There's something special about cooking and serving a whole bird. This whole smoked pheasant is a showstopper when it comes to beautiful table fare. It's juicy and sweet from the honey glaze with just the right amount of smoky flavor. Give it a try today!
Why This Recipe Works:
Pheasants are like the chickens of the game bird world so they're great for smoking. The smoky flavor pairs beautifully with the earthy flavor of the pheasant. The honey BBQ glaze adds a delicious sweet and tangy flavor to the meat. It's a beautiful centerpiece for any meal!
- Pheasant: This recipe uses a plucked whole wild pheasant. You can use other upland game birds or cornish hens as well.
- Fresh Thyme: Fresh rosemary can be used in place of fresh thyme. You can also omit the herbs altogether, but they add a nice subtle flavor to the brine.
- Kosher Salt: Kosher salt is often used for brining because it doesn't have any additives and its flaky texture dissolves easily in water. But, you can use regular salt instead.
- Cherry Smoking Chips: This recipe uses cherry wood for smoking but you can use other hardwoods like apple, hickory, etc.
- Kitchen Shears: A good set of kitchen shears is essential for spatchcocking birds. You could do it with a knife, but it would be very difficult.
- Wooden Skewers: Wooden skewers are helpful for keeping spatchcocked birds flat during the cooking process, but they aren't essential.
- Smoker: This recipe uses an electric smoker, but you can use a charcoal smoker or pellet grill instead
- Meat Thermometer: A good meat thermometer is an essential tool for any meat recipe. If your smoker doesn't have a built-in probe, you'll need an external thermometer. I like to use the Thermapen ONE digital thermometer but there are a lot of great options out there.
How To Spatchcock Pheasant:
Spatchcocking is a classic poultry preparation technique that is used to cook a bird more evenly. Essentially, the backbone is removed and the bird is flattened to create a more even cooking surface. This can be done on any size bird, from doves to turkeys.
Pro Tip: Cracking the breastbone is an essential step in spatchcocking because it helps the whole bird lay flat.
How To Keep Smoked Pheasant Moist:
There are 2 simple rules for keeping game birds moist: brine and baste. Brining birds helps to prevent the natural moisture in the meat from leaving during the cooking process. It's also a great opportunity to impart another layer of flavor to the meat. A wet brine is used in this recipe but you can also use a dry brine like in this smoked trout recipe. This recipe calls for a good amount of thyme and garlic that add a subtle undertone once the bird is smoked and glazed.
Pheasant meat is a lean wild game meat and can dry out quickly. Basting the bird while it's cooking creates a barrier between the meat and the heat source that helps keep the moisture in the meat. It's also a great way to add some flavor. This honey BBQ glaze is reminiscent of a barbecue sauce, has the perfect balance of sweet and tangy, and is full of unique flavor from a simple spice mix. It caramelizes during the smoking process and is such a treat to eat!
How to Brine Pheasant:
The brining process is an important step for smoking pheasant to help keep the meat moist. It does add extra time to the smoking process but it is worth the wait!
Pro Tip: Allowing the pheasant skin to fully dry before smoking is essential to helping the smoke flavor penetrate the meat.
How To Smoke Pheasant:
Once you do the hard part of spatchcocking the pheasant and brining it, the smoking process is fairly simple. Start with some good quality smoking chips like these wild cherry smoking chips. They add a delicious fruity flavor to the meat and they burn nicely.
Pro Tip: Poultry is just like any other meat when it comes to resting. It's important to let the meat rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting into it to help the meat retain its natural juices.
Putting it All Together:
Once you have your beautiful smoked pheasant, all that's left to do is eat! Smoked pheasant goes great with classic BBQ sides like baked beans or potato salad. Or you can have a more elegant meal with a simple green salad with homemade honey mustard dressing or smoky roasted cauliflower to complement the smoky flavor of the pheasant. However you choose to serve it, you're going to love this delicious recipe!
You can use a smoking wood of your choice but fruit woods like cherry wood chips, apple wood chips, etc. add great flavor to the meat.
The purpose of soaking pheasant in a wet brine is twofold. First, it helps keep the meat moist when you cook it. Second, it can help remove residual blood and off-flavors from the meat.
The flavor of smoked pheasant will depend on a few different factors: the type of wood used, the type of glaze used (if any), and if the bird is wild or domestic. Overall, it tastes a lot like smoked chicken but with a meatier flavor.
Other Pheasant Recipes to Try:
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Smoked Pheasant with BBQ Glaze
- 2 tablespoon honey
- 2 tablespoon butter, melted
- 2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Combine water, salt, brown sugar, thyme, bay leaves, and garlic in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil.
- Let the brine cool slightly and transfer it to a non-reactive container. Let the brine cool to room temperature. Add in the whole pheasant.
- Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours.
- Rinse the pheasant with cool, running water and place it on a cooling rack on top of a sheet pan. Pat dry with paper towels and return to fridge, uncovered, for 2-3 hours.
- Flip the pheasant over to expose the backbone. Using a sharp pair of kitchen shears, cut alongside one side of the backbone.
- Once you've cut from the neck all the way to the tail on one side, repeat on the other side of the backbone. Remove the backbone and discard.
- Flip the pheasant over. Press firmly with your palm on the breastbone until you hear the bone crack.
- Pull the legs from the ends so that they are fully extended.
- Flip the bird back over and insert 2 skewers across the back of the body. Start by inserting the skewer into the thigh, then insert it again just below the wing on the opposite side of the body. Repeat with the other skewer. Skewers should be in an "x" position when finished.
- Soak smoking chips for 20 minutes before using.
- Place soaked smoking chips into the wood chip compartment of the smoker and preheat smoker to 200°F.
- Once the smoker is heated, place the spatchcocked pheasant onto the smoking rack. Smoke for 1 hour before adding the sauce.
- Combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl or liquid measuring cup. After the pheasant has been smoking for 1 hour, brush the sauce all over the pheasant liberally.
- Continue brushing with sauce every 30 minutes - 1 hour or until internal temperature reaches 165°F, about 3-4 hours total.
- Turn the temperature of the smoker up to 250°F for the final hour of smoking to help caramelize the glaze.
- Let pheasant rest for 10 minutes before serving.