Grilled Whole Chicken

Chef's notes:

Grilling a chicken whole is a slow process. However, it can be sped up by butterflying or spatchcocking the chicken. But if you want to get a nice smokey flavor in your chicken, grilling it slowly is to your benefit. The trick to smoking and grilling at the same time is controlling the amount of air getting into the grill. This is done by adjusting the vents so that they are approximately three-quarters closed for the duration of cooking. This way the wood and charcoal smolder—creating smoke—but they still burn (creating heat as well).


  • 4–5 pound chicken
  • 1¼ cups salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 8 cups warm water
  • 1 Tbsp peppercorns
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 onion
  • 4 apples
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 pounds ice cubes

Whole Chicken Brined in Salt, Molasses, and Apples, Smoked over Wood and Charcoal

  1. Brine the chicken before you grill it. There are many options to consider when brining chicken. If you feel comfortable enough to brine chicken without detailed help, you should use my recipe for brine (on the right). Or if you want a little bit more help with brining chicken, read my article about how to brine chicken.
  2. Get the grill ready for the chicken. The grill needs to be modified to provide the right kind of heat so the chicken doesn’t get burned. This is achieved by placing a tin container inside the grill and directly below the chicken. This reduces the direct heat and should keep the chicken from burning. I also put a few apples in the bottom of my pan, just for kicks. I doubt it made a difference.
  3. Put the chickens on the grill. Once the charcoal briquettes have begun to get a little ashy, put on the chicken. If you want your chicken to get a little smokey, add a few wood chips, hickory, mesquite, or another hardwood. I used a combination of mesquite and white oak. I think that it was a very good combination. Mesquite on its own can be a bit intense. And the same goes for white oak. Keep the lid on the grill as much as possible. The wood will combust if the lid is off for too long.
  4. Keep checking the chicken. Add briquettes and wood chips as needed to provide fuel and create smoke. Occasionally rotate the chicken to cook it evenly. After 2–3 hours the chicken may be close to done. Check the internal temperature at the thigh with a digital thermometer. If you want, you may finish the chicken in the oven. After three hours on the grill it’s probably as smokey as you want it anyway. Once the chicken is up to 160–165 degrees F, remove it and let it rest for 20–30 minutes before eating.

Tips & Tricks

  • Check the cavities of the chicken before you put it on the grill. It may have giblets or fat chunks hidden inside.
  • Brine the chicken before you grill it to keep it from drying out.
  • The meat may turn pink in some areas near the skin. This is a by-product of the smoking process.
  • Make sure to place the chicken over the tin container to keep it from burning (from direct heat).
  • Rotate the chicken every 20–30 minutes to help it cook evenly.
  • Wood chips should be moist to keep them from bursting into flames.
  • If the chicken is taking too long to cook on the grill but you feel like it is smokey enough, finish it in the oven. It will be easier than trying to boost the heat of the grill.
  • Let the chicken rest for 20–30 minutes before eating it.

Chicken Brine Ingredients

Combine all ingredients except ice cubes and stir to combine. Add the ice cubes to cool the brine before pouring it over the chicken. Add up to four cups more water to cover. If you need more water to cover the chicken, add chicken or vegetable stock, or make more brine. Brine the chicken overnight for best results.