Ever since we received Chris’ folks old smoker, we’ve run it about once a month during the warm months. One item we always seem to have in there is at least one chicken. This is a method that Chris learned from a family member down in Texas. We have since modified it for our preferences (mostly in the form of seasonings). This is an absolutely awesome chicken, and the leftovers (if there are any) make fantastic chicken salad. Breaking with typical form, we took some step-by-step photos, as this is a more involved set up than our typical recipes. This is also an easy way to ease into smoking if you’re new to it. Chickens are cheap, the set up is straight forward, and results are fantastic.
Ingredients (per chicken)
1/2 white or yellow onion, cut into large pieces
1 poblano, jalapeno, or green pepper, cut into large pieces
1 lemon, sliced thin
3 tbsp seasoning – (Note on seasoning: We use some of the brown sugar, mustard and paprika based rib rub along with some salt and rustic rub for our chickens. Feel free to use whatever you have on hand, but try to have a good amount of salt, some paprika, some garlic and onion powders, and some black pepper in your mix. Your chicken will thank you later)
Cheesecloth, twine, spray bottle, and smoker
As with any moderately involved project, organization is your friend. If you have a helper, that will make your life a little easier, as they can hand you things. Also, if you’re smoking these, now is the time to get your fire started. Then, get your veg ready to go before getting your chicken out, and have your seasoning mix on hand.
For this smoking day, we were making four chickens, so this is the prep for those. Once you have your flavor agents ready, get out the chickens. They don’t have to be anything fancy, in fact the non-foodie approved water added sort of chicken works really well for this. The slow low heat of the smoker could dry out a more heritage sort of bird, especially if that low slow heat turns high and fast (not that that would happen to us. *ahem* moving on..).
As you can see, I have my chickens on trays with aluminum foil underneath them. It doesn’t keep the tray clean, but it does make them easier to clean later. First step: loosen the skin of the chicken.
I will always wear gloves while prepping the chickens. You are going to be getting all up in their business, and having gloves makes the entire process more pleasant. You’ll want to get as much of the skin lifted off the breast and thighs as possible without tearing the skin.
Once you have the skin lifted, work some of your seasoning between the meat and skin. This is where your flavor is-we’ll be seasoning the skin later, but that’s as much for show as actually changing the flavor of the chicken. This is where the salt gets to the meat.
Next up, I usually flip the bird over, and repeat the skin lift and season on the back. If you can, try to work your fingers and seasoning down into the thigh and leg area too.
Now it’s time to add some vegetables. Grab a chunk of pepper, onion or lemon and just shove it under the skin as far as you can (you can see where I got a piece of poblano on the leg). Keep shoving stuff up in there until most of the meat has something on it. Then, flip the bird back over and repeat on the front.
The skin will look pretty lumpy at this point, but it’s worth it. I would also recommend sprinkling some seasoning in the cavity, along with some additional lemon, pepper and onion. Once you’ve loaded up the front of the bird, it’s time to truss.
I recommend bending the wings of the bird up and toward the back, but you could also just remove them at this stage. They are likely to fall off when you’re unwrapping the bird later, but if you want every bit of chicken meat, this is the best way to keep them on. Next up, using kitchen twine and truss up the bird.
Now, I’m sure that Jacque Pepin will be showing up with a rolling pin at some point to beat me for trussing my bird incorrectly, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take. This is about the only way I have successfully kept a bird together in the smoker, so I’m sticking with it. I run the twine behind the neck and shoulders, between the wings and body, and then up under the legs. I will then tie the ends of the legs together, and if the bird has one of those little tail flaps, I tie that to the legs. This is my method, but do what works for you. Next up, season the skin.
This is as much for looks as any other reason, but isn’t it pretty? Tasty chicken. OK, if you’re not smoking this sucker, you’re done with the set up! If you’re awesome and smoking it, there is one more step you should do. While I’m sure the folks who run the competition barbecue circuits will cry blasphemy, we always wrap our chickens in cheesecloth before smoking. It gives us a bit of protection from the soot factor, while still letting that glorious smoke flavor get to the bird. If you’re going to be smoking quite a bit, do yourself a favor and hit a fabric store for the cheese cloth. You’ll need about a yard per bird, so you can go through quite a bit in very short order.
Once you have your piece of cheesecloth, run some water over it and then wring it out so it’s nice and damp. Then, wrap up that bird!
Ok, so that was a pretty rough picture, but there’s no real science to it. Just make sure no part of the bird is exposed and you’re good to go. Having the cheesecloth wet helps it stick to itself, and you’ll end up with a nicely mummified-looking bird.
At this point, your smoker should be nice and warm. Pop your bird in, and smoke at 225 to 250 degrees F for 4-5 hours. I recommend keeping a squirt bottle on hand and spraying down the bird every time you check the smoke box (every 30 or 45 minutes or so). It will keep the cheesecloth from drying out and sticking to your bird. If you aren’t smoking (and you should be), you could also bake this bird at 300 degrees for probably about 3 hours or so, but I haven’t, and I don’t recommend it unless your smoker has been crushed by a meteorite.
After about 4 or 5 hours, you will see something like this in your smoker.
Ok, you may not have the ribs or the beans in there, but your chickens should be looking about like that. Don’t worry, the black and brown just means the smoke has done its work. Go ahead and check the temperature of the chickens before you pull them out. Once they’re done, pull them out and get ready to unwrap your presents.
You’ll want a pair of scissors, and a spray bottle for this step. Give the chickens a couple of minutes to cool down, then make your first incision starting near the legs and working your way up the midline.
Carefully pull the cheesecloth away from the skin. If it seems like it wants to stick, give it a little spray with the water, and gently pull the cloth and skin apart. Keep working your way out and around the chicken until you’ve exposed the front.
At this point, you can try to flip the sucker over and do the same thing with the back. Half the time, all of the skin on the back comes off with the cheesecloth. Oh well, at least the front is pretty.
At this point, you can untruss your bird, carve it as you see fit and serve with your favorite barbecue sides. Or, you can stand over the stove and eat it with your hands straight from the tray. We won’t tell, and we won’t judge.
Nigel might, though.