How Long Does It Take To Smoke A Chicken

How Long Does It Take To Smoke A Chicken

If you have ever smoked a chicken before, you know that the timing has to be just right. Otherwise, you can expect your chicken to be a bit too bloody or dry. Neither of these is a good experience.

One of the more complicated parts of this is finding out how long it takes to smoke a whole chicken.

The cooking time is typically around three hours to smoke a chicken. This time assumes that you set your smoker’s temperature to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. You will know it is done once the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.

While the information above will apply to most birds, there is an entire process of smoking a chicken. In this article, I will be getting into a step-by-step process in producing the best-smoked chicken.

I will also go through various smoking methods and types of chicken (like chicken wings).

A Step-By-Step Process To Ensure You Smoke Chicken Properly

This process will go through the following steps:

  1. Pick your chicken 
  2. Pick the best wood chips or chunks
  3. Choose your seasoning 
  4. Prep the chicken
  5. Set the smoker to a temperature between 225 and 275 degrees Fahrenheit
  6. Smoke until the internal temperature of your chicken is 165 degrees Fahrenheit
  7. Let the chicken rest

The smoking process has some variance depending on the size of your chicken and your personal preferences. I will dig into that variance as I go over these steps. 

Step 1: Pick Your Chicken

Whether you pick chicken wings, a thigh, or an entire chicken, the method for smoking stays about the same. The only thing that changes is the amount of time you spend smoking. Smaller items, like chicken wings, take less time to smoke.

For a whole chicken or chicken breast, a good rule of thumb is to consider an extra thirty minutes per pound of chicken. That means that a five-pound chicken will take a minimum of two and a half hours to smoke.

To simplify things, check out this table below for my recommendations.

Type of chickenMinimum smoking time
Chicken wings30 minutes
Chicken thigh or legsOne and a half hours
Chicken breastOne and a half hours
5 lb of chickenTwo and a half hours
10 lb of chickenFive hours
Chicken quartersTwo hours

Step 2: Pick The Best Kind of Wood Chips or Chunks

Wood pellets, chunks, or chips are all different modes of adding flavor to your chicken. This flavor is added indirectly, so it should not be your primary mode of adding flavor. The flavor of your wood chips should complement your chosen seasonings, so be sure to avoid clashing flavors.

What you choose will also depend on the style of your smoker. Electric smokers require a small number of wood chunks or pellets. Other smokers will require many coals but still can benefit from wood chunks due to flavoring.

Also, wood chunks typically last longer than chips or pellets.

Check out our suggestions on good wood chips to add to your flavor.

Type of wood chip flavorsSeasonings and sauces you can use
MesquiteBarbecue sauce
ApplePaprika, brown sugar, cayenne, teriyaki
HickoryPaprika, garlic powder, cayenne
OakBarbecue sauce, brown sugar, garlic powder
CherryFruit juices, teriyaki, cayenne

Sweeter woods like apple and cherrywood are great in combination with fruit juices for your water tray. Mesquite and the Jack Daniels style wood are great for deeper flavors. Whatever flavor profile you are working with, don’t be afraid to experiment.

If you wish to add additional flavor, you can also choose to soak your wood in liquids. It adds a layer of flavor to your chicken. 

Step 3: Choose Your Seasoning

Your next step will be to choose your preferred seasoning. Your seasoning choice will depend upon your preferred flavor profile.  Most people like to coat their chicken in olive oil, but that will prevent the chicken from getting crispy skin.

To avoid this issue, you need to make a mixture of spice rub (or dry rub) that you will cover the chicken with. A good spice rub is a mix of complementary flavors. You will typically need a teaspoon of each flavor.

Below are some awesome seasoning combinations that you can consider:

  • Brown sugar, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder 
  • Paprika, chili powder, and cayenne
  • Ground mustard, chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, and brown sugar 
  • Oregano, basil, pepper, salt, garlic powder, and onion powder
  • Thyme, rosemary, salt, pepper 

Feel free to add or remove as many flavors as you want. Smoking meat is more of an art than a science, and your family may prefer entirely different flavors from the ones listed above.

Feel free to add any additional sauces as well. Many of the flavor combinations will work with barbecue sauce. You can also choose teriyaki, sweet and sour, or honey.

If you have an electric smoker with a water tray, it can add more seasoning. Adding fruit juices to increase the sweetness of your chicken will keep it moist while also adding flavor.

Step 4: Prep The Chicken

For smoked chicken to be good, you need to be sure of your prepping process. You can follow several different steps for prepping the chicken. We will list a couple of good ideas here. 

Make Sure You Have Fresh Chicken

The best-smoked chicken comes fresh. If you plan on smoking chicken, be sure to buy your ingredients as close as possible to the cooking time. The more time they spend in the freezer or left out, the less satisfying it will be.

Brine The Chicken (if possible)

Brining the meat is a process of increasing moisture and tenderness before cooking. It also changes the “fresh chicken” rule we mentioned earlier, as it involves soaking your meat for 24 hours to enhance the flavor.

To brine chicken, follow these steps:

  1. Start by boiling the salt and a combination of other ingredients. These ingredients will change depending on your planned flavor profile.
  2. Once the salt dissolves, pull the warm water from the heat and place it aside until it reaches room temperature.
  3. Place the chicken in the water and place that in the fridge for about 24 hours.

