Smoked Spatchcock Chicken is incredible juicy and moist with a faster cooking time and lots of great smoke flavor thanks to more surface area of the chicken that is exposed to the smoke! The low, slow heat and wood smoke make the most mouthwatering, gorgeous chicken you have ever seen!

Looking for more ways to use a whole chicken? Try my Whole Roasted Mexican Chicken or see my tutorial for how to cut up a whole chicken.

An overheat image of a butterflied smoked whole chicken on parchment paper on a cutting board.

You'll love this Smoked Spatchcock Chicken recipe

We love buying whole chickens for a couple of reasons. It's usually quite a bit cheaper to buy a whole chicken than to buy cut up pieces. Also, in our family, some people like the leg and thigh meat while others prefer the breast. Cooking a whole chicken means everybody gets some of what they like best!

Another nice thing is that when I cook a whole chicken, we usually have enough meat leftover for something like chicken spaghetti casserole, a half batch of chicken salad, or cheesy chicken quesadillas the next night. I'm all about repurposing leftovers into something new!

What is spatchcock chicken?

A whole butterflied chicken with a slice cut out of the breast meat.

A spatchcock chicken is just a funny name for a chicken that has its backbone removed so the chicken can be opened up and lay flat on a grill, smoker, or baking sheet while it cooks. It's also known as butterflying a chicken. This technique results in the most evenly cooked, melt-in-your-mouth chicken that is super tender and juicy! And it also helps cut down on the cooking time when smoking or roasting a whole chicken.

One of the common problems with smoking a whole chicken is that the breasts sometimes dry out before the rest of the meat is done, but that hasn't been my experience with a spatchcock chicken.

Spatchcock chicken is our new favorite way to smoke chicken on our Traeger, thanks to Nicole from the blog Or Whatever You Do. We are participating in a fun blog swap where a group of blogging friends are secretly assigned one another's blogs and asked to remake one of their recipes. The Summer Freaky Friday edition is hosted by Michaela from An Affair from the Heart.

freaky friday summer 2020

I chose to make Nicole's Traeger Smoked Spatchcock Chicken and went ahead and used her DIY BBQ seasoning mix as well since we didn't have any Traeger chicken rub on hand.

Nicole has a TON of Traeger recipes on her site. Her logo even has a smoker in it! And since we just upgraded to a brand new Traeger, I knew that's the route I was going to go. If you are new to using your pellet grill, they have created an excellent resource with their ultimate guide to Traeger wood-pellet grills.

I was also very tempted by their smoked Italian meatballs and smoked spicy Asian pork ribs. But if you don't have a smoker, they have lots of other great recipe ideas as well!

What you'll need for Spatchcocked Smoked Chicken

  • a whole chicken
  • large cutting board
  • kitchen shears
  • smoker or grill set up for indirect heat
  • hardwood or wood pellets (apple, hickory, maple, cherry, and pecan are our favorite wood flavors for smoked chicken)
A spatchcock smoked chicken resting on parchment paper.

How to spatchcock a chicken for this Spatchcock Chicken Smoker Recipe

Spatchcocking a chicken is actually super easy! I used to be intimidated by this technique, but it takes less than a minute to do. All you need is a pair of kitchen shears or other sharp scissors.

  1. Start with a whole chicken and remove anything from within the cavity of the bird. Place it on a large cutting board and flip it breast side down. The whole chicken in the image below is breast side up. If this is what yours looks like, just flip it over.
A whole chicken on a cutting board.
  1. Make sure your surrounding area is clear for easier cleanup and disinfecting afterwards.
  2. Starting on one side of the backbone, use sharp kitchen shears to cut right down the length of the chicken from neck to tail. You should be able to easily cut right through the skin and bones.
  3. Repeat the process by cutting down the other side of the backbone, then lift the whole piece out. I usually turn the cutting board around and cut back up the other side since I'm right-handed and that's easiest for me, but it doesn't really matter which direction you go, tail-to-neck or neck-to-tail.
  4. You can stick the backbone in a freezer-safe zip tight bag and freeze for making chicken broth later.
  1. Open up the chicken and use a sharp knife to make a cut right in the middle of the breastbone where there is a piece of cartilage. Just a small slit in that tough bit of cartilage helps flatten out the chicken really easily.
  2. Flip the chicken over and use the heel of your palm to press right between the breasts to flatten out the chicken all the way. It should lay nice and flat with the legs spread out to the sides.
  1. Tuck the wingtips under the breasts for the best presentation and most even cooking, then you can rub the whole chicken front and back with a little olive oil and your favorite rub or the one I'm including in the recipe below. The olive oil just helps the rub stick really well.
  1. You could actually brine your bird for 12 to 24 hours if you want. I don't always do it because it requires extra planning, but brining poultry really does give it wonderful texture and flavor.

How to make BBQ dry rub for Traeger Spatchcock Chicken

Two plates with brown sugar, salt, pepper, and spices for making a BBQ dry rub.

When making barbecue, I really love a brown sugar based rub. Not only does it add sweetness that balances the other spices, but it also caramelizes beautifully on the smoker or grill. You can use this same rub on pork or veggies (like the sweet potatoes I served with this spatchcock chicken) and it would be delicious.

