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Chicken Smoked on a Gas Grill

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I used give those with gas grills a lot of grief.  “Why not just haul your stove out onto the deck to grill,” I often said.  I made no attempts to hide the fact that I was a charcoal purist, but I understand that some people like the ease and convenience of a gas grill.  So much so that I now have a gas grill on my deck along with two portable gas grills to teach classes.

Other charcoal purists who can’t see the benefits of gas grills, charcoal snobs if you will, will say that gas grills just aren’t all that versatile.  They are good for steaks, burgers, brats, but can’t be used for smoking.  They can only do hot and fast not low and slow.

So for you fellow gas grill owners out there, this post is for you.  I will show you how to turn your outdoor stove into a smoker.  That’s right.  Low and slow on a gas grill….

First off, whenever I grill or smoke chicken I brine them before hand.  Always.  The results are almost magical.  Anyone can make a good chicken but brining takes it to a whole other level.  What is brining?  It’s dropping meat into a salt water solution for a period of time, usually 12 hours or so.  More on the solution itself later. The thought of adding salt to meat, other than right before it goes on the grill, always made me think of drying the meat out.  But there is legit science behind brining.

Brining performs three essential functions.  First, the salt partially dissolves muscle filaments.  Muscle filaments contract when cooking and make meat tough.  Why is a well done steak not as tender as a medium rare steak?  More contraction of the muscle filaments.  If they are partially dissolved they cannot contract as much, thus the salt makes the meat more tender.

Second, the salt has an impact on the proteins in the meat.  It allows for the meat to absorb and retain more fluid.  The meat is going to lose fluid in the cooking process but if you can somehow add more before you cook then you will cut down on the overall fluid loss at the end thus the meat will be juicier.

Now you can stop here and just use a salt water solution to brine the meat, but why not go an extra step to the third thing a brine can do which is introduce flavors into the meat as well.  I just said that the brine allows the meat to absorb and retain more moisture.  Now where will meat completely submerged in liquid get that extra moisture?  From the water around it.  By adding flavor to that water you will add flavor to the meat as it draws the moisture in.

What do people always wish for when cooking?  Meat that is moist, tender and flavorful.  This gives you a leg up on all three.  Are you sold on brining yet?  If not, just try it once.  I guarantee you will be then.

So how does one create a brine?  Simple, fill a container with water, salt, and flavorizers.  This is not rocket science or chemistry.  Basically stick to the 1 cup of salt per gallon of liquid rule and then add whatever you like to add flavor.  For me that usually involves some sort of fruit, some sugars, garlic and/or onion and some acidic soda.  For fruit I have used citric fruits like oranges, lemons, limes, but I have also used apples and peaches.  The riper the better here.  For sugars I have used maple syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, turbinado sugar, and molasses.  For soda I have used white and dark sodas.

One quick note, not all salts are the same.  Table salt  weighs about 10 ounces per cup whereas kosher salt can weigh in anywhere between 5-8 ounces.  Some brands are heavier, some lighter.  If you go with Kosher salt you want to kick up the amount.  Regular table salt go with the 1 cup rule.  Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, you want to be closer to two cups and Morton’s Kosher, look to be around 1.5 cups per gallon of fluid.

For this brine I was putting the chickens in a cooler so I needed quite a lot of water to submerge all three chickens.  I estimated the water to be about 3 gallons.

Brine Ingredients:

3 gallons of water
3 cups table salt
5 peaches – sliced into bite size chunks
2 cans of cola
1/2 large onion – coarse chopped (you could use more here, it was just what I had left over in the fridge)
18 cloves of garlic – coarse chopped
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup

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Combine all the ingredients into a sterilized cooler and stir quite a bit to get the salt to dissolve then drop in the chickens:

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Normally I can do two chickens in a large pot and put it in the fridge overnight but I could not get all three of the chickens in my pot.  Hence the cooler.  Now I need to make sure that the whole concoction stays cold overnight.  This seven pound bag of ice did the trick:

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The next day be sure to rinse the chickens when you remove them from the brine otherwise they can be too salty.

I decided to rotisserize these chickens because I was going for low maintenance.  If I did them indirect I would have the chickens on one side and the heat on the other and with three I would likely be repositioning multiple times as the one closest to the fire cooked faster.  This way the rotisserie keeps the chickens moving for me.  You can most definitely do them indirect if you do not have a rotisserie, just expect a little more maintenance.

Couple of tips about rotisserie grilling chickens.  First, use bakers twine and tie the legs and wings in tight to the bodies or the appendages will cook fast and burn.  Second, when doing three chickens, each one will require a rotisserie fork to keep it rotating along with the spit.  And third, when doing three chickens, put the smallest bird in the middle.  The other two will insulate the bird and slow down the cooking of it to help all three get done at the same time.

The chickens below were rinsed, patted dry, put on the spit (with a rotisserie fork in each) tied off with cooking twine (very important step) and dusted with granulated garlic:

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The reason it is important to tie the birds off is to keep the wings and legs close to the bodies of the birds so they won’t burn.

