How to Smoke a Whole Chicken

smoked whole chicken on a cutting board

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This whole smoked chicken was cooked on a charcoal grill instead of in a big fancy smoker, but tasting it, you would never know! Learn how to smoke a whole chicken using simple seasonings that allow the meat to shine.

My kids despise chicken… they say it’s “boring” and we have it ALL the time… I tell them it’s pretty much the cheapest protein that there is, so tough luck. But when I smoked a whole chicken recently, and topped it with a simple honey lemon glaze, they couldn’t get enough!

Yup, this is the chicken that will make you WANT to eat chicken! Kid-tested, wife-approved!

But first, if you haven’t read this post on How to Use Your Charcoal Grill as a Smoker, then you need to check that out first! Because, obviously, making sure that your grill or smoker is set up properly and dialed in to the correct temperature is KEY to smoking the perfect whole chicken.

How to Smoke a Whole Chicken on a Charcoal Grill

Step 1: Prep your chicken.

Smoking a whole chicken involves a little bit of prep work. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Remove your chicken from the wrapping and discard of the extra juices.
  • Remove the innards of the chicken, including the neck, liver, gizzard, heart, etc.
  • Set it on top of a paper towel on a large plate. No need to rinse or pat dry.
  • Leave your chicken on the counter for approximately 45 minutes to an hour to raise the internal temperature just a bit. If you were to take it out of the fridge, prep it, and immediately put it on the grill, it would have to cook for much longer.

Don’t worry about letting your meat sit out on the counter for about an hour before cooking. Just for reference, the temperature in my refrigerator is 37 degrees. After my whole chicken had been sitting out for an hour, the internal temp was 50 degrees.

Step 2: Season your chicken.

Now it’s time to season your whole chicken to your liking. I’m a HUGE fan of Cavendar’s All Purpose Greek Seasoning, so I sprinkle a liberal amount of that all over my chicken, followed by salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. You want a nice even layer of all of your seasonings.

We also sprinkled finely chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, and oregano (2 sprigs each) on top of the whole chicken.

*PRO TIP – Season your chicken breast side DOWN first. That way, when you flip it over to season the top (the “presentation side”) the seasonings don’t rub off.

Step 3: Set up your charcoal grill like a smoker.

Be sure to check out my post on how to use a charcoal grill as a smoker before you get started! That post shows the EXACT amount of charcoal to use when smoking a chicken, how to maintain your temperatures, and where you want your charcoal to go.

Step 4: Put the chicken on your grill.

If you’re using a charcoal grill to smoke your chicken, you want the chicken to be as far away from the charcoal as possible.

In this photo, my charcoal is on the far left side of my kettle grill, so I put my whole chicken on the far right side. You can also see that my 2-way thermometer has one probe inside the breast of my chicken and one probe attached to the grill near the meat. This set up gives you a more accurate reading of the grill temp near the chicken, rather than relying on the built-in grill thermometer.

whole chicken on a charcoal grill

Step 5: Smoke chicken for approximately 2 1/2 hours at 250 degrees.

After the first hour, rotate the chicken so that the opposite breast is facing the coals. Close the lid and continue smoking.

Then, when chicken is almost done (internal temp of about 160 degrees), spritz or baste with your favorite liquid or glaze. I made a simple glaze with melted butter, honey, and lemon juice.

How do I know when my chicken is done?

You want to cook a whole chicken to an internal temperature of approximately 160 t0 165 degrees. But more importantly, you NEED to make sure that the juices of the chicken are clear. You can see in the YouTube video that goes with this post (check out my YouTube channel HERE!), that when my chicken reached a temp of 160 degrees, the juices were still a bit bloody, so I smoked it a few minutes longer until all the juices ran clear.

Also be sure to check multiple places on your chicken to make sure that there aren’t any hot spots. The two main parts to check are the thickest part of the breast and inside the thigh.

Step 6: Remove from the grill and let rest.

Once your whole chicken is done, remove it from the grill and let rest for about 15-20 minutes.

This is VERY important! You’ve just spent 2 1/2 hours smoking an AMAZING moist, juicy, flavorful chicken… the last thing you want to do is get in a rush and cut it early, losing all of those juices.

Plus, this will give you time to take some awesome photos to show off to your friends! 🙂

smoked whole chicken on a cutting board

FAQ’s about Smoking a Whole Chicken

How Long Do You Smoke a Whole Chicken?

