How to Smoke a Spatchcock Chicken: Easy Guide for BBQ Lovers

Unleash the rich, smoky flavors in your poultry by mastering the art of smoking a spatchcock chicken.

Smoking a spatchcock chicken involves a few key steps: preparing the chicken, setting up the smoker, and cooking the bird to perfection.

This process allows the smoke to infuse throughout the chicken, resulting in a flavorful and moist meal.

This article provides a detailed guide on how to perfectly smoke a spatchcock chicken, from the initial preparation to the final smoking stage.

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned grill master, you’ll find useful tips and techniques to make your smoked spatchcock chicken a resounding success.

Stick around to discover all the details.

Key takeaways:

  • Backbone removal facilitates even cooking and flavor infusion.
  • Smoked spatchcock chicken is butterflied and cooked in a smoker.
  • Use wood chips like applewood or hickory for added flavor.
  • Maintain smoker temperature between 225°F and 250°F.
  • Let the smoked chicken rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.

What Is a Spatchcock Chicken?

Spatchcock Chicken

A spatchcock chicken is essentially a chicken that has been prepared in a specific manner to allow even cooking. By removing the backbone and flattening the bird, it cooks faster and more evenly than otherwise. It also facilitates easy seasoning and smoking, infusing flavors thoroughly.

Key ideas included in spatchcocking are:

  • Backbone Removal: Using a pair of kitchen shears, the chicken’s backbone is cut out from tail to neck.
  • Opening the Chicken: The chicken is then flipped and opened like a book, being careful not to break apart the bird.
  • Flattening: Pressing down on the breastbone will flatten the bird out, which makes it easier to cook evenly.
  • Benefits: This preparation method reduces cooking time, allows for uniform cooking, and enables better penetration of seasoning and smoke.

What Is Smoked Spatchcock Chicken?

Smoked Spatchcock Chicken

Smoked spatchcock chicken is a delightful way to cook poultry wherein the bird is first butterflied (or spatchcocked) then cooked in a smoker. The action of spatchcocking involves removing the backbone which allows the chicken to lay entirely flat. Thus, it cooks evenly, eliminating the usual problem of the breast drying out before the thighs are done.

Being cooked in a smoker adds a distinct depth of flavor to the chicken. The smoke engulfs the meat, infusing it with a rich, smokey taste that’s the mark of true barbecue.

The process typically involves:

  • Properly preparing the bird by spatchcocking it
  • Seasoning it with a rub or marinade of your choice
  • Setting your smoker to the right temperature
  • Smoking the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F

The result is a chicken that’s crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, with a burst of flavor in every bite. Smoking is not a quick cooking method, but the end product is well worth the time and effort.

This cooking method pairs perfectly with numerous rubs and sauces, and it’s an excellent way to put a twist on the traditional grilled or oven-roasted chicken. The key is patience, careful temperature control and the right balance of seasoning. The difficulty level is moderate – a welcome challenge for home cooks and grill enthusiasts looking to level up their skills.

How to Spatchcock a Chicken

Spatchcock a Chicken

First, grab a pair of sturdy kitchen shears. Take your whole chicken and lay it breast side down on a clean cutting board. Locate the backbone, which runs directly down the center of the chicken. Starting from the tail end, cut along one side of the backbone with your shears. Repeat this on the opposite side of the backbone, removing it completely.

With the backbone removed, flip the chicken over so that the breast side is facing up. Spread the two halves of the chicken apart slightly – this exposes the inside of the bird. Find the breastbone, which should be located at the center of the chicken directly opposite where the backbone was removed. Make a small slit in the cartilage that covers it.

Finally, use your hands to open up the chicken, pressing down firmly on both halves until you hear a crack and the chicken lies flat. By doing this, you’ve effectively spatchcocked your chicken – creating a flatter, more even piece of meat that will cook evenly when smoked.

Ingredients for Smoked Spatchcock Chicken

Ingredients Smoked Spatchcock Chicken

One whole chicken, weighing approximately 3-4 pounds, serves as the primary ingredient. It is crucial to ensure that the chicken is fresh.

A selection of dry spices and herbs contributes to the chicken’s traditional smoky flavor. Paprika, brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and black pepper are staples of most BBQ rubs.

Olive oil is used to bind the dry rub to the chicken, ensuring even distribution and adherence during the smoking process.

Lemon and fresh herbs such as rosemary and thyme are optional, but they can add a refreshing touch to the rich, smoky flavor profile. They are usually stuffed into the chicken’s cavity.

A selection of wood chips enhances the smoky flavor. Hardwoods, like hickory, oak, or applewood, work best for chicken. These usually need soaking in water for about an hour before use.

