Learn how to smoke a whole chicken using a Pit Boss pellet grill, and why it is one of easiest, and tastiest, ways to smoke a whole chicken!
We take you step-by-step through preparing your whole chicken, setting up your Pit Boss for the cook, and smoking your chicken to perfection.
So for that reason we love smoking chicken around here.
But we thought, what could be easier, and tastier, than a simple smoked whole chicken right on our trusty Pit Boss pellet grill?
So let's jump in!
Rather WATCH than read? Check out the video on our YouTube Channel!
Prepare the 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.
There should not be too much trimming to do, but it doesn't hurt to clean the chicken up a bit before you start seasoning and cooking.
How to Get Crispy Skin
The problem with "most" smoked chicken is that while the meat inside gets tender and delicious, the skin is usually a little rubbery and unappetizing.
Smoking your whole chicken at a high enough temperature to render out the fat underneath the skin is important, but so is the seasoning and the way you do it.
If you want the crispiest skin possible at the end, it all starts with dry brining at the beginning.
This is what will separate you from all the chicken smoking amateurs out there.
It works on all cuts of chicken...and turkey too.
After cleaning and trimming, pat the chicken dry with some paper towels.
Then simply coat the inside and outside of your whole chicken with kosher salt, or your favorite BBQ rub.
Do NOT use oil to help the rub adhere. As you apply the rub, the skin will start to get wetter as the salt in the rub pulls the moisture up to the surface.
This is all the moisture you need to get the salt and rub to adhere.
Store the whole chicken on a wire rack set on top of a baking sheet in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
We like this wire rack and baking sheet combo because you want maximum airflow around every side of the whole chicken.
This overnight seasoning does 3 things:
- That salty moisture that formed on the surface will work its way BACK into the meat to help flavor the interior of the chicken.
- The salt inside will help the whole chicken retain moisture and not dry out while it smokes on the Pit Boss.
- It pulls moisture OUT of the skin allowing it to dry out before you smoke it and therefore crisp up better while it cooks.
Moist meat, and dry crispy skin.
Exactly what we want.
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 has taken all the moisture with it.
The skin will now crisp up nicely on the Pit Boss while the inside meat stays moist.
In the morning, if there is still A LOT of salt or seasoning on the outside, wipe it off with a dry or only slightly damp paper towel.
If you need to add MORE BBQ rub, go ahead and do this before putting it on the Pit Boss.
Pro Tip: DO NOT use cooking oil to help additional rub adhere to the chicken skin. The more oil you apply, the less the skin will crisp up when it cooks.
If really are having a hard time getting your BBQ rub to adhere, use the smallest amount of cooking oil possible to make it stick.
Our Favorite Rubs
We have a great BBQ Chicken Rub recipe from scratch below, but if you want something easy right off the shelf, check out Three Little Pigs Kansas City Championship BBQ Rub.
Its got a great flavor of not only typical BBQ seasonings but also onion, garlic, and even a little cayenne for some heat.
We love it on chicken!
Our Favorite Wood Pellets
You have a little freedom when it comes to choosing the right wood pellets to smoke a whole chicken on a Pit Boss.
Mesquite and hickory will give a very aggressive smoke flavor.
If that's not your thing, 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 in your Pit Boss!
For the best results, store your unused pellets in a sealed room temperature container like this 20 lb pellet container rather than in the Pit Boss hopper outside.
Pellets do not last forever, but will definitely last a LOT longer if stored indoors in a quality airtight container.
Extra Smoke Flavor
One of our favorite ways to add maximum smoke flavor is by using a hack we developed of turning a pellet box into a firebox filled with charcoal and real wood chunks. We find this gives us maximum smoke flavor when using a Pit Boss.
Check out our video for details on how to set it up.
We like using apple wood chunks with chicken.
Setting Up the Pit Boss
We have previously covered how to season a Pit Boss, how to start a Pit Boss, as well as how to troubleshoot the smoke level of your pellet grill.
So if you need a more in-depth review on how to use your Pit Boss for the first time, check those articles out first!
Set the Pit Boss temperature to 300°F, and let the grill come up to temperature.
While "Traditional BBQ" is cooked low and slow in the 225-250°F range, you will never get crispy skin on smoked whole chicken cooking at this temperature on your Pit Boss.
This is because the fat underneath the skin 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 used a rub or seasoning combination with NO sugar, feel free to bump the temperature to 350° or even 375°F for extra crispy skin.
Because our rub does have some sugar, we are going to start out cooking at 300°F and then finish at higher heat to crisp up the skin.
Put your whole chicken in the cooking chamber with the breasts pointed up and let the Pit Boss do its thing!
Place temperature probes, if you have them, in both one of the thighs and one of 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. You should rotate the chicken every so often during the cooking process to ensure it cooks evenly.
There really is no need to flip the chicken over, as the pellet grill provides indirect heat like an oven.
You are welcome to experiment and try cooking it "upside down" if you want, but you may lose some of your BBQ rub on the breasts against the grill grates.
A 6 lb whole chicken will take between 1.5-2 hours on a Pit Boss at 300°F.