This grill has long front, middle and back burners that run the entire width of the grill.  I only turned on the front and the back.  You may need to adjust accordingly based on your burner configuration or if you are going indirect.

Also, if you are having issues with your gas grill, don’t trade it in for a new one as there is no trade in value. Instead, contact the fine people at GrillPartsSearch.com and fix the one you have. Most of the time the fix is simple and cheap. Much cheaper than buying a new one.

Now to making chicken smoked on a gas grill.  How do you smoke on a gas grill without making a huge mess?  There are all kinds of after market wood tins or chip trays that you can buy to hold the wood and keep the ash contained but I say skip that and buy yourself some chips, yeah, I said chips, and some tin foil:

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Those apricot chips are not soaked.  Just a couple handfuls on a sheet of tin foil.  In the pic above I only used one handful.  It only smoked for about 30 minutes so I upped it to two handfuls when I made the other two.  Now wad up the foil into a ball and poke holes into the top of the ball:

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Now off to the grill, I mean smoker.  Put the ball directly on the flames if you can or in the hottest location if not.  In this case there was more room between the spit and the front than the spit and the back of the grill.  So I turned the front burner to high and the back to medium.  I was looking to hit 400 for the first 30 minutes so this works perfectly.  Here is that foil ball on the hot burner after a few minutes.  It takes a few minutes because the foil insulates the chips from the heat:

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Wait another few minutes, close the lid and now your gas grill is a smoker:

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That’s the trick to smoking on a gas grill.

I wound up using three foil balls throughout the process.  The first one with only one handful of chips only smoked for about 30 minutes.  The other two went for at least 45.  When one smoke ball is done remove it and replace with another one.  Since I was doing chicken here, I only used one at a time.  Too much smoke can overpower chicken.  But if you were doing say ribs or a loin on a gas grill by all means use two or even three foil balls at a time to produce extra smoke.

After 30 minutes the smoker was not smoking anymore. Does that mean it’s not a smoker anymore? I lifted the lid to check my chicken and replace the smoke ball. The chicken skin had browned nicely and tightened up a bit, so I replaced the foil ball with a fresh one and proceeded to brush on my garlic butter sauce, before closing the lid and turning the gas grill into a smoker again:

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Wait.  Garlic butter sauce?  Did I forget to mention that?  Oops.  I took about a dozen cloves of garlic and plopped them in one of those little coffee grinders.  This one had never been used for coffee.  It’s just used to grind up herbs and garlic.  I basically pureed the garlic and then added the garlic to a pot that I had melted four sticks of sweet butter in.  Once the skin had browned a bit and tightened up I braised the chickens with the garlic butter sauce using a pastry brush every 30 minutes or so.

After I closed the lid I dropped the front burner down to medium to try to get the temp down to 300.

Here we have another basting session after about an hour on the grill, you can see that the the smoker is still smoking at this point:

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Another 45 minutes later (total time so far about one hour and 45 minutes) and these smoked chickens are looking ready to come off the grill.

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Some of side dishes were taking too long so I dropped the temp to just under 200 for another 30 minutes or so.  You want to grill these till the breast is about 160 degrees.  So stop the rotisserie and shove a meat thermometer into the breast.  Pull them from the grill and let them rest for 5-10 minutes and they should continue to cook until they hit the FDA recommended 165.  If you don’t want to keep poking the bird with a thermometer (something I do not recommend as you will lose a lot of juice that way), look for the juices naturally running out of the birds as they go around.  If the juices are clear all the way around on all three they are done.  Or buy chickens with those little popping thermometers already inserted into the breasts.

Here we have the finished product:

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Juicy enough for you?  This was the hit of Father’s day.  A must try for any Grillin Fool!!!

If you have any questions about smoking on a gas grill please feel free to comment below or email me.

Click here for other grilled chicken recipes done by the Grillin Fools.

Also, you can follow the Grillin Fools on Facebook and post your own grilling pictures, or keep up with us on Twitter@GrillinFool (no S).

  1. Wow. That looks amazing – simply amazing. You’re right about brining, it’s a fairly simple thing but it does wonders for flavor and juiciness and tenderness.

    YUM.

  2. I cooked a chicken last weekend using this recipe of yours and, dude!, it was outstanding! Can’t wait to make it again soon for my brother and his family!

    Gage (Minnesota)

  3. Chris (Kansas) says:

    Great article. Going to put a few birds on a spit this weekend.

    Also, be sure to brine your turkeys this Thanksgiving, whether you are smoking them on the grill, deep frying or oven roasting. You’ll have rave reviews.

    Here’s my recipe, but be sure to make your own.

    Per gallon of water:

    1 cup of kosher salt
    2/3 cup of sugar
    1 tbsp. of liquid smoke
    onions

    Submerge bird in brine for 24 hours before cooking.

  4. now that’s some serious brine and smoke!! these look awesome!

  5. This chicken is gorgeous! I’ve never tried fruit in a brine. Very nice!

  6. reading this makes me want my own outdoor grill, the only that’s holding me back is the fact that I live in an apartment complex! I’ll just admire your delicious chicken!

