I just got into smoking (the cooking kind) and have been smoking foods for nearly 3 months now (since Aug 2017), briskets, round tips, chucks, and chicken. It’s really fun and when I get it right it is incredibly delicious. As time-consuming as it may be (not so much for chicken but definitely for tough meats), very few things in life can taste that good. Earlier I had posted an article on smoked chuck which if you haven’t tried it and you have access to a grill and wanna practice, this is a really fun and delicious way to do it plus it was one of the most delicious meats I’ve ever cooked if I may say so myself. This post is about chicken, more specifically, spatchcocked chicken smoked on a gas grill at home! Check it out.
The concept behind smoking food t is simple but the execution requires practice (like anything else) and being a little (or very) obsessive about the small subtleties (like many things in the kitchen). The equipment in itself isn’t that important. A good thermometer is key and a way to generate somewhat stable heat helps a lot. In a nutshell, smoking simply requires food to be exposed to a source of smoke for some period of time.
Some of the key components behind that awesome smoky flavor are the source of smoke (more commonly wood) and the temperature at which that source burns, as well as the amount of smoke and the length of time the food is exposed to it. Humidity also plays an important role in how that smokey flavor gets infused into the food and controlling it can be very tricky, especially without specialized equipment. Anyways, tons of variables means tons of fun and a long learning curve ahead of me. I can’t wait to get better at it.
Plenty of excellent books out there written by people that actually know what they’re doing.
Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold (Vol. 2, there’s a section about smoking)
Project Smoke by Steven Raichlen.
Franklin Barbecue by Aaron Franklin (my favorite)
Cooking with smoke.
I have a little Weber grill with 2 burners, let me start there. It’s not a smoker. It’s definitely not a smoker but it has a chamber (oven) and gas burners, 2 of them which helps a lot. With some limitations, it can be used as a smoker. Again, not a smoker but it is a start and being able to use my grill this way has been wonderful. Made me rediscover my love for cooking outside.
As far as temperature goes, like I mentioned earlier, in order to smoke food, the actual temperature of food is somewhat irrelevant to the process of smoking, but we still want to cook the food and make it taste delicious so it does matter. And it matters a lot. Cooking and smoking get blended into one operation when hot-smoking food. Not so much when cold-smoking it though.
Smoking a chicken on a grill.
Chicken, whether roasted in the oven or roasted on a grill is a tricky thing. That’s mainly because white and dark meat doesn’t cook at the same temperatures. To make matters worse, dark meat also requires longer cooking times than white meat. But a good compromise between the two can be reached and a pretty delicious chicken can be cooked for sure.
- Butterflied (spatchcocked) the chicken to speed up cooking and expose the skin to heat more evenly. This is better done with poultry shears, cutting the backbone off and then laying the chicken flat skin side up.
- Season generously on both sides with salt and pepper, or your poultry rub. You can also do this ahead of time which I recommend to give the seasoning time to infuse the meat. A couple hours ahead of time should be fine or overnight in the fridge.
- In a two burner grill like a Weber Spirit or similar. Run one burner at its lowest settings. Remove the grate and place a tin foil roasting pan filled with dry hickory woodchips. I cover the pan with tin foil and poke some holes. This prevents the chips from igniting keeping them protected from direct contact with the gas burner.
- Place the chicken on a cooling rack (for cookies) and place this over a hotel pan to catch all the drippings. Chicken goes skin side up. I place this contraption over the other burner which I keep turned off.
- Tune the flame of the active burner if need be until the chamber reaches a temperature of 250F. Cook for about 1 hour. Internal temperature at the thickest part should be around 150F-160F.
- Turn up to heat to the max and cook for another 20 minutes. This helps crisp up the skin and developing that roasted chicken flavor.
The process is simple enough that adjusting some parameters should be easy. I would like to get a more pronounced smoke pellicule which will require adjusting the amount of smoke I’m generating and the humidity of the chicken at the surface.
Instead of one smoker pan (that tin foil pan), I will add a second one. On the lowest setting, my Weber grill barely produces enough smoke visibly, but I can’t cook on high heat or the chicken will be overcooked on the outside and raw on the inside.
I will also like to add humidity to the grill while cooking. Although the chicken skin was perfectly crispy I think it dried too soon. Once food dries is really hard for the smoke to adhere to it and for the smoke flavors to infuse the meat.
So yeah, a couple of tweaks for next time. Should be fun!