Learn how to smoke and cook a spatchcocked chicken using a pellet grill, and why it is one of the tastiest ways to smoke a whole chicken!
But an even easier option than turkey is smoking a couple whole chickens for the family to enjoy any night of the week.
We spent some time recently comparing propane and electric smokers, but unfortunately, neither of these options work too great for whole chickens.
That’s because with propane, you have to babysit your bird for hours on end, making sure the temperatures never get too high or your wood chips get too low.
And while electric smokers do offer “set it and forget it” convenience, they can be a little limited on space and getting up to a high enough temperature range to crisp up your chicken skin.
Many typical Masterbuilt electric smokers only go up to about 275°F.
Great for low and slow BBQ, but not as good for crisping up the skin on a whole chicken like you can a pellet grill, especially if you spatchcock your chicken first.
Spatchcocking is basically a fancy term for cutting the whole chicken right down the back bone and then butterflying it out to lay flat while it cooks.
We’ll get into why this is such a great method below, but first, let’s jump in and find out why using a pellet grill is one of the best ways to cook and smoke a spatchcocked chicken!
How a Pellet Grill Works
In order to cook ANYTHING well on a pellet grill, you need to first have a basic understanding of how it works.
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First, you add hardwood pellets into a side hopper. The pellet grill automatically feeds these small wood pellets via an auger mechanism to a fire pot where they are burned up, providing both heat and smokey flavor.
The pellet grill automatically controls the flow of pellets depending on your temperature setting so that you maintain an even temperature throughout the entire cook.
A MUST for making great BBQ.
We are big fans of Bear Mountain Hardwood Pellets because they are compatible with most pellet grills and provide a nice clean, even burn and smoke flavor.
We particularly like using the Apple pellets for spatchcocked chicken and turkey.
Instead of being in and out of the house constantly trying to figure out when or whether to add more wood or to adjust the air flow, you just program the unit and give it time to do its thing.
It’s really just a matter of choosing and preparing the right ingredients, picking the right temperature, and smoking your spatchcocked chicken for the right amount of time.
Looking for a Reasonably Priced Pellet Grill?
Why Would You Spatchcock a Chicken?
There are a number of great reasons why spatchcocking a chicken works great before cooking it on a pellet grill:
- It will finish cooking faster.
- It will cook more evenly.
- It is easier to apply direct heat.
- The skin will get crispier.
- You can apply seasoning to more surface area of the chicken.
- It will be easier to carve.
There ARE other methods to cooking a whole chicken on a pellet grill, everything from just throwing the whole bird directly on the rack to standing it up on a chicken roaster or even a beer can.
But we think once you’ve tried spatchcocking your pellet grilled chicken, you will find it difficult to go back to any other method!
How to Spatchcock a Whole Chicken for the Pellet Grill
Clean and Trim the Whole Chicken
Take some time to clean, rinse and dry your whole chicken(s) with paper towels after removing them from the packaging.
Remove any giblet bags or other items stuffed into the cavities. Then, using some good kitchen shears or a meat knife, cut any excess fat or skin hanging off near the corners and edges of the cavities.
There should not be too much trimming to do but it doesn’t hurt to clean it up a bit before you start spatchocking and seasoning
Butterflying the Whole Chicken
Next you are going to actually start to spatchcock the chicken by cutting down along next to either side of the backbone from one end to the other to remove it.
The easiest way to do this is with a good pair of sharp kitchen shears like these ones from Acelone.
The biggest mistake people make is cutting through the BREAST bone rather than the BACK bone.
So take an extra minute to orient yourself on the chicken and find the breast meat. Then make sure you are cutting down the OPPOSITE side.
Pro Tip: The easiest way to do this is to place the whole chicken on a cutting board with the legs DOWN and the wing tips also pointing DOWN.
You are now looking at the backbone of your whole chicken and you can begin cutting.
Here is a great video demonstrating how to do this:
Once you have removed the backbone, flip the chicken back over and hold the sides with your thumbs pressed up against the breastbone.
Apply some gentle pressure and you will hear a snap as you crack the breast bone.
Now the chicken will butterfly out and should lay flat on your cutting board.
Make sure to rinse again and remove any small, loose bone fragments that might still be present.
Now that you have cleaned, dried, and spatchcocked your chicken you can start getting it ready for the pellet grill!
A chicken prep method you’ll read about a lot is brining.
At its most basic, this is just soaking the chicken overnight in a solution that includes salt, water and some aromatics.
But, what does it do? Well, the salt naturally penetrates overnight and helps to not only flavor the meat but help it retain moisture throughout the cooking process.
Do you need to brine your spatchcocked chicken before you smoke it on the pellet grill?
The answer is, it depends.
Now, if you have a standard supermarket chicken that’s already been injected with a brine solution, don’t bother wet brining at home. It won’t do anything.
If, on the other hand, you have a natural whole chicken without additives, you could take the time to brine it.
Now, just because the packaging says “All Natural” doesn’t mean its organic, or hasn’t been brined or injected with hormones or anything like that.