    • Jessie,

      Check back with us in a couple of months. We are going to be doing some indoor grilling which may be just what you need.

      The easiest way to follow us is to follow us on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @grillinfool (no S). I promise never to hit you with mundane tweets. Just site related stuff which 95% of the time will be notifications of new content…

      …….Scott

  7. Interesting. Thank you for sharing. Cheers !

  8. milaneyjane says:

    Thank you for the fabulous recipe as well as great step by step directions. I made this today for my family and last minute couldn’t use the rotisserie. I ended up cooking the chicken on the beer can in the grill instead but followed everything else in the recipe exactly. OH MY!!!! Delish! The garlic butter is the kicker!!! My family of picky eaters thank you!

    • MJ,

      Sounds like you were able to adapt and overcome a pretty significant set back pretty easily. Well done. Half of BBQ is improvising…

      …….Scott

  9. Hi,
    I have a question….are you simply remarking that the chips in the picture aren’t soaked, or do you mean to instruct us that we should NOT soak the chips?

    Thanks!

    • Judy,

      I’m saying not to soak the chips. The foil will insulate them enough to keep them from burning which is what the water does. Soak them and do the foil and it will take forever to get any smoke if you get any at all. If using chips directly on coals, them by all means, soak the chips. But if you are putting them in foil, do not foil…

      …….Scott

  10. Hi Scott,

    Firstly I thank you for posting your recipes on the website!!!! I plan to try all of them….. in time

    I live in Australia and have recently purchased a 2 metre long X 1 metre wide and approx 1 metre deep custom made gas rotisserie or spit. I have a large family with 4 kids and in laws with more kids than me…. anyhow we have a lot of family get togethers and they loved my chickens (AKA your recipe). My wife’s family are Samoan decent…. they eat big!

    I followed the recipe ingredients exactly how you said, however I used 5 chicken and they came out beautiful. The second time I cooked I used 10 chickens however increased the amount of ingredients, the only thing that was wrong with this was I used 4 cups of salt and the chickens came out too salty. 3rd time I went back to 2 cups of salt and cooked 9 chickens, they came out great.

    I am having a party coming up (my sons 3rd birthday). I am having my mate make me a custom made extension of the Rotisserie fork to hold possible 20/ 30 chickens!!… trying to save money buy not paying for a caters!

    If I was to cook this amount can you suggest how I can adjust the receipt to suit?

    Also I cooked a 30kg pig on the weekend for my next door neighbour for his grand daughters 1st b’day and did not see you recipe for the whole pig. I was so disappointed that I had missed that. the pig did turn out being cooked perfectly, it took just on 5 hours, the meat was cooked perfectly and still had that little juiciness about it… am planning to cook a pig for my Sons b’day also using you recipe… looking forward to trying it…

    Once again thanks for sharing you receipes and your response if possible.

    thanks,
    Jeff

    • Jeff,

      The biggest thing is try to keep the ratio right. It’s about 1 cup of salt to 1 gallon of fluid. And I generally don’t brine more than about 12 hours. Also, rinse the birds and pat them dry when you take them out of the brine. Let me know how it goes. Oh, and I’m so jealous of that grill!!!

      …….Scott

  11. Scott,

    cheers, I will send through some pictures next time. I tried emailing you however it bounced back… not sure why. Thanks talk soon.
    Jeff.

    • Jeff,

      We’re having some issues with our GrillinFools email since we switched to a new provider. We’re working on it. If you need to send something to me, you can use my alternate account which is ScottGThomas (at) Gmail (dot) com….

      …….Scott

  12. Hi, Scott

    Thks 4 ur recipe. I can’t wait to try.
    But my question is: Why add sugar to the meat?

    • Polishqueue says:

      Oh, and the sugar is there to offset the salt. It’s the balance between the two flavor-types that makes the difference. Same reason you glaze the skin with honey or brown sugar or whatever.

  13. Polishqueue says:

    Sometimes modern production “cheats” can work in our favor. If you buy your chickens from the local supermarket, odds are that the label will say (since the government requires them to, otherwise they wouldn’t, of course) that the the chicken has been “enhanced” with up to 10% of a salt and sugar solution. THEY might think they’re getting away with something, but the reality is that what they’re doing is pre-brining the chicken for you. That’s why cheap supermarket chickens always seem to taste better than fancy, free-range, all-natural chickens that haven’t been “enhanced”.

  14. I am going to try this with two birds this weekend. I am going to use apples (Red Delicious) instead of peaches. My gas grill has a dedicated “drawer” for smoking wood chips, so would I still follow the same time and temperature recommendations in these directions? I am thinking I still need to get the temp up to 400 to get the wood chips smoking and then bring the temp back down to 300.

    • Aaron,

      Absolutely use the built in drawer and just follow the instructions. You might need to play with the temps to get it perfect where you are getting smoke but not too hot to cook the birds too fast. You might have to cook them a little hotter than you like until you get it right. Let me know how they come out!

      …….Scott

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