Kick-off grilling season with the legendary winged-beast of summer’s backyard barbeque. The one. The only. For now and ever. Beer Can Chicken (a/k/a. Beer Butt Chicken, Beer in the Rear Chicken, Chicken on the Throne, Drunken Chicken, Dancing Bird, Wobbly Bird, and the list continues…).
As the story is told, the legend of beer can chicken originated nearly 50 years ago on the campuses of southern US colleges. On Saturday afternoons during the fall hungry fans hosting rowdy pregame tailgate parties would briefly break from beer consumption to prepare and feast upon well-seasoned whole-chicken suspiciously perched over a strategically placed beer can. The bird was subsequently rested directly over the grill grates, upright in tri-pod fashion, and slowly cooked over coals to tender, mouthwatering perfection.
Tailgaters loved this recipe both for it’s simplicity in preparation and execution, but equally for the incredibly succulent, nearly fool-proof finished product. And, frankly, it just looked cool.
Word of beer can chicken quickly spread beyond the parking lots of America’s most iconic football stadiums to the backyards of America’s most influential competition barbeque teams. During the late 1970’s and early 1980’s these southern barbeque teams popularized the technique as they traveled north and west across the United States, competing from one town to the next, meanwhile sharing their newfangled grilled chicken with fellow competitors.
Today, beer can chicken is the most well-recognized recipe for poultry grilling fanatics from Sea to shining Sea. Although the debate rages onward in validating the science of cooking a chicken with a half-consumed beer stuffed up it’s rear – What is undebatable – In 50 years, nothing has changed, whole-chicken roast over a grill (or barbequed in a smoker) is delicious. And, it still looks pretty darn awesome.
Now here are 5 professional recommendations for the best beer can chicken ever. Cock-A-Doodle-Do!
- Brine with beer – 12 hours before the big barbeque, dunk your chicken in a chilled bath of water, beer, salt and sugar. This trusty method allows you to impart an additional layer of flavor while helping the chicken remain moist and juicy throughout the cooking process.
- Allow the chicken to return near room temperature prior to grilling or smoking – This strategy will mitigate the risks of extended cooking times and likelihood of drying out the chicken’s white meat before the darker meat is elevated to appropriate temperature.
- If concerned about food-borne illness – after rubbing the chicken in herbs and spices, fit the bird over the beer can and seal entirely in plastic wrap. Remove the wrap prior to smoking.
- Before jamming an ice cold beer up the bird’s rear – Open that can of brewski and pour all of the contents into a small pot. Place the pot over medium heat and bring the liquid just to the point of boil. Remove immediately from the heat and with express caution, pour the heated beer back into the empty can, filling half way. Then stuff the chicken. This pitmaster trick allows the beer to more quickly elevate to the temperature required to “steam” the chicken from the inside out during the cooking process.
- Employ smoke – The recipe below is unique in that it leverages an air-tight smoking appliance to cook the chicken, as opposed to an outdoor grill. Whether indirect grilling or cooking in a traditional smoker, the essence of hardwoods intensifies the effects of the brine, dry rub and flavor imparted by a steaming beer in the chicken’s cavity. And, as you know, everything is just a bit tastier with smoke – beer can chicken is no exception.
- Last, but not least, allow the chicken to rest before carving for 3-5 minutes per pound. This cooldown period allows denatured proteins within the chicken to reconstitute and absorb the juices that have been flushed out to the outer layers of muscle. After 10-15 minutes of rest, slice against the grain and serve immediately.
- Bonus Recommendation – Experiment! Tweak (not twerk) and twist the recipe. Try variations of herbs to the brine, mixing up the dry rub and seasoning applied to the bird, alternating the type of hardwood and fruitwoods, and / or your beer of choice. All great ways to make this recipe your very own!
- 8 cups water
- 1 cup kosher salt
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- Herbs – fresh basil, sprigs of rosemary, sage and thyme, plus additional for stuffing
- 4 12oz cans of beer (or non-alcoholic beer), plus 1 additional beer
- 1 4-5 pound whole chicken, thawed, trimmed and giblets removed
- Olive oil, plus additional for basting
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black peppercorn, to taste
- 1 lemon, quartered
- 4 cups mesquite wood, or your favorite alternate hardwood
- In a large pot bring water, salt and sugar to a boil. Remove from burner, toss in a few handfuls of herbs, and allow the water to cool entirely (to room temperature). Immerse chicken in the cooled water, pour in beer, cover and refrigerate for 8-24 hours.
- Remove chicken from brine, rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towel. Discard brine. Place chicken back in the refrigerator for 1 hour, uncovered, to further dry the skin.
- 45 minutes prior to smoking, remove chicken from refrigerator and rest on the counter to begin returning to room temperature. Drizzle the chicken with olive oil inside and out, then massage a liberal degree of garlic powder, salt and peppercorn into all portions of the chicken. Open a beer, drink (or discard) ½ the contents, then slide the whole chicken onto the beer can. Finally, loosely stuff the upper end of the cavity with lemon and fresh herbs.
- 20 minutes prior to smoking, load smoker with wood chips and preheat to 275F.
- Simply place the chicken over the middle rack of the smoker – balancing the bird upon the beer can and it’s 2 legs. Slowly roast the chicken for 3 hours, lightly basting every 30 minutes with olive oil, or until the internal temperature of the dark thigh meat reaches 165F and juices run clear.
- Carefully remove the chicken from the smoker (attentive to the scolding metal beer can) and transfer to a cutting board. Tent with tin foil and rest for 10 minutes before discarding the beer, lemon and herbs. Carve, season additionally to taste, and serve.