Beer can chicken is known by many colorful names, including "Beer Butt Chicken", "Beer In The Rear Chicken", and the noble-sounding "Chicken On A Throne". A partially-filled beer can is inserted into the cavity of the chicken to create a disposable, vertical roasting stand. The bird is barbecued while supposedly steamed from the inside to keep the meat moist.
Beer can chicken certainly has the "wow factor" going for it—it's an entertaining way to prepare chicken for friends and family. Personally, I'm not convinced that cooking chicken vertically has much benefit, other than to increase cooker capacity. Nor do I believe the steam from the beer can does much to keep the meat moist. The top of the can seals tightly inside the body cavity, and most of the steam goes right out through the neck cavity. Something like the Weber Poultry Roaster might actually steam the inside of a chicken, but then you've lost the "wow factor" of the beer can.
Anyway, it's a lot of fun to do and it's an easy way to prepare chicken. Variations on this method are described at the end of this article.
Here are some photos I took on August 26, 2007 when I cooked two beer can chickens using "Wild Willy's Number One-derful Rub", from the famous barbecue book Smoke & Spice.
Remember...click on any of the pictures to view a larger image.
Select And Prep The Chickens
Purchase 2 whole chickens weighing 3-1/2 to 4 pounds each. Remove the neck and giblets from the body cavity and pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Trim any excess fat from around the body cavity opening. Fold the wing tips back under the chicken to keep them from burning.
Prepare The Beer Cans And Apply The Rub
Wash 2 12-ounce beer cans with soapy water and rinse well. Open the cans and drink half the beer in each. Use a church key-style can opener to make two additional holes in the lid.
Now prepare a batch of "Wild Willy's Number One-derful Rub".
Sprinkle the rub liberally inside the body cavity and the neck cavity, then all over the outside of the chicken. If you want, sprinkle some rub under the skin over the breasts and work it around with your fingers.
Place the chicken over the beer can, making sure it's firmly seated inside the cavity as far as possible. Position the legs forward to form a tripod, keeping the chicken balanced.
Let the chickens sit at room temperature as you fire-up your Weber Bullet.
Select The Smoke Wood
Use 3 chunks of apple smoke wood. Each chunk should be small, for example 3" x 2" x 2" or similar. Cherry, oak, or another mild fruit wood can be used if apple is not available.
There is no need to soak the wood or remove the bark before use.
I used 3 chunks of apple as shown in Photo 4.Fire-Up The WSM
Fire-up the cooker using the Minion Method. Fill the charcoal chamber 1/2 full with unlit Kingsford charcoal briquettes, then place 20-40 lit coals on top of the unlit ones.
Put the water pan in the cooker and fill it with cold tap water to help with temperature control.
Barbecue The Chicken
Assemble the cooker, add the smoke wood chunks, and put the chickens back-to-back on the top cooking grate, as shown in Photo 5.
Set the 3 bottom
vents to 100% open. Open the top vent fully and leave it that way
throughout the entire cook.
Cook for 2 hours, then baste the chickens with apple juice using a spray bottle. To make sure the chickens are cooking unevenly, rotate them by carefully turning the grate 180°, as shown in Photo 6.
Cook for another hour, then baste again with apple juice.
Cook for another 30
minutes to 1 hour, then check the internal meat temperature using an
instant-read thermometer. The chicken is done when the breast meat
registers about 160°F and the thigh registers about 170°F.
Here's how the cooker temperatures and vent settings went during my cook:
Note that the vent percentages represent the way I set the vents at the time indicated.
The Finished Product
Using heat-resistant neoprene or rubber gloves, remove the chickens carefully from the cooker and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.
Since the beer in the can will be very hot, make sure to support the can as you lift the chicken off the grate. You can do this with your gloved hand, or you can grasp the can with tongs to support the chicken from below while using your other gloved hand to steady the chicken.
To remove the can, hold the chicken at a slight angle in the palm of one gloved hand, grasp the can with your other gloved hand, twist the can back and forth to loosen it, and pull it out carefully. Do this over the sink or a rimmed baking sheet to catch any spills.
Variations On A Theme
There are many ways you can customize or adapt the beer can chicken method:
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