Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Emails: The strange saga of the beer can chicken

By William Brand
Thursday, January 8th, 2009 at 8:46 pm in what's on tap.

E-mails….Hi Bill – In August 2002 you sent me the recipe for Beer-can-chicken.  After a lot of inebriated chicken over, under and around the bridge I am finally getting back to thank you.  I just put one on the BBQ and am looking forward to another wonderful meal.  It seems that since ’02 others have gotten on the band wagon as there are now commercial 12oz can holders to support the chicken.  But fear not…I have maintained the purity of a large can with additional capacity to allow for “tasting” prior to landing the chicken on its final resting support.  Thank you and your wife again for introducing us to a wonderful enjoyment. Ron

Yeah, it’s an incredible recipe. In fact, there’s been a whole book written about beer can chicken: Beer-Can Chicken: And 74 Other Offbeat Recipes for the Grill, by Steven Raichlen. Same guy sells a beer can rack and drip pan. My advice: eschew both, just follow this recipe…Oh, go ahead, buy the book. I did. Still haven’t opened it, probably I should.
Here’s the recipe, from my column from 2002:

One of our early beer can chickens on the barbie

One of our early beer can chickens on the barbie

Beer Can Chicken…

OK. I’m not a morning person. My wife should have known better than to ask me to go to the store at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning. But she was anxious to try a new recipe: “Beer Can Chicken.”    So to the store I went.

Trouble is, I was a bit unclear on the concept. We discovered the recipe in a cookbook and it sounded, well – interesting. The idea is to cook a chicken over an opened can of beer on a barbecue. But, as I wandered the aisles of my local super, I was a bit perplexed. First, I looked at the chickens in the meat section, then I wandered along the shelves of canned beer, not a section I often visit.

But looking at the cans of beer, then at the chickens, I was puzzled. How in the world, I wondered, does one insert a chicken in a can of beer?

So, trying to be practical in my fuzzy, early-morning state, I bought the largest can of beer I could find – Foster’s Bitter and I bought the smallest chicken I could find, the next step up from a Cornish game hen.

When I brought my purchases home, my wife almost fell to the floor, she laughed so hard. Finally, she recovered and told me the awful truth. One does not insert the chicken into the can of beer. No. You insert the half-full can of beer up the rear of the chicken! It turns out that this is a very popular Southern recipe and down there, the good ole’ boys call it: “Beer Butt Chicken.”

Well, anyway you er-stuff it, this is a delicious recipe. Once properly inserted, the beer vaporizes and infuses the chicken with a delicious liquid as the bird cooks. The recipe follows – but first, a postscript.

The first time we tried this recipe, we used the Foster’s Bitter can and – with difficulty _ inserted the can into the chicken. The next time, we tried it the proper way. I chose an 11.2 ounce can of Bavik, a sweetish, undistinguished Belgian lager, I found at Trader Joe’s.

We ran into trouble. Unlike the Foster’s can, which stood up like a rock,  it was tough to balance the smaller can beneath the chicken. It was a disaster. The can kept tipping over. Since then  – we’ve always used Foster’s Bitter and er – a big chicken.

Beer-Can Chicken

2 TB chili power, 2 TB sugar
1 TB kosher salt, 1 TB ground cumin
1 TB oregano, 1 tsp. ground cinnamon.
1 3 1/2 to 4-pound whole chicken.
1 can of beer – make it a large one.

Blend or grind the spices, sugar, salt and chili together.
Discard neck, giblets. Rub chicken inside and out with the spice rub. Cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate four hours at least.
Prepare a charcoal grill for barbecuing or light a gas grill, set heat to medium.;
Using a can opener, remove the top lid of the beer can. Drink half the beer, then slide the chicken butt over the beer can. Carefully place beer can with chicken on it in middle of grill.
Grill about 1 1/2 hours until the juices run clear. Let chicken rest of 10 minutes, then gently lift chicken from the can. Discard beer.

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  • craig

    i have a store bought device from cabelas(16$)…it has a place two put two beer cans so you can cook 2 chickens at works great with my webber..i always use a rub and i spray the can with pam for easier removal..

  • Thomas

    I prefer using Dale’s Pale ale, marinate overnight in the beer, save one can for the chicken, very herbal hoppy character gets into the chicken that can’t be beat.

    Hint get the box of Dale’s that way you have a few cans to help marinate yourself.

  • http:/// Mario (Brewed For Thought)

    I love the Cornish hens in the can of Fosters! Since you shared your embarrassing story with us (again) I should share mine:

    Note: we were camping at the time.

  • William Brand

    About Dale’s Pale Ale… I wrote the column before there was good canned beer. Haven’t made a beer can chicken in a while. Next time I do, I most certainly will use a canned craft bee, probably 21st Amendment Brew Free or Die IPA or Uncommon Brewers Siamese Twins Belgian-style Double.

    About the beer can brace…Cabelas’ can be ordered from their Web site:

  • easong

    Actually, once the Foster’s can catches a little chicken fat and spice rub it will be considerably more tasty.

  • William Brand

    Nothing like some fermentable solids!

  • Ed

    Griller beware: many cans have bisphenol A in the inside coating.

    Bisphenol A is an endocrine disruptor – higher rates of testicular cancer, lower virility, lower male birth rates, and smaller reproductive organs in male babies.

    Nasty stuff.

    Canada has banned it in baby bottles and it has been phased out of many products. The U.S. FDA so far has ignored scientific studies linking it to health risks (yeah, shocking, eh?).

    I’m not sure it’s on the inside of all beer cans. Or what it does for the flavor.

    Though burning/heating the paint on the can as well probably doesn’t add much good.

    Bon appetit!

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