There’s nothing quite like a whole roasted chicken for a good dinner. There’s no need for a celebration or anything fancy; roast chicken is good enough for a nice occasion, yet humble enough for a no-stress weeknight. And what could make it even better? Smoke! Smoked whole chicken is a pure delight, especially if you cook it correctly. And one fun way to do that is in a barrel cooker. We looked at this recipe from Jeff Phillips of SmokingMeat.com for a whole hanging chicken, and loved the thermal principles at play, so we thought we’d pass it on to you. Read about why it works and how to do it below!
Why smoke a chicken hanging in a barrel?
Before we get to how, let’s talk for a second about why we think this method is particularly good. As you know from reading this blog is the past (unless you’re new here—in which case, welcome!) different parts of the chicken are best when cooked to different temperatures. Breast is best if not cooked above 160°F (71°F), but thigh and leg meat isn’t even very good at all until it’s over 170°F (77°C). (If the idea of chicken cooked below 160°F scares you, you should read our post about chicken internal temperatures. Juicier chicken awaits!)
Of course, this can make cooking a chicken properly somewhat difficult—but that desired differential is what makes the barrel a perfect place to cook your chicken. See, if you hang your chicken with a hook through the breast, it will hang so that the thighs are pointed more directly at the fire. They will absorb more direct heat than the breasts because they are closer to and facing the coals. The breasts, meanwhile, will not get the radiative heat, and thus will cook more slowly.
So in the time that it takes to get your breasts to 157°F (69°C), your thighs have a much better shot of getting up to 175°F (79°C), where they really start to get good.
You’ll want to monitor the breast meat’s temperature during the cook. Breast meat has a very small window of doneness between unsafe and dry, so that’s where you want to put your probes for monitoring. We used our Smoke X2™ to monitor both the pit temp and our chicken temp while we cooked, then verified the breast temp with our Thermapen® ONE and checked the thigh temp to see where it had landed—exactly where we wanted it to! Juicy breasts, tender thighs and legs—perfection.
How to smoke a hanging chicken
To make sure our chicken skin is crisper and tastier than usual for smoked birds, we’re upping the temp a little bit. Get your barrel running at 275°F (135°C). To monitor that temp, hang your Smoke X2’s Pro-Series® air probe over one of the bars so that it’s about as far from the coals as your chicken will be. This will give you a more accurate reading of what your chicken is experiencing.
Season your chicken well, then impale it on a hook inserted into the neck cavity and through the ribcage up through one of the breasts. Impaling the front of the bird will help point the thighs towards the coals, like we want. Insert a probe (this a great use case for the 2.5″ needle probe) into the thermal center (deepest part) of one breast, and set the high-temp alarm for 157°F (69°C).
As we said above, you’ll cook until that high-temp alarm goes off, then verify the temps with your Thermapen ONE. The results are smoky, tender, juicy, and delicious.
This smoked whole chicken is a no-fuss, dish that delivers big on flavor and tastiness. Pair it with potatoes, rice, pasta, even, and it turns into a whole meal that impresses. And with the assurance you get from Smoke X2 that you’ve cooked it at the right temperature and to the right temperature, you can know you’re feeding your family food that is as safe as it is tasty. Heat up the barrel, give it a try, and enjoy! Happy cooking!Print
Adapted from Jeff Phillips’ recipe at Smoking-Meat.com
- 1 whole chicken
- 3 Tbsp oil
- 2–3 Tbsp your favorite poultry rub (or combination thereof)
- Preheat your barrel smoker to 275°F (135°C). Hang the air probe for your Smoke X2 in the pit at the level your chicken will be. Set the high-temp alarm for 300°F (149°C) and your low-temp alarm for 250°F (121°C). Add a chunk of your desired smoking wood to the coals.
- While the barrel heats, pat the chicken dry with paper towels and rub it all over with oil.
- Liberally season the bird all over with your desired rub(s).
- Stick a hook into the neck hole and through one breast, going between the bones of the ribcage.
- Insert a probe into the thickest part of the breast and hang the bird in the smoker from one of the horizontal bars.
- Set the high-temp alarm on your Smoke X2 to 157°F (69°C).
- Close the smoker lid and cook. You can take the receiver from the Smoke X2 into the house with you; it will continue to communicate.
- When the high-temp alarm sounds on the chicken, check the temperature with your Thermapen ONE. If you don’t find anything lower than 157°F (69°C), the chicken is done!
- Remove the bird from the smoker and let it rest for 10 minutes before carving.
- Slice in and enjoy!