When making smoked chicken, do you want it to be so tender that it falls right off the bone? Or should there be a little bit more “chew” involved? Either way, how can you get the results you want? Our guide will explore the possibilities.
Fall Off The Bone Smoked Chicken
To make fall-off-the-bone smoked chicken, you’ll need to cook the meat to temperatures past the ideal serving point. The breast meat should fall off the bone at 180 degrees, while the dark meat achieves this consistency at around 190 degrees. Serving temperatures of 165 for the breast and 185 for the dark meat are preferable.
Smoked Chicken 101
Smoking a whole chicken is a satisfying experience, especially once the process is done and you’re savoring the results. When we’re pressed for time, we also enjoy smoking chicken quarters and smaller cuts like bone-in, skin-on thighs and breasts.
When choosing a bird for the smoker, look for one that’s plump and meaty. If the chicken looks scrawny and shriveled before it’s cooked, its appearance will be even less impressive afterward.
You should also avoid any chickens that have been treated with a brine solution. In addition to the salt and other flavorings, the brine may contain chemicals that can affect the flavor of the meat.
The key to perfectly smoked chicken—or any meat, really—is to find the correct cooking temperature. When you set the temp too low, the skin won’t crisp up as well, and the process will take too long. But if it’s too high, the smoke flavor will be diminished.
How Long Does It Take to Smoke a Whole Chicken?
When you set the smoker to 300 degrees, plan on a cooking time of about 45 minutes per pound. The process may take more or less time, depending on the reliability of your smoker. Try to check the bird’s internal temperature at the estimated halfway point.
The chickens that are sold at the butcher counter usually weigh between 3 and 6 pounds, though some larger specimens might be available from time to time. That should give you some idea of how long you can expect the bird to be on the smoker.
300 degrees is a nice temperature to use for smoked chicken because it allows the skin to attain the proper texture without cooking the meat too fast. Your goal is to wind up with juicy, flavorful meat encased in a crisp mahogany skin.
Best Internal Temp for Smoked Chicken
Here’s where things get tricky. Unlike ribs and brisket, whole chickens consist of both white and dark meat. That means you’re aiming for two different serving temperatures on the same cut of meat.
Chicken breast is considered done when it cooks to 165 degrees. It’s best to remove it from the heat at 160 degrees and let the temperature rise slightly during the resting period. Otherwise, the meat is likely to dry out.
For the drumsticks and thighs, on the other hand, you should aim for an internal temperature of 180 degrees when you take them off the smoker. That should give you a serving temperature of around 185 degrees.
Here’s the reasoning behind this discrepancy. The legs get more of a workout than the breasts during the chicken’s lifespan. This means that those muscles use more oxygen, which gives them higher levels of myoglobin. That’s what gives meat its reddish color.
Due to the higher myoglobin levels and fat content, the legs and thighs are richer and more flavorful than the breast. By cooking these portions to 180 degrees, you’re helping the meat achieve the right consistency.
To ensure that the white and dark meat sections reach their respective ideal temps at the same time, position the breast away from the heat source. On most smokers, that will mean that the breast portion is facing up.
Should you notice that the breast is in danger of overcooking before the dark meat has approached the finish line, you can try tenting that portion with foil. Be careful not to do this too soon, though, or the skin may turn rubbery.
As an alternative, you can remove the whole chicken from the heat and carve off the breast before putting the rest of the chicken back on the smoker. Let the breast portion rest, tented with foil, while you wait for the dark meat to finish cooking.
Fall Off The Bone Smoked Chicken
In order for the meat to literally fall off the bone at the slightest touch, it needs to cook to at least 180 degrees. As we’ve discussed, that’s not ideal for the breast meat.
In truth, when chicken is tender enough to fall off the bone, it tends to have a dry consistency. That’s especially true of the breast portion.
The dark meat doesn’t dry out as easily, but it’s still not a good idea to cook it too far past 185 degrees. When it gets too tender, the meat will be too mushy.
Ideally, smoked chicken will be tender enough to melt in your mouth, but not so tender that it sloughs right off the bone when you’re attempting to carve or shred it. In addition to being unappetizing, this can also make your job messier than it needs to be.
Our suggestion would be to pay attention to the internal temperature without worrying too much about whether the meat is falling off the bone. The guidelines we’ve mentioned should give the chicken a juicy, tender texture without overcooking it.
If you’re wondering when the chicken approaches the “fall off the bone” consistency, it typically happens at the 180-degree mark for the breast and the 190-degree mark for the dark meat. So if that’s something you really want, aim for these temperatures.
Best Wood For Smoking Chicken
The thing to remember when selecting a smoking wood is that chicken has a relatively mild flavor on its own. While you can get away with introducing bold woods like hickory and mesquite to beef brisket and pork butt, you need to take a lighter hand with chicken.
Apple, cherry, and pecan are all good choices when smoked chicken is on the menu. Maple, which has a particular sweetness of its own, is another good bet.
You can combine several of these woods to get the flavor you’re looking for. If you want a heartier dose of smoky goodness, it’s permissible to add a small amount of a stronger-tasting wood, such as oak.
Bear in mind that chicken skin provides a natural barrier to the smoke. That means the flavor won’t penetrate as deeply as it does with cuts like pork butt and brisket. It also means that the skin will take on the majority of the smoke flavor.
How To Serve Smoked Chicken
When you’ve smoked the chicken to the optimum serving temperature, you should be able to carve the breasts into slices the same way you would if the bird was roasted. Depending on the size of the bird, you may be able to do the same with the thigh meat.
Separate the drumsticks from the carcass with the same sharp knife you used for carving. Serve these alongside the sliced meat with barbecue sauce on the side.
If you’d prefer to serve the chicken shredded, feel free to do so. You can use a pair of forks to pull the meat apart once you’ve separated it from the skin and bones. In this case, it’s preferable to mix the meat with the barbecue sauce prior to serving.
While we don’t recommend fall-of-the-bone smoked chicken, feel free to experiment if you think it sounds appealing. After all, as long as you adhere to basic food safety guidelines, there’s no accounting for taste when it comes to barbecue. Do what you like.