Tony's question about beer can chicken seemed odd to us at first, until we realized that our 100 year old family patriarch had never watched how we cooked that chicken he so loved!
Simply put, it is one of the greatest ways to barbecue the world's favorite fowl! Also known as Beer butt chicken, and less indelicately as beer can chicken and chicken on a throne, it is fast becoming an American legend.
He then observed, from his throne under the cabana, this simple method to the most succulent chicken ever. "Boys", he said, "that's the way I want my chicken from now on".
He now asks us to make "drunken chicken". So be it!
Why Beer Can Chicken...?
You can review the "Cookin' Cousin's" secrets at our "6 Secrets to Smoking Meat".
The only other method that will give you a result close to beer can chicken on the grill, is smoking chicken in a meat smoker. This is covered in our "Smoking Chicken" page. But let's put that grill to use starting with...
Note: We've included some in context links to our favorite, backyard tested products, as a convenience for our visitors.
Patience Low and slow is the real secret to great beer can chicken. Maintain the temperature between 230/250°F (110/121°C) for a couple of hours. This is not the fastest method, but the "bestest"!
One 12oz. can-o'-beer Any beer will do, but why not buy your favorite? You need only half a can of brew for the bird.
Beer can chicken holder This is not mandatory, but it certainly makes balancing the chicken on the grill a whole lot easier! You can get these great contraptions at most stores that sell barbecue accessories, but...
Most of them are not made of stainless steel, and do not have a built-in drip tray. That drip tray is brilliant! Now, neither of these features are a deal breaker, just nice to have when the price is right.
Our three favorite beer can chicken holders are... the inexpensive Kingsford
Stainless Steel model, the heavy duty (more expensive, of course) Norpro Stainless Steel version, and for a whole lot more fun, look at this Double Beer Can Chicken Cooker. You can cook 'taters-'n-corn along with two birds at the same time!
Gas Grill The indirect heat cooking method, to cook beer can chicken on a gas grill, requires at least a good two burner model .
Charcoal Grill Our long time favorite is the classic Weber kettle type grill. It's inexpensive, very durable, and easy to use. For shear convenience, we love the feature loaded (albeit, more expensive) Weber Performer Platinum
Charcoal Grill. This beauty has it all.
Meat Try to buy fresh! A plump, 2-3 pound broiler/fryer is best.
Spices We use rubs on our birds, and enjoy putting together our own with these basic fresh ingredients:
Hardwood chunks/chips Use only hardwood for any barbecue; never any kind of softwood. For smoked chicken we use Pecan, Oak, Mesquite, Cherry, Apple, or combine a couple for exceptional results. If you like a stronger smoke flavor, Hickory is great!
Shallow baking pan or a Disposable aluminum pan You'll need one of these if you don't have a chicken holder with a built-in drip tray. If you do not have a readily available source for good quality disposable pans, we've found these Weber 7-1/2-Inch-by-5-inch
Aluminum Drip Pans to be excellent for the price.
Smoker box, or pouch If your grill came with a barbeque Smoke Box for the wood chips, you're good to go. Otherwise you can make an envelope/pouch from heavy-duty aluminum foil, and put a couple of handfuls of presoaked (in hot water for at least 20 minutes), drained chips on the foil. Fold into an envelope/pouch shape, and poke several holes in the top to release the smoke. However, for the best, and longest smoke effect, we use a Cast Iron Smoker Box. The chips last longer, and burn evenly.
Oven/Grill thermometer We've found that the thermometer included with most grills to be unreliable. Our two favorites, for quality and accuracy, are the CDN High Heat Oven Thermometer and the Admetior Kitchen Oven Thermometer.
