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Smoked Whole Chicken

Our smoked whole chicken is juicy and tender with a crispy, caramelized skin. The perfect family dinner! 

Start with a flavorful brine for extra juiciness, then cover it with an award-winning smoked chicken rub. Smoke it low and slow to infuse it with an amazing flavor, and baste it with a chicken mop sauce during the smoke. Finally, coat it with a tangy BBQ sauce and finish it off hot and fast to give it a crispy skin and caramelize the sauce.

A whole smoked chicken glazed with sauce.

Skip the grocery store rotisserie chicken and make a smoked whole chicken that is out of this world. It is simple to make and even easier if you have a pellet grill. We used a Traeger, but any pellet grill will work. You can even adapt this recipe to a side smoker or an electric smoker.

Here is Why This Recipe Works

  • Brining is the secret to a juicy, succulent chicken. We heat the brine solution to dissolve the salt then we added ice and cold water to cool it down quickly.
  • The smoked chicken rub gives the bird a rich flavor, helps form a crust (or bark) on the skin, and helps the smoke adhere to the chicken. 
  • Smoking chicken at a lower temperature helps give it time to absorb all that delicious smoke flavor.
     
  • Basting the chicken with a mop sauce during the smoke helps keep it moist and adds even more flavor.
  • Finally, we finished our Traeger chicken with a coat of BBQ sauce and cranked up the heat. This helps crisp up the skin and caramelize the sauce for an added bit of sweetness and color.

For more smoker recipes, you will love our Traeger sea basssmoked prime rib, or our Traeger pork shoulder. And for another way to smoke a whole chicken, try our beer can chicken.

The Ingredients

Here is a list of the ingredients you will need for this Traeger smoked whole chicken recipe. Scroll down to the printable recipe card for all the details. 

For the Chicken Brine

  • Kosher salt. The type of salt is important. If you don’t have Kosher salt, use half the amount of regular table salt.
  • Granulated sugar. The sugar balances the salt.
  • Black peppercorns.
  • Garlic cloves. Crush the cloves, so they release their oils and flavor.
  • Herbs. We used bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, sage, and parsley.
  • Green onions. 
  • Lemons.
  • Ice. We use the ice to cool the brine down faster. You don’t want to place the chicken in hot or warm brine.

Tip: If you don’t have all the ingredients for the brine, all you really need is the salt. The rest of the ingredients are a bonus and enhance the flavor only slightly.

World-renowned grill master Myron Mixon inspired our brine for smoked chicken.

A whole chicken, green onions, garlic, bay leaves, sugar, kosher salt, peppercorns, fresh herbs, and lemons.

For the Chicken Spice Rub

Our dry rub was adapted from the Meat Mitch Competition Whomp! Rub in BBQ Revolution.

  • Brown sugar.
  • Salt.
  • Spices. We used smoke paprika, chili powder, black pepper, garlic powder, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne, and marjoram.

Tip: You can make your own rub or purchase one from the store. You can even use a simple blend of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. Or try an herb rub like Greek Freak.

For the Mop Sauce

  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Brown sugar
  • Dry rub reserved from above
  • Tabasco sauce

Tip: Instead of making a mop sauce, you can baste the chicken with butter or olive oil.

Finish the Traeger Chicken

Vinegar, hot sauce, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, bbq sauce, olive oil, and spices for chicken dry rub.

How to Smoke a Whole Chicken

Here is a brief overview to get an idea of what to expect with this smoked whole chicken recipe. Scroll down to the printable recipe card for all the details.

This Traeger whole chicken recipe is easier than it looks. The list of ingredients may look long, but it is easy to improvise and adapt the recipe to what you have on hand. 

  1. Brine the bird. 
  2. Season with the dry rub (make sure to get under the chicken skin). 
  3. Smoke the chicken and apply the mop sauce during the smoke. 
  4. Coat the chicken with BBQ sauce and crank up the heat to caramelize the sauce.
  5. Let the chicken rest at room temperature before carving.
A whole chicken in a brine solution.
Adding a dry rub to a chicken.
A whole chicken on a Traeger grill.
Brushing a chicken with a mop sauce.
Adding barbecue sauce to a whole chicken.

Tip: Place the chicken in the smoker either breast side up or down, or use a beer can chicken holder to keep it upright.

There aren’t any hard and fast rules here. However, if you turn the chicken over so the breast side is down, all the juices from the dark meat will seep into the breast meat. It helps the lean breast meat stay juicier.

