Want to know how long to smoke chicken per pound? It depends on the smoker temperature, of course, but we’re here to tell you all you need to know about that, too. When you’re finished reading, you’ll know how to smoke a whole chicken to perfection.
How Long to Smoke Chicken Per Pound
The hotter the smoker temperature, the less time the chicken will take to cook. Since chicken is so lean, it doesn’t take that long in any case, but you want it to stay in the smoker long enough to absorb a nice dose of smoky goodness. Aim for a smoker temperature of 325 degrees and a per-pound estimate of 20 minutes.
What’s The Best Smoker Temperature for Chicken?
This is a tough question. Unlike brisket and pork shoulder cuts, chickens have a large cavity and an irregular shape. That makes it hard for the bird to cook evenly.
What’s more, because the breast meat is so lean, it’s prone to drying out. The leg portions have more fat and can stand up to longer cooking, but the tips of the wings can burn easily.
There’s also the issue of the skin to contend with. While you want to get a nice bark on brisket and pork butt, that can be achieved at lower temperatures. If you set the temp too low when smoking chicken, the skin might not crisp up as much as you’d like.
It’s best to smoke chicken in the 300-325 degree range. If the smoker temperature dips lower than 275, the skin will be rubbery and soft instead of crispy.
If you want to speed the process along, you can set the temp to 375 degrees. This will yield crisp mahogany skin as well. Don’t try to go any higher, though, or the chicken won’t have a chance to absorb the smoke flavor.
Recommended Internal Temp For Smoked Chicken
Although chicken is technically safe to eat when it’s cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, only the white meat is truly “done” at this temperature.
You can take chicken breast off the heat when it hits 160 degrees. Carryover cooking should take care of those last 5 degrees. Besides, if you were to cook it any longer, the meat would become too dry.
The dark meat on the thighs and drumsticks, on the other hand, needs to cook a bit longer. We like to leave these on the smoker until they’ve achieved an internal temperature of 180 degrees. That gives the meat a silky, succulent texture.
Test the internal temp of both the breast and the thigh when smoking whole chickens. If the breast is approaching the target temperature too quickly, try tenting it with foil for the rest of the cooking time. Don’t do it too early, or the skin will get soggy.
How Much Does a Whole Chicken Weigh?
Most of the whole chickens you’ll find at the butcher counter will weigh between 4 to 8 pounds. The size depends on the breed, its age at the time of slaughter, and whether it was a hen or a rooster—hens tend to be smaller than their male counterparts.
There are smaller chickens available, if that’s what you’re looking for. The average Cornish game hen, for example, weighs between 1-1/2 to 2 pounds. You might also find whole chickens that weigh more than 8 pounds—this is just a ballpark estimate.
How Long To Smoke Chicken Per Pound
Let’s assume you’ve taken our advice and set the smoker to 325 degrees. If your unit is able to maintain the set temperature, the chicken should cook at a rate of about 20 minutes per pound.
325 degrees is the standard temperature for roast chicken. Smoked chicken isn’t all that different in terms of cooking time—the difference lies in the flavor.
If you’ve opted to stuff the chicken, you can add 5 minutes per pound to the estimate. That said, we don’t recommend stuffing smoked poultry, for several reasons.
First of all, the stuffing won’t taste right when it’s exposed to the smoke. If you want to serve stuffing as a side dish, it’s better to heat it separately in the oven.
Second—and critically—stuffing isn’t safe to eat until it’s cooked to 165 degrees, the same as the chicken itself. It’s come into contact with the raw poultry, meaning it was exposed to the same bacteria.
You can remove the stuffing from the cavity and return it to the heat to finish cooking if it’s still too cold when the rest of the bird is done. But this is both messy and time-consuming, which is another reason why we opt to prepare stuffing separately.
How Long To Smoke a 4 Lb Chicken
Following the template we’ve used above, a 4-pound chicken should take about 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach the optimum serving temperature.
Birds this size are apt to dry out quickly, so check the internal temps of the breast and thigh after about an hour of cooking. There’s a chance that the meat might be done already, or at least close to it.
How Long To Smoke a 5 Lb Chicken
A 5-pounder will need about 1-1/2 hours to 1 hour and 40 minutes in a 325-degree smoker. At this point, both the white and the dark meat should be tender and juicy.
