Juicy, tender, and subtly spiced, this Texas-style smoked whole chicken is as good as barbecue gets with its intriguing four-ingredient spice rub that beautifully melds heat with sweet and a traditional low-and-slow, hands-off spell over your favorite wood.

The smoked chicken recipe is sized to feed a crowd with little effort although you can easily scale things down for a more modest family meal. Simply reduce the number of chickens as desired and adjust the amount of rub accordingly—or simply make the entire batch of rub and keep some on hand for next time. Because there will be a next time.–The Editors of Southern Living

Smoked Whole Chicken FAQs

What is piloncillo and how do I use it?

Piloncillo is an unprocessed form of sugar that’s made by boiling down cane juice. It retains its natural caramel color and rich, almost molasses-like taste. It’s awfully close to Mexican brown sugar and is typically sold in cone shapes at Mexican and Latin American markets and bodegas, where it may be labeled as panela. Piloncillo has a more complex flavor profile than brown sugar and has a deeper richness. The texture of the two sugars is quite different, too; piloncillo is solid while brown sugar is soft and pliable.

To measure piloncillo for recipes, place the cone in a resealable plastic bag (maybe double up on the bag) and pound it with a meat mallet or rolling pin (or, in a pinch, a hammer) to break it apart into relatively evenly sized granules until powdery. If you can’t find it, it can be substituted by weight with dark brown sugar and molasses (1 cup dark brown sugar + 2 teaspoons of molasses).

How can I get crispy skin on a smoked chicken?

Smoked chickens can often have a slightly rubbery skin. To offset this, increase the heat on your smoker to 400°F once the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 155°F. Alternatively, you can pop the chickens under the broiler in your oven to finish them off.

What should I serve with smoked chicken?

This smoked whole chicken pairs well with simple sides, like a colorful Greek salad, this vegan-version of a Caesar salad made with Swiss chard, or flaky cheddar biscuits or buttermilk cornbread. To make a heartier meal, serve the smoked chicken with baked potatoes or smoked mac and cheese.

How do I carve a chicken?

Carving a hot chicken can be a little intimidating. Thankfully, with these easy steps for how to carve a chicken, you’ll have it mastered in no time.

What’s the best type of wood for smoking chicken?

We recommend using oak, hickory, or pecan wood chunks here. Apple wood or mesquite would also work nicely.

Four smoked whole chickens on a metal sheet pan with a metal fork lying beside them.

Smoked Whole Chicken

5 / 5 votes
This Texas-style smoked whole chicken is made by rubbing whole chickens with an ancho and piloncillo spice rub and then slowly smoking them on your grill or smoker until tender and juicy. Easy and perfect for entertaining a crowd. Here's how.
David Leite
Servings20 servings
Calories419 kcal
Prep Time25 minutes
Cook Time4 hours
Total Time4 hours 5 minutes


  • 4 oak, hickory, or pecan wood chunks, or more as desired, soaked in water for at least 1 hour
  • 1 cup firmly packed pounded piloncillo* from one 8-ounce or 227-gram cone (or substitute dark brown sugar)
  • 1 tablespoons ancho chile powder, or more, if desired
  • 1 tablespoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Four (3 3/4-to 4-pound) whole chickens


Marinate the chicken

  • In a small bowl, combine the piloncillo, ancho chile powder, salt, and pepper and mix well.
  • Arrange the chickens on a couple large rimmed baking sheets, breast side up. Rub each chicken with some of the piloncillo mixture, dividing it equally among the hens. Let them rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Prep your grill or smoker

  • While the chickens rest, set up your grill or smoker. Place a drip pan filled with 1/2 inch water in between the hot coals or burners set up for indirect heat on your grill or place the water pan in the smoker and add water to the fill line. Bring the temperature of the grill or smoker to 225° to 250°F (107° to 120°C) and maintain the temperature for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • When the grill or smoker is ready, drain the wood chunks and place them on the prepared coals or in the smoker box.

Smoke the chicken

  • Spoon any juices that accumulated on the baking sheet over the chickens.
  • Place the chickens, breast side up, on the grate and close the grill or smoker. Smoke until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest portion of the thighs registers 165°F (74°C), 3 to 4 hours. If you prefer a smokier flavor, toss in a few more wood chunks towards the middle of the cooking time. Occasionally check the temperature gauge.
  • Remove the chickens from the smoker and let them rest for at least 20 minutes.
  • Carve, serve, and watch it disappear.
Texas BBQ Cookbook

Adapted From

Texas BBQ

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Serving: 1 portion, about 12 ouncesCalories: 419 kcalCarbohydrates: 11 gProtein: 32 gFat: 26 gSaturated Fat: 8 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 131 mgSodium: 477 mgFiber: 1 gSugar: 10 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2017 The Editors of Southern Living. Photo © 2017 Time Inc.. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

“As far as smoked chicken goes, it’s about as good as it gets.” That’s what one of our guests had to say about this chicken. Who am I to argue? The chicken turned out perfectly moist and juicy and the skin was nice and crisp.

The sweet rub softened the typical edge you get when smoking, which was a really nice change. Not too sweet, just right. No one asked for BBQ sauce! So again, as far as smoked chicken goes, it’s as good as it gets. Although another tablespoon of ancho chili powder wouldn’t have hurt.

I used hickory wood chips but didn’t weigh them. I cooked two fryers for 4 hours at 225°F on our Weber Smokey Mountain Smoker. It was tricky getting the piloncillo into a rub-ready state but persistence pays off big here.

Can’t wait to try this rub on other proteins. First up, I’m thinking salmon.

This smoked whole chicken recipe made a juicy, tender smoked chicken that we all enjoyed. In fact, I’ve never seen my son eat so much chicken in one sitting.

The only thing I felt could have been better was more smoke. I used 3 chunks of pecan and added all of it at the beginning. There was terrific smoke but only for the first hour. It gave the chicken a lovely color and the cooked chicken smelled wonderfully smoky, but the actual taste was only mildly smoky. I think if I’d added wood chunks continuously, there would have been a more pronounced smoke flavor.

I quartered the rub recipe and it still made a lot. I served the smoked chicken with a Greek salad and biscuits. No leftovers!

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. No self respecting Texan uses hickory, it’s oak or pecan or, further west, mesquite. Hickory makes everything taste like bacon.

  2. Hi, I tried this recipe and the chicken skin was really chewy and rubbery. The chicken was very tasty but the skin was inedible.

    1. Michael, we’re so glad you tried the chicken and that you enjoyed the flavor of the meat. Unfortunately, due to the low temperature involved in smoking, it often results in rubbery skin, as the fat cannot render. You may want to try finishing the chicken off directly on the grill over high heat for a few minutes to crisp up the skin.

  3. 5 stars
    Great recipe/technique. I think the choice of sugar does make a difference!! But after 20yrs of BBQing don’t believe there ever is a reason to soak wood chunks/chips—

    1. Thanks, Buzz! Completely agree with you on the sugar. And interesting to know about soaking the wood, we’re going to play around with that, greatly appreciate you raising that thought. We love when we learn from our readers. And we do. Constantly.