From America's Test Kitchen Season 7: Beer Can Chicken Dinner
We wanted to know if the curious cooking method of grill-roasting chicken over a can of beer really worked. To earn our approval, this technique would have to produce a tender, juicy, and deeply seasoned bird.
We found that beer can chicken is the real deal—why? The beer in the open can simmers and turns to steam as the chicken roasts, which makes the meat remarkably juicy and rich-textured, similar to braised chicken. As an added bonus, the dry heat of the grill crisps the skin and renders the fat away. To perfect the technique, we added a few hardwood chunks to the fire for smoky flavor. The best grilling setup (for a charcoal grill) proved to be banking the lit coals on either side of the grill and propping the chicken up on an open can of beer on the grill in the center, using the bird’s drumsticks to form a tripod. Finally, we found we didn’t have to spend money on an expensive beer—the beer flavor wasn’t really detectable in the chicken, so a cheap brew worked just fine (so does lemonade, which proved an acceptable substitute for the beer).
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Using the right amount of charcoal is crucial here; using too much charcoal will burn the chicken, while using too little will extend the cooking time substantially. The temperature inside the grill should be about 375 degrees at the outset and will fall to about 300 by the time the chicken is done. For added accuracy, place a grill thermometer in the lid vents as the chicken cooks. If you prefer, use lemonade instead of beer; fill an empty 12-ounce soda or beer can with 10 ounces (1 1/4 cups) of lemonade and proceed as directed.
1. For Spice Rub: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. Measure 3 tablespoons for use in this recipe. Extra rub can be stored (or frozen) in an airtight container for several weeks.
2. For Chicken: Soak the wood chunks or chips in cold water to cover for 1 hour and drain. If using wood chips, divide them between two 18-inch squares of aluminum foil, seal to make two packets, and use a fork to create about six holes in each packet to allow smoke to escape.
3. Massage the spice rub all over the chicken, inside and out. Lift up the skin over the breast and rub the spice rub directly onto the meat. Open the beer can and pour out (or drink) about 1/4 cup. With a church key can opener, punch two more large holes in the top of the can (for a total of three holes). Crumble the bay leaves into the beer. Slide the chicken over the can so that the drumsticks reach down to the bottom of the can and the chicken stands upright; set aside at room temperature.
4. Light a large chimney starter filled two-thirds with charcoal (4 quarts, or about 60 briquettes) and allow to burn until the coals are fully ignited and partially covered with a thin layer of ash, 15 to 20 minutes.
5. Place the disposable pan in the center of the grill. Pour half of the coals into a pile on each side of the grill, leaving the pan in the center. Nestle 1 soaked wood chunk (or 1 foil packet) on top of each coal pile. Position the cooking grate over the coals, cover the grill, and heat until hot, about 5 minutes; scrape the grate clean with a grill brush.
6. Place the chicken (with the can) in the center of the cooking grate with the wings facing the coals (the ends of the drumsticks will touch the grate and help steady the bird, see the illustration below). Cover and grill-roast, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 170 to 175 degrees, 65 to 85 minutes.
7. With a large wad of paper towels in each hand, transfer the chicken to a platter or tray, making sure to keep the can upright; let rest for 15 minutes. Using wads of paper towels, carefully lift the chicken off the can and onto a platter or cutting board. Discard the remaining beer and can. Carve the chicken and serve.
Grill-Roasting Two Chickens: There are some occasions when you may want to cook more than one chicken—when you have more guests to serve or if you’d like to have leftovers on hand. Here’s how:
Increase the number of wood chunks to 4 (or 4 cups of wood chips), use 6 tablespoons Spice Rub, two 3 1/2 pound chickens and increase the amount of charcoal to a three-quarters full chimney (4 1/2 quarts, or about 70 briquettes). In step 6, set the chickens (and cans) in the middle of the cooking grate, with the chickens breasts facing one another, about 3 inches apart (keeping the chickens close together ensures that they won’t hit the top of the domed grill lid). Grill-roast as directed.
With the legs pointing down, slide the chicken over the open beer can. The two legs and the beer can form a tripod that steadies the chicken on the grill.