How Long To Smoke a Whole Chicken?

If you’re looking to try cooking chicken in a new, flavorful way, smoking is a great option to consider.

Many barbecue enthusiasts enjoy using their smoker to infuse whole chickens with deep, savory smoke flavor. 

However, knowing how long to smoke a whole chicken can be tricky if you’ve never done it before.

In this guide, we’ll break down the basics of smoking whole chickens so you can confidently tackle this method. 

We’ll discuss variables that influence cook time and provide a recommended smoke time range to ensure your bird turns out perfectly cooked every time.

How Long To Smoke a Whole Chicken?

Smoking a whole chicken typically takes about 2 to 3 hours at 275°F in a smoker.

However, the exact time can vary depending on the size of the chicken and your particular smoker.

The most reliable method is to use a meat thermometer to check that the chicken has reached the safe internal temperature of 165°F in the breast and 175°F in the thigh.

To maintain moisture, it’s vital to baste the chicken with oil or melted butter every half an hour after the first hour of smoking.

Allow the chicken to rest, tented with foil, for 15 to 20 minutes after removing it from the smoker.

This helps in redistributing the juices, ensuring that your smoked chicken is succulent and flavorful when carved.

How To Select The Perfect Chicken For Smoking?

Choosing a delicious chicken to smoke is not a simple thing.

You should base on these given features of a chicken to buy the best one.

Firstly, it’s vital to look for freshness.

Fresh chicken has a soft pink hue and springy flesh when touched.

Steer clear of any poultry with a dull color or an unpleasant odor, as these are signs of spoilage.

Secondly, the size of the chicken plays a crucial role.

A medium chicken, typically weighing between 3 to 4 pounds, is ideal – it’s not only manageable but also cooks evenly throughout.

You’ll also want to consider the type of chicken; opting for organic or free-range can ensure a better taste, as these chickens are generally free from added hormones and have had a healthier diet and lifestyle.

Lastly, consider the chicken’s preparation; a whole chicken retains more moisture, while a spatchcocked or butterflied chicken allows for faster, even cooking.

Remember, the quality of the chicken is just as important as the smoking process for that perfect succulent, smoky flavor.

Step-By-Step Guide For Smoking Chicken

Here are 3 things you should have: ingredients, equipment, and instructions.

Now we will look into the details of 3 sections to know what exactly we should do:

1. Ingredients

– 4-5 lb whole chicken

– 2 teaspoons cooking oil/melted butter

– 1 tbsp salt

– 1 tbsp black pepper

– 1 tsp garlic powder

– 1/4 cup BBQ rub (optional)

2. Equipment

– Charcoal or electric smoker

– Cooking thermometer (probe or instant-read)

– Butcher’s twine

– Aluminum foil

– Spray bottle or basting brush

– Wood chips (cherry or apple)

How To Smoke a Whole Chicken?

Step 1: Remove giblets and neck from the chicken cavity. Pat chicken dry inside and out with paper towels.

Step 2: In a small bowl, combine salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Rub this all over the chicken under the skin and in the cavity.

Step 3: If using BBQ rub, apply it evenly all over the chicken now.

Step 4: Truss the legs by tying them together with butcher’s twine.

Step 5: Fill the water pan of the smoker and add wood chips. Preheat the smoker to 275°F.

Step 6: Place chicken breast side up on the center rack. 

Step 7: At the 45-minute mark, open the oven to give the chicken a light coating of cooking oil or butter. 

Step 8: When the cooking time reaches 1.5 hours, carefully rotate the chicken to promote even cooking. Apply another layer of cooking oil or butter. Use a meat thermometer to check the chicken’s internal temperature – aim for about 140°F in the breast area and approximately 150°F in the thigh.

Step 9: Smoke until the thickest part of the breast reaches 165°F and the thigh 175°F, approx 2 to 3 hours total.

Step 10: Remove from smoker. Tent loosely with foil and rest 15 to 20 minutes before carving.

Step 11: Slice or carve chicken and serve warm with your favorite sides. Enjoy!

Factors Affecting The Time Of Smoking a Whole Chicken

You’ve just discovered know how long to smoke a whole chicken in the smoker, right?

But what exactly are the factors affecting this process?

1. The Size and Weight Of The Chicken

One of the primary factors influencing smoking time is the size and weight of the chicken.

Larger birds will require a longer smoking period compared to smaller ones.

Typically, a medium-sized chicken of about 3 to 4 pounds will need 3 to 4 hours at the recommended 275°F.

Adjust your cooking times proportionately for chickens that deviate from this average weight.

2. The Consistency Of Smoker Temperature

The temperature stability of your smoker is another crucial aspect.

Fluctuations in temperature can occur due to external conditions or the limitations of the smoker itself.

It’s essential to maintain a consistent temperature to ensure the chicken smokes evenly.

Consistently checking and adjusting the smoker when necessary helps in achieving the perfect cook.

3. The Chicken’s Internal Temperature

Another undeniable factor is the chicken’s internal temperature, which must ultimately reach 165°F in the breast and 175°F in the thigh for safe consumption.

Measuring with a probe or instant-read thermometer is the most accurate way to tell when your chicken is done, as visual cues can be deceptive.

4. Weather Conditions

Lastly, external weather conditions such as ambient temperature, humidity, and wind can affect smoking time.

Cold or windy days may increase smoking time as they can cause the smoker to lose heat more rapidly.

Conversely, a particularly hot day might decrease it slightly.

Be mindful of these conditions when planning your smoking to ensure a delicious outcome.

