This is something we discovered years ago from a friend who considered himself something of a grillmaster. Now, it’s become quite the rage and there are numerous different theories and varieties that permeate the outdoor cooking ecosystem these days.
But this is the one we’ve been using with our $30 webber grill in the backyards of New England and California since the turn of this century.
As with all good grilling recipes, the first step is the heat. The coals need to be hot enough but last long enough to actually “bake” the chicken both from the inside and outside. This means you need to have a thick base of coals. We use a chimney and start them about 40-45mins ahead of needing to get the can-sitting-bird out there. Of course, if you are really cool and have gas, it is a different story entirely. One of real tricks of beer can chicken, we think, is actually getting the bird down into the coals and not above them, so we get the coals hot and then, use the chimney to spread them, create a ring around the outside of the bottom grill grate and then place the chicken, directly on the bottom grill grate in a shallow baking tin (we use disposable aluminum foil tins because they get very, very crispy).
For the chicken itself, we use about a 4 lb-er. Remove the innards and anything inside the cavity. Using a “tall” (e.g. 16 or 20 oz) can of Dark Beer (not as dark as Guinness, but not as light as ale) empty out the can into a bowl and cut off the top, trying to keep a little of the “flange” at the top if you can, that will help place it inside the cavity of the bird easier. Be careful, this is where you cut yourself, use gloves if you have them. Place 1/2 can of beer back into the tallboy and then add any assortment of the following directly into the half full can of beer: Chopped onions, shallots, garlic, fresh rosemary, fresh sage, fresh thyme, lemon juice, lime juice, red pepper flakes, sea salt…until the can is full.
Slide the can, open end first, into the cavity of the chicken and sit the whole thing upright in a shallow, 9″ square baking tin. They actually sell beer can holders which help prop the chicken up better – heavy wire frames which work really well – but balance the bird on the beer can throne as best you can. It may be tippy – so go slow.
Once the bird is “seated,” baste it all over with some olive oil, salt, pepper and a little tumeric (for a splash of color and taste). “Tie down” the neck flap with a rosemary sprig (or toothpick) to cap off the top of the bird and keep the internal cooking contained.
Now, the trickiest part for us is setting this bird-on-a-beer-can into the coals without it tipping over or without burning yourself. You may need help and, if you have them, use some heavy work or fire gloves to protect your fingers. If you’ve “cleared” the center of your circle of coals enough and your chicken is steady, it shouldn’t be too difficult.
Once the bird is on the can in the center of your ring of fire, open the top vent on the grill and close the top. It should cook for about 45-60 mins or until the juices run clear when the skin is pierced. Baste with a little olive oil & lemon juice every 10-20 mins just to keep the outside moist.
When it is cooked through, remove the chicken (and can) from the BBQ “pit” – we generally use x2 large BBQ forks, or heavy gloves again, and stab it from either side and lift on to a serving plate. Carefully remove the can, and let the bird rest for about 15-20 mins.
Carve and serve.
It’s a fun cookout – even if it sounds a touch tricky.