Smoked chicken is one of my personal favorites. Since it’s not always easy to find real smoked chicken at restaurants, I learned to make it at home. It’s flavorful and relatively healthy especially when compared to other types of barbecue.
As I do with all poultry, I brine it before it goes on the smoker. See my Lemon Rosemary and Thyme oven roasted chicken post for more details about brining. I’m a little embarrassed to say it, but I have really struggled in my attempts to truss my birds. I’ve read articles and watched videos on you tube, but I have yet to find a good method. Rachael says that I lack finesse. If anyone has any good tips, please let me know. The primary reason for trussing is to prevent the white meat from drying out, so the alternative for me has been to stuff the chicken. I chose to stuff with onion this time because that’s what we had on hand.
My smoker is the classic Brinkman Upright Water Smoker aka E.C.B. ( el cheapo Brinkman). Out of the box it can be difficult to consistently produce good results with one of these, but with a few simple modifications it can be a really effective piece of equipment. So much so, that I’ve chosen to keep mine as my only smoker currently. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
My mods accomplished 3 things:
- Improve air flow to fire by drilling holes on the bottom and sides of the charcoal pan. This allows the temperature in the smoker to get hotter.
- Make it easier to access the fire during cooking. By moving the legs to the outside of the smoker and adding some metal rods to the charcoal pan I can lift the cooking chamber right off. This allows me to mess with the fire without taking the whole thing apart.
- Vent the smoker lid to make sure the smoke is flowing out freely.
You can see some of what I have done in the following two pictures. See this excellent ECB Mods article for the details on how to make these modifications yourself.
I use the Minion method to build my fire. Coupled with the modifications outlined above I can easily keep a consistent temperature for well over 2 hours with very little intervention. In a nutshell, the Minion method is placing a smaller amount of lit charcoal on top of a larger amount of unlit charcoal allowing it to burn slowly and keep a consistent temperature. There is a great article about the Minion method on Smoking-Meat.com by Jeff Phillips if you want to know more. Jeff has tons and tons of great info on his site and I would highly recommend it for any and all of your smoking needs.
I chose to do two chickens, but made the mistake of getting them in different sizes. Next time I’ll make sure this doesn’t happen so they finish at the same time.
Below are a few more of my tips for smoker cooking:
- Get a meat thermometer. It’s the best way to ensure your meat is cooking properly without overcooking it.
- Get a thermometer for your smoker. The ‘ideal range’ gauge that came with the smoker is not very accurate and you really need to know the exact temperature of your cooking environment.
- Get a watering can. It’s really easy to refill the water pan right through the door with one of these.
- Use hot water in the pan. Adding cold water to your cooking environment is going to lower the temperature. I like to fill the bucket I use to soak the smoking wood in with water and set in the sun. The water is always nice and warm by the time I need it. I also don’t see any value in using beer or any liquids other than water. I have tried in the past and don’t believe that it added anything.
These come out great for me every time now. The smokiness paired with the brine flavorings is really hard to beat. Smoke as many birds as you can, as the leftovers are great too. Be on the lookout for Rachael’s recipe for the leftovers soon!
- FOR THE BRINE:
- ◦2 quarts hot water
- ◦2 quarts cold water
- ◦1 cup kosher salt
- ◦1 cup brown sugar
- ◦2 tablespoons peppercorns
- ◦2 teaspoons dried rosemary
- ◦2 teaspoons dried thyme
- ◦2 teaspoons dried marjoram
- ◦2 whole cloves
- ◦2 bay leaves
- ◦1 tablespoon onion powder
- ◦1 tablespoon granulated garlic
- ◦2 tablespoons molasses
- ◦2 tablespoons dry white wine
- ◦2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
- ◦6 shakes Tabasco hot sauce
- FOR THE CHICKEN:
- ◦1 whole chicken
- ◦2 tablespoons olive oil
- ◦1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- ◦1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ◦1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
- ◦2 medium sized hickory and 4 medium sized apple wood chunks soaked in water overnight
- Heat ½ gallon of water in a large non-reactive pot until hot enough to dissolve the salt and brown sugar. Add the peppercorns, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, clove, bay leaf, granulated garlic, onion powder, and molasses and mix until molasses is dissolved. Add 1 quart of cold water and refrigerate until brine is cold (below 40 degrees).
- Add white wine, worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce to the brine. Place your bird in the brine and make sure it is completely submerged. I set a brick in a zip lock bag on top to do so, but you can also use a plate or bowl of water. Cover and put in refrigerator for 8 hours.
- Remove chicken and discard the brine. Rinse chicken under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Place chicken on large plate lined with paper towels and let stand in refrigerator for at least an hour and pat dry again. You can also use a hair dryer on the non-heat setting to speed up drying time.
- Season with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic. Be sure to get it all up in the cavity and under the skin.
- Truss chicken or stuff with onion.
- Prepare smoker to about 275 degrees (I like to run a little hotter for chicken in order to crisp up the skin a tad).
- Add 2 apple and 1 hickory wood chunks and wait until they begin to smoulder.
- Spray grate with cooking spray and add chicken breast side down
- Maintain temperature and add more wood chunks if needed
- Smoke until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Approximately one hour per pound.
- Remove from smoker, cover with foil and let rest for 15 minutes.
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