Just combine brown sugar with garlic powder, cumin, cinnamon, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, onion powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, and onion salt in a medium bowl. Stir until everything is evenly distributed, then sprinkle it generously over the meat you want to cook and rub it in.

You can actually use this same approach with a spatchcock turkey using turkey seasoning for a delicious and different approach to your Thanksgiving meal!

How to smoke Spatchcock Chicken Traeger style

How long to smoke a chicken? What temp to smoke chicken?

The answer to this question really depends on you and whether you are choosing to spatchcock the chicken fore a quicker cook (totally valid reason) or more smoke penetration (also a totally valid reason). To some extent, you can think of your smoker like a slow cooker where you choose to either cook things on low or on high. For most things, you usually aren't wrong either way, and that's the case with smoking spatchcock chicken.

Faster approach: high heat (about 1 hour)

One great thing about this spatchcock chicken recipe is how quickly it cooks compared to a whole chicken that hasn't been spatchcocked and flattened out. You can cook the chicken at a higher temperature and it takes a relatively short amount of time.

Start a Traeger grill on high heat and cook for 30 minutes, then drop the temperature to 325 degrees F and your chicken should be done within another 15-30 minutes. About an hour of cook time isn't bad at all for smoked chicken!

Slow approach: low heat (about 3-4 hours)

But for ultimate smoke penetration, I recommend smoking the chicken at a lower temperature between 225 and 275 degrees F. A three- to four-pound chicken smoked at this temperature will likely take around 3-4 hours to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

If you don't have a good digital meat thermometer (affiliate link), I highly recommend investing in one if you enjoying smoking or grilling meat. It's more important to smoke the meat according to the correct internal temperature than for a specific amount of time. Factors like the size of your chicken and the temperature of the chicken when you started the smoke can all play a part in how long it ultimately takes to smoke the meat.

I get asked this a lot, but as long as you have enough space in your smoker for the meat, you can smoke more than one spatchcock chicken at a time without increasing the overall cooking time.

Be sure to let the chicken rest for 10 minutes after removing it from the smoker or grill so that the juices can redistribute before slicing the chicken and serving.

A spatchcock chicken on a Traeger pellet grill with zucchini and sweet potatoes.

Traeger Spatchcock Chicken variations

To sauce or not to sauce: that is the question

I love a good BBQ sauce, but sometimes I just want to enjoy the flavor of the chicken and rub without any sauce that sometimes tries to upstage the experience of a good smoked chicken all on its own.

If you want to sauce the chicken, watch for the internal temperature to reach around 150 degrees F on a digital meat thermometer (affiliate link) in both the breast and thigh meat. Brush the chicken liberally with your favorite bbq sauce (I HIGHLY recommend my Alabama white BBQ sauce), then continue to cook until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F, usually another 15-20 minutes after adding the bbq sauce.

Grilled spatchcock chicken with a gas or charcoal grill

We are one of those families that has a smoker, a gas grill, AND a charcoal grill. Not just because I'm a food blogger and I test recipes on all three, but because we love each of them for different reasons. Although I used our Traeger smoker to make this chicken, you can use a gas grill or charcoal grill and still get great results!

Preheat your grill and set it up for an indirect heat zone, which is where the chicken won't be directly over the flames. You can soak hardwood chips to use your grill as a smoker, or just go with the natural charcoal flavor for the meat. Then grill the chicken over indirect heat until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

What to serve with Smoked Spatchcock Chicken

Smoked or grilled chicken goes well with any classic BBQ side dishes like macaroni salad, potato salad, or baked beans. This time around I tossed some sliced sweet potato discs in olive oil, then rubbed them with a BBQ seasoning and smoked them with the chicken, then served it all with grilled zucchini.

A butterflied, smoked chicken on a cutting board next to a bowl of BBQ sweet potatoes and grilled zucchini.

Storing this Spatchcock Chicken Pellet Grill recipe

When storing this chicken, you want to maximize the shelf life to enjoy it longer! Place chicken in an airtight container or tightly wrap in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Make sure to refrigerate within 2 hours of cooking/grilling/smoking. You can also freeze leftovers that will last three to six months.

Spatchcocked Smoked Chicken FAQs

How often should you flip chicken when smoking?

When smoking a whole chicken, no need to flip it. Flipping can actually do more harm than good. Smoking uses indirect heat so the chicken will cook evenly without flipping.

Is it better to smoke chicken fast or slow?

If you have the time, I much prefer the low and slow method. Letting the chicken get nice and juicy and letting the flavors to really penetrate the meat, is the way to go. No matter what your cooking method may be, just make sure the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees before eating.

What makes chicken crispy in the smoker?

For a crispy skin, crank up the heat at the end and make sure you have a good rub on the chicken. Raising the temperature to 350 near the end of smoking will help the skin crisp up.

More great chicken recipes

Did you make this recipe?

Let me know what you thought with a comment and rating below. You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @houseofnasheats or share it on the Pinterest pin so I can see.

