How to Smoke a Whole Chicken In A Charcoal Smoker

Have you tried making smoked chicken at home? Most people are familiar with preparing fried chicken or grilled chicken, but smoking a chicken often sounds a little intimidating. In reality, there is nothing quite as easy as cooking smoked chicken.

The smoking process also adds a distinct flavor to your food while making the meat deliciously tender. In this article, we are going to talk about how to smoke a whole chicken in a charcoal smoker.

We will also be providing you with several smoked chicken recipes along with some tips and tricks that can help you out. Let’s get started!

Smoking Chicken: What Makes it Special?

Before we get down to the recipes, let’s talk a little about what makes smoked chicken distinct from other types. The process itself dates back to medieval times when it was used to preserve food. However, today, smoking food is popular because of the unique flavor it departs.

We mentioned in the beginning how smoking chicken makes it very tender. There is a science behind this too. You see, smoking chicken involves cooking it by subjecting it to low, indirect heat and smoke. This tends to break down the collagen present in the chicken.

The result is tender, melt-in-your-mouth chicken with a smoky flavor that is a delight to your taste buds.

Top 3 Recipes for Smoking a Whole Chicken in a Charcoal Smoker

Recipe #1: Basic Charcoal Smoked Chicken

This is a basic smoked chicken recipe that involves preparing a simple rub and marinating the chicken overnight. You can cook the chicken over a charcoal smoker having a combination of lit and unlit charcoal chunks. Adding wood chunks and chips is optional.

Preparation time: 10 to 15 minutes (Marinate chicken overnight)

Cooking time: 4 hours

Serves: 2 people


Whole Chicken – 1
Salt – 1 tsp
Garlic powder – 1 teaspoon
Black pepper – 1 teaspoon
Paprika – 1 teaspoon
Red pepper flakes – 1 teaspoon
Garlic salt – 1 teaspoon
Brown sugar – 2 tablespoons
Cayenne pepper – 1/4th teaspoon
Dried thyme – ½ teaspoon
Dried oregano – ½ teaspoon
Charcoal – for smoking (as needed)


Preparing the Rub and Chicken

  1. Take a medium-sized bowl and mix the powders and spices. This will give you a spicy and sweet dry rub for the chicken.
  2. Take the chicken and remove the liver. You’ll also have to remove the neck.
  3. Take a cutting board and place the chicken on it. Slice it in half using a sharp butcher knife. This can be tricky, especially if it is your first time doing so. You will have to break the sternum to split the chicken in half.  Then, hold onto each side and pull the breasts apart.
  4. The next step is marinating the chicken. Take some of the dry rub and start rubbing it over the chicken. Keep doing this until the chicken is completely saturated with it. Make sure you press the dry rub into the chicken properly. This will add more flavors to the chicken.
  5. Now, place the chicken in dish and cover it using saran wrap. Place the dish in the refrigerator so that chicken can marinate overnight.

Preparing the Smoker

  1. Heat the charcoal in a charcoal chimney. The chimney will come with its own set of instructions that you can follow to make sure the charcoal gets heated properly.
  2. Add unlit charcoal chunks to one side of the smoker. Then add the hot charcoal on top of these unlit chunks. Make sure that the other side of the smoker is reserved for placing the chicken. This will let you cook the chicken using indirect heat and smoke.
  3. You can also add wood chips and wood chunks to the smoker. This will give your chicken an enhanced smoky flavor.
  4. Next, fill a water pan with cold water. Most charcoal smokers come with a water pan. Place the water pan in the center of the smoker. This will help create more vapors and let the chicken cook more evenly.

Click here to check out our article on the best charcoal for smoking

Smoking the Chicken

  1. Now that your charcoal smoker is ready, you can start smoking the chicken.
  2. Place the marinated chicken on the other side of the smoker and close the lid on the smoker. This will create a flow of air that can be used to smoke the chicken properly. You will also have to make sure the vents are positioned over the chicken. This will make sure that the smoke wafts over the chicken.
  3. Compared to frying or grilling, smoking is a much slower process. Set the temperature at 220°F and let the charcoal smoker do its job. It will take about 4 to 5 hours for your chicken to cook properly.   
  4. You can use a digital meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the chicken towards the end. If the temperature is 165°F or higher, then your chicken is ready.
  5. Take the chicken out of the smoker. Serve and enjoy!

