This smoked spatchcock chicken is smoky, juicy, and perfectly cooked. It’s made by flattening the chicken to cook it evenly and quickly and a simple spice rub that adds flavor without being too complicated. If you use coconut sugar instead of brown sugar, this chicken is also paleo.
Have you ever heard of spatchcocking? It’s a technique where you cut a whole chicken, removing the backbone to flatten the bird.
It’s a great way to prepare a whole chicken because it allows the heat to penetrate more steadily, resulting in evenly cooked, succulent chicken. In this Smoked Chicken Quarters recipe, it’s easy enough just to season and pop the chicken quarters in the smoker, but with a whole chicken, it’s faster and more efficient to spatchcock the chicken to ensure the entire bird is thoroughly cooked.
Why is it called spatchcock chicken?
The word “spatchcock” is thought to come from Old English. “Spaec” meaning to “split” and “cocc” meaning “cock”.
The word was first recorded in the 16th century and was originally used to prepare a chicken by removing the backbone and flattening the bird.
Why spatchcock a chicken?
Spachcocking is a quick method for preparing poultry for roasting, grilling and smoking. It’s a relatively simple process that can be done with a sharp knife, kitchen shears and a little courage.
It can be quite impressionable if you’ve never dealt with a whole bird. If you want, you can wear kitchen gloves to put a barrier between you and the raw chicken to help with the awkward sensation.
Breast meat cooks much faster than dark meat, and spatchcocking equalizes the cooking time so that white meat and dark meat are cooked proportionately.
Because the chicken is flatter after spatchcocking, it cooks more quickly, which is great if you’re short on time or cooking for a large group.
And if you’re making this for a get-together, this Healthy Chocolate Cake is always a hit! I promise you it doesn’t taste healthy, and there are options there to make it unhealthy. 😉
How to spatchcock
The recipe box at the end of this post goes into great detail for each of the steps to spatchcock a chicken. But here is an overview of the basic steps so you can see at a glance what this method involves.
- Place the chicken – breast side down – on a cutting board.
- Cut along either side of the backbone using a sharp knife.
- Remove the backbone and discard.
- Flip the chicken over and press down on the breastbone to flatten the bird.
- Use a sharp knife or kitchen shears to cut the chicken to spatchcock it.
- Make sure the chicken is completely thawed before smoking it.
- Remove excess moisture before applying the spice rub. Moisture can prevent the spices from sticking to the chicken. It also helps to get crispier skin.
- Season the meat in the nooks and crannies.
- Tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders to keep the chicken from curling.
- Don’t overcrowd the smoker; it will lower the temperature and prevent the chicken from cooking evenly.
- Cook to temperature, not time.
- Don’t remove the chicken while the temperature increases.
- There’s no need to flip the chicken while it’s smoking.
- Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before carving; this allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, making it more tender and juicy.
I like simple seasonings on most of my main dishes, but with this smoked chicken seasoning, I added a little more heat than usual, but not too much because my kid still has to be able to eat it.
I sometimes set aside a tiny bit and sprinke it on his beloved broccoli. Here’s how long to boil broccoli so you don’t end up with terrible mush!
This is the best chicken rub for smoked chicken! Made of brown sugar, sea salt, sweet paprika, granulated garlic, black pepper and cayenne pepper. It’s ultra flavorful and versatile to use on other meats as well.
The brown sugar adds a touch of sweetness, while the sea salt and black pepper provide a savory balance. The sweet paprika and granulated garlic add a deeper flavor profile, and the cayenne pepper gives it a kick.
The result is a rub that is both flavorful and aromatic and will leave your chicken golden brown.
What type of wood
The best wood for smoking chicken complements the bird. Popular choices include pecan, hickory, mesquite, maple, cherry, and apple.
Some wood, like hickory and mesquite, are strong with a bold smokey flavor. They burn hot and slow, which is great for smoking meats, but you want to use those more sparingly when smoking chicken.
You can create a more balanced taste and depth of flavor by combining hickory and mesquite with milder, fruity wood like cherry, apple or pecan.
How long does it take to smoke chicken?
It’s always best to cook meat to temperature rather than time to ensure it is completely cooked.
With this smoked chicken recipe, I preheated the smoker to 225 °F (107 °C) and cooked it for 45 minutes, then increased the heat to 425 °F (218 °C) and smoked it for another 40 to 50 minutes. But again, I wouldn’t rely on the amount of time; rather, I’d test the temperature before serving.
Chicken is safe to eat when the internal temperature reaches 165 °F (74 °C), which ensures that harmful bacteria are killed, and the chicken is cooked through.
To check the temperature, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone.
When the chicken thigh’s internal temp reaches 165 °F (74 °C), it’s ready to pull the chicken out of the smoker and let it rest for 15 minutes; this prevents juices from running out when slicing.
How to store
You need an airtight container or resealable plastic bag to store a whole cooked chicken. You should refrigerate the chicken within two hours of cooking and keep it in the fridge for 3 or 4 days.
To freeze the chicken, let it cool completely, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and place it in a freezer-safe container or bag for up to 3 months.
