Basic Beer-Can Chicken

Please Note: Be very careful when removing the chicken from the beer can, as the beer inside will be extremely hot.

Okay, here it is. The master recipe for the ur-beer-can chicken, the showstopper that will dazzle your family and friends. If you've never made beer-can chicken before, start here, and once you've mastered the basic procedure, there's no limit to its variations.
 
  • 1 can (12 ounces) beer
  • 1 chicken (3 1/2 to 4 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons All-Purpose Barbecue Rub (recipe follows) or your favorite commercial rub
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil

You'll Also Need:

  • 2 cups wood chips or chunks (preferably hickory or cherry), soaked for 1 hour in water and/or beer to cover, then drained
  • Vertical chicken roaster (optional)
1. Pop the tab off the beer can. Pour half of the beer (3/4 cup) over the soaking wood chips or chunks, or reserve for another use. If cooking the chicken on the can, using a church key-style can opener make 2 additional holes in its top. Set the can of beer aside.

2. Remove the packet of giblets from the body cavity of the chicken and set aside for another use. Remove and discard the fat just inside the body and neck cavities. Rinse the chicken, inside and out, under cold running water and then drain and blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the rub inside the body cavity and 1/2 teaspoon inside the neck cavity of the chicken. Drizzle the oil over the outside of the bird and rub or brush it all over the skin. Sprinkle the outside of the bird with 1 tablespoon of rub and rub it all over the skin. Spoon the remaining 1-1/2 teaspoons of rub into the beer through a hole in the top of the can. Don't worry if the beer foams up. This is normal.

3. If cooking on a can: Hold the bird upright, with the opening of the body cavity at the bottom, and lower it onto the beer can so the can fits into the cavity. Pull the chicken legs forward to form a sort of tripod, so the bird stands upright. The rear leg of the tripod is the beer can.

If cooking on a roaster: Fill it with the beer mixture and position the chicken on top, following the manufacturer's instructions.

4. Tuck the tips of the wings behind the chicken's back.

5. Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium. If using a charcoal grill, place a large drip pan in the center. If using a gas grill, place all the wood chips or chunks in the smoker box or in a smoker pouch and preheat on high until you see smoke, then reduce the heat to medium.

6. When ready to cook, if using a charcoal grill, toss all of the wood chips or chunks on the coals. Stand the chicken up in the center of the hot grate, over the drip pan and away from the heat. Cover the grill and cook the chicken until the skin is a dark golden brown and very crisp and the meat is cooked through (about 180 degrees F on an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of a thigh, but not touching the bone), 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours. If using a charcoal grill, you'll need to add 12 fresh coals per side after 1 hour. If the chicken skin starts to brown too much, loosely tent the bird with aluminum foil.

7. If cooking on a can: Using tongs, hold the bird by the can and carefully transfer it in an upright position to a platter.

If cooking on a roaster: Use oven mitts or potholders to remove the bird from the grill while it's still on the vertical roaster.

8. Present the bird to your guests. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes, then carefully lift it off its support. Take care not to spill the hot beer or otherwise burn yourself. Halve, quarter, or carve the chicken and serve.

All-Purpose Barbecue Rub
Makes about 3/4 cup

Variations on this rub have appeared in each of my barbecue books. There are four basic ingredients—salt, black pepper, paprika, and brown sugar—and by varying the proportions you can create an almost endless variety of flavors. For a spicier rub use hot paprika instead of sweet paprika. You could also substitute granulated sugar, light brown sugar, or Sucanat (powdered evaporated sugarcane juice) for the dark brown sugar. There isn't a fish that swims, a bird that flies, or a beast that walks that wouldn't benefit from a generous sprinkling of this multipurpose rub.

  • 1/4 cup coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sweet paprika
  • 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1. Put the salt, brown sugar, paprika, and pepper in a small bowl and stir to mix. (Your fingers actually work better for mixing the rub than a spoon or whisk does.)

2. Store the rub in an airtight jar away from heat and light; it will keep for at least 6 months.

Adapted from Beer-Can Chicken: And 74 Other Offbeat Recipes for the Grill by Steven Raichlen (Workman, May 2002). Copyright 2002 by Steven Raichlen.

Yield: 
Serves 2 to 4

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