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What are the benefits of smoking a whole chicken over roasting it in the oven? There are two: smoke flavor and a tender, silky texture.

The complex flavors that smoke imparts to meat only happen with barbecue's low cooking temperature. Higher cooking temperatures can cause the wood to combust or produce smoke that can cause bitter or off-flavors to develop.

Also, low-temperature cooking allows for slower heat transfer, giving collagen in the meat’s connective tissues the time needed to dissolve into silky gelatin. The gelatin absorbs moisture, helping the meat retain moisture.

Smoked Whole Chicken

1 whole chicken, about 4 pounds

Your favorite dry rub or just salt and pepper

1 c. wood chunks or chips

Split the chicken in half with a cleaver or butcher knife. I like to retain the backbone, but if you prefer, remove the backbone by cutting along both sides of the backbone with kitchen shears or a sharp chef’s knife, then cut the chicken in half through the center of the breastbone with a sharp chef’s knife.

Apply the dry rub (or salt and pepper) evenly on all sides of the chicken, rubbing in slightly with your fingers.

Fire up your smoker. Prepare your fuel, whether it’s charcoal, gas or electric settings, to maintain the target ambient cooking temperature inside the smoker at 275 degrees.

Set a water pan above the coals and below the grill grate to help maintain a humid environment for better smoke penetration.

Add the wood and allow it to begin developing smoke with the lid closed prior to adding the meat.

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If you have a temperature probe, insert it into the deepest part of the chicken breast, away from bone. The goal is to capture the lowest temperature in the meat. The chicken will only be as done, and as safe as the lowest temperature you find.

Place the chicken halves on the grill grate surface. Set a timer for 60 minutes per pound -- use the weight of one-half chicken. The internal temperature of the breast should be about 157 degree, and the leg meat should be 170 to 175 degrees.

Pull the chicken halves from the smoker and allow them to rest for 10 to 15 minutes allowing the temperature to rise to 160 to 165 degrees in the breast meat.

Pair this with Buttonwood’s 2016 Syrah Rosé. Their dry syrah rosé is made in a traditional “methode Provençal” winemaking process to create a refreshingly vibrant and crisp wine. A beautiful coral color with edges fading to pink foretells of the fruitful character of the wine. A bouquet of wild strawberry and rose petal wafts from the glass. Crisp and refreshing on the palate, ripe summer watermelon and cherry are joined by hints of allspice and nectarine. It's nicely balanced and simply zesty, allowing it to pair well with the spice rub, yet not overpower the chicken meat.


John David Finley is a freelance writer and author of the cookbook, "Sacred Meals from our Family Table," which features Santa Barbara County wines. He can be reached at