In fact, “All Natural” literally means NOTHING in most of the food and beauty industry.
We know, crazy.
So make sure to check the fine print if it actually has been pre-brined or injected with a sodium solution.
If you got your chicken direct from an organic farmers market or someone you know that raises them personally, you are probably good to go.
You can use one of the many brining recipes online (Alton Brown’s is a classic) or save a bit of effort with a premade chicken brining solution.
Brining for a good 24 hours before you smoke it will yield a more flavorful, juicier bird, so the time in the brine can be worth it.
However, a much easier way to achieve similar results is by dry brining your spatchcocked chicken instead.
Simply coat the inside and outside (now TOP and BOTTOM) with kosher salt and pepper (or your favorite BBQ rub) and store it on a drying rack set on top of a baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight.
Wipe off the excess salt left on the outside with a wet paper towel before you cook, and then season with all your non-salt herbs and seasonings.
Don’t worry, the turkey breast is plenty well salted at this point from the salt penetrating overnight.
With dry brining, you get all the benefits of salt penetration and moisture retention without having to deal with a giant bucket of salty raw chicken water when you’re done!
One other benefit, the salt really dries out the skin overnight, causing it to brown and crisp up much better while cooking on the pellet grill than it otherwise would have!\
Pro Tip: DO NOT use cooking oil to help your rub adhere to the chicken skin. The more oil you apply, the less the skin will crisp up when it cooks.
The exterior will get a little wet as you apply salt and water is drawn out of the chicken up to the salt. This paste is all the moisture you need for the salt or rub to stick to the bird.
For the crispiest skin possible, dry brine the turkey overnight and then don’t add ANY oil to the skin before putting it on the pellet grill.
The next day the skin should look kind of powdery and very dry.
This is good.
It means the salt has penetrated into the meat where you want it to be and taken all the moisture with it.
The skin will now crisp up nicely on the pellet grill while the inside meat stays moist.
The day of the cook you can add some crushed herbs or a low salt BBQ rub if you wish, but go easy on adding any additional salty rubs at this point.
Choosing the Best Wood Pellets for Cooking a Spatchcocked Chicken on a Pellet Grill
You have a lot of freedom when it comes to choosing the right wood pellets to cook a spatchcocked chicken on a pellet grill.
Mesquite and hickory will give a very aggressive smoke flavor.
Alternatively, you can also go for a milder smoke flavor by choosing oak or fruitwood pellets. Pecan, apple, beech, alder, and cherry all give great results on chicken.
For fun, you can choose your woods seasonally, using beech and cherry in spring and summer and pecan and apple into the fall and winter.
Also no reason you can’t mix a few different kinds together on a pellet grill.
Make sure you purchase pellets that are sized correctly to work in the hopper of your particular pellet grill.
How to Cook a Spatchcocked Chicken on a Pellet Grill
Now that the chicken is cleaned, butterflied, brined, and seasoned, all that’s left to do now is cook it.
With a pellet grill, this is the easy part!
Just add your chosen pellets to the hopper, plug in and start the pellet grill.
Let the pellet grill go through its start up process and once it has come up to temperature and stopped producing the thick white “start- up” smoke, put the spatchcocked chicken directly on the grill grates. with the breast side facing up.
What Temperature do you Cook a Spatchcocked Chicken on a Pellet Grill?
Set the temperature to 325°F, and let the grill come up to temperature.
While you technically CAN cook your chicken “low and slow” at 225-250°F like traditional pork and brisket barbecue, you will never get crispy skin because the fat underneath it will not render at those low temperatures before the meat is finished cooking.
Also avoid using BBQ rubs with lots and lots of sugar if you are going to cook any higher than 300-325°F because the sugar can burn and carbonize.
If you want to be extra cautious with a sugary BBQ rub, drop the cooking temperature on the pellet grill to 300°F.
How Long do you Cook a Spatchcocked Chicken on a Pellet Grill?
Put your spatchcocked chicken in the cooking chamber with the breast side up and let the pellet grill do its thing!
Place a temperature probe, if you have them, in both one of the thighs and the breasts of the chicken. Otherwise, you can spot check later with an instant read thermometer.
Always use good insulated grill gloves when rotating or moving the chicken around.
There really is no need to flip the chicken over as the pellet grill provides indirect heat like an oven and will still crisp up the skin at 300°F.
You are welcome to experiment and try cooking it “upside down” if you want through, but you may lose some of your BBQ rub against the grill grates.
A spatchcocked chicken will take between 1-1.5 hours on a pellet grill at 300-325°F.
It may take 2 hours or more if you have a really large chicken, or it is cold outside and you open the lid a lot during the cook.
Pro Tip: If you want the crispiest skin possible, avoid basting or spraying the spatchcocked chicken with anything while it is cooking on the pellet grill.
Keep the lid closed as much as possible, and use the temperature probes to tell you when the chicken is done.
How do you Know When a Spatchcocked Chicken is Done on a Pellet Grill?
