Tue Jun 8, 2010
Oh the humanity! The thousands of daggers that pierce my heart each time I encounter an individual who has yet to experience the greatness of beer-can chicken. This method of grilling a chicken vertically over a beer-can—producing a perfect juiciness—has been in the repertoire since my early days of grilling. It's because of this that I always thought of it as old hat—nothing needing to be picked over in any detail on this blog—but the revelation that some new Meatwavers had never had it has made me rethink that position. So, for the devout, this post may reveal nothing new, but for uninitiated, for heaven's sake, go grab a can of beer and chicken and get this on the grill now!
It all start with a can of beer. Any beer will do—I haven't been able to discern any large flavor difference between beers—but it should be something you like, because the first part of this recipe calls for drinking about 1/3 of the can. Now that's a recipe that starts out right. If you're making a lot of chickens, you're likely to get a nice buzz, but just make sure it's not too much, so you can avoid injury when using a knife or bottle opener to cut a few more holes in the top of the can. Once the proper amount of holes are punctured, a tablespoon or so of rub is added to the beer.
So the beer is all set, time for the bird. I usually like to brine my chicken before grilling, but one of the glories of the beer-can chicken is that the evaporating beer keeps the meat nice and moist during the cooking process, so I haven't had a need to add extra moisture via brining beforehand. All I do for prep is spread some rub in the cavity of the chicken, then carefully slide it over the beer-can, using the legs to find the right position for maximum sturdiness. Then with a quick brush of butter and a dusting of my favorite rub, it's all ready for the grill.
On the grill, I use a two-zone fire where the coals are spread into two even piles on either side of the charcoal grate, with the middle kept empty. Since the dripping fat and juice from the chickens won't be hitting the coals to produce smoke with this configuration, I like to add 1 or 2 small chunks of a light smoking wood to the fire. Apple or cherry does nicely to give a sweet kiss of smoke without being overpowering.
With the fire and birds all ready to go, comes the somewhat precarious procedure of getting chicken to grill. Two hands, one firmly gripping the chicken and the other the can, should do it. Once the birds are over the cool area and are sufficiently sturdy, the grill is covered and the birds are roasted at 350 degrees until the meat in the thickest part of breast hits 165 degrees, which takes about an hour and change.
Now for the most daring feat of the day, getting a hot chicken with a boiling can of beer from grill to plate. I've been tripped up here a few times, spilling the beer inside the chicken, but if that happens, don't worry, more beer inside the chicken never ended up being a bad thing. Once the chicken is safely off the grill, it gets a nice 15 minute rest, then is carefully divorced from the can. At this point, inevitably the can starts being passed around in a double-dog dare to chug the contents. So far not one has taken the bait, but if you find someone who does, let me know and I'll happily reward the unfortunate party, if they're lucky enough to live to talk about it.
There you have it. A thing of glorious beauty. What little work this recipe requires is rewarded very handsomely. Not only does it produce an object of awe for all those who witness the event, it's also one of the juiciest and most flavorful chickens you may ever have. So for those of you who have still never had a beer-can chicken, please take this post and recipe, go to your grill, and set people like yourself on a path for extinction.
1 can of beer, 12 oz or tallboy
1 chicken, between 3-4 lbs
4 tablespoons of your favorite dry rub
2 tablespoons melted butter
1-2 small chunks of light smoking wood, like apple or cherry
1. Light a chimney 3/4 full of charcoal. While the charcoal is lighting, open the beer and drink 1/3 of the can. Using a knife or bottle opener, punch two additional holes in the top of the beer can. Put 1 tablespoon of the rub in the can.
2. Rub the inside of the chicken cavity with 1 tablespoon of the rub. Hold the bird upright, with body cavity at the bottom, and lower it onto the can so the can fits into the cavity. Pull the legs forward to form a sort of tripod, and then tuck the wing tips behind the chicken's back. Brush the chicken all over with the melted butter, and then apply the remaining rub to the chicken liberally.
3. When the charcoal is all lit and covered in gray ash, dump out onto the charcoal grate. Arrange half of the coals on each side of the grate and place a drip pan between the two piles of charcoal. Place the wood chunks on top of the charcoal, cover, and bring the grill to 350 degrees. Place the chicken in the middle of the cooking grate, over the drip pan, then cover and cook until an instant read thermometer reads 165 degrees in thickest part of the breast.
4. Using tongs, carefully transfer the bird on the can to a cutting board, use caution since the beer is like molten lava. Let the bird rest for 15-20 minute, then remove the can, carve, and serve.