Smoked spatchcock chicken (golden, crispy skin)

Photos for this recipe are from Erin Hungsberg (IG: erin_hungsberg)

Grilled chicken? Delicious, no doubt. But smoked spatchcock chicken? That’s the stuff of your backyard BBQ dreams!

If you’re looking for a way to take your grilling game up a notch, this smoked spatchcock chicken recipe is the perfect dish to try. The combination of a slow smoking process with the unique spatchcocking technique and simple dry rub results in tender, juicy chicken that’s full of all the good smoky flavors you’re craving!

Pair it up with delicious sides like my smoked mac and cheese with bacon and easy homemade coleslaw and you’ve got yourself the perfect meal!

Why you need to make this recipe

  • Incredibly juicy and tender: The slow smoking process at lower temperatures locks in moisture and tenderness, making this chicken so juicy that you’ll be tempted to eat it right off the grill!
  • Unique spatchcocking technique: Laying the chicken flat on the smoker with the spine removed allows for even browning and maximum surface area to absorb all the smoky goodness. It’s definitely my favorite way to cook a whole chicken!
  • Versatile: This recipe works with a variety of spices and herbs, so you can customize the flavor to your preferences. It’s also easy to pair with side dishes, from pasta and fried rice dishes to mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables.
  • Simple but impressive: This smoked spatchcock chicken looks and tastes like you spent all day in the kitchen, but it’s actually incredibly simple and only takes less than two hours to cook (depending on the size of the chicken).

What is spatchcocking?

Spatchcocking, similar to butterflying, is the process of splitting an entire chicken open, removing the backbone, and flattening it out for cooking. This technique allows the chicken to cook faster as all sides are evenly exposed to high heat at once, resulting in juicy, tender, and gorgeous chicken.

Why you should spatchcock a chicken

As funny as it sounds, spatchcocking a chicken (or any other poultry, really) is actually an incredibly effective way to prepare it for smoking. Aside from a shorter cooking time, the flattened shape allows for more surface area to be exposed to smoke, ending up with a more intense smoke flavor than traditional grilling methods.

With this technique, overcooking isn’t as much of a concern either. Since we’re flattening the chicken, every part of the chicken is evenly exposed to heat, making it juicy and tender without any dry spots or burnt bits. It also makes slicing and serving easier because you’ll be able to cut the chicken in one go instead of having to flip it over and slice it again.

Cooking a whole chicken

When you think of cooking a whole chicken, it’s usually by roasting the bird either in an oven or on a rotisserie. However, it can be time-consuming and it doesn’t always produce the most flavorful results.

Spatchcocking is an alternative cooking process that involves removing the backbone from the whole chicken to flatten it out for more even cooking and maximum flavor absorption. This means that you’ll have a cooked chicken in a fraction of the time it would take to roast it. Plus, you’re getting a good smoky flavor from the wood chips!

A typical whole chicken that’s 3 to 4 pounds can take up to four hours to cook (Depending on the temperature of your smoker), but the spatchcocking technique can significantly reduce that time, making it a great option for those who don’t have a lot of time to spare for cooking. Just make sure to pick up an instant read thermometer and check that the internal temperature of the chicken reads 165°F (breast) and 175°F (thighs).

Ingredients you will need

How to make smoked spatchcocked chicken 

The secret to an awesome dish? Preparation. First things first, you’ll need a properly thawed chicken that has been patted dry using paper towels to remove any excess moisture.

Next, you’ll want to spatchcock the chicken, which is just a fancy term for butterflying the bird. To do this, begin by cutting out the backbone or spine of the chicken using a pair of kitchen shears or a sharp knife.

Flip the bird over and push down onto the breastbone to flatten it out.

Once the chicken has been spatchcocked, cover it with olive oil as a binder to help the seasonings stick to it. Season on both sides with my easy smoked chicken dry rub or your favorite rub or seasoning blend, making sure to get into all the nooks and crannies. I’m only using essential pantry ingredients like brown sugar, kosher salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, dried thyme, garlic powder, and onion powder.