Instant-Read probe type thermometer Nobody likes uncooked chicken! To be safe you want the internal temperature to reach the ideal temperature of 165°F (74°C). Two of our favorite inexpensive, very accurate, pocket models are the fast reading CDN Proaccurate Stainless Digital Thermometer and the little faster professional grade Thermoworks Super Fast Water-Resistant Digital Pocket Thermometer. For the discriminating cooks who want the top-of-the-line model, you'll love the (very expensive) Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer. It's darn near perfect.
Tongs Long, strong, professional type tongs are indispensable when handling anything on a grill. We have, and use both the OXO Good Grips 16-Inch Locking Tongs, and the Weber Style 6441 Professional-Grade Chef's Tongs. But for handling beer can chicken we more often we use...
Insulated Food Gloves These things are by far the easiest way to handle awkward meat on the grill or smoker. Our very favorite set is Steven Raichlen's Barbecue
Insulated Food Gloves. You can't beat them for the ease of fast transfer off of the grill to the platter, and no-burnt-fingers. Wash-up is a breeze!
Chimney Starter For you charcoal smoke/grillr folks, this is really the only way to start, and maintain, the coals. If you've never used one, you're going to love the experience! By far the best is the Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter. Lot of chimney starters out there, but this is the champ.
The chicken is first "rubbed", with a simple, dry, spice accented rub, and then smoked slow, with low indirect heat. All for that unforgettable tender, perfectly seasoned, eating experience!
...let's start with a classic rub recipe that will impart all of the flavors your drooling chops are hankerin' for. Do not let the simplicity of this basic rub fool you. It works great, and you can adjust the recipe (as the "pros" do) to make it "yours". Look at our "Dry Rub Recipes" page for other great recipes and ideas.
Basic Rub Recipe For Beer Can Chicken
Mix together thoroughly the following:
NOTE: Chicken should be always kept in the refrigerator (below 40°F/4.4°C) before preparation.
We leave the skin on our birds for the best flavor, and to keep it moist throughout the cooking period. If you must have skinless chicken, remove the skin after it is cooked.
Drain half of the beer, using your favorite beer disposal method. Try a can opener to take the lid off. Failing that, pour the remainder (hopefully still half of a can) in a temporary container, cut the lid off and replace the beer. Or use an old "church key" to make a few more holes.
Now, our beer can chicken recipe is a very forgiving roasting method, so you can have some fun experimenting with putting complimentary spices/herbs in the beer.
How about a couple/three minced cloves of garlic and some cumin. Throw in some cayenne for a spicy effect and maybe some diced onion! Some folks even put a tablespoon of vinegar in the beer.
If you add nothing to the beer, the chicken will still turn out fantastic!
NOTE: Please, if you use charcoal lighter fluid, allow the coals to burn to a gray ash coating. There are several better "fire-starters" on the market that will not taint the meat, or impart potentially dangerous chemicals to the food.
NOTE: Always use tongs or insulated food gloves! Never use the forked, sharp, pokey thing that seems to come with all backyard barbecue tool sets. It will pierce the meat and allow the juices to run out.
With the temperature holding 230/250°F (110/121°C)...
You have time! If you have faithfully maintained the cooking temperature, you can leave your station several times before the bird(s) are done. When cooking beer can chicken on the grill, think 2-3 hours 'til end-of-shift.
At the 2 hour mark, grab that instant-read meat thermometer and...
- Check the chicken at the meatiest part of the breast, looking for 160°F (71°C) to be the magic number.
Beer can chicken on the grill produces a wonderful, natural, smoke enhanced flavor. We do not cook beer can chicken with barbecue sauce as this interferes with the smoke absorption, and there goes your fame!
Carefully take your beautiful roasted beer butt chicken from the grill and let rest for at least 10 minutes. Resting allows the juices to redistribute through the bird, and avoids the dry meat nobody likes. Very carefully remove the hot can of beer.
Now, you are the chef, so pull a piece off of that beauty and try it! Yep! It just falls off of the bone.
So, now you have done it. Whether your friends or family call it beer butt chicken, beer can chicken, or chicken on a throne, your backyard fame is secure!