Thursday, May 6, 2010

Recipe: Smoked Chicken (Weber Kettle method)

Unfortunately, this recipe is a conversation killer.

Sometimes a pause in idle banter serves to prime the pump for the stimulating bursts of interlocution to follow.

Sometimes a recipe is so good that people don't care if they've been struck mute as long as there are seconds.

I've served this chicken perhaps a dozen times now, and every time, once folks tuck into the meal, the dinner table conversation fades away into a murmur of chomping and grunting for at least 15 minutes.  The silence is then broken by anything from "Wow, that's good" to "Holy shitballs!  This is the best Goddamned chicken I've ever had!"

I strongly recommend serving this chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. For this reason (among others), I finish the chicken in the oven—which allows you to collect chicken juices for gravy.

For this recipe I used two chickens that had been cut in half to speed things along. Whole chickens are fine, too.

Ideally, the chicken is brined for 24 hours prior to smoking. But you can also get around that by using a shorter brine, or by salting the chicken heavily prior to cooking (more on that below).

  • whole or half chickens
  • salt for brine
  • wood chips for smoking
  • gluten free all purpose flour for gravy
  • 1 cup water for gravy
  • salt and pepper
Preparing the Chicken
Remove the packaging from your chicken, take out the bag of giblets from inside the cavity, and then rinse the bird in cold water before tossing it into the brine. Brine the chicken for 24 hours (give or take) in a brine consisting of 1 cup kosher salt (or 1/2 cup table salt) to 1 gallon of water.  I whack my chickens in half with a cleaver because it speeds the cooking time, but whole chickens are perfectly acceptable.

If you don't have 24 hours to spare before smoking, double the salt and brine the bird for 4 hours. If you don't have time to brine at all, simply salt and pepper the chicken heavily, inside and out, before smoking it.  Kosher salt makes it easier to get an even spread and helps prevent over-salting, but otherwise table salt is fine.

Preparing the Fire
To smoke the chicken, start by soaking a "two-handed grab" (about 4 cups) of mesquite wood chips in water for an hour.  You can find smoking wood chips at most grocery stores.  You can also use actual hunks of wood whacked into chips or splinters.  I prefer mesquite wood chips, but you can use hickory, apple, alder, or any other common smoking wood. 

While the wood chips are soaking in water, light the smoking fire in a Weber kettle (or other grill that you can cover to trap the smoke).   I use hardwood charcoal chunks instead of charcoal briquettes to keep coal dust and God-knows-what-else out of my chicken, but regular old briquettes will do in a pinch.  Use a chimney fire starter to kindle the fire—you don't want lighter fluid making your chicken taste like an oil refinery.

Once the fire is ready (which will probably take something like 20 minutes), bank all of the coals against one side of your grill.  Add half of your soaked mesquite chips on top of the banked coals, and then put the grill (the surface on which you'd normally place burgers and dogs) in place. Cover the kettle. 

Give the grill 5 minutes to heat up—at which point smoke should be pouring from the vents.  Place your brined chicken on the grill, close to, but not over top of the fire. Cover the kettle once again, and begin smoking the chicken.

Turn the chicken every 10 minutes or so, and move the chicken around to ensure that each piece spends equal time on hot areas of the grill (closer to the banked fire), and cold areas (farther from the banked fire and along the edges).  Also try to change the orientation of the chickens to that first one end and then the other faces the fire.  All of this manouvering helps keep each bird at roughly the same temperature (so they're all done together) and avoids burning on the side facing the fire.

Once 45 minutes have passed, begin checking the temperature of your smoked chicken with an instant read thermometer.  When the temperature hits 140 degrees F (which may take an hour or longer of total smoking time), pull the smoked chicken, and pile it into an enameled cast iron dutch oven. (note: enameled dutch ovens tend to be larger, but you can also use a bare cast iron dutch oven if you have enough room).

Place the chicken into a 350 degree F oven, and cook until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F.  Pull the chicken out, and place it on a cutting board under aluminum foil to rest.  The final temperature in the coldest part of the bird should reach 165 degrees F.   It will continue coming up to temperature during the first part of the rest.  While the chicken rests, make gravy with the drippings that are now in the dutch oven.

Making the Gravy
You want to begin with 2 tablespoons of "liquid gold," which is the rendered fat, juices, and browned bits of smoky goodness left in the dutch oven once you've removed the chicken.

If you've got more than 2 tablespoons, pour off (or suction out with a turkey baster) excess fat.  Be sure not to remove any of the brown juice that you've got since this is the key to the gravy's flavor (only remove clear rendered fat).  If you don't have enough juice and fat left over, add butter or oil until you do.

Place the dutch oven on the stovetop once you've removed the chicken. Turn the heat on medium.  Add 2 tablespoons of Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All-Purpose Flour (or just about any other flour) to the dutch oven.

Stir things around with a wooden spatula to form a thick paste, and then add about half a cup of water.  Use the spatula to scrape any fond (browned bits) off the bottom of the dutch oven.  Continue adding another half cup of water as the gravy thickens. After adding roughly a cup of water, you should end up with a thin gravy. Once you've got the water quantity dialed in and the thickness of the gravy has stabilized, lower the heat to a gentle simmer.  Simmer the gravy for another 10 minutes to cook the flour. If the gravy gets over-thick as it continues to cook, add more water carefully.

Taste it. You'll probably need to season the gravy with salt and pepper.

As your gravy simmers, carve up the chicken, and serve it all together with your favorite mashed potatoes.


  1. I love smoked chicken, nice write up!! The pictures made me hungry!

  2. Thanks for the compliments! Hopefully you get a chance to try it out... and if you do, please let me know if anything's unclear or missing in the recipe.



  3. Derek, good blog glad that i came across it, gonna spend a couple hours copying your recipes.

  4. Wow, those chickens look GOOD!

  5. Hey Melanie,

    You can do this one on the gas grill, too. Leave one side off, and pack your soaked wood chips in a perforated foil pouch which you place underneath the grilling surface (on the "rocks") on the side that's got the heat on. Put your chicken on the side that's off. Smoked chicken is a real treat for sure.

    Thanks for stopping by!



Howdy! Thanks for visiting, and thanks even more for leaving a comment. I'll respond as soon as the kids are asleep.