Preheat the smoker to 300°F and add your wood of choice. I like using pecan or cherry for chicken but feel free to experiment with other woods like apple, oak or even mesquite. Once the smoker is up to temp, place the chicken and cook until the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees F. This can take a couple of hours depending on how big your chicken is.

To get that golden, extra crispy skin, crank up the heat to 375°F and baste with butter a few times until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the breast reaches 165°F and the thighs reach at least 175°F. This usually takes around 10-15 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the smoker and let the chicken rest for at least 10 minutes before carving to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. Now that’s what I call delicious!

Sides that work with this recipe:

Creamy mashed potatoes

Smoked mac and cheese with bacon

Easy homemade coleslaw

Easy chimichurri sauce

Alabama white sauce

FAQs

Is it better to spatchcock a chicken for smoking?

Yes, spatchcocking a chicken is better for smoking because it ensures even coverage and prevents the bird from drying out as it cooks. The flattened shape also increases the surface area that can be seasoned with your favorite rubs and sauces, allowing you to fully coat the chicken in flavor. I can confidently say that it’s the best way to cook a whole bird!

What is the best temperature to smoke a spatchcock chicken?

The best temperature to smoke a spatchcock chicken is low and slow, between 250-300°F. You can increase the temperature towards the end of your cooking time to crisp up the skin until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Another approach is to start with a hot smoker (around 400°F) and then reduce the temperature once you’ve got that nice skin.

How do you keep chicken moist when smoking?

When smoking, you’d want to keep the temperature low and the smoke flowing to lock in all the moisture and juices inside. You can also use a wet rub to help the chicken retain moisture while it cooks. But since we’re using dry rub in this spatchcock chicken recipe, we’re covering the chicken with olive oil not only to help keep it moist but also to make the rub stick better.

Variations

  • Wood chips: Experiment with different types of wood chips to achieve your desired smoky flavor. Pecan and hickory are popular options, but you can also try apple, cherry, or maple for a unique taste.
  • Wet rubs: Instead of a dry rub, use wet mixtures like your favorite bbq sauce or marinade to add layers of flavor to your chicken. You can get creative and make your own with spices and herbs combined with liquids like neutral oils, lemon/lime juice, apple cider vinegar, orange juice, and Worcestershire sauce.
  • Herb butter: Soften a stick of butter and mix in your favorite herbs (thyme, rosemary, oregano). Use it to baste the chicken during the last few minutes of cooking for an additional boost of flavor!
  • Sauces: Prep some sauces to finish off your spatchcocked chicken. Alabama white sauce,  and chimichurri sauce are usually my go-to!
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Smoked spatchcock chicken (golden, crispy skin)

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The combination of smoking with the unique spatchcocking technique results in tender, juicy and smokey chicken that’s cooked evenly. 

  • Total Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
  • Yield: 6-8 1x

Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 whole chicken 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • 1 stick of melted butter 
  • 34 tablespoons of chicken rub

Instructions

  1. Spatchcock your chicken by removing the spine from the back using kitchen shear or a sharp knife. Cut along each side of the spine to remove. Then flip over and push down onto the breast bone to flatten. 
  2. Once chicken has been spatchcocked, cover with olive oil as a binder and season on both sides with smoked chicken rub or seasoning of your choice. 
  3. Place chicken onto a smoker at 300°F and cook until the internal temperature reaches 140°F. 
  4. Increase the heat on your smoker to 375°F and baste with melted butter a few times until the internal temperature of the breast reaches 165°F. (The thighs should be reading 175°F)
  5. Remove the chicken from the smoker and let it reset for 10 minutes before carving. 
  • Author: Jordan Hanger
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 2 hours
  • Category: Main
  • Method: Smoking
  • Cuisine: American

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