Smoked Chicken Is The New Roast Chicken

I’ve always loved grilled and smoked chicken especially a butterflied or spatchcock chicken but ever since I got my new Traeger Timberline XL pellet smoker this summer, I’ve been obsessed with smoked chicken.

The amazing thing about this backyard pellet grill is that it smokes as well as the industrial Ole Hickory pits that I used in my barbecue restaurant. The photographs that you see here have not been re-touched. The burnished dark brown is the color that the chickens have when they’re finished.

Smoked chicken is the very definition of Golden Brown Delicious, a.k.a. G.B.D., and it tastes as good as it looks. The meat is moist and juicy and has a delicious applewood smoke flavor from the apple-wood pellets that I use—hickory, post oak, and pecan are also good choices.

The wood smoke may create a pink or rosy color on the meat and around the bones. This is referred to as the “smoke ring,” and you shouldn’t be concerned—it’s a by-product of smoking and a coveted tale-tell sign of well-smoked meat.

Making a perfect smoked chicken is similar to making a perfect roast chicken in that there is very little prep but you have to be patient during the cooking time.

I smoke the chicken on a low heat, about 225F, and activate the super smoke feature for about 30-40 minutes before raising the temperature to 275F for the remaining 80-90 minutes—about 2 hours total. This is a lower temperature than the classic 325F roasting temperature, but I am looking for maximum smoke infusion.

To make sure that the smoke is evenly distributed throughout the chicken, I cook a Butterflied or Spatchcock chicken. And because the backbone is removed and the chicken is laid out flat, the white meat and the dark meat cook at the same rate.

Finally, even though some smoker cook guides tell you not to oil your food before smoking, I disagree. I think they skip this step because they think the oil attracts too much smoke. It’s important to oil the food so that the meat doesn’t dry out, and so that it does attract the smoke. After the chicken is brushed with a thin layer of olive oil, season lightly with a rub or simply use salt to flavor the chicken—the wood smoke is your major flavoring agent.

If you like barbecue sauce, serve it on the side. This chicken is so flavorful that it really doesn’t need anything else.

Smoked Spatchcocked Chicken

You can easily Spatchcock your own chicken or buy one that is already prepared for you. For a refresher on how to butterfly or spatchcock a chicken refer to the article. And, remember that chickens vary in size so the exact timing will be determined by the size of the chicken. It generally takes me 2 hours to smoke a chicken.

Serves 4

Smoking Method: Indirect/Medium Heat

1 whole spatchcocked chicken, 3-4 pounds

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Favorite Barbecue Rub or Kosher salt

Pellet smoker and apple-wood pellets or other favorite wood pellets

  1. Preheat smoker to 225F.
  2. Remove and discard excess fat from chicken if necessary. Pat dry. Brush lightly with oil. Season with spice rub or salt. Twist wings behind the chicken so the choicken lays flat—this is called wings akimbo.
  3. Place chicken, bone-side down in center of cooking grate. You do not need to turn the chicken.
  4. Smoke chicken for 30-40 minutes at 225F to maximize the smoke infusion.
  5. Raise the temperature to 275F and cook for another 80-90 minutes—or until breast meat near bone registers 160-165°F and thigh meat registers 180°F, about 2 hours total depending on size. [If you don’t have a meat thermometer, cook until no longer pink and the juices run clear. The skin should be a dark burnished golden brown and the drumsticks should be receding from the skin meaning that you can see the bone sticking out a little.]
  6. Remove from grill and let sit 10 minutes before serving.

NOTE: If preparing barbecued chicken and you really want to use barbecue sauce, brush it on the chicken during the final 10 minutes of cooking time to prevent burning.