Finally, you’ll need water for the water pan inside your smoker, which helps in maintaining a moist environment and regulating the temperature. A bit of apple cider vinegar added to this water can impart a subtle fruity undertone to your smoked chicken.

These key items gather to create the familiar, mouthwatering scent and taste of perfectly smoked spatchcock chicken.

BBQ Tools Needed for Smoking the Chicken

preheat the smoker

To ensure the smoking process goes smoothly and effectively, there are certain BBQ tools essential for achieving optimal results.

First, you will require a quality smoker. This could be electric, gas, or charcoal-based depending on personal preference.

A reliable, accurate meat thermometer is crucial to avoid over or under cooking the chicken. This tool allows you to accurately gauge the internal temperature, crucial for food safety and achieving desired doneness.

Long-handled tongs are required for safe handling of the chicken during the smoking process. Opt for ones with a non-slip grip for greatest control.

Thick heat-resistant gloves are essential for taking the chicken in and out of the smoker. Opt for ones that guard you from not just heat, but also from oil splashes and potential cuts.

A sharp set of kitchen shears will be vital for the preparation of the spatchcock chicken, specifically for removing the backbone.

Finally, a quality basting brush is recommended for applying the seasoning or marinade evenly across the chicken’s surface. Opt for brushes with heat-resistant bristles.

Remember, the safety and smoothness of your cooking process highly depend on using the correct, apt tools.

The Best Type of Wood for Smoking Chicken


While wood preference can largely be a matter of personal taste, there are a few types that are known for delivering the best flavor when smoking chicken. Here are a few solid options:

  • Applewood: Imparts a mild and sweet fruity flavor that complements chicken well. It is popular for smoking poultry and works well with a mix of herbs and spices.
  • Hickory: It has a strong flavor that’s perfect for large cuts but can be a bit overpowering for chicken if not used judiciously.
  • Mesquite: While stronger compared to others, it imparts a mouth-watering smoky essence to chicken. If not careful, it can overshadow the natural flavor of the chicken.
  • Cherry: Giving poultry a sweet, fruity flavor that’s not overpowering, cherry is a great choice for those who like a subtle touch of smokiness.

Remember, soaking wood chips in water for about thirty minutes prior to use can help generate aromatic and flavorful smoke. It’s important to use indirect heat when smoking to prevent the chicken from being overcooked on the outside and undercooked on the inside.

How to Preheat the Smoker for Spatchcock Chicken

Preheat the Smoker

To effectively preheat your smoker, follow these pointers:

Ensure that your smoker is clean to prevent old residues from tampering with the taste of your chicken.

Start by opening all the vents; the bottom vent lets air into the smoker, while the top vent lets smoke and heat exit.

Load your smoker with charcoal, and light it up. For beginners, a chimney starter is advised for ease and safety.

Let the coals burn until they become red-hot and are covered with grey ash – this step might take up to 20 minutes.

Place your wood for smoking on top of the hot coals. The wood serves a dual purpose of enhancing flavour and maintaining optimum temperature.

Close the lid of the smoker after adding the wood.

Allow the smoker to reach desired temperature which for smoking spatchcock chicken is usually between 225°F and 250°F.

Monitor the temperature with a reliable grill thermometer, ensuring it doesn’t exceed the maximum required temperature.

Remember, patience is key, as rushing this process could lead to an overcooked or undercooked chicken. Achieving the correct smoker temperature is absolutely vital for a perfectly smoked spatchcock chicken.

Preparation of the Chicken for Smoking

Chicken preparation for smoking

To prepare the chicken:

  • Begin with a fresh, whole chicken. Make sure it’s cleaned and plucked thoroughly.
  • To spatchcock it, place the chicken breast side down. Find the backbone, and using a pair of sharp kitchen scissors, cut along either side of the backbone. Remove it entirely.
  • Flip the chicken over and apply firm pressure to flatten. Be sure both breasts are level to ensure it cooks evenly.
  • Check the chicken for any remaining bits of feather or innards and remove them.
  • Apply a light coat of oil. It will adhere the seasoning to the chicken and prevent it from sticking to the grill.
  • Next, season the chicken. Be liberal with the seasoning, ensuring it covers every part of the bird. You can use a pre-made poultry rub or prepare your own mix.
  • Finally, allow the chicken to come to room temperature before moving it to the smoker, this will help in achieving even cooking.

Remember, preparation is key for the perfect smoked spatchcock chicken.