Our whole smoked chicken took about 2 1/2 hours on the grill. The time that it takes will depend on how well you regulate your temperature. Obviously, if you’re smoking at 300 degrees, it will take less time.

And remember, “if you’re lookin’, you ain’t cookin’.” Or, in other words, if you’re constantly opening your grill to check on your meat, then your grill temp will drop, and your meat won’t cook as quickly. Reason #157 that I LOVE my 2-way thermometer… it’s like a video baby monitor… You can check on your meat without disturbing it!

What internal temp am I looking for?

The internal temp of your chicken should be in the 160 to 165 degrees range. But you ALSO need to make sure that the juices are clear. Remember though, when SMOKING meat, you are cooking on a lower temperature, so there will NOT be as much “carryover cooking”.

If you were GRILLING meat at a higher temperature (say 500 degrees), there is more residual heat and the internal temperature of your meat would continue to raise a few degrees AFTER you take it off the grill and while it is resting. The same is NOT true when smoking meat, because you are cooking at much lower temps.

What is the best wood to smoke a chicken?

Light flavor woods are best when smoking chicken, because the flavor of chicken is naturally mild, so you don’t want a wood that will overwhelm it. Apple wood, peach wood, or a good fruity wood is a safe bet.

Pairing woods to meat is like pairing wines with meat.
Neal @ The Savvy Sparrow
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Woods that are light in flavor go with light-colored meats (like chicken, fish, and other seafood). Woods that have a more robust flavor (oak, hickory, mesquite) go with darker meats like beef and pork.

Ready to give this smoked whole chicken a try?

If you’re a beginner smoker, and you want to try the low and slow smoking method, then this is the PERFECT dish to introduce you to proper smoking techniques! You’ll get first-hand knowledge of where to put your charcoal, how much charcoal to use, and how to maintain your grill temps, without spending $50+ on a pricier cut of meat.

But don’t worry… just follow these techniques, and no one will know you’re a beginner after tasting this juicy meat! While smoking this Whole Chicken may not seem exciting, the flavors will no doubt change your mind on the Low and Slow method.

Here’s the recipe so you can try it out yourself:

Smoked Whole Chicken Recipe

smoked whole chicken on a cutting board

Whole Smoked Chicken on the Charcoal Grill

Yield: 1/4 of chicken
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Additional Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours

This whole smoked chicken is cooked on a charcoal grill instead of a big fancy smoker. But tasting it, you would never know! Learn how to smoke a whole chicken using simple seasonings that allow the meat to shine.

Ingredients

  • Whole chicken
  • salt
  • pepper
  • garlic powder
  • Cavender's All Purpose Greek Seasoning
  • fresh rosemary, oregano, thyme - 2 sprigs of each, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp butter

Instructions

  1. Take chicken out of the fridge about 30 minutes before seasoning it. Remove all the innards (liver, gizzards, heart, and neck). Properly discard of chicken juice from the package. Allow to rest for about 30 minutes on the counter so that the temp comes up a bit.
  2. Prepare your charcoal grill for a low and slow smoke at 250 degrees. See my post How to Use Your Charcoal Grill as a Smoker.
  3. While grill is coming up to temp, season chicken. Sprinkle entire chicken evenly with salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, all purpose greek seasoning, and fresh chopped herbs. TIP - Season the chicken breast side DOWN first!
  4. Once your grill is reading 250 degrees, put whole chicken breast side UP on the grill, away from the charcoals. Close the lid and allow to smoke for an hour.
  5. After one hour, rotate chicken so that the opposite breast is closest to the fire, and close lid again.
  6. When the internal temp of your chicken is about 160 degrees, make the glaze by combining honey, lemon, and butter in a small saucepan and heating until butter is melted.
  7. Brush your whole chicken with the glaze.
  8. Your smoked whole chicken is done once the internal temperature is about 160-165 degrees and the juices run clear.
  9. Remove from the grill and let rest for about 15-20 minutes before slicing.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 453Total Fat: 23gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 13gCholesterol: 139mgSodium: 388mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 1gSugar: 17gProtein: 41g

Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy and is an estimate only. Different online calculators may calculate nutritional information differently. Also, the addition of optional ingredients and varying brands and products may change the information. For the most accurate data, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients that you us

Want to Watch Me Cook?

Click here to visit The Flat Top King on YouTube! Watch me cook some of my favorite charcoal grill, flat top grill, and cast iron recipes, and get helpful tips for how to use and care for your cooking equipment!

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