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How to Smoke a Whole Chicken on a Traeger Pellet Grill

Learn how to smoke a whole chicken on a Traeger pellet grill, and why it is an easy, great way to smoke a whole chicken.

We overnight dry brine the whole chicken, then set the Traeger to smoke this whole chicken perfectly.

a whole chicken smoked on a traeger pellet grill

We’ve previously done our famous beer can chicken, spatchcocked chicken, and even some simple smoked chicken leg quarters.

But we thought, what could be easier, and tastier, than a Traeger smoked whole chicken right on our trusty Traeger pellet grill?

So let’s jump in!

 

How to Prepare a Whole Chicken for the Traeger Pellet Grill

Clean and Trim the Whole Chickens

Take some time to clean, rinse and dry your whole chicken(s) with paper towels after removing them from the packaging.

trimming the fat and skin from a whole chicken

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 the chickens up a bit before you start seasoning and cooking on the Traeger.

 

How to get Crispy Skin on your Traeger Smoked Whole Chicken

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.

So if you want the crispiest skin possible at the end, it all starts with dry brining at the beginning.

a whole smoked chicken on a cutting board with crispy skin

 

Dry Brine the Whole Chicken to Smoke on the Traeger

After cleaning and trimming, simply coat the inside and outside of your whole chicken with kosher salt, or your favorite BBQ rub with salt in it.

seasoning a whole chicken to smoke

Do NOT use oil to help the rub adhere.

As you apply the rub the skin will start to get more wet 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(s) it on a wire set on top of a baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight.

We like this wire rack and baking sheet combo because you want maximum airflow around every side of the whole chicken as it brines and the skin dries.

This overnight seasoning does 3 things:

  1. That salty moisture that formed on the surface will work its way BACK into the meat to help flavor the interior of the chicken.
  2. The salt inside will help the whole chicken retain moisture and not dry out while it smokes on the Traeger.
  3. 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, flavorful 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 Traeger 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 Traeger.

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 you really are having a hard time getting your BBQ rub to adhere, use the smallest amount of cooking oil possible to make it stick.

 

The Best Rub for a Traeger Smoked Whole Chicken

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.

It’s 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!

 

The Best Pellets for Smoking a Whole Chicken on a Traeger Pellet Grill

When it comes to choosing the right wood pellets to smoke a whole chicken on a Traeger, you need to be a a little selective.

loading pellets into a traeger hopper

Chicken, like most fish, absorbs smoke flavor much faster than say pork chops or a beef roast.

Mesquite and hickory will give a very aggressive smoke flavor and we’d only recommend using them on Traeger smoked whole chicken if you mix them in with some milder woods.

Pecan, apple, beech, alder, and cherry all give great milder 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, there’s no reason you can’t mix a bunch of different kinds of pellets together in your Traeger!

For the best results, store your unused pellets in a sealed room temperature container like this 20 lb pellet container rather than in the Traeger hopper outside.

Pellets do not last forever, but will definitely last a LOT longer if stored indoors in a quality airtight container.

 

How a Traeger Pellet Grill Works

In order to cook ANYTHING well on a Traeger pellet grill, you need to first have a basic understanding of how a pellet grill works.

***Completely New to Using a Traeger Pellet Grill?  No Worries!****

We’ve previously covered how to start a Traeger, how to season a Traeger, how to change the pellets in a Traeger, and even how to troubleshoot a Traeger that won’t ignite.

Or hop over and check out this Complete Guide to Understanding How a Pellet Grill Works first if you are interested in learning more.  We’ll be here when you get back!

 

Add your Hardwood Pellets

First, you add hardwood pellets into the side hopper.

The Traeger 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.

wood pellets in a traeger grill

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.

 

How to Start up the Traeger

There is a specific start up process for the Traeger brand pellet grills you can read all about in depth here if you aren’t sure how to fire it up the first time.

Otherwise, here is the basic process for how to start a Traeger before throwing on your food:

  • Plug in the grill.
  • Flip the power switch to ON and turn the dial to “Smoke”.
  • You will hear the fan kick on and the auger start to move and begin to kick pellets into the fire pot.  Your fire rod will begin to heat up as well.the fire rod heating up when starting a traeger pellet grill
  • Leave the lid open for about 5-7 minutes until you start to see white billowing smoke come out of the grill.  This happens when the pellets are first igniting.a traeger grill starting to make smoke
  • Once a smoke is being produced, close the lid and change the temperature dial to your desired temperature setting.
  • Allow about 10-15 minutes to preheat the grill.
  • While you are waiting, make sure you’ve got the drip pan in place and the grease bucket hanging to catch any grease that comes out during the cook.  Use a grease bucket liner to minimize cleanup later.
  • Put your grates on if they aren’t already in place.
  • Using a good bristle free grill brush, clean off the grill grates if there is any leftover stuck on food from the last cook.
  • When the pellet grill comes up to temperature go ahead and put on your food!

Why Bristle Free Grill Brushes? 

Check out our Ultimate Guide to How to Keep your Family Safe by using ONLY Bristle Free Grill Brushes, along with a selection of some of our favorites!

 

Here’s a great example from Jouppi Outdoors of how to smoke a whole chicken on a Traeger pellet grill:

How to Smoke a Whole Chicken on a Traeger Pellet Grill

What Temperature do you Smoke a Whole Chicken on a Traeger Pellet Grill?

