Your summer barbecues aren’t complete without this easy smoked whole chicken on a pellet grill! Prepared with a simple yet flavorful spice rub, this chicken is smoked to perfection for the most succulent, tender and moist meat. Plus, this smoked whole chicken recipe takes 10 minutes of hands-on preparation time, and you can smoke one or multiple chickens at a time.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
Smoking adds a depth of flavor and makes for the most tender meat: We smoke our chicken on a pellet grill at 225 degrees. With that low and slow cooking, the smoke perfectly infuses into the meat, and it stays moist and flavorful. Don’t be surprised if this becomes your favorite way to prepare chicken.
Say bye-bye to gummy, rubbery skin with a special technique: Smoked chicken isn’t known for crisp skin because of the low temperature, but thanks to a dry brine technique, we can achieve a nice crispness. We also coat the chicken skin with some olive oil and turn up the heat from the lower temperature at the very end to promote that crisp texture even further.
Keep that oven turned off for summer: On those hot summer days, a long cook time can quickly heat up a kitchen. All cooking is done outside for the best summer preparation method.
Perfect party dinner idea: Not only does a whole smoked chicken on a pellet grill require very little preparation time, but you can smoke one chicken for a small gathering or several chickens at once, depending on the size of your smoker. That makes it super simple to feed a large crowd the best chicken of their lives with little effort.
As if you needed another reason to enjoy this recipe, it has one simple ingredient list. Here are a few helpful notes to make the absolute best smoked whole chicken.
Whole chicken: I recommend chickens that are about 4 to 5 pounds. Most chickens come with innards that need to be removed, so you simply reach into the cavity and remove whatever is in there. Depending on the brand, this can include the neck, gizzards, liver and heart.
Chicken BBQ rub: We make our own rub by combining chili powder, brown sugar, garlic powder, black pepper, smoked paprika, onion powder, cayenne pepper, ground cumin and mustard powder. Of course, you’re welcome to use your own blend.
BBQ sauce: This is optional, but I love a good sauce with smoked chicken. I highly recommend my honey-sriracha BBQ sauce, coffee-bourbon BBQ sauce or blueberry BBQ sauce. You can also use your favorite BBQ sauce.
Olive oil: This helps promote that crisp skin. Just a tablespoon or two will do.
Salt: In addition to the pictured ingredients, make sure you have 1 heaping tablespoon of salt for the dry brining.
Step 1: To dry brine for crisp skin, we pat the chicken dry with paper towels, and then generously sprinkle with salt and rub into the skin (photo 1). I like to also go ahead and stuff the chicken with a lime and use kitchen or butcher twine to tie the legs to keep them tight. We place the chicken in the refrigerator for at least four hours, though overnight is ideal.
Technically, this step is optional, but I highly recommend to truly make the best smoked chicken recipe.
Step 2: We’re ready for smoking and prepare our smoker according to the manufacturer’s directions, fill the water pan and set the temperature to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. As the smoker heats, we make the spice rub by simply stirring the mixture together (photo 2).
Step 3: Now we rub the spice mixture all over the chicken skin like so (photo 3) and place the chicken in the smoker with the breast-side up and thighs closest to the heat source. If possible, try to tuck in the wing tips.
Step 4: We allow the chicken to smoke until it reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees. At this point, we brush the skin with olive oil and BBQ sauce if desired (photo 4) and crank up the heat to 350 degrees to finish cooking.
Step 5: And that’s it! We let the chicken rest for at least 10 minutes to allow the juices to settle, and then we’re ready to carve with a sharp knife and serve the most perfect smoked whole chicken.
Note: While this recipe specifies a pellet grill, you can apply the ingredients and instructions to any type of smoker of your choosing. The process is the same whether you use an electric pellet grill or more traditional smoker.
What to Serve With
Smoked whole chicken is super versatile and goes with so many side dishes. A few of my favorite side dishes for smoked chicken include:
- Smoked baked beans
- Pesto tortellini salad
- Roasted potato salad
- Bacon macaroni salad
- Hawaiian potato salad
- Coconut-lime rice
While this recipe is awesome during the summer, a smoked whole bird also makes a delicious holiday main course, especially for smaller gatherings. For that, you’ll love these recipes:
How to Store
Allow any leftovers to fully cool and then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three to four days. You can also store it in a freezer-safe bag or container, and the chicken will keep at its best for up to four months.
I love freezing any leftover smoked chicken and then using it for nachos, sandwiches, chicken salads, quesadillas, tacos – you name it. That smoked flavor goes well with so many different recipes.
Drying brining is the simple process of salting food and allowing it to rest. The salt pulls out the moisture from the skin and meat. Eventually, the moisture dissolves the salt to reabsorb into the meat, making for a more flavorful, tender meat with a drier exterior to promote better browning, aka that crisp skin.
Alternatively, a wet brine is a salt solution for soaking the meat. That extra moisture prevents us from getting the right crispness. For that, we need extra dry skin. Plus, it’s much messier and can more easily result in cross contamination from any little spill. Dry brining is the best way to smoke a whole chicken with crispy skin.
You’re in luck – so many different types of wood chunks and wood pellets pair beautifully with chicken. Hickory is my go-to wood for smoking chicken. I like a stronger smoke infusion, so hickory is great for that. However, I would not go with mesquite wood chips, which is a bit overwhelming for chicken.
