Rumbling Ramblings: Smokey Spring Chicken

Words: Karl Tessendorf

spring chickenThe flowers are out, the air is ripe with pollen and my nose is blocked. Yup, it’s spring and that means it’s time to shake things up in your cooking arsenal. The flash of inspiration for this adventure came when I opened my shed and was nearly killed by the cascading contents. After some harsh words with a cooler box and a particularly aggressive rake, I decided to spring clean the shed. During the repack I came across my smoking chips and as they say, the rest is history.

Why we smoke meat

Speaking history, did you know that smoking meat is one of the oldest methods of preservation? The process dehydrates the meat and smoke has antibacterial properties, which enables the meat to keep. The type of smoking that we’re doing today is based on the American style of barbeque. It’s all about low and slow, indirect heat cooking that’s become so popular with the help of TV shows like Diner’s, Drive-ins and Dives.

Building Smokey Flavour

The beauty of low and slow smoking is that it tenderises connective tissue and keeps the meat succulent. It also adds that distinctive smokey flavour and all smoking woods have different flavour personalities. I like apple and pecan wood chips for their sweet and delicate smoke flavours. If you’re looking for a roundhouse smoke kick to the face then go with hickory, but don’t overdo it, as it’s very strong.

spring chicken
spring chicken

Tangy White BBQ Sauce

The next addition to this dish is something I’m willing to bet that you’ve never seen before – white barbecue sauce. It’s a tangy mayonnaise based sauce invented in 1925 by Alabama barbecue legend, Big Bob Gibson. At Big Bob’s Bar-B-Q the chickens come right off the smoker and get dipped into a vat of the stuff. I’ve made my own version based on Big Bob’s and I think it’s tasty enough to drink out of a shot glass.

Prepping your Smokey Spring Chicken

The last important piece to this barbecue puzzle is the dry rub for the chicken. I’ve put together a simple rub to add a spicy kick to the chicken skin. So that’s all the bits and bobs for the chicken and now it’s time to talk fire. This is probably the most important bit so pay attention.

The Fire

Once you’ve set up your fire like the pictures show, all that’s left to do is to maintain it. The trick is to keep the heat steady by replenishing coals and maintain smoke by replenishing wood chips. If your Weber has a built-in thermometer, you’ll want to keep it at around 105 °C. If you’re like me and own the smallest thermometer-less Weber ever made, then just keep an eye on it and you should be fine. Happy smoking!

spring chicken
spring chicken

Smokey Spring Chicken Recipe

Serves: 4 – 5
Difficulty: moderate
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 2 ½ hours


2 Tbsp (30 ml) paprika
1 Tbsp (15 ml) salt
1 Tbsp (15 ml) brown sugar
2 tsp (10 ml) cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) ground garlic powder
1 tsp (5 ml) cayenne pepper
1 tsp (5 ml) ground black pepper

Chuck everything together into a bowl and give it a good mix. This makes enough for a good couple of chickens, so store it in an airtight container to keep it fresh.


2 C (500 ml) mayonnaise
¾ C (190 ml) apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp (30 ml) lemon juice
2 tsp (10 ml) creamed horseradish
1 tsp (5 ml) ground black pepper
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
½ tsp ground garlic powder
½ tsp cayenne pepper

Place all of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk until combined. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.


1.5 kg free-range chicken, butterflied

When it comes to buying chickens don’t cheap out. Spring for a quality brand that’s free-range and free of any nasty stuff. The chickens are plumper and tastier and they’re really worth the extra spend. Before you season your spring chicken you’re going to need to butterfly it. The easiest way to do this is to flip it on its back and cut the spine out using a pair of clean kitchen scissors. Simply cut along the outside of the spine from top to bottom on both sides to remove it. Once the spine is out, open the chicken up and gently flatten it out. Season liberally all sides with rub and set aside. (See this video on how to spatchcock a chicken.


1 foil drip pan that fits your Weber, half filled with water
charcoal lumps not briquettes
3 handfuls of Weber smoking chips (I use Pecan, Apple or Hickory), soaked
a bowl of water for soaking chips
small amount of oil for basting (once per side)
clean basting brush enough foil to wrap and rest the chicken (20 minutes)

Setting up a two-zone indirect fire

The fire setup for smoking on a Weber is called a two-zone indirect fire. It means that the coals are on one side of the Weber and the drip tray is on the other side. The meat will go above the drip tray and cook via indirect heat or radiant heat when the lid is on. The smoking chips are placed on the coals during the cooking process and the smoke will flow over the meat imparting flavour.

You don’t need a massive fire for this method of cooking ­– with the lid on the coal burns more slowly because you are limiting the oxygen supply. Just make sure that the bottom vents are open, and the vents on the lid are open and placed above the chicken so the smoke will draw out over it. You will need to check the coals every now and then to top up if needed and to add more smoking chips.

While you are making the fire, soak the chips.

Getting the Smoke Going

When the coals are grey and glowing, you can add the first small handful of soaked chips. Get the grill back on and place the chicken skin side up with the legs towards the fire. Close the lid and let the smoke work its magic. Check the fire and chips every 30 minutes, but be quick so you don’t lower the temperature too much. At the hour mark, add a handful of charcoal if the fire is running low. Baste the skin with oil and flip the bird over. Baste the inside cavity and close the lid for another hour of cooking.

Smoking that Spring Chicken

At the two-hour mark, you can check the chicken for doneness by sticking a knife into the thick bits – if the juices run clear it’s done. If it’s not done, just keep going until it is, checking regularly. Cooking time will depend on the size of the bird.

Two things to remember when smoking are that you can over smoke meat, so go easy on the chips. Use small handfuls. The other is that smoking gives the meat a pink hue so don’t be alarmed if you see it. When your smokey spring chicken is done you should have a beautiful golden skin with a spicy kick. Wrap the chicken in foil and rest it for 20 minutes if you can wait that long.

Serve with white barbeque dipping sauce and an ice cold beer – tuck in and enjoy

Check out some of our other Braai recipes.

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