Lemon-Brined Smoked Chickens


To keep his chickens juicy throughout the lengthy smoking process, Slows Bar BQ chef and co-owner Brian Perrone soaks them first in a lemony brine.

Lemon-Brined Smoked Chickens
Photo: © Marcus Nilsson
Active Time:
1 hrs 30 mins
Total Time:
11 hrs 10 mins
8 servings

"The brine also helps get the salt and seasonings all the way into the bird," Perrone says. Once brined, he seasons the chicken with a smoky paprika-ancho spice rub, to round out the flavor. "The ideal rub should have enough spice that you notice it but not so much that it overpowers the meat." He rubs this smoky-sweet spice blend, a variation on the one he uses at Slows, on baby back pork ribs and brined chicken before loading them into the smoker.


Paprika-Ancho Spice Rub

  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar

  • 1/4 cup sweet paprika

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder

  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Lemon-Brined Chicken

  • 2 1/2 quarts water

  • 3/4 cup kosher salt

  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 4 lemons)

  • 2 tablespoons Frank’s RedHot or other hot sauce

  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning

  • 2 (4-pound) chickens, backbones removed and chickens split through the breast (see note)

  • 1 cup hardwood chips, soaked in water for 1 hour and drained


Make the spice rub

  1. In a bowl, stir the ingredients together.

Make the chicken

  1. In a saucepan, combine the water, salt, lemon juice, hot sauce, pepper, and poultry seasoning; bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt. Let cool to room temperature.

  2. Put 2 chicken halves in each of two 1-gallon resealable plastic bags. Pour half of the brine into each bag, seal, and refrigerate for 8 hours.

  3. Drain the chickens and pat dry. Sprinkle all over with 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the Paprika-Ancho Spice Rub, massaging it into the meat. Reserve the remaining spice rub for another use.

  4. Light a charcoal fire in a starter chimney. Add the lit coals to a grill and set it up for indirect grilling: Carefully push the hot coals to the edges all around the grill, leaving a large open space in the center. Place a drip pan in the open space and fill the pan with water. Alternatively, add the lit coals to the firebox of a smoker. Scatter half of the soaked hardwood chips over the coals.

  5. Arrange the chickens, skin side down, on the grill over the drip pan. Cover and cook the chickens for about 1 hour at 250°F, rotating them a few times, until the skin is crisp. Turn the chickens skin side up and continue to cook for about 1 1/2 hours longer, rotating them a few times, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the inner thigh registers 165°F. Monitor the grill throughout the smoking process and add more lit coals, soaked hardwood chips, and water to the drip pan as needed to maintain the temperature and smoke level. Let the chickens rest for 10 minutes, then serve.


Ask your butcher to remove the backbones and split the chickens in half.

Make ahead

The spice rub can be kept in a jar at room temperature for up to 2 months.

Suggested pairing

Full-bodied Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley matches this smoked chicken with its citrus notes and intensity.

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