It’s no wonder that slow cooked chicken is popular—that moist and tender bite is hard to beat. Smoking chicken on the grill can yield the same tenderness, but it’s an underutilized technique, as it provides so much more flavor than a roasted or rotisserie chicken. How so? Well, we’re talking smoky bourbon, maple, sage, thyme and garlic kind of flavor. Simply put, the good stuff.
When smoking spatchcock chicken, there are a few important points. Firstly, and arguably most important, is finding the right balance between cook time and temperature. Initially, in recipe testing, we tried low and slow with our strategy, which made a nice tender meat, but the chicken skin was way too soft and chewy. It’s critical chicken skin gets crispy while smoking—some would argue it’s the best part! In the end, we upped the temperature a bit, allowing time for the cherry wood chips to impart their delicious flavor, while still getting a tender consistency to the chicken, and a nice crispy exterior. In other words, a golden bird that is juicy, boasting sweet, smoky and earthy undertones.
Don't Forget the Brine
Not only does the brine give the chicken its flavor, but it’s a key factor in tenderizing the meat. When a meat like chicken marinates in a brine, the salty liquid begins to denature the meat’s proteins, allowing the cells to retain more moisture and also subsequent flavor—aka fall off the bone meat! It’s a win-win. Further, we strayed from the typical water and salt brine, and instead added ingredients like bourbon and maple. Sugars, like maple syrup, help aid in the process of browning the chicken while it smokes, and bourbon, complements the smoke with oak wood, and vanilla richness.
With a few ingredients, and tools, this dish is sure to please. It’s a keeper, and we hope you enjoy it, from our kitchen to yours. Now grab your wood smoking kit and let's get grilling!
Bourbon Maple Smoked Spatchcock Chicken
3 ½ - 4 ½ lb whole chicken, giblets removed
3 cups water
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, minced
2 tsp pepper
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 TB Kosher salt
1 ½ cup bourbon (‘wheated’ is recommended)
½ cup maple syrup
2 TB fresh sage, minced
1 box cherry wood chips
Stainless steel smoker box
1 box Cherry Wood Chips
(all included here)
Step 1: Prepare and Brine Meat
Bring water, garlic, shallot, pepper, thyme and salt to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add bourbon. Return to heat and simmer for another 2 minutes. Stir in maple syrup and continue simmering until fully dissolved, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat, discard thyme sprigs and add sage. Let brine cool for 20-30 minutes. Set aside ¼ cup of the brine for basting.
Before placing the chicken in brine, remove backbone with a pair of poultry shears. Place chicken on a clean surface breast side down. Starting at the tail cavity, cut along one side of the backbone through to the neck cavity.
Rotate chicken, and cut along the other side of the backbone, until the back bone is removed.
Discard the backbone and place the chicken inside a zip lock bag. Pour brine over chicken and remove as much air as possible, before sealing the bag. Brine chicken in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Step 2: Fire Up The Grill
Twenty minutes before grilling, make sure your grill grates are clean and fill your smoker box with wood chips. Follow the next step below depending on what type of grill you have:
Check your propane levels to make sure you have enough for 5 hours. Place your smoker box on the grill grate directly above the burner. Turn the burner on HIGH (400-500˚ F) and close the lid.
Remove the grill grate. Stack the charcoal in a pyramid and ignite. When the charcoal is ashed over, bank the coals against one side of the grill. Place your smoker box directly on the coals or a low grill grate. Close the lid and adjust the top vent to be 1/4 open.
Depending on how hot the grill is, smoke should begin to rise in about 20-30 minutes. If the chips start smoking sooner, give them at least 20 minutes to let them fully catch. Once the smoke is established, reduce the heat and the keep the grill temperature between 350 - 375°F
Step 3: Smoke The Chicken
Remove the chicken from brine ziplock and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the brine. Spatchcock the chicken by laying it breast side up on clean surface and pressing into the breast bone with the palm of your hand to flatten. Secure the chicken using skewers by piercing through the breast, and leg meat, on either side.
Place your meat on the grill on the opposite side from the smoker box, with the legs facing the box. For a 4 lb chicken, smoke the meat for about 1 ½ to 2 hours.
The most difficult part of smoking might be resisting the urge to lift the lid. Every time you peek, valuable heat and smoke escape. Open the lid only when you really need to replenish wood chips or check the meat temperature. Ideally, take care of both at the same time – and quickly!
Step 4: Check Meat Temperature & Serve
Be sure to check the internal temperature to guarantee that the meat is properly cooked. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, being careful to not contact the bone when taking the temperature. The breast is done at 165° F and the thighs are ready at 175° F.
Before removing the meat, baste the chicken with the brine that was set aside, and allow it to set for 2-3 minutes before removing the chicken.
Once removed from the grill, let the chicken rest for 10 minutes under aluminum foil before serving.