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.
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!
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 chickens up a bit before you start seasoning and cooking on the Traeger.
Dry Brining for 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.
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.
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.
We also like this Texas Sugar BBQ Rub from Meat Church.
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 on a wire set on top of a baking sheet in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours but ideally 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:
- 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 Traeger.
- 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.
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.
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! You can create your own custom blend.
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.
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.
We like to do a 2-step process when smoking a whole chicken. First we cook the chicken at 300°F to get good smoke flavor until it reaches 120°F internally in the breast meat. Then, we turn the heat up to 375°F to finish cooking and crisp up the skin.
Setting Up the Traeger Pellet Grill
If you are new to pellet grilling, you can check out those articles and our Complete Guide to Understanding How a Pellet Grill Works.
Add your pellets to the hopper, start the Traeger and allow it to go through the startup cycle, then set it to 300°F to preheat.
Make sure that the drip pan is in place and that the grease bucket is hanging in place. Use a grease bucket liner to minimize cleanup later.
Using a good bristle free grill brush, clean off the grill grates if there is any leftover stuck on food from the last cook.
Adding More Smoke Flavor
If you find your Traeger isn't producing good smoke flavor, make sure you go through the checklist outlined in Pellet Grill Not Making Enough Smoke.
Pellet grills will never give as much smoke flavor as you will get using an offset smoker with real wood logs or a charcoal smoker like the Weber Smokey Mountain.
That being said, there are several great options to augment the smoke flavor on your pellet grill.
For chicken, we really love apple wood.
Positioning the Chicken on the Grill
We like to cook our chicken breast side up the entire time.
If your grill has a hotter side, position the chicken with the legs toward that side. The dark meat can take more direct heat without drying out than the breast meat.
Make sure you rotate the chicken occasionally during the cook to ensure even cooking.
Always use good insulated grill gloves when rotating or moving the whole chicken around.
We prefer to use cloth glove liners inside of disposable food-safe nitrile gloves to be able to touch the hot chicken and grate directly without hurting our hands. These are also useful when handling the hot chicken during carving.
We are huge proponents of using temperature, not time, as guide to knowing when food is finished cooking. It is still helpful to have a general guide to know how to time your meal.
A 6 lb whole chicken will take between 1.5-2 hours on a Traeger at 300°F.
It may take up to 2 hours or more if you have a really large chicken, if it is cold outside, and if you open the lid a lot during the cook.
For example, when we cooked an 8 lb whole roaster chicken, it took 2 hours at 300°F and another 1 hour at 375°F to crisp the skin and finish cooking, for a total of 3 hours.
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 temperature probes to tell you when the smoked whole 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 chicken is finished cooking 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. You can pull the chicken off about 5 degrees shy of the target temperature, as it will continue to rise slightly in temperature during resting.
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 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.
The free app 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!
Carving the Chicken 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!
Traeger smoked whole 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 Traeger smoked whole chicken.
Traeger Smoked Whole Chicken
- 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
- 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 Chickens
- 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 the Chickens 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 and sprinkle generously over the tops and bottoms of each chicken. Alternatively, use your favorite BBQ rub or the In a Pinch BBQ Rub above. DO NOT use cooking oil to adhere or skin will not get crispy.4 tablespoon Kosher Salt, 1 tablespoon Fresh Course Ground Black Pepper, Your Favorite BBQ rub or our "In a Pinch BBQ Rub" below
- Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
Start the Traeger Pellet Grill
- Load the hopper of the Traeger with your chosen wood 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.
- Close the lid and turn the temperature dial to 300°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.
Smoke the Chickens
- Position your seasoned whole chickens on the grates breasts up and the legs pointing to the hotter side of the grill, if applicable.
- 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 the chicken occasionally during the cooking process to ensure even cooking.
Crisp the Skin
- When the internal temperature of the breast meat reaches 120°F, turn the heat up to 375°F.
- Continue cooking until the internal temperature of the breasts has reached 160°F, and the internal temperature of the thighs hits 170°F.
- Carefully remove the chickens from the Traeger.
Rest and Carve
- Let the chickens rest for 15-20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to distribute and the final internal temperature to rise to 165°F in the breast meat and 175°F in the thigh meat.
- Carve and serve immediately.