This is a hot-smoking method that is essentially a really slow, smoky barbecue. Instead of barbecue sauce, which you could of course us if you wanted to, I use maple syrup instead. This creates a nice sweet glaze for the smoke to adhere to as the bird cooks.
Leave the skin on the pheasant. It will not work with skinned birds, as they will get too dry. If you are not a hunter but want to make this, you can use a high-quality domestic chicken (regular supermarket ones are too soft and flabby) or you can buy a whole pheasant online or in some supermarkets. Whole Foods sells them frozen.
2 whole pheasants
1/4 cup kosher salt, about 2 1/4 ounces
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 cups water
2 cups maple syrup, boiled down to 1 cup
Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water. Find a lidded container just about large enough to hold both pheasants. Cover them with the brine and let this sit in the fridge for at least 12 hours and up to 18 hours.
Take the pheasants out and pat them dry. Set on a cooling rack under a ceiling fan or in a breezy place and let them dry for 1 to 3 hours. You can also put the birds in a container uncovered in the fridge overnight. This drying process is an important step. If you skip it, the smoke will not adhere to the pheasant as well.
Smoke the pheasants over the wood of your choice – I prefer apple, hickory or pecan – for at least 3 hours, and up to 5 hours. You want a relatively warm smoke, between 200°F and 250°F. Let the pheasants smoke for 1 hour before painting on the maple syrup, then baste with the syrup every 30 minutes afterward.
When the pheasants reach an internal temperature of 160°F in the thigh meat, take them out of the smoker. Put them on a cooling rack and baste them with maple syrup one more time. Wait at least 20 minutes before eating. They are excellent cold, too.