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Spatchcocked Smoked Chicken

4.62 from 44 votes
Amy Nash
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 4 servings
Smoked Spatchcock Chicken is incredible juicy and moist with a faster cooking time and lots of great smoke flavor thanks to more surface area of the chicken that is exposed to the smoke! The low, slow heat and wood smoke make the most mouthwatering, gorgeous chicken you have ever seen!

Ingredients
  

  • 3-4 pound whole chicken
  • ¼ cup olive oil

Dry Rub

  • cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon onion salt
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne

Instructions
 

To spatchcock the chicken

  • Place the bird breast-side down with the legs pointing toward you. Use kitchen shears to cut down both sides of the backbone through the ribs to remove the spine.
  • Open up the chicken and use a sharp knife to cut a slit through the cartilage in the center of the chicken near the breastbone. Flip the chicken over and press in the middle to lay it out flat.
  • Rub the chicken all over with the oil. Combine the dry rub ingredients and rub a liberal amount all over both sides of the chicken.

Fast Method: High Heat (around 1 hour)

  • Preheat Traeger grill to high heat of around 400 degrees F. Place the chicken breast side up on the grill, spreading out the legs so it lays flat. Grill on high for 30 minutes, then turn temperature down to 325 degrees F for the remaining time it takes for the chicken to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
  • Remove from grill and let rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing and serving.

Slow Method: Low Heat (around 3-4 hours)

  • Preheat Traeger grill to between 225 and 275 degrees F. Place the chicken breast side up on the grill, spreading out the legs so it lays flat. Smoke for 3-4 hours until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
  • Remove from grill and let rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing and serving.

Nutrition

Calories: 546kcal | Carbohydrates: 19g | Protein: 31g | Fat: 38g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 7g | Monounsaturated Fat: 20g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 122mg | Sodium: 1284mg | Potassium: 361mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 18g | Vitamin A: 530IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 41mg | Iron: 2mg
Tried this recipe? Show me on Instagram!Mention @HouseOfNashEats or tag #houseofnasheats!

Take a look at all of our 2020 Freaky Friday Summer Edition Recipes:

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About the author

Hi, I'm Amy

I enjoy exploring the world through food, culture, and travel and sharing the adventure with mostly from-scratch, family friendly recipes that I think of as modern comfort cooking.

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Reader questions and reviews

  1. Oh wow!! This not only sounds amazingly delicious but I so appreciate all your photos to guide us through. I've never attempted spatchcock chicken but its time!! Yum!! 

    1. Amazing, but the ads on mobile really interfered... Just too much.. I'm not buying a car I am tryin to smoke some chicken...

  2. Amy!! That chicken is positively GORGEOUS! This is a technique that I have always wanted to try, and now I know that I HAVE to!! We love our Traeger, and this pretty little bird is happening this weekend! Thanks for all of the great tips on spatchcocking and for the great new chicken recipe!

  3. I couldn't love this post any more. <3 I'm so glad you liked the chicken and the rub, and thank you so much for your kind words! These photos are beautiful. I'll be back because that Alabama White BBQ sauce is calling my name!

  4. OMG I had no idea that this would make my chicken even better than it normally is! What a neat trick to get all that smoky flavor into every nook and cranny of the chicken! Definitely on my grill every week now!

  5. We have been smoking so many meats on our Traeger Grill!!! I can't wait to try this chicken!

  6. By far the most moist chicken breast my wife and I have ever had! Fantastic!
    One question though, how do enjoy the spices on the chicken skin since the skin is rubbery after smoking and can’t really be eaten?  We tried putting it under the broiler for 3-4 minutes but then it tends to dry out the meat.  I’d love to be able to taste all the spices on the skin but can’t think of a good way to do it. Help  😉

    1. This was exactly the case for me. Moist chicken, tasty spices, but rubbery skin. Thought the olive oil before the spices would help. Would brining the night before help this?

      1. I have two possible solutions! I was just in Nashville, TN and ate at Arnolds where they have a chicken that they smoke and then when it's done they fry it quickly just to crisp up the outside. It was phenomenal and would definitely fix this issue, but.... it has the added issue of deep frying mess. My other thought is to heat a grill and toss the chicken on the grill over high heat to crisp up the skin once the chicken is done on the inside.

  7. @Jim,
    You have to let that skin dry out. Typically, people will let it sit uncovered in the fridge for a day to let the skin dry. You can speed the process using things like hair dryers (on COLD, you don't want to cook the chicken, just dry the skin).

  8. Tried a 4.8 lbs chicken in a Traeger at 250. Took about 2 hours. Very juicy and good smoked flavor, but the skin never got crispy. I did dry the chicken before applying the rub. What was your experience?

    1. If the skin doesn't crisp enough for you, I think the best solution is to either throw the chicken skin side down on a gas grill for the last few minutes to crisp it up or pop it in the oven under the broiler.

  9. 4 stars
    I made it just last weekend! Great taste and it made great tacos and enchiladas with the leftovers.
    Next time I’m going to try brining the chicken before I smoke it, just to see if it will come out super moist?

  10. Thanks for sharing this! I've been bbqing all year and looking forward to it again this weekend! Excited to try pulled pork for my next family reunion.