refer to the manufacturer instructions for how to load and use wood chips in your grill or smoker. 
  2. Pat the chicken dry and loosen the skin around the breast area. 
  3. Place butter in various places under the skin. Mix herbs together and place half under the skin and the other half inside the chicken cavity. 
  4. Place the chicken, breast side up, in the center of the preheated grill or smoker. Close the lid and let the chicken cook until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F, or until the juices run clear when poked with a fork. This could take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours, so be sure to check on the chicken periodically.

How to Cut and Serve a Whole Smoked Chicken

How to Cut a Whole Chicken Step-by-Step

  1. First and most importantly: Let your chicken rest for at least 15 minutes on the cutting board before you cut into it. This allows the juices to evenly disperse throughout the meat. 
  2. Insert your knife between the body of the chicken and the leg. Pop the leg off. Repeat on the other side. 
  3. Use your knife to separate the leg from the thigh. 
  4. Pop off the wings one at a time using a knife. 
  5. Cut right down the middle, slightly to the side of the backbone. Cut all the way through. Cut to the other side of the backbone all the way through. This leaves you with two breasts, two thighs, two legs, and two wings. You can also cut the breasts in half to more pieces.

What to Serve With Smoked Chicken

Make no mistake — the chicken should be the star of the show. But it needs a vegetable side dish to make it a meal. Go for lighter dishes to balance out the charred, smoky chicken, such as a broccoli salad or some lemony grilled okra. Refer to our list of the best side dishes for barbequed and grilled chicken for more inspiration. 

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