Common Issues To Avoid When Smoking a Whole Chicken

Along with the ideal time to smoke a whole chicken, you also need to know some issues to avoid because, when you’re smoking chicken, you might run into a few common mistakes that can mess with the taste and texture.

Let’s take a look at these usual slip-ups and how to deal with them to achieve that perfect juicy and smoky flavor.

1. Avoiding Undercooked Chicken

One common issue to avoid is undercooked chicken, which poses a health risk.

Always use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature, ensuring it reaches 165°F in the breast and 175°F in the thigh.

2. Preventing Dry Meat

Another challenge is keeping the chicken moist throughout the smoking process.

To prevent dryness, regular basting is essential.

Use oils, melted butter, or even chicken stock to baste the meat.

Additionally, avoid overcooking by closely monitoring the internal temperature.

3. Tackling Over-Smoking

Over-smoking can result in an unpleasant, bitter taste.

To prevent this, opt for the right type of wood chips – such as cherry or apple – and smoke the chicken within the recommended time frame.

Remember, less is more when it comes to smoking.

4. Coping With Flare-Ups

Flare-ups can cause uneven cooking and char the chicken’s skin.

Ensure that your smoker is clean and control the heat source to minimize these incidents.

For charcoal smokers, arrange the coals to create indirect heat zones.

5. Uniform Cooking

Finally, for uniform cooking, truss the chicken properly and consider spatchcocking it for an even thickness.

This ensures that all parts of the chicken cook at the same rate, avoiding undercooked or overcooked sections.

Best Serves With Smoked Chicken

A smoked chicken dish without accompanying foods cannot reveal its deep flavor.

Here are some suggestions for you:

1. Classic Coleslaw: A tangy and crunchy coleslaw made with shredded cabbage, carrots, and a creamy dressing that ties together mayonnaise, a dash of vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. It’s a refreshing side that complements the smoky flavors of the chicken perfectly.

2. Grilled Corn on the Cob: Ears of corn grilled to a slight char provide a sweet and smoky flavor that echoes the essence of barbecue. Slather them in melted butter and sprinkle with a touch of salt and smoked paprika for a simple yet delectable side.

3. Garlic Mashed Potatoes: Creamy mashed potatoes infused with roasted garlic puree offer a rich and comforting pairing for smoked chicken. Add in some butter, heavy cream, and an optional garnish of chives for an extra layer of flavor and presentation.

4. Baked Beans: Slow-cooked baked beans, simmered in a sauce of tomato, brown sugar, molasses, and bacon bits bring a savory-sweet profile that is both hearty and indulgent, making it the ideal companion to round out a smoked chicken meal.


Smoking a whole chicken can seem daunting to a beginner, yet with the right preparation and patience, it’s a task that yields delicious rewards.

The question of how long to smoke a whole chicken depends on various factors including the size of the chicken, smoker temperature stability, and external weather conditions.

A general rule of thumb is to plan for roughly 30 minutes per pound at a smoking temperature of around 225°F to 250°F; however, always confirm doneness with a meat thermometer.

Perfecting the smoked chicken requires attention to detail, but the succulent results are well worth the effort.

How Long To Smoke a Whole Chicken?

If you're looking for a delicious and flavorful way to cook a whole chicken, look no further than this smoked whole chicken recipe. This recipe is perfect for special occasions or as a Sunday dinner option.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Resting time 20 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 35 minutes
Course BBQ
Cuisine American
Servings 4


  • 1 whole chicken (4-5 lbs)
  • 2 tsp of cooking oil
  • 3 tbsp of seasoning: salt, pepper, garlic
  • 1/4 cup BBQ rub


  • Prepare your smoker by heating it to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Rinse the whole chicken and pat dry with paper towels.
  • Rub oil all over the chicken, making sure to coat it evenly.
  • In a small bowl, mix together pepper, garlic powder, and salt. Sprinkle this seasoning mixture all over the chicken, ensuring that it is evenly coated.
  • Sprinkle the BBQ rub on top of the chicken, making sure to cover it completely.
  • Tie kitchen twine around the legs and tuck the tips of the wings behind or beneath the bird's back.
  • Place the chicken in the smoker, breast side down. Close the lid and let it cook for 2 hours.
  • At the 45-minute mark, open the oven to give the chicken a light coating of cooking oil or butter. This will ensure the skin starts to get that desired crispiness.
  • When the cooking time reaches 1.5 hours, carefully rotate the chicken to promote even cooking. Apply another layer of cooking oil or butter. Use a meat thermometer to check the chicken's internal temperature - aim for about 140°F in the breast area and approximately 150°F in the thigh.
  • Continue cooking until the total time reaches about 2 hours. At this point, the chicken's internal temperature should be 165°F at the thickest part of the breast and 175°F at the thigh, ensuring it's thoroughly cooked.
  • Once done cooking, remove the chicken from the smoker and let it rest for at least 20 minutes before carving into it.
  • And here is your delicious smoked whole chicken! Serve with your favorite sides and enjoy.
Keyword how long to smoke a whole chicken, smoked whole chicken

Chef Chip Roman is one of the most exciting and talented chefs in Philadelphia. He has his own catering business, Charles Roman Catering, as well as Roman Restaurant Group which includes Blackfish, Mica, and Ela. He graduated from Drexel University in 2002 with a degree in business and culinary arts. Chip Roman is a classically trained chef who has worked in some of the most prestigious kitchens and chefs in Philadelphia, including Le Bec Fin’s George Perrier and Marc Vetri’s Vetri.

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