Rinsing the Chicken Before Smoking

Rinsing the Chicken

First, always place the chicken in a clean sink or a large bowl to minimize bacterial spread. Use cold running water to thoroughly rinse the chicken, ensuring that every part, inside and out, comes into contact with water. This process will help remove any residual blood or loose skin.

Don’t forget to clean the backbone area and slit as these places likely have residual fats or tissues. Pat dry with paper towels after rinsing. It’s vital to remove as much moisture as possible to ensure the chicken absorbs the spices well and for skin crunchiness.

Immediately after this, clean the sink or bowl and your hands with hot soapy water to avoid cross-contamination.

Remember to properly dispose of the paper towel and clean the area round the sink to maintain a clean workspace and prepare for the next step of the recipe.

Creating the Seasoning Mixture for Smoked Spatchcock Chicken

Seasoning Smoked Spatchcock Chicken

Start by gathering all necessary ingredients. These typically include, but are not limited to, kosher salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, granulated garlic, onion powder, dry mustard, and dried thyme.

To begin, combine the kosher salt and black pepper in a ratio that suits your taste. For a bolder flavor, consider a 1:1 ratio.

Next, measure out the smoked paprika, granulated garlic, and onion powder. Half a tablespoon of each will suffice. The paprika not only enriches the flavor, but also imparts a vibrant color to the chicken skin.

As for dry mustard and dried thyme, a quarter of a tablespoon each contributes subtle yet essential undertones to the overall seasoning blend.

Once you have all the spices, place them in a bowl and mix thoroughly to create a uniform blend.

This blend should be evenly applied all over the spatchcocked chicken. Make sure to get the mixture into every nook and crevice, particularly beneath the wings and inside the cavity for a well-rounded flavor profile. A liberal coating on the skin will ensure that beautiful smoked color once cooked.

Optional: for an extra flavor boost, consider a simple brine or a touch of brown sugar to the spice mix. The brine adds moisture, while the sugar caramelizes beautifully, adding a depth of flavor and creating a beautiful exterior.

By following these steps, you’ll have a mouth-watering, smoky, and flavorful spatchcock chicken that will have everyone coming back for seconds.

Air Drying the Spatchcock Chicken Before Smoking

Spatchcock Chicken with seasoning

After you’ve spatchcocked your chicken and gotten your seasoning mixture ready, it’s time for air drying. This step is crucial to achieving the crispy skin every barbeque lover craves, but it requires some time and patience.

Begin by patting the chicken as dry as possible using paper towels. Make sure you get into all the crevices – the dryer the chicken, the crispier the skin. Once that’s done, place your seasoned bird on a wire rack over a baking sheet. This allows for proper air circulation around the chicken, which helps evaporate moisture.

Now comes the part where patience is key. The spatchcocked chicken needs to sit in the refrigerator, uncovered, for about 12-24 hours. This process, known as dry-brining, helps draw out excess moisture from the skin and allows the seasoning to penetrate into the meat.

When time is up and your chicken is ready for the smoker, you might notice that the skin has taken on a slightly leathery appearance. Do not be alarmed, this is a great indicator that your air-drying efforts have been successful, and the chicken is poised to give you that delectable, crispy-skinned finish once smoked. Remember, your goal here was to remove as much moisture as possible before the smoke, securing that satisfying crunch on each bite of your smoked spatchcock chicken.

Procedure to Smoke the Spatchcock Chicken

empty pellet grill

After you’ve prepared your smoker and seasoned your chicken, navigate the following steps:

Place your spatchcocked chicken in the smoker bone-side down in the middle rack. This protects the delicate breast meat from intense heat and allows for even smoking.

Close the lid of the smoker, maintaining a steady temperature of around 225°F to 275°F.

Every hour or so, lightly baste the chicken with olive oil or butter to keep the skin moist. This step is optional but aids in achieving a crispier skin.

Flip the bird halfway through to ensure even smoking on both sides. Using a meat thermometer, check the chicken’s internal temperature regularly – specifically in the thickest part of the breast and thigh. You target an internal temperature of 165°F.

Remember not to open the smoker too frequently as this allows heat and smoke to escape, extending the cooking time.

When the desired internal temperature is reached, remove the chicken from the smoker carefully using tongs or spatulas to avoid tearing the skin.

After removing the chicken from the smoker, the next step is to let it rest. This completes the smoking process for your spatchcock chicken.

Achieving Crispy Skin On Smoked Spatchcock Chicken

Crispy Smoked Spatchcock Chicken

To attain that ideally crisp skin, there are a few key steps you must not overlook.

First, ensure your chicken is entirely dry. Excess moisture can lead to a rubbery texture rather than a crispy one. Pat it dry with a kitchen towel after rinsing and allow it air dry for a while.

