This Juicy Spatchcock Smoked Chicken is easy, flavorful, and sure to please.
Few things are better than truly well prepared chicken. If you’re like me, you eat so much chicken during the week that you forget that chicken can taste really good when done right.
This recipe does chicken right.
The chicken is spatchcocked so that it will cook evenly and quickly. It’s been brined overnight and will come out of the smoker plump and juicy. The skin has been coated in a cajun seasoning and crisped before serving. There’s no way this chicken won’t impress guests at your next gathering.
What is spatchcocking?
Spatchcoking is the act of breaking or removing the spine of a bird (like a chicken or turkey), so that all of the meat lies level and flat. The concept is similar to butterflying a filet, but takes a bit more work because you have to break some of the bones and press the bird flat.
Why would you do this? In part because it quickens the cook time by exposing more surface area of the meat to heat (a half inch thick steak cooks faster than an inch thick steak). I also like that it’s a bit easier to carve the chicken this way, since its laying flat and all of the good parts are exposed. Lastly, it looks neat!
Spatchcocking chicken in three steps!
- Orient the bird so that the opening faces you and the back is up. Feel inside, you’ll notice where the spine runs up the middle of the chicken.
- Using a strong pair of kitchen shears and some forearm strength, cut along each side of the spine, breaking it free from the ribs and meat.
- After the spine is removed, flip the chicken so that the breasts are now up and press down on the middle of the bird. You’ll hear some bones crack and the bird will now lay flat.
Why you should brine your Spatchcock Smoked Chicken
Smoking inherently dries things out, so much so that it’s a preferred method to dry peppers and jerky. Fatty cuts of beef and pork produce enough of their own juices that in most cases that can out of a smoke perfectly juicy and delicious.
Lean cuts of meat, such as chicken or turkey, don’t produce nearly as much of their own juices and have a greater risk of drying out in a smoker. By brining the chicken we can ensure the meat stays juicy.
When I say brining, I’m referring to the act of making a kind of salty flavorful broth and soaking the raw chicken in it for 8-24 hours prior to spatchcocking. This soak will pull into the chicken the salt, water, and flavors from the brine.
The end result of brining is a chicken that is super juicy, with salt and flavor soaked through the meat. As it smokes, some of the water will evaporate off, but you’ll be left with incredibly juicy meat.
Tips for brining a chicken
- The type of salt you use matters, at least with respect to how it’s measured. By convention salt is typically measured by volume (in tsp or tbsp), which means the size of your salt grains determine how much salt mass gets added. So even though the salt gets completely dissolved into the brine, it’s important to use coarse salt, because the same measurement of table salt will make a brine that is too salty.
- Let your brine completely cool before adding the chicken. Warm or hot brine will promote bacterial growth on the chicken, which is no good. Plan to make your brine a couple hours before actually submerging it. My recipe actually boils the brine with half the required water, and then I add the other half as cold water at the end to help bring the temperature down. Then I stick it in the fridge until it’s at least at room temperature.
- Don’t worry if the brine does not completely submerged the chicken. I brine the chicken breast and legs down, since those are the important parts. If the back is sticking above the water line, that will be ok, since we won’t be eating much meat from it.
- Get creative. You can use lemons or limes instead of oranges, and you can change up the spices as desired. The only critical component is the salt to water ratio.
How to get crispy skin on a juicy spatchcock smoked chicken
A lot of smoker chicken recipes advocate smoking the chicken rotisserie style. By slowly rotating the meat as it cooks the skin gets evenly cooked and crispy. I’ve had it before and it’s amazing.
But who has a rotisserie for their smoker? If I did, I’d use it, but I don’t.
You can still get delicious crispy skin, and there are a couple ways to do it.
- When your chicken hits 155F, crank up your smoker to the maximum temperature until the meat reaches 165F. The smoker will start cooking the outside skin of the chicken much faster than the internal meat of the chicken. By the time the meat reaches 165, the skin will be crispy and delicious.
- When the chicken hits 155F, bring it inside and finish the skin in the broiler. This adds an extra dish and appliance, but is probably faster than finishing the chicken on the smoker. You can think of it as a reverse sear, but for chicken. Don’t worry about the smoke, the chicken will have picked up all the smoke flavor it’s going to by the time it hits 155F. Remember to cook until the chicken reaches 165F.