Sweet and fruity woods are also perfect for more subtle smoke flavor. Think applewood, cherry, pecan and maple. You can even mix and match to achieve your own favorite wood blend.
Smoking comes with so many variables, so it’s hard to give an absolute cooking time. This size of your chicken and even the outdoor temperature can affect cooking times. That said, expect for it to take 45-60 minutes per pound to smoke a whole chicken.
Because smoking doesn’t have an exact cooking time, I recommend not setting a hard dinner time. Put out plenty of snacks, keep the drinks flowing and consider the evening a leisurely one.
Chicken is ready when the breast meat reaches 165 degrees and the thigh meat reaches 175 degrees. Do not rely on time to determine if the chicken is fully cooked. Only a meat thermometer can tell you if the chicken is safe to eat.
To take the temperature, use a digital thermometer and insert it in the thickest part of the meat. Make sure it doesn’t touch the bones, which can give you an inaccurate reading.
Get crispy skin: For best results and the crispiest skin, I like to dry brine overnight. It gives the salt even more time to pull out excessive moisture.
This salt for dry brining will look like a lot. Don't worry. This is normal, and it will not come out too salty because of the reabsorption into the meat.
Stuff and tie early in the process: I recommend stuffing the cavity and tying the legs together before dry brining. As the chicken brines in the refrigerator, the legs will become more lax. If you go ahead and tie them now, they’ll stay together better.
Avoid overcooking with the right thermometer: I like to use a leave-in thermometer, so I can always keep an eye on the internal temperature.
Smooth out the spice mix: The brown sugar can be a bit lumpy, so try to break up any pieces by pressing down on them with the spoon.
Infuse the chicken with flavor all over: When rubbing the outside of the chicken with the spice mix, gently lift up the skin and rub some seasoning directly on the meat.
For the perfect smoked chicken and beer pairing, you will love an American amber ale. This type of beer features a malty backbone with caramel and toffee notes. That sweet malt works well with the brown sugar and counters the spice of the chicken dry rub. Plus, the American hops add some citrus to give a little brightness to that smoky flavor.
When wine calls, I like two different routes, depending on the occasion. If you’re enjoying a nice summer chicken on the patio, I like an oaked chardonnay. It’s chilled enough to stay refreshing on a hot day, and you’ll love how the oak char plays with the smoked and spice rub.
For a holiday smoked chicken, a pinot noir is perfect. Not only do the earthy undertones of the pinot match the smoky profile, but this wine shows off some berry notes that wonderfully counter the spice. And it tends to pair well with many other holiday side dishes.
Love a cocktail? A nice Cadillac margarita is perfect. The fresh lime adds some pop, and the reposado tequila, which ages in oak barrels, is a nice complement to the smoke infusion – similar to the chardonnay recommendation above. My tequila lemonade also makes a nice match.
I hope you enjoy this perfect smoked whole chicken on a pellet grill! It’s a favorite at our house, and I have no doubt you’ll love it just as much.
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Smoked Whole Chicken on a Pellet Grill
- Kitchen or butcher twine
- Wood chunks or pellets depending on the type of wood your smoker uses
- Large bowl to hold chicken for dry brining
- Basting brush
- Cutting board and sharp knife
- 1 whole chicken about 4-5 pounds, innards removed
- 1 heaping tablespoon salt
- 1 lime cut into wedges
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon mustard powder
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- BBQ sauce optional
- To dry brine for crisp skin, pat the chicken dry with paper towels, and then generously sprinkle with salt and rub into the skin. Stuff the chicken cavity with the lime wedges and use kitchen or butcher twine to tie the legs to keep them tight. Place the chicken in the refrigerator uncovered for at least four hours, though overnight is ideal. Do not wipe off the salt after brining.
- Prepare the smoker according to the manufacturer’s directions, fill the water pan and set the temperature to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. As the smoker heats, make the spice rub by simply stirring together the chili powder, brown sugar, garlic powder, black pepper, smoked paprika, onion powder, cayenne pepper, ground cumin and mustard powder.
- Rub the spice mixture all over the skin. Gently lift the skin and rub some spices directly onto the meat as well. Place the chicken in the smoker with the breast-side up and thighs closest to the heat source. If possible, try to tuck in the wing tips.
- Close the smoker and smoke the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees. Replenish the wood if necessary while cooking. Open the smoker, brush the skin with olive oil and BBQ sauce if desired and crank up the heat to 350 degrees to finish cooking. The chicken is done when it reaches 165 degrees in the thickest part of the breast meat and 175 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh meat. Make sure the thermometer does not touch the bone.
- Let the chicken rest for 10-15 minutes to allow the juices to settle and then carve with a sharp knife. If desired, serve with additional BBQ sauce. Enjoy!
- This salt for dry brining will look like a lot. Don't worry. This is normal, and it will not come out too salty because of the reabsorption into the meat.
- Depending on the size of the chicken, cooking time can vary. Plan for 45-60 minutes per pound.
- I like to use a leave-in thermometer, so I can always keep an eye on the internal temperature.
- I recommend removing the chicken from the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes to allow it to come down in temperature.
- Hickory is great for a smokier chicken, though mesquite is a bit strong. Apple, pecan, cherry and maple are great for a milder smoke flavor.
- For a great homemade sauce, I love my honey-sriracha BBQ sauce and coffee-bourbon BBQ sauce.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.