BATON ROUGE, La. - Beer-can chicken is a novelty barbecue dish that is a favorite with backyard barbecuers not only for its conversation-starting appearance, but also for its moist flavor.
No one knows the history of beer-can chicken or who thought up this outrageous cooking method. It's been popular with Louisiana, Texas and Tennessee barbecue cooks for several years. The premise is simple. The beer provides a steaming effect to the inside of the chicken as it cooks. The steaming keeps the chicken moist and prevents the leaner breast meat from drying out.
There are additional benefits to cooking chicken on a beer can. The upright position helps drain off the fat and crisp the skin, two characteristics desired in a perfectly roasted or barbecued chicken.
If you aren't a barbecue or grill cook, you also can prepare beer-can chicken in the oven. Remove the top rack in your oven before preheating to make certain you'll have room for the chicken to stand upright.
The technique can be used with other canned liquids, such as colas and fruit juices, providing the steaming and interior moisture. Some cooks also like to add a tablespoon of crab boil to the liquid in the can to give a little extra kick to a spicy-flavored chicken.
It's a fun dish to prepare and serve. Here is a recipe to get you started in beer-can cookery.
One 12-ounce can beer
One 3 1/2 - to 4-pound chicken
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Cajun-style seasoning or your favorite commercial barbecue rub
Pop the tab off the beer can. Using a church key-style can opener, make a few more holes in the top of the can. Pour out half the beer into the soaking water of the wood chips. Add 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce to the remaining beer in the can. Set the can of beer aside.
Set up the grill for indirect grilling and heat 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 heat on high until you see smoke, then reduce the heat to medium.
Remove the packet of giblets. Remove and discard the fat just inside the body and neck cavity. Rinse the chicken, inside and out, under cold running water and then drain and blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of the rub inside the body and neck cavities of the chicken. Rub the bird all over on the outside with 2 teaspoons of the rub. If you have the patience, you can put some of the rub under the skin.
Spoon the remaining 2 teaspoons of rub through the holes into the beer in the can. Don't worry if it foams up: This is normal. Insert the beer can into the body cavity of the chicken and spread out the legs to form a sort of tripod. Tuck the wing tips behind the chicken's back.
When ready to cook, if using a charcoal grill, toss all the wood chips 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 on an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the thigh). This will take about 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.
Using tongs, carefully transfer the chicken in its upright position on the beer can to a platter and present it to your guests. Let the chicken rest 5 minutes, then carefully remove the chicken from the beer can. Take care not to spill the hot beer or otherwise burn yourself. Quarter or carve the chicken and serve.
Makes 4 servings.
From How to Grill by Steven Raichlen
Note: If you prefer to cook Beer-Can Chicken in the oven, prepare chicken as directed. Place on beer can put inside a foil-lined baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until done.
TIPS ON MAKING BEER-CAN CHICKEN