What’s so great about smoked whole chicken? If you have to ask, then you’ve never tried it. Imagine a roasted chicken bathed in spicy smoke and slow cooked to the point where it melts in your mouth. I really think that smoking chicken is the way it was meant to be cooked. But then again, I think smoking anything is the way to go. While grilling can do wonders for chicken, the smoker/ BBQ adds so much more.
The first step in smoking a chicken is to find a good chicken. Don’t pick up a shriveled, frozen bird at the supermarket. Pick out a fresh, plump bird. You want a good size because it’s going to go fast. If you’re cooking for more than about five people consider getting two. I usually try to find a 4 to 5 pound bird.
Smoking one 4 pound chicken will take about 4 hours. Before you put the chicken in the smoker give it a good wash and trim off any lose fat and skin. You’ll want to adjust your BBQ to about 220° F. This is a great recipe to start with if you are just learning about barbecue. You practice keep your BBQ at the proper temperature without the risk of ruining an expensive cut of meat.
The low and slow method of barbecue produces a vastly superior chicken to grilling. There are several things you can do to prepare your chicken for the BBQ. The first thing you can do is BRINE the bird. See the post on brining for different brine solutions. That said, the first thing is to clean the bird and remove any unnecessary fat and skin. Remember to keep your work area clean and wash your hands after touching your chicken. I prefer to BBQ chicken SPATCHCOCK style. This requires you to remove the back bone. This method provides a more even cooking and great presentation when finished. USE POLTRY SHEARS and cut along both sides of the chickens’ spine and remove. You can also remove the small rib cage on both sides. Turn the bird breast side up and carefully peel back the breast skin. As you do this you’ll see a translucent membrane. Remove as much of this as you can along with as much fat. Don’t worry, there will be enough moisture you’ll never miss it. With a sharp boning knife pierce the drumsticks at the thickest point front and back. This allows the red juices to escape.
Now it’s time to season your chicken. A good barbecue rub for poultry usually has sage, thyme and bay leaves. These flavors go along way with chicken. You may also want to try something with citrus like lime or lemon. I recommend John Henry’s Tammy’s Herbal, Cilantro with Lime or Honey Lemon. You want to work the spice rub all over the chicken. Get it into every nook and cranny, including under the skin where possible. Try to harmonize your flavors by using the same combination in your rub or mop (a way to add moisture while barbequing). My favorite barbecue mop recipe is a good stout or a full strength lager beer. I usually get a really big bottle of stout; use about 1/4 for the chicken and the rest for me. Pour some beer in a bowl; add some of the rub used and a good string mop. DO NOT USE A BRUSH! Brushing will remove your spice bark you’ve worked so hard to achieve.
So how do you know when the smoked chicken is done? Use a thermometer. It is the best way to know that your bird is ready to eat. Chicken is fully cooked at 165° F. When smoking however, you want to over cook it. Look for a temperature around 185° F. Test the temperature in the thickest part of the chicken breast. A good smoked chicken will be very tender, have a late summer tan, pink meat and the juices will run clear. Make sure your bird has all these elements.