Click here to check out our article on the best charcoal grill and smoker combo

Recipe #2: Honey Garlic Smoked Chicken

This smoked chicken recipe makes use of a unique honey garlic rub that gives your chicken a burst of flavor. It’s the perfect option if you are throwing a lunch for your friends and want to try something new.

Preparation time: 10 to 15 minutes

Cooking time: 4 hours

Serves: 4 people


Whole Chicken – 1Butter – 1/3rd cup (melted)Wood chunks – as needed

For the Honey garlic barbecue rub For the Honey BBQ sauce
Granulated Honey – 1/4th cupKetchup – 2 cups
Salt – 2 teaspoonBrown sugar – 3/4th cup
Black pepper – 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce – 1/4th cup
Garlic powder – 2 tablespoonsWhite vinegar – 3/4th cup
Chili powder – 1 tablespoonGarlic powder – 2 teaspoons
Paprika – 1 tablespoon Onion powder – 2 teaspoons
 Honey – 1 and a half cup


  1. Set up the smoker (you can refer to the instructions provided in the first recipe) and preheat it to 220°F.
  2. Gather all the ingredients listed for the Honey garlic BBQ rub and mix them in a bowl.
  3. Take the chicken and empty the innards. Apply the Honey Garlic BBQ rub to the chicken thoroughly until you cover each side.
  4. Add some wood chunks over the coals.
  5. Place the chicken in the charcoal smoker and close the lid. Let the chicken cook for 1.5 hours. Brush the chicken with melted butter intermittently while it cooks.
  6. Take a saucepan and pour all the ingredients for the Honey BBQ sauce. Whisk them together and cook the sauce over a low flame. Once it begins to simmer, let it cook for 15 more minutes so that the sauce thickens. Keep the sauce aside.
  7. After 4 hours, check the progress of the chicken. If it looks close to being fully cooked, brush the chicken with the sauce you have prepared. Let the chicken cook for an additional 15 minutes after this.
  8. Check the temperature of the chicken using a digital meat thermometer. As mentioned earlier, it should be at least 165°F.
  9. Once the chicken is fully cooked, remove it from the smoker. Let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
  10. Serve along with a side of the Honey BBQ sauce. Enjoy!

Recipe #3: Smoked Chicken Using Canned Beer

This is another popular recipe for preparing smoked chicken. It makes use of a half-full can of beer that is placed in the cavity of the chicken. This helps keep the chicken upright while it cooks. It is also believed that the liquid in the beer steams the chicken from the inside and keeps it moist.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 4 hours

Serves: 4 people


Whole Chicken – 1Beer – ½ can Hickory wood chunks – as needed

For the BBQ RubFor the Beer BBQ Sauce
Brown sugar – 2 tablespoons Ketchup – 1 cup
Smoked paprika – 1 tablespoonBeer – ¾ cup
Chili powder – 1 tablespoon Apple cider vinegar – 2/3 cup
Salt – 2 teaspoonsMolasses – ¼ cup
Black pepper – 1 teaspoonBrown sugar – ½ cup
Garlic powder – 2 teaspoonsWorcestershire sauce – 2 teaspoons
 Salt – as required
 Pepper – as required
 Onion powder – 2 teaspoons


