Cheers for beer-can chicken

Shove the can where? Do what with the brick? Who cares! The results are delicious, and whole birds are a cheap way to eat

May 26, 2009 

Everyone knows about beer-can chicken.

Everyone but me.

I "discovered" this recipe for the first time a few weeks ago and just about flipped. There's something about cooking chicken on top of a can of beer that satisfies my inner Homer Simpson. I was so excited I just had to tell my co-workers here at The Bee.

No one shared my enthusiasm, not even the folks whose culinary aptitude is limited to making Ramen noodles in the microwave. Seems my colleagues, along with the rest of the world, have been making beer-can chicken for years.

My suspicions were confirmed when I e-mailed the recipe to our testers. Within minutes, a flurry of replies started — each with a tester's favorite beer-can chicken recipe.

Use stout, one tester said. Put garlic and onions in the can, said another.

It seems they all knew about beer-can chicken, and they all had their own methods for making it.

Next, I checked online and got lost in the world of beer-can chicken, which has been elevated to an art among foodies. One cook secures a half-pound of bacon to the top of his chicken with toothpicks before cooking it. Another, who prefers not to use alcohol, uses half a can of apple juice.

Since I was a beginner, I picked the most basic version of beer-can chicken I could find. Then I sent my husband shopping. (It wasn't tough to convince him — he was almost as excited as I was at the prospect of barbecuing with beer.)

Because he went to the store, he had to make the decision: What beer should we use for this all-important adventure?

We didn't get cheap beer — we wanted to taste the flavor in the chicken. But a lot of high-quality beers don't come in cans. We ended up with a six-pack of Heineken.

Putting the chicken on the can was easier than I thought, even though the bird was slippery from the vegetable oil and the barbecue rub. I gently carried it out to the grill and gingerly set it on the grate.

I held my breath, and — guess what? — it didn't topple over.

We could smell the chicken cooking as we played with the children in the blow-up pool. I checked it after about 45 minutes, and I'm glad I did. The skin on one side was burnt black. Next time I make this, I'll be more careful where I place the chicken and how high I turn the flames.

Still, the chicken seemed to be cooked through. I took it off the barbecue using hot pads and put it on a platter. Then I brought it into the kitchen and proceeded to try to pry the beer can out of the — uh — bottom of the chicken.

This is a delicate process. I've since read that you are supposed to hold the base of the can with an oven mitt, then use tongs (grabbing the chicken in the neck cavity) to pull the chicken off.

I've also read that, instead of a beer can, you can buy a "beer-can chicken stand," which isn't really a can at all. Seems like cheating to me.

Anyway, we let the bird rest and then cut into it. The meat was more tender than anything we've barbecued. It didn't taste like beer, but it did have a certain flavor, sort of a slight tang.

So much for my inner Homer Simpson. And my "discovery."

Still, I'm glad I ran across this. I know we will make it again and again.

Bee staff writer Kerry McCray can be reached at 578-2358 or at kmccray@modbee.com.

What The Tasters Had To Say

Balancing the bird on the beer can was a bit tricky at first. Once it was all set, there was no need to do anything throughout the cooking time. The meat was deliciously moist and tender, and the skin was beautiful. (Be sure to get the rub under the skin, too.) You could not taste the alcohol. It just kept the chicken juicy and tender. Use a church-key can opener to make two more holes in the top of the can to allow more steam to escape while cooking. Be careful when removing the chicken from the can. It's messy, and the residual beer is hot. Do this over a rimmed baking sheet and use several paper towels to take the chicken off the beer can. There are several different gadgets that can be purchased where barbecue tools are sold that will hold the beer can.

— Jan Gibson, Modesto

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This is a good beginner's recipe; once you master its essentials, you can modify it. Following this recipe will get you a moist, tender, delicious chicken. One suggestion: You don't have to make 2 cups of rub; a teaspoon of each of the four ingredients will provide adequate rub for one chicken. Also, I see no point in rubbing the chicken with salt and pepper before applying the basic rub. Unfortunately, what the recipe does not tell you is how to get the chicken from the kitchen to the grill or how to get it from the grill back to the kitchen.

— Ralph Moore, Modesto

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This quite possibly produces the most juicy chicken in the world. As the beer boils, it steams the bird from the inside out. You can't taste the beer, but boy, does it make it moist. I let it sit before I cut it and I still had to drain the plate two times before I served it! Although I liked it, my family decided that they didn't really care for it because it was too moist and they called the skin "nasty" because it didn't crisp up like it would on the barbecue. And then because they wouldn't eat the skin, the chicken had no flavor. So a mixed review from our house, but it is definitely something to try!

— Karin Reenstierna, Modesto

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