When it comes to grilling and smoking, bigger, heavier flavored red meats are not the only option for great tasting barbecue. Tender, juicy BBQ chicken with that delicious smoky flavor is another great meat to satisfy your barbecue loving friends and family. But you may be wondering how to smoke chicken like the pros.
By following some top insider tips, even if you are fairly new to outdoor cooking, you can cook some great, competition-worthy smoked chicken.
Let’s take a look at some important things to keep in mind when mastering how to smoke chicken:
When it comes to smoking great barbecue, starting with good quality meat makes a huge difference and should be taken seriously. Even though chicken does not have the same kinds of grades of meat as you’ll find with beef, getting higher quality meat is still very possible and highly recommended.
Your everyday chicken that is available in the grocery store is not going to give you as good of flavor and tenderness that the fresh chicken at your local butcher’s shop will. Look for chicken that was raised cage-free, is all-natural, and has thin white skin.
If you’ve read our article on some of the top barbecue myths you’ll know that letting meat sit in a marinade doesn’t do a whole lot of good. But a brine is a completely different story. Chicken is naturally leaner meat so brining it allows you to smoke it without jeopardizing tenderness and juiciness.
The difference between a marinade and a brine is that brine is mainly salt-based. The salt works to break down the muscles, tenderizing the meat, and increases moisture absorption. Ensuring you end up with a delicious, juicy result.
To get the best result when smoking or grilling chicken, you want to soak it in a seasoned brine for 3 to 4 hours before you are ready to cook it. This helps to impart flavor and keeps the meat from drying out too easily when smoking it.
After your chicken is done brining, it is equally important to make sure it is dry before you start smoking it. You don’t want the chicken to end up with rubbery skin and a dried-out interior. So, pat the exterior of the chicken dry and then let it air dry for about an hour before it goes in the smoker or grill.
Making sure your chicken is dry before you start cooking it will let the smoke adhere to the meat and ensure you get a crisp, bite-through skin.
One of the best ways to smoke a whole chicken so that it cooks evenly is to spatchcock it. Spatchcocking is essentially butterflying the chicken so that it lays flat. This not only ensures a narrower range of temperatures throughout so that it is evenly cooked, but also allows for the smoke to reach a larger surface area.
To spatchcock, just use poultry scissors or a chef’s knife and put a notch right at the top of the keel bone, and flatten the whole chicken out. Then rub the exterior with oil to get it ready to season.
You want the delicious, smoky flavor to be the star of the show when it comes to barbecue chicken. So, you want to season the chicken with a dry rub but avoid over-seasoning it. Keep your seasoning simple.
A spice rub applied before smoking will help impart savory flavors into the meat and enhance that smokiness everyone craves.
If you are going to be using a mop sauce on the chicken while you are smoking, make sure it is a thin sauce. Use a sauce mop or small brush to baste the mop sauce on every 30 minutes or so.
If you are a barbecue sauce lover with your chicken, make sure to wait until the last few minutes of cooking to brush your sauce on. You don’t want the sauce to burn and ruin the chicken. This is especially prevalent with sauces that contain some form of sugar.
No matter if you are using wood logs, pellets, or chunks, the specific type of wood used when smoking has a big effect on the flavor profile of the meat. So it is important to use a type of wood that won’t overpower the chicken, which is a much more mild protein compared to other meats.
Milder fruit woods, specifically apple and cherry wood, are often favorites to smoke chicken with because of their lighter flavor that compliments the chicken well. Hickory, which has a more robust flavor than the fruit woods, is another good option and will impart a stronger, more savory flavor. But make sure to not use a lot of it or you risk imparting a strong bitter flavor to the chicken.
A good number of pitmasters actually combine a fruitwood with a little bit of hickory to create a deliciously complex flavor.
Source: BBQ Smoking Wood
The best way to know when your chicken is done is to use a good quality meat thermometer. If you rely on the color of the juices (which is another barbecue myth), you risk overcooking it and drying it out or undercooking it and making people sick. Especially with chicken, you want to keep food safety in mind and rely on temperature.
Start cooking your chicken once the smoker or grill reaches an internal temperature of 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping it between 250 degrees and 325 degrees Fahrenheit will ensure even cooking temperatures and give you a properly cooked chicken with nice, crispy skin.
Again, you want to rely on temperature to know when the chicken is done. Smoke the chicken until the internal temperature in the breast is 160 degrees Fahrenheit and the thigh is 175 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you take the chicken out of the smoker, let it rest shortly before cutting or shredding and the temperature in the breast should come up to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Additional Pro Tip:
Smoke the chicken over indirect heat for almost the whole time. Then, about 5 - 10 minutes before it is done, sear it skin side down over direct heat to render the fat from the skin and give you the delicious, crispy exterior.
By following the insider tips above, you’ll be well on your way to mastering how to smoke chicken like the champion pitmasters. As you can see, preparation, flavoring, and temperature are all key factors in cooking delicious barbecue chicken.
You don’t have to be intimidated when smoking chicken. Here at BBQ Champs Academy, we'll show you how to smoke chicken on your grill or in your smoker just like the pros. All of whom have perfected how to smoke chicken. You’ll learn step-by-step techniques alongside their insider secrets, all in stunning high-def video. The pitmasters will show you from start to finish how to cook delicious, competition-worthy barbecue chicken.
Learn all of the tips and techniques straight from the Champion Pitmasters and Grillmasters here at BBQ Champs Academy. You’ll learn how to cook everything from the perfect smoked chicken to mouth-watering ribs and more.
thanks have learnt how to smoke a chicken, cause I want to start a smoking business. thanks for your teaching.
Glad you enjoyed the article and thanks for checking out our site! Make sure to check out the All-Access Pass, giving you everything you need to know about smoking multiple different types of meat straight from Champion Pitmasters.
Thank you for sharing your knowledge! I've long wondered how to keep the moisture and suppleness in smoked chicken and have recently discovered that the brinning method accomplishes precisely that. Furthermore, while you recommended apple and cherry wood for smoking chicken, I went with pecan, which has a delicate taste that matches the chicken well.
Love the information on this site!
Thanks, Jeffrey! We appreciate you visiting our site!