Smoked Chicken


I bet I cook this smoked chicken every other week in the summer. You start with a brine, then butterfly (or spatchcock, which is the technical term) the chicken by removing the backbone. Then cook over indirect heat for 1 hour. This is a great dish to do for a party because you really can “set it and forget it.” You don’t have to keep checking the grill and worrying the chickens — they’ll be fine on their own. Try it as part of this All-Local Dinner Party Menu.

Photo by Tania Savayan/TJN

Smoked Chicken

Serving Size: Serves 6 to 8.

Smoked Chicken


  • 2 chickens, about 4 pounds each
  • 4 quarts water
  • 1 1/3 cups kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • Hardwood charcoal without chemicals
  • Newspaper
  • Hickory or apple wood chips


  1. To brine, whisk water, salt and sugar together in a large bucket or bowl. Add chicken and brine for 4 to 8 hours.
  2. Remove the chicken from the brine. Place it, breast side down, on a cutting board. Using poultry shears or a very sharp knife, cut one side of the backbone, starting at the tail end. Cut that little flap of fat off, too — it’s called the pope’s nose. When you’re done, one side of the chicken will fall off. Now do the same thing on the other side of the spine.
  3. The chicken is almost butterflied, but it won’t lay flat unless you cut the breastbone. So lay the chicken down and put your shears at the tip where the breasts meet. Cut a little snip into the bone. (Or, if you’re feeling particularly aggressive, you can slam the breast down with the butt of your palm of your hand. Hard. You’ll break the breastbone and achieve the same effect.)
  4. That’s it for the butchering. You don’t need to season the birds because they’ve been brined, and you’re going to cook them with smoke. If you insist, you can grind a little black pepper over them.
  5. Start the grill. Put the charcoal in a chimney starter and light 2 sheets of newspaper underneath. First, it will smoke. Then the coals will catch fire and burn. Then they will glow red. You want them red. This will take about 20 minutes. When they’re ready, pour them out to each side of the grill, leaving the middle empty. (Of course you won’t be perfect, so take a really long set of tongs, and move the rogue coals to their place.)
  6. Shape some foil in a rectangle and make a border of about 1 inch around all sides. Fold that border up to form a makeshift tray. (It acts as a drip pan to catch the fat falling from the chickens.) Place the foil tray between the two rows of coals. Put the grate on top of that.
  7. Nestle your chickens onto the grate above the foil tray, in the center of the grill. Put the neck side to the outside, and let the legs alternate space on the grill. Place 5 or 6 wood chips on top of the coals.
  8. Put the lid on, open the top vent, and wait. About 50 minutes to an hour. Don’t peek! The chickens are done when they look chestnut brown and the legs wiggle so easily they could come off the chicken without a knife.
  9. Let the chickens rest for at least 10 minutes. They will stay warm for up to 45 minutes, and are delicious even at room temperature.


About Author

Liz Johnson is content strategist for The Journal News and, and the founding editor of lohudfood, formerly know as Small Bites. As food editor, she won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.

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