Beer Can Chicken

Cooking presents two ways in which to experiment. You can experiment with ingredients, and you can experiment with cooking methods.

Chicken, as I’ve noted, can get boring very quickly. You can bake it, roast it, fry it, and grill it, but in the end, chicken still tends to taste like – well, chicken.

Then I noticed beer-can chicken, and the method looked so easy, but so much fun. And it was. Positioning the beer-can, and wiggling the legs around so that the bird stood upright on the grill made me feel like a kid again, as if I was manipulating the small pieces of a model aircraft carrier until they fit just-so.

Once the chicken was safely in its tripod position, I lowered the lid and then retreated to read my book. If you’re using a gas grill – like I did – you want to make sure that the center burners are not lit. If you have heat on directly under the chicken you will overcook the chicken, and even melt the beer can.

After an hour, I briefly checked the bird. All was well. After two hours, I pulled the chicken from the grill, and laid it on a cutting board to cool. All was delicious. The meat fell right off bone, and was incredibly moist and flavorful, without any hint of a beer taste. This method was now tried, and true.

Beer Can Chicken

Recipe adapted from Steven Raichlen‘s The Barbecue Bible.

PREP TIME: 10 minutes
COOK TIME: 2 hours
YIELD: 1 Whole Chicken

1 whole chicken (4 to 5 pounds)
3 tablespoons Memphis Rub (recipe below)
1 can (12 ounce) beer
1 cup hickory wood chips

1/4 cup paprika
1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder


1.  Soak the wood chips in water for an hour. Remove and discard the fat inside the body cavities of the chicken. Rinse the chicken, inside and out, under cold running water, then drain and blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Sprinkle one tablespoon of the rub inside the body and neck cavities, then rub another one tablespoon all over the skin of the bird. Cover and refrigerate the chicken while you preheat the grill.

2. Set up the grill for indirect grilling placing a drip pan in the center. If using a charcoal grill, preheat it to medium.  You do not want to have heat over the chicken. If using a gas grill, place all the wood chips in the smoker box and preheat the grill to high.  When smoke appears, lower the heat to medium.

3. Pop the tab on the beer can. Using a “church key” style can opener, make six or seven holes in the top of the can. Pour out (or take a swig) of the top inch of beer, then spoon the remaining one tablespoon of dry rub through the holes into the beer. Holding the chicken upright, with the opening of the body cavity down, insert the beer can into the cavity.

4. Once ready to cook, toss half the wood chips on the coals if you’re using a charcoal grill. Oil the grill grate. Stand the chicken up in the center of the hot grate, over the drip pan. Spread out the legs to form a sort of tripod, to support the bird.

5. Cover the grill and cook the chicken until fall-off-the-bone tender, about two hours.  If using charcoal, add 10 to 12 fresh coals per side and the remaining wood chips after 1 hour.

6. After two hours, use tongs to lift the chicken to a cutting board or platter, holding a metal spatula underneath the beer can for support. (Be careful not to spill hot beer on yourself.) Let the chicken stand for 5 minutes before carving the meat off the upright carcass. (Toss the beer can out along with the carcass.)

7.  Serve!


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