Secondly, use a high smoke point oil or fat like avocado oil or ghee to coat the skin. This aids in evenly distributing the heat over the skin of the chicken, which leads to that satisfying crunch.

Next, liberally apply the rub. It’s not just for flavor, but it helps in forming a crust on the skin.

Lastly, maintain a controlled smoking temperature. Too high can lead to a burnt, bitter skin, while too low might leave you with less-than-crispy skin. A range of 275-300°F is recommended.

Do remember to position the chicken skin side up in your smoker. The fat under the skin will baste the meat as it melts, resulting in juicy meat with a crispy skin.

Avoid frequently opening the smoker door. Every time it’s opened, heat escapes, reducing the overall temperature and impacting the crispiness of the skin.

These actionable steps, when followed, should net you a spatchcock chicken with a delectably crisp skin.

The Ideal Temperature for Smoking a Spatchcock Chicken

cooking smoker temperature

Maintaining the right temperature while smoking your spatchcock chicken is crucial for achieving a tender and juicy result. Here are important aspects to remember:

  • Start by preheating your smoker to a medium low temperature, about 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. This provides a slow, gradual cook that penetrates deep into the chicken, ensuring both the outer and inner portions are cooked to perfection.
  • Use a digital thermometer to monitor your smoker’s temperature. Maintain a consistent heat throughout the smoking process to prevent undercooking or drying out the chicken.
  • Check the internal temperature of the chicken. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the bird, avoiding any bones. The chicken is fully cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, as per USDA guidelines.
  • If the chicken doesn’t achieve the desired internal temperature after 4 hours, increase your smoker’s temperature slightly. Remember, it’s about balancing time and temperature.
  • Regulate your smoker’s vents. Open them wider to increase heat and close them slightly to decrease it.

Understanding these key aspects will help you maintain the ideal temperature for smoking a spatchcock chicken and achieve a pleasingly smoked bird.

Allowing the Smoked Spatchcock Chicken to Rest

Smoked Spatchcock Chicken plate

Once removed from the smoker, it’s critical to permit the chicken to rest before carving into it. This process allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a moister, more flavorful bite.

Below are some key pointers to keep in mind during this step:

  • Transfer the chicken onto a cutting board or serving plate carefully, using BBQ gloves or spatulas to avoid burns.
  • Ideally, let the chicken rest for about 10-15 minutes. Since spatchcock chicken has been flattened, it does not generally require as long a resting period as a whole roasted chicken.
  • Use this resting time to tidy up around the BBQ, prepare any last-minute side dishes, or gather serving utensils.
  • Cover the chicken loosely with a sheet of foil. This maintains warmth without steaming the chicken, preserving that delightful crispy skin you’ve worked to achieve.
  • Resist the temptation to cut into the chicken immediately. Patience during this period assures your chicken’s flavors are intensified and its texture remains succulent.

By honoring this resting period, you’re putting the final, necessary touch on your smoked spatchcock chicken. The result is a juicy, savory chicken with an excellent smoky flavor.

Serving Suggestions for Smoked Spatchcock Chicken


Smoked spatchcock chicken has a distinctly rich flavor that pairs well with an array of sides.

Fresh coleslaw offers a refreshing contrast to the robust smoky flavor, and the tangy dressing can balance out the chicken’s richness. For a warm side, consider grilled veggies like zucchini, bell peppers, or asparagus, which can absorb some of the chicken’s smokiness.

Corn on the cob, either boiled or char-grilled, is another fantastic accompaniment with a classic barbecue feel. Meanwhile, a hearty potato salad can provide a comforting contrast to the smoky, meaty chicken.

Serving the chicken with a selection of dipping sauces like BBQ sauce, honey mustard, or a homemade spicy mango salsa will allow your guests to customize their flavor experiences.

For the beverage, consider pairing the meal with a crisp, refreshing beer or a lemon-infused iced tea to cleanse the palate between bites.

Remember, the best pairings will highlight the smoked spatchcock chicken’s distinct flavors without overpowering them. Try a variety of combinations to create the perfect BBQ spread.

Choosing Side Dishes to Complement Smoked Spatchcock Chicken

Baked Beans

When it comes to pairing side dishes with the rich, smoky flavors of spatchcock chicken, consider a balance of textures and tastes:

Grilled vegetables: Zucchini, bell peppers, and eggplant lightly brushed with olive oil provide a delicious contrast to the smoky chicken.

Potato salad: A creamy potato salad, possibly with a tangy mustard base, can be a wonderful counterpoint to the smoky poultry.

Corn on the cob: Grilled or boiled, corn adds a slight sweetness and crispy texture that complements smoked chicken very well.

