How Long Does It Take to Smoke a Chicken?

Why Smoke Chicken to Begin With?

Every summer, chicken is often roasted or grilled because not a lot of people are aware of its meat’s hidden flavors that smoking brings out.

Luckily, chicken is fairly easy to smoke once you get to know the basics: smoking temperature and timing.

We have created a brief guide telling you how long to smoke a chicken and what temperature to smoke it in.

Factors That Affect Chicken’s Smoking Time

To start, let us discuss the factors that affect the length of your smoking time.

Cooking Temperature

The effect of your cooking temperature on your total smoking time is no rocket science. The hotter you cook, the sooner you are done. Measure the temperature in the right area. It is on the surface, a couple of inches away from the little circle of cool air around the cooking meat.

If your smoker has a thermometer installed in the middle of the lid, it will give you an average reading of the temperatures on the right and the left sides. It will not give you a reliable reading if you have a two-zone setup, in which case there will be a huge difference between the temperatures on both sides, and two cool air regions to measure.

To get an accurate temperature reading, invest in a reliable digital meat thermometer. We do not even recommend just settling for the one that your smoker comes with since those tend to conk out pretty quickly.

Meat Cut and Thickness

Generally, tough cuts get even harder the hotter the cooking temperature is, while tender cuts become more tender when cooked over low heat. Contrary to what many believe, it is not the meat’s weight that directly affects smoking time. Rather, it is the thickness of the cut.

Why is that so? Essentially, any meat is done if and when the temperature in the center has reached your desired temperature. The thicker your meat, the longer it will take the heat to get to its center. The thinner your meat is, the quicker your smoking time will be.

So although the weight is somehow related to your meat’s thickness, it is the thickness that you are really working with here. If you have a little more time to spare, you can calculate the time it will take you to cook using a formula suggested by Nathan Myhrvold, the physicist and author behind the book “Modernist Cuisine: “The Art and Science of Cooking.”

Based on that formula, as the meat’s thickness doubles, its cooking time more or less quadruples. For example, a piece of meat that measures 8in in thickness will take four times as long than a 4in thick meat to smoke. This is all just theory, though. There are other subfactors under meat thickness and type that can potentially impact smoking time. However, it is a good place to start.

Cooking Method

There are different ways you can smoke your chicken and that affects your smoking time too. Cooking your chicken directly above your heat source will result in a much quicker smoking time than cooking it using an indirect source will.

Wrapping it in foil will also help speed up your smoking time. The same thing happens when you cook your chicken over thick and widely spread grates, as they can conduct heat more efficiently.

Environmental Factors

The temperature and the wind surrounding your smoker affect the length of your smoking time, too. Basically, low surrounding temperature and cool winds will push cool air through your smoker’s vents and cool your coals while hotter air will do the opposite. Humidity, on the other hand, is a huge factor most of the time. It just does not have that much of an effect when you are smoking chicken, which does not really take that long.

The less humid the environment around your pit is, the more moisture you lose, resulting in a longer smoking time. If you live in an area with a relatively low ambient humidity, you can try putting a water pan inside the cooker itself to minimize moisture loss. Finally, consider altitude. The higher you are, the less oxygen your fire gets and the faster your food and cooker’s surface temperature cool down. In summary, a higher altitude means a slower cook.

Chicken’s Smoking Time

Let us get down to business and discuss the average smoking time for whole chicken and different chicken parts. Please keep in mind, though, that these are only averages.

Your results may still vary depending on the factors we mentioned earlier and a number of other things that may be outside of your control.

To start, know that these smoking times are based on the assumption that you are working with the ideal smoker temperature of 250F and the recommended finishing temperature of 165F

Quick Tips

  • Smoked chicken does not stop cooking the instant you pull it out of your smoker. You can take it out a couple of degrees shy of your target internal temperature to avoid overcooking.
  • The thermometer is your best friend when smoking. Use one instead of relying on sight and touch (not recommended!) to determine your chicken’s and your cooker’s temperature.
  • Some smokers have built-in thermometers that prompt the cooker to stop once the target temperature is reached. Unless you strictly prefer to do it old school, you can probably try one of these.
  • If you are considering using apple wood, remember that its smoke does not permeate meat as easily as other kinds of wood do. However, its mild and fruity flavor remains a good complement to chicken.
  • Chicken meat is lean, so make sure to brine it for at least four hours before smoking.
  • Serve smoked chicken with crispy skin simply by cranking up the heat during the last 20 to 25 minutes of smoking. A temperature window of 300 to 325F should be enough to crisp up the fat on the skin.
  • Air dry your bird before smoking it. A dry chicken can absorb smoke better than a moist one.
  • Putting a sugar-rich rub or sauce on your chicken will make the meat cook way faster.

Chicken’s Smoking Time Can Be Tricky…

But it’s not rocket science. With a little extra attention, you can serve juicy smoked chicken easily and quickly. Chicken is delicious when smoked but is also terribly prone to overcooking due to its lean meat. This makes it even more important for you to know what temperature to smoke chicken in and how long you have to smoke it.

To sum it up, a whole chicken and chicken breasts should take about 30 to 45 minutes to finish smoking. Quarters, meanwhile, take three to four hours while thighs, legs, and wings take between 1.5 to two hours. These are just averages, though. Remember that there are several factors that can, directly and indirectly, affect your cooking time, and you have to take them into consideration.

Smoking a Whole Chicken

The good thing about serving smoked chicken is that it does not cost a lot and does not take too long. Chicken is also healthy and amazingly tasty if properly prepared, cooked, and flavored.

The general rule for smoking a whole chicken is to allow 30 to 45 minutes of cooking time per pound.

Smoking Chicken Thighs and Legs

Serve smoked chicken thighs or legs for a juicier, more flavorful dinner. By nature, the thigh is one of the moistest parts of a chicken and the smoking process enhances that further. In addition, chicken’s thighs contain a higher fat content relative to other chicken parts. Smoking absolutely loves fat.

Smoking breaks it all down, resulting in a richer flavor for the meat. On average, it should take you anywhere between 1.5 to two hours to smoke thighs and legs successfully.

Smoking Chicken Quarters

Smoked chicken quarters are good for slightly big meals that do not require too much effort to make. Grab pre-cut pieces at the supermarket, brine them in the most basic brine recipe you know, and start smoking.

Under ideal conditions, smoking a chicken quarter should not take more than three to four hours.

Smoking Chicken Breasts

If you are preparing for friends who are not into dark meat, smoked chicken breasts would make a nice, delicious surprise. Breasts taste best when marinated and smoked with the flavor of hickory wood.

Sometimes, you can finish smoking chicken breasts in around half the time it takes to smoke a whole chicken. To be safe, though, you can cook it at the same rate–30 to 45 minutes per pound.

You can’t go wrong with all-time crowd favorite, smoked chicken wings. Throw them inside your smoker for 1.5 to two hours and serve your version of this juicy pub favorite.