From America's Test Kitchen Season 12: Backyard Chicken Dinner
When done right, smoking produces chicken with moist, tender, pleasantly smoky meat and an attractively browned exterior. But smoking a chicken is no easy feat—if the heat level isn’t just right, the delicate breast meat inevitably dries out and with too much exposure to the smoke, the flavor of the chicken becomes harsh and bitter. Brining the bird ensured the meat would remain moist, and building a slow-burning moderate fire (by piling lit coals on top of unlit coals) allowed us to extend the life of the fire without having to tend to it. A pan of water underneath the chicken helped control the level of heat. Using chicken parts (rather than a whole bird) allowed each piece to be infused with smoke flavor. Finally, we discovered that using wood chunks and smoking the chicken for only half of the cooking time produced chicken with a pleasant—not overpowering—smoke flavor.
Serves 6 to 8
Avoid mesquite wood chunks for this recipe: we find that the meat can turn bitter if they smolder too long. When using a charcoal grill, we prefer wood chunks to wood chips wheneer possible. If using a gas grill, you will need to use wood chips.