Do you know what to spray on chicken while smoking? Does your choice of liquid have any effect on the results? For that matter, is it really necessary to spritz chicken at all? Read on to find out.
What To Spray On Chicken While Smoking
You can spray chicken with apple juice, vinegar, citrus juice, butter or imitation butter, beer, chicken stock, or just plain water. You might not be able to taste these ingredients once the bird is cooked—the goal is to attract more smoke, which will result in a bolder flavor and an impressive appearance.
Spritzing refers to the act of spraying your smoked meats with a liquid solution during the cooking process.
Since moisture attracts smoke, introducing a small amount of liquid to the surface of the meat can promote a stronger flavor. It can also prolong the cooking process, since the liquid will cool the meat down every time you spritz.
If you’ve used a seasoning rub, spraying the chicken with liquid can keep the spices from burning. This is especially useful when you’re smoking the meat low and slow.
Spritzing the meat may also promote even browning, especially if you use a liquid that contains a measure of sugar (such as apple juice). As the sugars caramelize, they’ll brown up, lending complexity to the texture of the skin.
You could end up with a more impressive smoke ring when you spritz the chicken. This pinkish tinge beneath the surface of the meat is considered a hallmark of great barbecue. Since the chicken will be attracting more smoke, the smoke ring may be more pronounced.
As meat cooks, it loses moisture. That’s a given—it’s why cooked meat always weighs significantly less than it did when it was raw. But by introducing small amounts of fluid, you can give your smoked chicken a more plump and succulent appearance.
For the most part, we spritz chicken and other smoked meats to improve the texture and help them retain moisture. Flavor plays a small role, but you aren’t likely to notice much of a difference in that department.
In fact, spritzing too often can have the reverse effect. If you start to spray the chicken too early, the moisture could wash off the seasonings. For more information on when to start the process, see How Often Should You Spritz Chicken?, below.
Do You Have To Spritz Chicken?
When it comes to smoking, there are very few hard and fast rules. You don’t have to spritz chicken—doing so is a matter of personal preference.
There are a few guidelines to be aware of, however. First of all, we don’t recommend spritzing chicken unless the smoker temperature is set above 350 degrees. If the environment isn’t hot enough, the excess moisture can turn the chicken skin rubbery.
Since we generally smoke chicken at a temperature below 300 degrees, we don’t usually take the extra step of spritzing the meat. If you’re smoking the chicken hot and fast, on the other hand, feel free to try it.
We should also point out that there should be enough fat in the chicken skin to keep the meat moist as it cooks. That’s another reason why whole chickens aren’t ideal candidates for spritzing.
The fact is, chickens get most of their flavor from the skin. You want that outside layer to turn crisp and golden brown. Introducing excess moisture—even if there’s plenty of fat in the spritz recipe—may hinder you in this goal.
Is It Safe?
Are there any safety concerns you should be aware of when spritzing meat? There is one, but it’s easy enough to avoid.
Never use a marinade that’s come into contact with raw meat as your spritzing liquid. The marinade will have absorbed microbes that will be transferred to the meat as it cooks.
While this may not be an issue as long as you allow the meat to cook for several minutes after the final application, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Create a spritz made out of fresh ingredients, and discard any marinades after you put the meat on the grill.
What To Spray On Chicken While Smoking
If you do opt to spritz your chicken, here are a few ideas to get you started.
In addition to being inexpensive and easy to find, apple juice has a sweet, mild flavor that complements chicken nicely. It’s also not as acidic as some of the other options, so if you’re looking for a more neutral ingredient, apple juice is a good choice.
Lemon, lime, or orange juice are all acceptable spritz ingredients. Because they’re so acidic, however, it’s best to use them sparingly. They can overpower the flavor of the chicken if you’re not careful.
Acidic ingredients have one other drawback: They denature the proteins in the meat, which can create a mushy texture. Use caution when adding citrus juice to any marinade or spritz recipe.
White Grape Juice
Not a fan of apple juice? White grape juice, with its gentle sweetness, makes an excellent substitute.
Two notes of caution: White grape juice doesn’t have the same tenderizing properties as apple juice. It may also be more difficult to find in the supermarket.
If you’re serving beer with your barbecue—or even if you’re not—the brew can also work as a spritzing liquid. It contributes its own malty flavor, which can be a nice change of pace from apple juice. Try adding a few tablespoons of brown sugar to the beer as well.
If you have any homemade chicken stock on hand, you can use that to spritz your bird as it cooks. The flavors will be complementary, and you won’t have to invest in an extra ingredient.
Alternatively, feel free to use plain water. It won’t contribute anything as far as flavor goes, but it will still help the meat attract more smoke.
How Often Should You Spritz Chicken?
When smoking large cuts like pork butt and brisket, we recommend waiting a few hours before opening the lid at all. If you start to spritz too early, the bark won’t have a chance to form properly.
That’s not as much of an issue with smoked chicken. You’re looking for crisp skin and juicy, tender meat, not bark. What’s more, chickens cook through more quickly than those larger cuts.
If you’re planning on spritzing the bird, we would suggest starting the process after about 45 minutes. Continue to spritz every half hour or so until the chicken is thoroughly cooked.
This formula allows you to reap the benefits of several different ingredients without making the process too complicated.
Combine 1 part apple juice, 1 part apple cider vinegar, and 1 part chicken stock in a spray bottle. You shouldn’t need much—1 cup total should be sufficient, unless you’re smoking multiple chickens at the same time.
If you’re worried about rubbery, flabby skin, try this recipe. The imitation butter will promote browning while the vinegar and apple juice work their tenderizing magic.
Mix together 3 parts apple juice, 2 parts apple cider vinegar, and 1 part liquid imitation butter. You may need to shake the bottle frequently to keep the imitation butter fully incorporated.
Want to infuse your spritz with a little bit of a kick? Try this bold blend at your next tailgating event.
Combine 2 parts apple juice, 1 part liquid imitation butter, and 1 part hot sauce (such as Frank’s or Cholula). Add a dash of quality Worcestershire sauce and shake well.
Best Temperature For Smoking Chicken
When it comes to smoking whole poultry, you have a fine line to walk.
It’s important to ensure that the chicken cooks to a safe internal temperature within a reasonable time frame, but you also want to give the meat time to absorb a decent hit of smoke flavor. So what’s the best temperature to use?
We would suggest setting the smoker to 250 degrees and estimating about 30 to 45 minutes of cooking time for every pound of chicken. That means a 6-pound chicken should be done in 3 to 4-1/2 hours.
On the other hand, if you want to try your hand at spritzing, we’ve established that it’s better to set the smoker temperature a bit higher. That’s the best way to ensure crisp and delicious skin.
For spritzed smoked chicken, try setting the smoker temp to 350 degrees. Smoke the bird for about 20 minutes per pound, or 2 hours for a 6-pound chicken.
The Bottom Line
Although the spritz itself doesn’t contribute a ton of flavor, it can complement the flavors of your brine or marinade. The key is to make sure the smoker temperature stays hot enough to crisp up the skin, thereby sealing the moisture inside.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!