BBQ FAQ Section 10.3.4


10.3.4 Whole chicken


[How about some tips on doing whole chickens in my smoker?]

Danny Gaulden--

Some folks like to smoke them fast, and others slow. I've tried both methods over the years, and I prefer the slow method. I also like to do my chickens in halves, rather than whole. They take on a little more smoke, brown on both sides (which I think looks a lot nicer and they have a better flavor), plus you can apply a finishing sauce to both the outside and inside if you like.

Here's how I do chicken. Take your whole chicken and remove the giblets and neck from the body cavity. Wash the chicken off in cold water and then cut it in half through the breastbone, dividing the chicken into right and left halves. Pat the halves dry with a paper towel. I apply olive oil or a good cooking oil to both the outside and inside, season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and lemon pepper. Sometimes I use a little thyme (be careful with this), or poultry seasoning. Place the chicken in a Ziploc bag, and let it sit for about 4 hours in the refrigerator. When you fire up the smoker, bring chickens out of the refrigerator and let them sit at room temperature for as long as 30 minutes--no more. I'm kind of cautious about chicken and bacteria. I smoke my chickens at 225 to 250F and it usually takes about 3 1/12 to 4 hours. When I take my chickens off the smoker using the 'shaking-hands' technique and I measure the internal temperature, it is always between 180-185F.

After an hour or so of smoking, brush the skin with a little oil, and again after about 2 hours. This helps keep the skin from drying out. Oh, make sure you smoke your chicken skin side up. If you wish to flip it over towards the end of the cooking time, fine.

I'm very relaxed barbecuing chicken, for an extremely constant temperature is not that critical. Why? Because chicken is not a tough piece of meat; it cooks in a fairly short period of time, so you don't have to worry so much about temperature spikes (for fear of burning the outside, and undercooking the inside) as one would with a brisket or pork butt. I find chicken is a fairly forgiving meat to barbecue.

When you can shake hands with the drumstick, and it moves freely all the way up into the thigh, it is done. Until you smoke a few and learn how to do this, I recommend that you use a thermometer to check for doneness, but always practice the shake-hands method at the same time. Using a thermometer can be difficult for beginners, for it will not read accurately if inserted next to a bone or cartilage. So be careful and make sure you insert it into the thigh; the last part of the chicken to cook. You can feel a bone if you hit one--no problem--just back off and try again. You'll figure it out after barbecuing a few. I think this is the reason so many people have trouble with chicken, and tend to undercook or overcook them. They just don't know how to tell when they are done. Once you figure this out, it's very easy to barbecue chicken, and your confidence will grow.

Chickens are cheap, fun to barbecue, and taste pretty darn good too! So practice, practice, practice. Have fun, and let me know how you are doing.



To make really outstanding smoked chicken, brine it first. Use Kent's brine method below or see additional methods in Section 10.5.4. After brining, you can smoke the chicken using Danny's method above or Kent's method below. DO NOT stuff a whole chicken before smoking!


[Can someone tell me a few competition secrets for doing chicken?]

Kent Rhodes--

Brine your chicken. For each gallon of water (enough to cover bird) use 3/4 cup kosher salt, 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, some garlic, cumin, pepper, maybe some hot sauce, or any other flavors you like. Let the whole chicken soak for about 8 hours. In your competition schedule, be sure to include enough time for brining and smoking. Wash the chicken off in cold water for about 30 seconds each.

Turn the chicken over (breast down) and cut through the rib cage. Once cut, place a large knife just inside the breast bone and press down until you hear a crack. Then, turn the chicken back over and press down, this will give you two halves with the skin still intact between the two. Take some Italian dressing and rub it all under the skin. Get you hands real far up there, all the way to the leg bone. Then, rub down with your favorite rub all under the skin also. Smoke-cook as usual, and baste if needed with some more dressing, being sure to lift up skin and baste under there also.


[What is 'Up the butt' chicken?]

Editor--Summary of several posts--

It is a method for smoking whole chickens using a wire rack that goes in the butt cavity and holds the chicken upright during the smoking process. Some barbecuers also use a beer can, either empty or half full of water or beer in place of the wire rack. I saw whole chickens being barbecued with a 'beer can up the butt' at a barbecue competition where the barbecuers smoked the chicken in the horizontal position, breast up. It was delicious. Smoking times will be 3-4 hours at 220-250F. Use Danny's 'shaking hands with the drumstick' method to determine when it's done--internal temperature of 180-185F.


[Every time I smoke a roaster chicken in my ECB it turns out real nice and tender and juicy the only problem is with the skin. The skin looks real good but when you try and eat it is like rubber. What am I doing wrong? I am smoking it at 220 to 230F according to the candy thermometer I installed at rack level.]

Ed Pawlowski--

Roasting a chicken, the crispy skin is the tastiest part. Smoking a chicken, the skin is as you describe it. Two things you can do. Unlike some other meats, chicken does not have to be tenderized so it can be cooked at a higher temperature. That helps. The second is to fire up the grill and after smoking, finish the chicken on the grill. Oh, it also helps to oil the skin before putting it on the smoker.

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Thursday, November 25, 1999
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