A whole chicken on a pellet grill.

How Long to Smoke a Whole Chicken? 

The cooking time will vary based on the size of your chicken and temperature fluctuations on your pellet grill. The best way to know when the chicken is done is to use a digital thermometer to monitor the internal temperature. The thigh or leg meat should register 170°F to 175°F, and the breast meat should register 160°F to 165°F.

The following table will give you an estimated time at different temperatures.

Temperature Estimated Time
225°F3-1/2 to 4-1/4 hours
250°F 3 to 4 hours
275°F 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours
A whole chicken with roasted corn.

Tips for Best Results

  • Use butcher’s twine to tie the chicken legs together. This will help the chicken cook more evenly on the pellet smoker (or whichever smoker you use). If you don’t have butcher twine, then don’t fret; the chicken will still turn out great.
  • When you switch the pellet grill to a higher temperature, it will only take about 5 to 10 minutes to get a nice crust on the skin. The higher heat will also prevent rubbery skin on the chicken.
  • We like to take the chicken off the smoker before it reaches the target temperature to allow for carry-over cooking. We usually remove the chicken from the pellet grill when the breast meat reaches 157°F. That means we usually increase the heat on the pellet grill when the breast meat reaches 150°F.
  • Our Traeger whole chicken recipe uses a low temperature to get the best smoky flavor. If you are pinched for time, you can increase the temperature and cook it until a meat thermometer registers the correct temperature.
A whole chicken sliced and arranged on a platter.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best wood to smoke chicken?

We recommend using fruit wood such as apple or cherry for a milder flavor or hickory, mesquite, or pecan for a more robust flavor. Wood pellets come in a variety of flavors, and we tend to use what we find on sale. 

How do you smoke a whole chicken without drying it out?

The best thing you can do to ensure a juicy chicken is to start with a brine. Next, make sure you don’t overcook the bird. Use a meat thermometer and pull the chicken off the smoker when the breast meat has an internal temperature of 157°F (the carry-over heat will continue to cook the chicken and it will come up to 165°F).

What temperature should I smoke a whole chicken?

Anywhere between 225°F and 275°F will give your chicken a smoke-infused flavor.

Will smoked chicken be a little pink?

Yes, it is normal to see a little bit of pink meat when you smoke chicken. The color is not an indication of doneness. Use a meat thermometer to determine doneness.

Do I have to brine the chicken?

You can skip the brine if you don’t have time.

Smoking a whole chicken on the pellet grill is easy, and the results are amazing. Our recipe is easy to adapt depending on what you have on hand. The chicken comes out juicy and tender, with a crispy, caramelized skin.

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Some Other Recipes We Are Sure You Will Love:

Our glazed chicken thighs and BBQ baked chicken legs make terrific weeknight meals that are easy to pop in the oven.

If you want a whole chicken recipe to cook in the oven, our roast chicken with vegetables is a great one-dish dinner.

If you have leftover chicken, use it to make an enchilada casserole or add it to a green salad. You can even use the carcass to make a chicken broth.

A whole chicken on a platter.

Smoked Whole Chicken

Yield: 1 chicken
Prep Time: 1 day
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 1 day 4 hours

Don't let the long list of ingredients trip you up. There are 5 easy steps for a perfect smoked whole chicken.

  1. Brine.
  2. Apply the rub.
  3. Place it on the smoker.
  4. Baste it with a mop sauce.
  5. Slather it with BBQ sauce.

Start with a flavorful brine for extra juiciness, then cover it with an award-winning smoked chicken rub. Smoke it low and slow to infuse it with an amazing flavor, and baste it with a chicken mop sauce during the smoke. Finally, coat it with a tangy BBQ sauce and finish it off hot and fast to give it a crispy skin and caramelize the sauce.

Ingredients

Chicken Brine for Smoking

  • 8 cups cold water, divided
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt (not table salt)
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup black peppercorns
  • 3 to 5 crushed garlic cloves
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 sprig fresh sage
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 3 spring onions, chopped
  • 2 lemons, quartered
  • 2 cups ice
  • 1 whole chicken (4 to 6 pounds)

Smoked Chicken Rub (or use your favorite rub)

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil.