It may take up to 2.5 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 chicken with anything while it is cooking on the Pit Boss.
Keep the lid closed as much as possible, and use the temperature probes to tell you when the chicken is done.
Target Internal Temperature
You'll want to monitor the internal temperature of both the chicken breast AND chicken thigh for doneness.
Your Pit Boss smoked whole 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've been rotating the chicken throughout the cook.
If you don't yet own an instant read thermometer, it's going to be hard to really know exactly when that chicken is done cooking on the pellet grill.
One of our go-to and very affordable favorites is this affordable one from ThermoPro.
If you prefer a leave-in thermometer you can just monitor from your phone while visiting with guests or doing other stuff, then check out our newest favorite, the MEATER leave in thermometer.
It is extremely accurate and has an incredible 165 foot Bluetooth range and works right with your smartphone so you don't need to carry a separate controller around with you like many other remote thermometers require.
It has a free app that is constantly being updated and even has an algorithm to predict how much longer your type of meat will take to cook based on cooking temperature, target temperature, and current internal temperature.
It's like a GPS for your meat!
If you want crispy skin on your chicken, turn the Pit Boss up to 400°F when the internal temperature of the breast meat reaches 120°F.
Continue cooking the chicken until the breasts reach 160°F and thigh reach 170°F to allow the meat to rest and come up to a final internal temperature of 165°F in the breasts and 175°F in the thighs.
Carving and Serving
Let the smoked whole chicken rest for about 20-30 minutes before carving and serving so that the juice stays in the meat where you want it.
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 breastbone, remove the wings, and you are ready to eat!
Smoked chicken is great on its own, or you can pair it with our maple bourbon smoked pineapple for a Hawaiian theme.
If you want something a little richer, check out our Sticky Smoked Sweet Potatoes to cook and serve alongside your Pit Boss smoked whole chicken.
Pit Boss Smoked Whole Chicken
- Pit Boss Pellet Grill
- Wood Pellets Hickory, Oak, or Fruitwood
- Large Cutting Board
- Paper Towels
- Large Baking Sheet with Wire Rack
- Internal Meat Thermometers
- Carving Knife
- Insulated BBQ Gloves
- 2 Whole Chickens
- Your Favorite BBQ rub or our "In a Pinch BBQ Rub" below
- 4 tablespoon Kosher Salt
- 1 tablespoon Fresh Course Ground Black Pepper
In a Pinch BBQ Rub
- 2 tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar
- 2 tablespoon Paprika
- 1 tablespoon Kosher Salt
- ½ tablespoon Course Ground Black Pepper
- ½ tablespoon Chili Powder
- ½ tablespoon Garlic Powder
- 1 teaspoon Onion Powder
- ¼ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper optional
Clean the Chicken
- Clean, rinse, and pat dry the whole chickens well with paper towels.2 Whole Chickens
- Trim any excess pieces of skin or fat off of the chickens.
Dry Brine Overnight
- Place the chickens on a wire rack placed on top of a baking sheet.
- Mix together the 4 tablespoon Kosher salt and 1 tablespoon pepper, or use your favorite BBQ rub, and sprinkle generously over the tops and bottoms of each chicken. DO NOT use cooking oil to adhere or skin will not get crispy.4 tablespoon Kosher Salt, 1 tablespoon Fresh Course Ground Black Pepper
- Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 4-6 hours.
Remove the Next Day
- Take the chickens out of the refrigerator and wipe off any excess salt still remaining on the outside with a damp paper towel.
- If you only used Salt and Pepper to Dry Brine, mix the In a Pinch BBQ Rub ingredients together and apply some to all sides of the chickens. Or add a little more of your favorite BBQ rub for chicken2 tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar, 2 tablespoon Paprika, 1 tablespoon Kosher Salt, ½ tablespoon Course Ground Black Pepper, ½ tablespoon Chili Powder, ½ tablespoon Garlic Powder, 1 teaspoon Onion Powder
Start the Pit Boss
- Add your chosen pellets to the hopper, start the Pit Boss pellet grill and put it on the "Smoke" setting.
- Once the Pit boss begins to produce thick white smoke, let it run for about 5-7 minutes until the smoke turns more of a clearish blue color. This means the fire rod has fully heated up to burn the pellets more cleanly.
- Next, set the temperature to preheat the Pit Boss pellet grill to 300°F.
Smoking the Whole Chicken on the Pit Boss Pellet Grill
- Position your seasoned whole chickens on the grates breasts up and the legs pointing to the hotter side of the grill.
- Place an internal temperature probe if you have one into the center of one of the breasts, and another one, if you have one, into the middle of one of the thighs.
- Close the lid. Rotate occasionally for even cooking.
- When the internal temperature of the breasts has reached 165°F, and the internal temperature of the thighs hits 175°F, carefully remove the chickens from the Pit Boss.
For Crispy Skin
- When the breast meat reaches 120°F, turn the Pit Boss up to 400°F and continue cooking until the chicken reaches the final target internal temperatures for both breast and thigh meat.
Rest and Carve
- Let the chickens rest for 15-20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to distribute.
- Carve, plate, and serve immediately.