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How to Slow Cook a Whole Chicken on a Charcoal Grill

This whole smoked chicken is fresh off the grill.

This whole smoked chicken is fresh off the grill.

Smoked Chicken

What would you say if I told you that smoking your own chicken on a charcoal grill is not as hard as a lot of people think? My family is lucky enough to have the ability to raise our own Cornish Cross chickens for meat, and every year one of the first things that we do after processing and rest time for the birds is to smoke one for dinner the following Sunday.

Using the Charcoal Grill

We usually start the fire with charcoal to heat up the grill and get the coals going, then switch over to wood to get a nice bed of wood coals before putting the chicken on the grill. The grill is maintained at a 300- to 350-degree temperature, and the chicken is left until it reaches the 170-degree mark, which tells us that it is done.

The amount of time that it takes to cook the chicken fully will depend on the size. The one we did here was 5.2 pounds, so it took longer than normal, but it was well worth the wait. Any size chicken can be smoked with this method, even something as small as cornish hens or even quail. You'll want to adjust your cooking time accordingly. The most reliable way to tell when your bird is done is when the thermometer inserted into the thigh reads 170 degrees.

A Tasty, New Tradition

When you follow my recipe, you end up with a flavorful, juicy, crispy-skinned chicken. The meat literally melts in your mouth. It is well worth the grilling time, which is the longest part, and you, too, will look forward to making this again and again.

The Cornish Cross is the most commonly raised chicken breed for meat in the United States.

The Cornish Cross is the most commonly raised chicken breed for meat in the United States.

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

30 min

3 hours

3 hours 30 min

1 whole smoked chicken


  • 1 whole chicken
  • 2 large white onions, 1 quartered, 1 sliced
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 pound real butter
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Smoked chicken dinner

Smoked chicken dinner


  1. Prepare your grill by building a small charcoal fire over to one side. You want indirect heat, so only half of the grill's cooking surface should have coals. Once the charcoal fire has died down, and the coals are hot, start adding wood. You can use any type of wood that you want, but woods like hickory and apple will add even more to the flavor of your chicken.
  2. We used a 5.2-pound chicken as our example for this recipe. Rinse your chicken off inside and out and remove any pin feathers and extra skin. Dry the chicken with paper towels.
  3. We used a large iron skillet, but this can also be done in any metal pan. A roasting pan will work as well as any metal baking pan. I would suggest staying away from anything glass. Slice one onion into 1/4" slices and line the bottom of your pan.
  4. Put the chicken in the pan breast side up.
  5. If you haven't already prepared what you are stuffing into the bird's cavity, now is the time. We used 1 large white onion, 2 cloves of garlic, and 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary. I have also heard of people adding sweet apples to the mix and next time, we are going to be trying that.
  6. Stuff the cavity of the chicken with rosemary, onion, and most of the garlic. Make sure you mix it up, so the flavor goes throughout the chicken. Leave some of the garlic pieces to put under the breast skin.
  7. Cut a few small holes in the skin on the breast of the chicken and slide a piece of garlic into each one. You'll want to remember to remove those prior to serving the chicken.
  8. Liberally smear some of the butter on the skin of the entire chicken. Put the rest of the butter in the pan on top of the onions. Don't worry about being technical here; just glop it because you are going to be using it for basting later.
  9. When the grill has a nice bed of hot coals, it's time to put the pan holding your chicken on the grill. Place it on the opposite side that the fire is on. Close the lid and if your grill has a thermometer, watch to keep the temperature between 300 and 350 degrees. Adjust the lid height to accommodate. If your grill does not have a thermometer, you will want to keep a closer eye to make sure the outside of the chicken does not cook too fast and start to burn because the temp is too high.
  10. Check the chicken every 10 to 15 minutes and baste with the butter.
  11. After it has cooked for at least 2 hours, start taking the temperature in the thigh to see how close you are to being done. You'll want to stoke the fire with more wood as needed, and it will be needed.
  12. Sometime between the 2 and 3 hour mark, depending on the size of your chicken, the meat will come up to the needed 170 degrees and your chicken will be smoked, cooked and done.
  13. Remove the chicken from the grill and allow it to rest for 20 minutes before carving and devouring. (Believe me when I say that you will devour this meal!)

© 2014 Helena Ricketts