The Hungover Gourmet


Now We're Cooking with Beer!
The Wonders of Beer Can Chicken

by Dan Taylor

It seems obscene that it would take me 36 years to explore what happens when the open end of a chicken meets the business end of a beer can. Especially when you consider that there are three food/drink stuffs that I’ve liked from the get go: cheese, chicken and beer.

We’ll talk cheese some other time. Instead, let’s talk chicken. This is one of THG’s All-Time Foods. It’s versatile as hell and can be damn tasty.

As far as beer goes, I blame my brothers. In an effort to buy my nine-year-old silence one night, they slapped a Schlitz Tall Boy in my hand, took a few pictures and convinced me that if I ratted them out I would be in just as much hot water. They gambled on the fact that I’d never risk the punishment and they were right. Schlitz in hand I figured that if I was going to be in trouble just for HOLDING the damn beer, I might as well go all the way and have a sip. Or two. You might expect this to turn into a cautionary tale filled with a trip to the hospital emergency room and a visit from Child Services. And you couldn’t be further from the truth.

Sadly, I was a more responsible drinker at age nine than I was at age 29. Once that first sip of Schlitz raced across my tender taste buds, I knew it was something I’d be embracing in my future.

So you’d think at some point a light would’ve gone off over my beer-addled noggin’, causing me to consider the possibilities of a can of suds and an 8 lb. roaster. Yet it would take nearly three decades for the worlds of hops, barley and poultry to collide – with dramatic results – on my backyard grill.

The technique is called Beer Can Chicken, and never has a technique been so aptly named. No glazing or pan-frying here. If you have a grill, a beer can, and a chicken you’re 99% of the way there. Actually, you don't even need a grill, but doesn't everybody have a grill?

Beer Can Chicken BookThe first thing you’re gonna need – obviously – is a chicken. Most recipes you’ll see (including those found in Steve Raichlen’s awesome book Beer Can Chicken and 74 Other Off-Beat Recipes for the Grill) recommend a 3-4 lb. bird. I consider this a waste of time. Step up to the plate and get a nice big 6-8 lb. roaster.

Next up is a 16 oz. can of beer (8 oz. for a small bird). Extensive taste tests have determined that Bud is king of beers for this job. I can’t tell you why.

Set up your grill for indirect grilling and start your fire. (Gas: turn off one of the burners before you put the chicken on the grill. Charcoal: create two mounds of briquettes on either side of the grill with a drip pan in the middle. The chicken will sit above the drip pan.) Open the beer and pour out about half. Punch some extra holes in the top of the can. Rinse and pat dry the chicken.

Rub the outside of the chicken with a little oil (I use olive oil) – this will give the bird a nice skin and hold the seasonings better. Sprinkle the bird inside and out with whatever seasoning mix suits your taste. Lately I’ve been using Ragin’ Rick’s Steak Shake or Head Country's Championship BBQ Rub. Take a couple teaspoons of the seasoning mix and spoon it into the beer can. Don’t worry if it foams up a bit.

In order to achieve the best possible beer can chicken, you need some smoke. If you’re using a charcoal grill, toss a handful of pre-soaked wood chips onto the coals before placing the bird on the grill. If you use gas, get those mesquite or hickory pellets that don’t need soaking. You just place them in a tin foil pouch.

Place the beer can tightly inside the chicken’s cavity. Charcoal grillers should set the chicken in the middle of the grill over the drip pan while gas grillers can turn off one burner, turn the other to low and set the chicken over the off burner.

Place the chicken on the grill, breast forward, using the legs and can like a tripod. Tuck the wings behind the back so they don’t burn, close the lid and walk away. A chicken that weighs 7 to 8 lbs will require about 2 hours of cooking time; a 3 to 4 lb bird can be done in about half that. If you’re using a charcoal grill you’ll need to watch the coals and make sure your temperature stays consistent.

When the chicken’s done, take it off the grill carefully (I usually don oven mitts and lift it off) and tent it with foil for about ten minutes. You’ll probably want to have somebody help you extract the can, since it tends to get wedged in there pretty good and is full of hot liquid. Carve, serve and enjoy. Repeat as necessary.

Don’t have a grill? According to Raichlen’s book you can still pull off a decent beer can chicken – without the smoke, of course – in an oven. Set the oven at 350° F and place the beer-canned chicken in a roasting pan. Position the pan low enough in the oven so that the chicken doesn’t touch the top.

Don’t drink? Don’t worry. I’ve done beer can chicken with non-alcoholic beer and it has turned out great. Plus, you can always substitute fruit juice, soda or any other liquid. Just hang onto some aluminum cans when you’re finished with them, rinse them out and use them to create your own concoctions!

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