Coleslaw: Whether you prefer a creamy or vinegar-based dressing, coleslaw provides a tangy crunch that pairs nicely with the softer texture of the chicken.

Baked beans: A little touch of sweetness and a lot of hearty flavor makes baked beans a classic barbecue side dish.

Biscuits or Cornbread: Either of these breads serves as a tasty vessel for sopping up any flavorful chicken juices left on your plate.

Consider these options and mix and match to suit your preferences. The main aim is to balance the smoky, rich flavor of the chicken with sides that add contrast and variety.

How to Store Leftover Smoked Spatchcock Chicken

Leftover Chicken storage

Storing your leftover spatchcock chicken is just as important as preparing it. Incorrect storage can result in dried out, flavorless chicken. There are several steps to ensuring your smoked chicken stays flavorful and safe to eat.

Once the chicken has cooled down to room temperature, slice the remaining meat off the bones. This will make it easier to store and use for future meals. Wrap these pieces securely in a double layer of plastic wrap or aluminum foil. This helps to lock in the flavor and retain the moisture of the smoked chicken. Avoid stuffing the packaging too full, as this could cause freezer burn or create uneven cooling.

For best results, place your wrapped chicken pieces in airtight containers or freezer-safe bags. Make sure you squeeze out any excess air before sealing. Air exposure can cause frost formation on the chicken, leading to a freezer burn.

To thaw out the chicken, simply leave it in the refrigerator overnight, or until it has properly defrosted. Never try to defrost the chicken at room temperature, as this can promote bacterial growth and spoil your leftover chicken.

Finally, stored chicken should be used within 3 months. After this period, the chicken might still be safe to eat, but the quality and flavor may start to degrade. Always follow the ‘first-in, first-out’ practice to ensure you’re eating your oldest stored food first.

In the event you want to reheat your stored smoked chicken, using an oven or stovetop is the best way to maintain the delicious, smoked flavor. Avoid using a microwave as it can make the chicken dry.

Addressing Common Questions About Spatchcock Smoked Chicken

spatchcocking a chicken

Several queries often arise regarding the process and outcome of smoking a spatchcock chicken. Here are some of the common ones, alongside their straightforward responses:

Advantages of spatchcocking a chicken: Spatchcocking allows the chicken to lay flat, resulting in even cooking. It also reduces the cooking time significantly.

Ideal smoker temperature: Maintaining a temperature of 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal for smoking a spatchcock chicken.

Smoking time for a spatchcock chicken: Depending on its weight and the exact temperature of your smoker, a spatchcock chicken generally takes 1 to 1.5 hours to smoke thoroughly.

Smoking wood selection: Fruit woods like applewood or cherry impart a rich, subtly sweet flavor. However, hickory or mesquite can be used for a deeper, more potent smoky taste.

Dealing with skin crispiness: Brushing the skin with oil before smoking and increasing the temperature towards the end of the cooking time can render it crispy.

Resting time after smoking: Letting the bird rest for around 15-20 minutes after smoking allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, enhancing its succulence.

What if the chicken skin turns too dark: It’s a common concern that the smoked chicken skin might become excessively dark during the process. Rest assured, that’s just the smoke reacting with the skin, and it doesn’t signify burning or overcooking.

Making use of the backbone: The backbone removed during the spatchcock process is not wasted; it’s perfect for making chicken broth or stock.

Storage of leftovers: Leftover smoked spatchcock chicken can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. It can also be frozen for longer storage.

Hopefully, these answers clarify some of the uncertainties and enhance your confidence in undertaking the process of smoking a spatchcock chicken.


How long to smoke a 5 lb chicken at 225?

To smoke a 5 lb chicken at 225 degrees F, it typically requires around 5 hours.

What is the best temp to smoke chicken?

The optimum temperature to smoke chicken is between 225–250°F (107–121°C).

How long to smoke a 6 lb chicken at 225?

To smoke a 6 lb chicken at 225°F, it would approximately take 4.5 hours or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 165°F.

What are the ideal wood chips to use for smoking chicken?

For smoking chicken, the ideal wood chips are typically fruit trees like apple or cherry because they impart a mild, sweet flavor.

How should a spatchcock chicken be prepared before smoking?

To prepare a spatchcock chicken for smoking, remove the backbone using poultry shears, press down on the breastbone to flatten the chicken, then apply a dry rub or marinade before placing it on the smoker.

Can you smoke a spatchcock chicken with the skin on, and how does it impact flavor?

Yes, you can smoke a spatchcock chicken with the skin on, and doing so retains moisture and adds a smoky flavor to the skin.