Tips for smoking a spatchcocked chicken
- Be careful running your smoker at max temperature. We had an instance where the fire spread back to our hopper on our pellet grill. Make sure to smoke in a well ventilated outdoor space, that you make sure the smoker is completely safe before putting it away, and to follow your smoker’s instructions.
- Make sure your temperature probe is placed deep into the chicken breast. Because the chicken is coated in skin, it isn’t always easy to make sure the probe is deep into the meat of the bird, and also not touching a bone. If the probe isn’t deep enough, or picks up radiated heat from a bone, you’ll undercook the chicken.
- Spatchcock after brining. The bird will be less of a wet mess while it’s all together still.
- If you’re using a pellet grill, use a smoke tube. Smoke tubes are filled with pellets and smolder inside the cooking chamber. This will add a healthy dose of smoke to your pellet grill.
What to do with leftover smoked chicken
I took my leftover juicy spatchcock smoked chicken and made green enchilada casserole. The smoked chicken added a delightful flavor, and worked perfectly with my smoked green enchilada sauce.
You can also use the chicken to make leftover tacos! Just replace the rib meat with chicken meat and you’re good to go.
How to make Juicy Spatchcock Smoked Chicken
Juicy Spatchcock Smoked Chicken
- 1 Smoker
- 1 large pot big enough to hold the chicken
- 4-5 lb Young Chicken
- 2 quarts water
- ⅓ cup coarse salt
- 2 oranges, quartered
- 2 tbsp minced garlic
- ¼ cup honey
- 3 dry bay leaves
- 3-4 sprigs rosemary
- 3-4 sprigs thyme
- 3-4 sprigs oregano
- 1 dried pepper (optional)
Chicken Dry Rub
- 2 tbsp paprika
- 2 tbsp brown sugar, packed
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 2 tbsp coarse salt
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tbsp ground pepper
- ½ tsp smoked gochugaru (or cayenne pepper)
Brining the Chicken
- Start by removing any giblets and other parts from inside your chicken (if your chicken came with those.) Cut off any gross bits and large fat chunks from the bird. I had a few spots near the tail I cut off.
- Prepare the brine in a pot large enough to hold the chicken and the brine. Start by adding half the water to the pot (1 quart) and add all of the other brine ingredients.
- Bring the brine to a boil, and stir until all of the salt is dissolved.
- Let the brine simmer for a minute, then turn off the burner. Add the other half of the water (1 quart) as cold tap water, and mix the brine.
- Set the brine on a hot pad in your fridge until it comes down to room temperature. Do not add the chicken to warm or hot brine.
- Once the brine is cool, place the chicken into the brine so that the breast and legs are down and submerged. Don’t worry if the back isn’t completely submerged.
- Let the chicken soak in the brine for 8-24 hours. Don’t go past 24 hours or the chicken will be way too salty to eat. I targeted 12 hours and was very happy with the result.
Spatchcock the chicken
- Remove the chicken from the brine and let it drip or dry it off. Lay it out on a cutting board, back side up. Feel inside the chicken and locate where the spine is.
- Using a strong pair of kitchen shears, cut up along each side of the spine, breaking it free from the ribs and meat. Tip: I had good luck making sure to fully open the shears and cut near the pivot/back of the shears. This lets me apply more force to break through the cartilage.
- Discard the spine and flip the chicken over breast side up. Either by pushing down on the center of the breasts, or by grabbing each breast and flexing, push the chicken flat. You’ll hear some slight cracking, and the breasts, legs, and wings will all sit flat on the cutting board.
- Mix the spice rub ingredients and rub down the entire outside of the chicken.
Smoke the chicken
- Preheat your smoker to 225-250F. I started at 225F. Make sure your water tray is full, and if you’re using a smoke tube start it now.
- Smoke the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 155F.
- Raise the smoker temperature to its maximum. This crisps the skin while the chicken is finishing cooking. Be sure to follow all safety precautions applicable to your smoker.
- When the chicken reaches 165F, bring it inside and let it rest for five minutes.Carve like a turkey, cutting off the breasts, legs, thighs, and wings. Serve and enjoy 🙂