It’s best to thaw it overnight in the fridge. Do not thaw chicken at room temperature.
Chicken should never be re-frozen after it’s thawed.
Do I need to debone the chicken before storing it?
It depends. Deboned chicken takes up less space and is easier to thaw and reheat, but if you plan on using the chicken within a day or two, you can refrigerate the whole chicken. However, if you plan to store the chicken longer, it’s best to debone and freeze it.
Quick tips on thawing meat
- Chicken should be thawed in the refrigerator for at least 6 to 8 hours.
- Do not leave the chicken on the counter to thaw, as you risk breeding bacteria.
- No meat should be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
- Do not thaw chicken in a slow cooker or crockpot because the chicken will not reach the appropriate temperature fast enough, and you will breed bacteria.
- Do not place chicken in a bowl or sink of hot water to thaw. Anything warmer than 110 °F (43 °C) is considered dangerous, and bacteria multiply quickly.
Reheating frozen cooked chicken
Reheating cooked chicken that has been frozen can be done in several ways: the microwave, stove top, conventional oven or air fryer.
It’s best to cut the thickest part of the meat into pieces to ensure the chicken gets heated through and helps minimize cooking time.
- Microwave — Depending on the amount of chicken you have, you can reheat chicken for 2 to 7 minutes. Flip halfway through to ensure even cooking. Test the temperature of the largest pieces, and continue warming at intervals of 30 seconds until it reaches the desired temperature.
- Conventional oven — Preheat to 375 °F (190 °C) and place chicken in a single layer on a baking sheet. You may want to cover the baking sheet with foil to retain moisture. If reheating a whole chicken, add a bit of water or chicken broth to a deep dish and cover. Reheat until the internal temp reaches 165 °F (73 °C).
- Air Fryer — Preheat the air fryer to 375 °F (190 °C). Place the chicken in the basket in a single layer. You can spray the chicken with a little water or oil to retain moisture. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes and remove. If reheating frozen chicken, it may take 8 to 9 minutes. Bring it to temperature and enjoy.
- Stovetop — Heat a skillet over medium to medium heat to reheat the chicken. Add a small amount of water or chicken broth to the pan. Add chicken to the pan and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Test the internal temperature and remove it when it reaches the appropriate temperature.
Can you reheat it twice?
The more you reheat thawed cooked chicken, the worse it tastes.
Thaw the chicken and reheat the amount you plan to eat. Then you can reheat the remaining within a couple of days.
More recipes for the smoker
What to serve with smoked chicken
- Air Fryer Baked Potatoes
- Red Skinned Mashed Potatoes
- Italian Tomato Salad
- Green Goddess Salad
- Polish Cucumber Salad
I hope you’ll enjoy this smoked spatchcock chicken. If you make it, we’d love to hear how it turned out. Enjoy!
Smoked Spatchcock Chicken
For the dry rub:
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar (coconut sugar for paleo)
- 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
- 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
For the chicken:
- 4 pound whole chicken
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Mix together the dry rub ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
- Prepare your smoker for indirect heat according to smoker instructions, using hickory, pecan, maple, apple or cherry wood. Set it to 225 °F (107 °C).
- If your chicken comes with giblets, remove them and discard them or use for stock.
- Place the chicken, breast side down, on a large cutting board. The backbone is what's on top, running down the middle of the chicken. Use kitchen shears to cut along one side of the backbone, from the tail to the neck.
- Repeat on the other side and remove the backbone. Discard or use it for broth. Cut away any other unsavory bits (like red blobs) that are just hanging off that you won’t be eating.
- Use a sharp knife to cut through the tough cartilage that's right in the middle of the breastbone. This will allow the chicken to lay flat.
- Flip the chicken breast side up and firmly press down using the heel of your palm to flatten the chicken. You should hear a crack. Evenly turn out the legs to the sides. The chicken should be lying totally flat.
- Tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders, which will prevent burning.
- Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel, which will help the skin crisp up.
- Rub the chicken, front and back, and in between the skin and breast/leg/thigh meat, with olive oil. This will help the rub stick.
- Reserve about half (you can eyeball it) of the rub for the top of the chicken, which you’ll rub on last. Then rub the chicken with the other half of the dry rub in all the same spots you just oiled, starting off with the spots between the skin and meat. You can also add a bit to the bottom of the chicken (where it’s cut open), but only the spots that you’ll be eating. Not the bony bits.
- Now do the top of the chicken with the other half of the rub. The point of doing the top of the chicken last is so that the rub doesn’t lump together while handling the chicken.
- Place the chicken, breast-side up, on the preheated smoker over indirect heat. Make sure it's as flat as you can get it.
- Smoke for 45 minutes and then increase the temp to 425 °F (218 C). Don't remove the chicken while the temp is increasing, and there’s no need to flip it.
- Smoke for another 40-50 minutes or until the internal temperature of the breast and thigh reaches an internal temp of 165 °F (74° C). It's important to smoke to temperature rather than time.
- Remove the chicken from the smoker and let rest, uncovered, for 15 minutes before slicing. This prevents the juices from running out when slicing.
- Let leftovers cool completely and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 days.