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
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).
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.
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.
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.
We recommend using oak, hickory, or pecan wood chunks here. Apple wood or mesquite would also work nicely.
Smoked Whole Chicken
- 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.
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Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
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!