May 23, 2003

Beer Can Chicken

A popular method of cooking chicken in recent years at BBQ competitions has been the so-called "beer can chicken" or (as I often call it) "up-the-butt" chicken. Lots of folks in the more traditional BBQ area will claim this method as more of a "stunt" than real (tm) BBQ, but I think it's an interesting tool to have on one's workbench -- particularly when it comes to weeknight or shorter time cookery.

The basic method is simple. An opened (and generally half-emptied) can of beer is placed within the cavity of a whole chicken and the bird is set upright on it -- the beer can forming one "leg" of a tripod and the two legs of the bird the remaining sides. The chicken is thus placed on the grill and offset cooked until done.

I usually face the breast side of the chicken away from the fire and use a fairly hot offset smoker. Usually a 4-5 pound bird is done in something around 60 minutes.

The basic idea is that the steam from the boiling-off beer (and yes, it does get quite hot) helps to both flavor and tenderize the meat. People often place various spices or flavorings within the beer. Some brine the chicken before hand. Some baste or otherwise coat the bird during cooking. All of these are modifications of the basic approach.

Honestly, I haven't found that there is a huge difference between various modifications. Tonight (for no particular reason) I brined the bird for two hours with some Mexican-oriented spices and used a can of Tecate as the beer. I used my Weber kettle and some cherry wood chunks as the smoking agent. But, for all that, I'm not sure the resulting product was much different than an unbrined chicken with a can of Budwiser and perhaps no actual wood used for smoking. The differences are certainly matters of degrees.

In any case, if you haven't tried this method before, it's worth checking out. I think that it adds a level of foolproofedness to the process (most likely the result of the constant steam from the beer). If all else fails, you get to tell your guests that you are serving "chicken up the butt." And, hey, who doesn't want to be able to do that?

Posted by dowdy at May 23, 2003 07:14 PM