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Just Your Friendly Beer Can Chicken

Each week this summer on Food52, Cara Nicoletti of The Meat Hook is helping us get to know our favorite cuts a little bit better – and introducing you to a few new ones, too. Read on, study up, then hightail it to your nearest butcher.

Today: It may look a little silly, but the flavor of this beer can chicken is no joke.  

Just Your Friendly Beer Can Chicken

The first time I saw a beer can chicken at a friend’s barbecue a couple of years ago, I thought he was playing a joke on everyone. There’s certainly something comical about the way this chicken looks — like maybe it should be wearing a pair of sunglasses — but the flavor and juiciness that beer imparts is no joke.

More: Before firing up the grill, get your barbecue game in tip-top shape with these tools, sauces, and rubs.

When you cook chicken perched on top of a can of your favorite beer, the steamy alcohol rises into the cavity and keeps the meat moist and tender — like basting, but without all the work. Some theorize that the malt and yeast in the beer also help to give your chicken a crispy skin. Here’s what I know: Beer can chicken looks cool, gives you an excuse to chug half of a beer really quickly, requires little to no fussing, and, in my humble opinion, tastes amazing. Here’s how to make it tonight — and every night for the rest of grilling season.

Beer Can Chicken

A few tips before we begin:

  • Where high-quality meat is concerned, I’m generally a simple salt and pepper girl. However, a good barbecue rub pairs really nicely with the beer — I recommend going this route. If you need some inspiration, here’s my favorite recipe.
  • If you have any leftover, save it — it’s also delicious on pork ribs or non-beer can chicken.
  • Although it’s usually thought of as a grilling recipe, you can also make beer can chicken in your oven — I give directions for both cooking options here.
  • If beer isn’t your thing, you can use a pint-sized mason jar filled halfway with chicken stock, white wine, or lemon juice mixed with water. 
  • Be very careful when removing your chicken from the grill — both the meat and the can will be extremely hot. With oven mitts on your hands, slide a metal spatula under the can while gripping the chicken with tongs. Transfer the whole thing onto a cutting board before removing the can.

Beer Can Rub   Beer Can Chicken

Let’s begin. Pat your chicken dry with a paper towel and rub it all over with softened butter or olive oil. Sprinkle on dry rub in an even layer and pat lightly to make sure it adheres. Drink or spill out half of your beer, drop a few garlic cloves in the can, and place the whole thing inside of the chicken cavity. You want your chicken to be sitting on top of the can (it can use its legs to support it, if need be). Grill your chicken until its internal temperature reaches 160° F, and be sure to let it rest for 10 minutes before digging in!

Beer Can Chicken

Note: Ever since the days of Julia Child, it has been common practice to rinse your chicken inside and out before cooking. I don’t like to disagree with Julia, but this is entirely unnecessary, and in fact does more harm than good. Washing your chicken won’t kill any of the bacteria that is present on the outside or inside of it — cooking will do all of this for you, without spreading salmonella into your sink and onto your countertops like washing will.

More: For the full lowdown on chicken safety tips, check out this video. 

Beer Can Chicken

Beer Can Chicken

Serves 4

For the spicy BBQ rub

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon fennel, toasted and ground
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon coarse black pepper

For the chicken

2 tablespoons soft butter or olive oil
One 4- to 4 1/2-pound chicken, giblets removed
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
One 12-ounce can of beer (lager or ales work nicely, but feel free to experiment with whatever you like)

Save and print the recipe on Food52

Photos by James Ransom

This article originally appeared on Food52.com: How to Make Beer Can Chicken