  1. Preheat the charcoal smoker to 225°F.
  2. Take the chicken and remove the innards. You’ll have to clear out the cavity so that it doesn’t contain any chicken bits as well.
  3. Dry the chicken using paper towels.
  4. Take the brown sugar, chili powder, salt, smoked paprika, black pepper, and garlic powder and add them to a bowl. Mix well.
  5. Apply a thin layer of oil on the surface of the chicken. Next, apply the dry rub to all sides of the chicken. When you are done, the chicken should be saturated with the rub.
  6. Take the half-filled can of beer and add 2 teaspoons of the dry rub to the can.
  7. Insert the can into the chicken’s cavity. Be careful while pushing it inside. If the can goes all the way in, it will be hard for you to balance the chicken and make it stand in an upright position.
  8. Place the chicken in the charcoal smoker. Add 3 to 4 wood chunks over the coals. Let the chicken cook for 4 hours.
  9. While the chicken is cooking, prepare the beer BBQ sauce. Take the ketchup, apple cider vinegar, beer, molasses, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and onion powder. Mix them in a saucepan. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place the saucepan over a low flame and bring the mixture to a boil. Let it simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
  10. Check the progress of the chicken. You will have to apply the sauce 30 minutes before the chicken gets fully cooked. Take a brush and apply the beer BBQ sauce to all sides of the chicken.
  11. After 4 hours, insert a digital meat thermometer into the deepest part of the chicken. It should read 165°F.
  12. Take the chicken out of the smoker and let it rest for 10 minutes.
  13. After 10 minutes, you can remove the beer can from inside the chicken cavity.
  14. To prepare the chicken for serving, turn it over and cut through the bone using a sharp chef’s knife. Now flip it over and spread out its sides. Make a straight cut along the breast bone to get two halves.
  15. If you are preparing to serve 4 people, you can separate the breast portions from the legs by cutting in a crosswise fashion. However, if you want to serve 6 people, then you can separate the legs from the thighs.

Tips and Tricks for Cooking the Perfect Chicken

Learning how to smoke a whole chicken in a charcoal smoker can be difficult in the first attempt.  If you find yourself struggling, here’s a list of tips that will help you out:

  1. Avoid buying frozen chicken from the supermarket. Using fresh chicken will give you better results. Do not buy chicken that has been packed with a solution, as well.
  2. Skin can be a big problem when you are trying to smoke a chicken. It tends to become rubbery and tough during the smoking process. To avoid this, try and smoke the chicken at a slightly higher temperature for some duration of the smoking process (at least 1 hour).
  3. If you want your meat to be extra tender, we suggest you smoke the chicken at a lower temperature for a longer time. However, make sure you do not smoke the chicken for too long, as well. Doing so will have the opposite effect, and the chicken will develop a dry and tough texture.
  4. Keep a close eye on the temperature of your charcoal smoker. It should not exceed 250°F.
  5. When using the digital meat thermometer, insert it in the thickest part of the chicken. Try and make sure the thermometer doesn’t touch any bones. This will give you an inaccurate reading.
  6. Avoid lifting the lid of the smoker too much during the smoking process. This causes the heat to escape and doesn’t let your chicken cook at a consistent temperature. We suggest you only take off the lid once every hour when you need to more water or charcoal.
  7. If the smoker temperature starts to fall, try adjusting the lower vent. If this does not help, then add more coals. You can keep a set of live charcoal burning on the side. Add these when required. If you add unlit charcoal, it will take much longer for the smoker temperature to rise back up.
  8. If you are using wood chips and chunks, try and use oak wood, apple wood, cherry wood, or hickory wood. These impart a great flavor that does not overpower the original chicken flavor. Generally, wood chunks are preferable to chips since they smolder for a longer period.
  9. Do not use softwoods for smoking the chicken. They emit a sooty sort of smoke that ruins the flavor of the chicken.

Let’s Sum It Up

Smoking a whole chicken in a charcoal smoker is a relatively easy process. Here’s a quick recap of everything you need to keep in mind:

  • Rub the chicken thoroughly with the dry rub you have prepared. The more flavorsome your chicken, the better.
  • Try and maintain a consistent smoker temperature at 225°F and do not let it exceed 250°F
  • If you want better flavor, add wood chunks to the pile of charcoal.
  • It normally takes 4 to 5 hours for the chicken to cook fully. Check the internal temperature of the chicken to make sure it is safe to eat. If the temperature is at least 165°F, you can remove the chicken from the smoker.
  • Only lift the lid when you want to add more water or charcoal. This will prevent the heat from escaping.

Are you interested in more advice on preparing smoked meats or want to read the latest reviews on the best charcoal smokers? Then follow us at Pioneer Smoke Houses.

Click here to check out our article on smoking salmon in an electric smoker

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