When choosing ingredients, it typically includes fresh spices like rosemary, garlic, parsley, and honey. You can also add lemons, which will increase the sweetness of your recipe.

Many people avoid bringing due to the long set of steps it takes to go through with it. Make sure you don’t overcommit, as cooking food is typically a mostly pleasant process.

Ensure The Outside Is Dry

Many recipes will suggest that you coat your chicken in olive oil to allow the seasoning to stick. That same logic does not apply to smoking meat, as the ultimate goal is to give it crispy skin and moist insides.

Be sure to pat the chicken dry with a paper towel before adding any seasoning or spice rub. If you don’t do this, you may not get that satisfying crispy skin that comes with smoked chicken.

Coat The Inside With Seasonings

Many people forget that your chicken has an inside as well. While you don’t have to remove the moisture from the inside, you have to add seasoning. If you smoke chicken, not doing this will be a missed opportunity.

Use part of your seasoning mix that we made earlier to coat the chicken. If needed, you can add an extra teaspoon of each seasoning to make your flavor stronger.

Step 5: Set The Smoker Temperature Between 225 and 275 Degrees Fahrenheit

Regardless of cooking wings, breasts, thighs, or a smoked whole chicken, smoking chicken’s temperature stays about the same. As long as you stay between 225 and 275 degrees Fahrenheit with your smoker temperature, you shouldn’t have to worry about undercooked chicken.

If you feel like the outside is getting too crispy, you can add a metal tin of water to your smoker to slow that process down. Many electric smokers come with this feature. 

When smoking a chicken at 225 degrees Fahrenheit, increase your cook time to about 45 minutes per pound. Lower temperatures will require a longer cooking time.

If you have an electric smoker, you’ll typically be able to tell if the temperature through digital reading. Sometimes an analog reader can be on the front, but these are usually inaccurate. 

To supplement these inaccurate measuring systems, take a heat-resistant thermometer and place it on the outside. A good thermometer will give you a ballpark idea of where it sits.

If your heat is too low, you can increase the temperature using the controls on any electric smoker’s front. If you have a standard smoker, you may need to add more wood chunks or another log. 

Step 6: Smoke Until the Internal Temperature is 165

After several hours have passed, the only clear way for you to tell if you’ve done it right is through a meat thermometer. The meat thermometer should read at nearly 165 degrees Fahrenheit; try not to get it too far below that number.

Some people are willing to eat smoked chicken as low as 160 degrees Fahrenheit, but I would recommend sticking around 165 degrees Fahrenheit. You don’t want to play with undercooked meat.

If you doubt the ability of your meat thermometer, cut your chicken at the thickest section. If you don’t spot any blood, you are in the clear. If you do spot blood, put it back in for another thirty minutes and check again.

You can also test your meat thermometer on other meats. There are a variety of handy wireless options that you can use to find this out.

Step 7: Let The Chicken Rest

If you have ever watched your parents smoke chicken, you probably remember having them tell you not to eat too fast. This is mostly to prevent you from boiling your tongue, so the same logic applies when you are an adult.

Give it about ten or fifteen minutes before you start digging into it. This will give the flavor time to settle while also allowing it to retain warmth. Any good chicken recipe will always include a couple of minutes to rest.

Chicken Recipes

Beer Can Chicken With A Smoker Recipe

Beer Can Chicken With A Smoker Recipe

What you will need:

  • A five-pound chicken
  • A half-can of beer
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic powder, black pepper, and onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • Barbecue sauce or Worcestershire sauce 

Follow these instructions to make sure you get a good flavor:

  1. Pat the five-pound chicken with a paper towel until it is not moist.
  2. Mix the salt, garlic powder, black pepper, onion powder, and brown sugar into a spice mixing bowl.
  3. Coat your dry chicken in the spice mix.
  4. Set the smoker to 275 degrees Fahrenheit, wait for two hours
  5. Pull out the chicken after two hours and coat it in Worcestershire using a brush.
  6. Put it back in and wait for thirty minutes to an hour. 
  7. Pull it out, let it rest, and use barbecue sauce as needed. 

Spicy Smoked Chicken Wings Recipe

Spicy Smoked Chicken Wings Recipe

Here is what you will need for this recipe:

  • 3 pound of chicken legs 
  • 2 tablespoons of paprika
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, and onion powder

Follow these instructions to make the recipe work:

  1. Pat the legs dry until there is no moisture on the surface. Brush them with oil.
  2. Combine the seasonings above and cover the chicken with it. Place the wings in the fridge for a couple of hours until the seasoning mix is firmly on there. 
  3. Preheat your smoker to 275 degrees Fahrenheit using apple wood chunks to compliment the spicy flavor.
  4. Pull the wings out and place them in the smoker for thirty minutes to an hour.
  5. Pull out and let the chicken rest for ten minutes.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to smoking chicken, the actual process is pretty simple. The most complicated part of smoking chicken often comes down to flavor, as everyone has a different flavor preference.

There are many combinations in finding the right wood chips, different types of smoking, and different recipes. Provided that you keep this step-by-step guide in mind, you will be able to smoke chicken comfortably.

Bobby Johnson

When he's not writing about barbecue, you can find Bobby smoking meat for friends and family. He's been a backyard pitmaster for roughly half his life, and has worked with nearly every cut of meat. Not everyone has a hands-on guide to teach them BBQ, but that's what Bobby hopes to do with Electric Smoker HQ. He wants to help people create amazing food that they can be proud of.