You’ll want to monitor the internal temperature of both the chicken breast AND chicken thigh for doneness.
Your spatchcocked chicken is ready to eat when the breast meat hits an internal temperature of 165°F and the thigh meat hits 175°F on your instant read thermometer.
These usually occur at about the same time.
If you don’t yet own an instant read thermometer, it’s going to be hard to really know exactly when that turkey breast is done cooking on the pellet grill.
One of our go-to and very affordable favorites is this waterproof model made by Kuluner.
Let the spatchcocked chicken rest for about 15-30 minutes before carving and serving so that the juice stays in the meat where you want it.
Carving and Serving Spatchcocked Chicken
Let your chicken rest for about 15-20 minutes before carving to help it retain more of its juices.
You’ll probably find a spatchcocked chicken MUCH easier to carve than a whole chicken because everything is laid out right before you and nothing is connected to the backbone any longer!
First pull the leg and thigh away from the rest of the bird and cut at the thigh joint. Repeat on the other side.
Now slice each of the breasts off the bone, remove the wings, and you are ready to eat!
Accessories That Enhance Your Grilling Experience
Foolproof smoked spatchcocked chicken starts, of course, with a high quality grill!
Choose one with the space and features you need to optimize your experience. From there, you can go as simple or fancy as you want.
A good digital thermometer is also a must. Pulling your smoked meat off the pellet grill at just the right temperature is key to a high quality meal.
While instant read thermometers are great for a quick spot check of different parts of the chicken, dual Probe Wireless models let you track your meat’s overall progress without ever leaving your lawn chair!
Some good grilling tools are the next thing you need.
And, of course, a variety of wood pellets and brine mixes always helps!
Cleaning Your Pellet Grill
Pellet grills remain carefree during use as long as they are well maintained in between cooks.
After you use your grill, take the time to scrub down the grill grates. Remove any residue from inside the lid. Scrape down all the other parts, too, to remove debris.
Always use a good bristle free grill brush.
Don’t forget the grease chute and your thermometer.
Finally, vacuum out any ashy residue left in the . Then, rinse down and reassemble.
More Fun Pellet Grill Recipes!
Looking for some more inspiration for things to cook on your pellet grill?
Check out some of our favorite recipes below that can easily be modified to be done on a pellet grill.
- Smoked Turkey Breast with Cajun Butter Injection
- Smoked Fresh Ham with Dark Rum Citrus Glaze
- Smoked Leg of Lamb with Guinness Marinade
- Smoked Lamb Chops with a Balsamic Butter Sauce
- Smoked Rack of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary or Smoker
- Smoked and Pulled Lamb Shoulder with a Turkish Spice Rub
- Smoked Lamb Shanks
- Smoked Oysters in a Garlic White Wine Sauce
- Smoked Scallops with Lemon Garlic Drizzle
- Smoked Lobster Tails with Garlic Butter
- Smoked Bratwurst with Beer Braised Onions
- Smoked Gouda Cheese
- Smoked and Reverse Seared Ribeye Steaks
- Pellet Grilled Steaks
- Thanksgiving Pellet Smoked Turkey
- Smoked Asparagus
Spatchcocked BBQ Chicken on a Pellet Grill
- Pellet Grill
- Sharp Pair of Kitchen Shears
- Wood Pellets - Hickory, Oak, or Fruitwood
- Internal Meat Thermometers
- Carving Knife
- 1 Whole Chicken
- Your Favorite BBQ rub
- Kosher Salt and Pepper
Clean and Spatchcock the Chicken
- Clean, rinse, and pat dry the whole chicken well with paper towels.
- Trim any excess pieces of skin or fat off of the chicken
- Place the chicken on a cutting board with the breasts DOWN. The legs and wings wil also be pointing down.
- Using kitchen shears, cut along one side of the backbone from one end to the other, cutting all the way through.
- Repeat on the other side of the backbone and then remove the entire backbone.
- Flip the chicken back over, hold the sides, and press your thumbs against the breastbone in the center.
- Apply gentle pressure with your thumbs unil you hear a snap and then lay the chicken out flat on the cutting board.
Smoking the Chicken on the Pellet Grill
- Apply kosher salt, pepper, or your favorite BBQ rub to both sides of the spatchcocked chicken.
- Fill the hopper with pellets, start up pellet grill, and preheat to 300-350°F. If your BBQ rub has a lot of sugar in it, choose 300°F. If you only used salt and pepper, go ahead and use 325-350°F.
- Place the spatchcocked chicken on the pellet grill, directly on the grill grates with the breast side facing up.
- Place an internal temperature probe if you have one into the center of one of the breasts, and anohter one, if you have one, into the middle of one of the thighs.
- Close the lid, cook the spatchcocked chicken for about 1.5 to 2 hours.
- When the internal temperature of the breast has reached 165°F, and the internal temperature of the thigh hits 175°F, remove the chicken from the pellet grill.
Rest and Carve
- Let the chicken rest for 15-20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to distribute.
- Carve, plate, and serve immediately.