Courtesy of Melissa Cookston
| August 3, 2016

Want to learn how make the best smoked chicken ever? Simply ask "the winningest woman in barbecue."

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Pitmaster Melissa Cookston — the Southern chef who is famously hailed as the only female barbecue world champion — just loves a juicy bird packed with sizzling flavors. And thankfully, she’s sharing her secrets to smoking your poultry like a pro.

"Smoked chicken is a wonderful thing," explains Cookston. "By smoking it, you get a much different texture than when roasting, as well as the benefit of a nice smoky flavor. I think smoked chicken should be done simply and with a lighter fruitwood such as apple, or a medium-bold wood such as pecan."

Best of all, this is the dish that keeps on giving. With smoked chicken, you can easily whip up several dishes to last a few days, all without getting bored. In fact, Cookston’s smoked chicken is so good, you might want to double the recipe anyway to make sure this tantalizing entrée doesn't disappear too quickly from your plate.

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"Many times if I have room on a smoker, I will smoke [extra] chicken so I will be able to make a smoked chicken salad or a smoked chicken and wild rice soup,” says Cookston. "Sometimes enough extra chicken just doesn’t get saved after dinner, so make extra!"

Got it? Good. Here’s how to make it:

How to Make a Perfect Smoked Chicken

Cooking Method: 
Serves 2-4/


For the Chicken

  • 1 (4 to 5-lb.) whole chicken, giblets removed, excess fat trimmed
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 2 Tbsps. basic “Memphis-Style” BBQ rub (see below)

For the Rub (Makes 2¾ cups)

  • 1 cup turbinado sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp. onion powder
  • 2 Tbsps. granulated garlic
  • 1½ tsps. cayenne
  • 1 tsp. finely ground black pepper
  • 2 tsps. dry mustard
  • ¼ cup mild chili powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsps. paprika


  1. First, begin preparing your rub. Place the turbinado sugar in a coffee grinder and pulse until lightly powdered. Transfer to a small mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Stir until well incorporated. The rub can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 months.
  2. Prepare a smoker to cook at 250 degrees F. Cookston prefers to smoke chicken in either halves or spatchcock style, as it allows the chicken to cook more evenly. To spatchcock, simply cut out the backbone with a pair of kitchen shears, fold the chicken open, and press down lightly to flatten slightly.
  3. Lightly oil the skin with olive oil and generously sprinkle both sides of the chicken with the BBQ rub.
  4. Place in the smoker skin-side up and cook for 1 hour and 45 minutes, until the breast registers 165 degrees F and the thigh 175 degrees F.
  5. Remove and rest for 5 to 10 minutes, then cut into serving pieces (allow a quarter- to a half-chicken per person) or let cool to room temperature and pull the meat off the bones if using for a salad.