Again, you’ll want to take a look at the internal temperature before your estimated end time. Every smoker is different, and every cut of meat cooks at a different pace. The chicken might be done sooner or later than you expect.
How Long To Smoke a 6 Lb Chicken
Smoking a 6-pound chicken should take about 2 hours at 325 degrees.
With larger birds, you’ll want to keep a close eye on the skin of the breast. If it looks like it’s getting too dark, or if the breast meat is cooking too fast, tent the bird with foil. This will shield the breast from the heat.
How Long To Smoke a 7 Lb Chicken
Aim for a cooking time of roughly 2-1/2 hours when smoking a 7-pound chicken. For birds this size, you might want to dial back a bit on the smoking temperature, especially if your unit tends to run hot. You don’t want the skin to burn before the meat is done.
How Long To Smoke an 8 Lb Chicken
An 8-pound chicken should be done in about 2-1/2 to 2-3/4 hours. As with 7-pounders, you can lower the heat a bit when the chicken is this big. Consider shielding the wing tips with foil partway through the smoke to keep them from getting too crispy.
Do You Smoke Chicken Breast Side Up or Down?
It’s generally preferable to position whole poultry so that the breast is facing away from the heat source.
As we’ve pointed out, the breast doesn’t need to cook to as high a temperature as the rest of the bird. Therefore, aiming that portion away from the direct heat is the best way to go.
With most smokers, this will mean smoking the chicken with the breast side facing up. However, in some units, particularly electric ones, the heat might be coming from above. You’ll want to position the chicken so that the breast side is facing down if this is the case.
A Word About Spatchcocking
Spatchcocking, or butterflying, is a technique that many grillers use. It means removing the backbone from a whole chicken or turkey, then pressing down on the breastbone so that the bird lies flat.
This technique has several things going for it. For one thing, it gives the bird a larger surface area. That translates into more crispy, delicious skin for you to enjoy.
What’s more, it’s easier to transfer spatchcocked chickens from the platter to the cooking grate, and vice versa. The bigger the bird, the more awkward it is to handle. Spatchcocking can make the whole process that much easier.
Spatchcocked birds also cook faster. In fact, it can reduce the total cooking time by as much as 50 percent. So if you want to get your smoked chicken on the table in a hurry, this could be the way to go.
It’s easy to spatchcock a chicken, assuming you have the right tools for the job. If you don’t, or if you’re just intimidated by the idea, your butcher should be happy to do it for you.
You’ll need a sharp pair of kitchen shears and a clean work station that’s large enough to accommodate the whole chicken. Position the bird so that the breast side is facing down.
Start at the thigh end and cut along one side of the backbone using your kitchen shears. Turn the bird around and make an identical cut on the other side of the backbone.
Carefully remove the backbone, and either discard it or set it aside to make stock. Now flip the chicken over so that the breast side faces you. Open the carcass as you would a book, then press down hard on the breastbone until you hear a crack.
The chicken is now spatchcocked and ready to be seasoned and prepared for the smoker.
Best Smoking Woods for Chicken
What are the best woods to use for smoked chicken? Since the meat is so lean and mild-tasting, it’s better to stick with woods that won’t overwhelm the natural flavor. Here are a few ideas.
Apple wood has a natural sweetness that pairs well with the succulent chicken. If you’re smoking the chicken in the summertime and serving it with grilled or roasted vegetables, the apple flavor should complement those nicely as well.
There’s a subtle tart flavor to cherry that will make the chicken taste slightly exotic, again without being too overpowering. It can leave behind a reddish hue, though, so take care not to use too much of it.
Though it’s considered a mild wood for smoking, maple has a distinctive taste. Try using it in the fall, when hearty root vegetables like butternut squash are on the menu.
If you’re a fan of nutty undertones in your smoked meat—or in any dish—try incorporating pecan wood into the mix. It pairs well with other mild woods like apple and cherry while imparting its own savory goodness.
Looking for something with a bit more heft? Oak represents a good compromise between the milder, sweeter woods and the bold ones like hickory and mesquite. This is an excellent choice when the chicken is intended to serve as the centerpiece for a sit-down meal.
Smoking chicken isn’t quite like smoking huge, fatty cuts such as beef brisket. You need to adjust the smoking temperatures and times accordingly. But the results, while clearly different, should be just as satisfying when you do the job right.