Chicken Mop Sauce

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of rub reserved from above
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (more if you like it hot)

Finish the Smoked Chicken

  • 1 cup BBQ sauce

Instructions

    Brine the Chicken

    1. Pour 4 cups of water into a large stock pot. Add the rest of the brine ingredients, except for the ice cubes. 
    2. Heat the mixture over hight heat until it comes to a boil. Stir until the salt dissolves then remove it from the heat. 
    3. Add the ice cubes and 4 cups of cold water. Stir until the ice melts and the mixture cools completely. If it is still cold after the ice melts, let it sit in the fridge until it it gets cold. 
    4. Once the brine gets cold, submerge the chicken, breast side down, into the brine. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours. 

    Smoke the Chicken

    1. Preheat the smoker to 225°F (pellet grill, electric smoker, or offset smoker all work).  
    2. Remove the chicken from the brine solution and pat it dry with paper towels. 
    3. Combine the smoked chicken rub ingredients and reserve 1 tablespoon for the mop sauce. 
    4. Loosen the skin and work some of the dry rub under the skin.
    5. Rub olive oil all over the outside chicken then coat it with the rub. Get inside the cavity of the chicken as well. 
    6. Tie the legs together with butcher's twine, then tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. 
    7. Place the chicken directly on the grill grates. Stick a meat probe into the thickest part of the breast or thigh (push it in until you hit bone, then back it out a tad). Close the pellet grill and let her smoke. 

    Make the Mop Sauce

    1. While the chicken is smoking, mix the ingredients for the chicken mop sauce. After it smokes for 1 hour, use the mop sauce to baste the chicken every 30 to 60 minutes. 
    2. Smoke for 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 hours or until a meat thermometer reaches 170°F to 175°F in the thigh or leg (the breast meat will be done at 160°F but the dark meat is finished at 170°F).
    3. TIP: For the juiciest chicken meat, remove the bird when the breast meat reaches 157°F. The carry-over heat will continue to cook the bird while you let it rest.

    Finish with BBQ sauce

    1. When the chicken is within 5°F to 10°F of finishing, baste it with BBQ sauce and increase the temperature on the smoker to 450°F. (If you are using an electric smoker, you will have to do this final step in your oven). TIP: We actually do this step when the breast meat reaches 150°F and then remove the chicken from the grill when the breast meat reaches 157°F.
    2. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, cover it with aluminum foil, and let it rest for 20 minutes. 

    Notes

    • If you don’t have Kosher salt for the brine solution, you can use 3-1/2 to 4 tablespoons of regular table salt. Do not use equal amounts of table salt for the Kosher salt. 
    • Ensure the brine solution is cold before placing the chicken in it. 
    • Don’t worry if you don’t have all the ingredients for the brine. All you need is salt and water (the sugar is nice too). The rest of the ingredients help give a very light flavor to the brine but they are not essential like the salt. 
    • You can place the chicken in the smoker breast side up or down. You can even stick it on a beer can holder to keep it upright. There aren’t any hard and fast rules here. However, if you place it breast side down, all the juices from the dark meat will seep into the breast meat and help keep the breast meat juicier. 
    • The smoked chicken rub was adapted from BBQ Revolution by Mitch Benjamin. We adjusted the amounts to make enough for 1 chicken and added garlic powder. If you double or quadruple the amounts in the recipe, you can store any extra rub in an airtight container for up to four weeks. 
    • A delicious alternative to the mop sauce is to baste the bird with melted butter or a combination of butter and olive oil.
    • The time it takes to smoke a whole chicken will vary based on the size of your chicken and temperature fluctuations in the pellet grill. Smoke the chicken until the meat thermometer registers the correct temperature and not based on the time. We provided an approximate time guideline to help you plan the cook and the rest of your meal.

    How long to smoke a whole chicken (approximate times)

    • 225°F for 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 hours
    • 250°F for 3 to 4 hours
    • 275°F for 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours
    Nutrition Information:
    Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 410Total Fat: 21gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 88mgSodium: 5584mgCarbohydrates: 28gFiber: 4gSugar: 20gProtein: 29g

    Nutrition information is a guideline only, is calculated automatically by third-party software, and absolute accuracy is not guaranteed.

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    John / Kitchen Riffs

    Wednesday 14th of September 2022

    What a gorgeous looking chicken! Definitely my sort of dish. I'm with Angie -- I want some. :-)

    Dahn Boquist

    Wednesday 14th of September 2022

    Thanks, John.

    angiesrecipes

    Tuesday 13th of September 2022

    That simply looks amazing! Wish I could taste some now :-)) angiesrecipes

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