Set the temperature to 325°F, and let the Traeger come up to temperature.

 

setting a traeger pellet grill to 325 degrees F

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 Traeger.

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.

 

How Long Does it Take to Smoke a Whole Chicken on a Traeger?

Put your whole chicken in the middle of the cooking chamber with the breasts pointed up and  legs pointed to the right (the hotter side) and let the Traeger do its thing!

a whole smoked chicken on a traeger pellet grill

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 whole chicken around.

There really is no need to flip the chicken over as the Traeger provides indirect heat like an oven.

You are welcome to experiment and try cooking it “upside down” if you want through, but you may lose some of your BBQ rub on the breasts against the grill grates.

A 4 lb whole chicken will take between 1-1.5 hours on a Traeger at 325°F. 

It may take up to 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 chicken with anything while it is cooking on the Traeger.

Keep the lid closed as much as possible, and use the temperature probes to tell you when the smoked whole chicken is done.

 

How Do You Know When a Whole Chicken is Done Smoking on a Traeger?

You’ll want to monitor the internal temperature of both the chicken breast AND chicken thigh for doneness.

checking the temperature of a whole chicken smoking on a traeger pellet grill

Your Traeger 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 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 waterproof model made by Kuluner.

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’s got a great 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!

Anyways, back to our chicken…

 

Carving and Serving a Traeger Smoked Whole Chicken

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.

carving a traeger smoked whole chicken

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!

Traeger smoked whole chicken is great on its own, or you can pair it with our maple bourbon smoked pineapple for a Hawaiian theme.

Smoked broccoli, smoked asparagus, smoked carrots, and even smoked cauliflower are great if you’re eating healthy.

If you want something a little richer, check out our Sticky Smoked Sweet Potatoes to cook and serve alongside your Traeger smoked whole chicken.

Enjoy!

 

What Else Can I Smoke on my Traeger Pellet Grill?

So glad you asked!

white smoke coming out of a traeger pellet grill

Here’s some more fun recipes to try that can all easily be adapted to be made on a Traeger pellet grill!

Pork

 

Beef

 

Seafood

 

Poultry

 

Lamb

 

Other Odds and Ends

a whole chicken smoked on a traeger pellet grill

Traeger Smoked Whole Chicken

Our Traeger Smoked Whole Chicken is seasoned and dry brined overnight to get the most flavor and crispiest skin possible.
We then review step by step how to set up your Traeger pellet grill to perfectly smoke this whole chicken.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 30 mins
Dry Brine Time 12 hrs
Total Time 1 hr 50 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, Australian, barbecue, BBQ, Smoked
Servings 5 people
Calories 650 kcal

Equipment

  • Traeger 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

Ingredients
  

  • 2 Whole Chickens
  • Your Favorite BBQ rub or our "In a Pinch BBQ Rub" below

Dry Brine

  • 4 Tbsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Fresh Course Ground Black Pepper

In a Pinch BBQ Rub

  • 2 Tbsp Dark Brown Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp Paprika
  • 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt
  • ½ Tbsp Course Ground Black Pepper
  • ½ Tbsp Chili Powder
  • ½ Tbsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 Tsp Onion Powder
  • ¼ Tsp Cayenne Pepper optional

Instructions
 

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.
    trimming a whole chicken before smoking

Dry Brine the Chicken Overnight

  • Place the chickens on a wire rack placed on top of a baking sheet.
  • Mix together the 4 Tbsp Kosher salt and 1 Tbsp 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 Tbsp Kosher Salt, 1 Tbsp Fresh Course Ground Black Pepper, Your Favorite BBQ rub or our "In a Pinch BBQ Rub" below
    seasoning a whole chicken to smoke
  • 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 chicken
    2 Tbsp Dark Brown Sugar, 2 Tbsp Paprika, 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt, ½ Tbsp Course Ground Black Pepper, ½ Tbsp Chili Powder, ½ Tbsp Garlic Powder, 1 Tsp Onion Powder, ¼ Tsp Cayenne Pepper

Start the Traeger Pellet Grill

  • Load the hopper of the Traeger with your chosen wood pellets.
    traeger hopper filled with pellets
  • Turn on the Traeger and move the dial to the "Smoke" setting.
  • Leave the lid open for 5-7 minutes until you start seeing white billowing smoke coming out of the grill. This means the initial pellets are igniting.
    traeger pellet grill making thick white start up smoke
  • Close the lid and turn the temperature dial to 325°F. Allow 10-15 minutes for the grill to come up to temperature.
  • Clean the grill grates with a good grill brush and close the lid again.

Smoking the Whole Chicken on the Traeger Pellet Grill

  • Position your seasoned whole chickens on the grates breasts up and the legs pointing to the hotter RIGHT side of the grill.
    a whole smoked chicken on a traeger pellet 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.
  • 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 Traeger.
    checking the temperature of a whole chicken smoking on a traeger pellet grill

Rest and Carve

  • Let the chickens rest for 15-20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to distribute.
  • Carve, plate, and serve immediately.
    carving a traeger smoked whole chicken

Nutrition

Calories: 650kcal
Keyword barbecue chicken, BBQ Chicken, BBQ Smoked Chicken, Dry Brine, pellet grill, Pellet Grill Chicken, Smoked Chicken, smoked whole chicken, traeger, Traeger Chicken, Traeger Smoked Chicken, Traeger Whole Chicken
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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