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There's something special about cooking and serving a whole bird. Whether wild or domestic, whole birds always signify a family meal to me. While this smoked pheasant was only enough to feed my small family, it was still special to share it with them. If you take the time to pluck a whole bird, you should definitely do something special with it and share it with others!
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.
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 into the meat. This recipe calls for a good amount of thyme and garlic that add a subtle undertone once the bird is smoked and glazed.
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 BBQ glaze is sweet, vinegary, and full of flavor. It caramelizes a bit during the smoking and is such a treat to eat!
How to Smoke Pheasant:
Once you do the hard part of spatchcocking the pheasant and brining it, the smoking part 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 quite nicely. After you soak the chips, get the smoker going at about 200°F. Let it do it's thing for a couple of hours, baste it with the glaze every hour or so, turn it up to 250°F, and pull it off when the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Let it rest and enjoy!
Cherry Smoked Pheasant with BBQ Glaze
- 2 cups cherry smoking chips
- 1 whole pheasant, skin-on
- 2 qt water
- ½ cup kosher salt
- ¼ cup sugar
- 7-8 fresh thyme sprigs
- 3 bay leaves
- 6 cloves garlic, smashed
- 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, sugar, thyme, bay leaves, and garlic in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil.
- Let cool slightly and transfer to a non-reactive container. Let cool to room temperature. Add in whole pheasant.
- Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours.
- Rinse pheasant with cool, running water and place 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 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 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 smoker is heated, place spatchocked pheasant onto smoking rack. Smoke for 1 hour before adding 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.