Irresistible Beer-Can Chicken, Succulent Inside/Crisp Outside

Celebrity Interviews, Chefs, Cooking, Recipes By Apr 18, 2012


Trust me, you can believe Steven Raichlen. Beer-Can Chicken is succulent and moist inside, with a luscious crisp exterior enhanced with his tasty rub and the scent of smoke.

He says that barbecuing a bird perched upright straddling a half-full brew container produces the best chicken he’s ever eaten.

OK, maybe it doesn’t sound respectful to insert a beer can in the south end of a north-bound chicken. But the results are so delicious.

(Here, you see Raichlen in a photo taken in my front yard, cooking up beer-can wonders on my Weber kettle ‘cue. You can watch him work his magic on his TV show series on PBS – “Primal Grilling”)

I use Raichlen’s formula sourced from his fourth grilling book, “Beer-Can Chicken – and 74 Other Offbeat Recipes for the Grill” (Workman, $12.95). The book offers delectable recipes for chicken riding cans.

Use a chimney starter to get the lump charcoal ignited; it’s a metal cylinder with a handle that’s kindled with crumpled newspaper (heaven forbid the food section). That makes it easy to get the rig going.

His directions make it easy. And somehow two people working together seem to make it easier and a whole lot more fun!

Note that racks are sold that hold the beer can and bird in place.

I also think that heatproof gloves and long tongs are must-haves.

JOIN IN THE GRILLING RECIPE CONTEST FUN! Great prizes, including generous gift certificates at THE MEAT HOUSE (Costa Mesa) AND lunch with me at THE WINERY restaurant (Tustin). 

To enter the contest, go to and look for the link to the contest.

Basic Beer-Can Chicken
Yield: 2-4 servings
1 (12-ounce) can beer
1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) chicken
2 tablespoons All-Purpose Barbecue Rub (see recipe) or your favorite commercial rub
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 cups wood chips or chunks (preferably hickory or cherry), soaked 1 hour in water and/or beer to cover, then drained
1. Pop tab off beer can. Pour half of beer (3/4 cup) over soaking wood chips or chunks, or reserve for another use. Use church-key-style opener to poke 2 additional holes in top of can. Set aside.
2. Remove packet of giblets from body cavity of chicken and set aside for another use. Remove and discard fat just inside body and neck cavities. Rinse chicken in cold water and drain and blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels.
3.Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of rub inside body cavity and 1/2 teaspoon inside neck cavity. Drizzle oil over outside of bird and rub or brush it all over skin. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon rub and rub it all over skin. Spoon remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons of rub into beer through hole in top of can. Don’t worry if beer foams up; this is normal.
4. Hold bird upright, with opening of body cavity at bottom, and lower it onto beer can so the can fits into the cavity. Pull chicken legs forward to form a sort of tripod, so bird stands upright. The rear leg of the tripod is the beer can.
5. Tuck tips of wings behind chicken’s back.
6. Set up grill for indirect grilling (if using charcoal grill, dump or rake glowing coals in 2 piles at opposite sides of grill and place drip pan in middle; if using 2-burner gas grill, light one side and put chicken on unlit side). If using gas grill, place wood chips or chunks in smoker bowl or in smoke pouch and preheat on high until you see smoke, then reduce heat to medium.
7. When ready to cook, if using charcoal grill, toss all wood chips or chunks on coals. Stand chicken up in center of hot grate over drip pan and away from heat (if using charcoal grill).
8. Cover grill and cook chicken until skin is dark golden brown and very crisp, and meat is cooked through (about 180 degrees on instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part of thigh, but not touching bone), 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. If using charcoal grill, you’ll need to add 12 fresh coals per side after 1 hour. If chicken skin starts to brown too much, loosely tent bird with aluminum foil.
9. Using long tongs, hold chicken by can and, using another set of tongs (to steady chicken) carefully transfer chicken and can in upright position to platter. Present bird to your guests. Let chicken rest 5 minutes. Carefully lift chicken off can: Work over sink or roasting pan to catch any liquid. Wearing heatproof gloves, hold chicken slightly at angle with 1 hand, carefully pull out can with other hand (you may need to twist or wiggle it to loosen it). To prevent burns, take care not to spill hot beer. Or, you can hold chicken with 1 set of tongs and remove can with another set of tongs. Halve, quarter or carve chicken and serve.

All-Purpose Barbecue Rub
Yield:3/4 cup.
1/4 cup coarse salt (kosher or sea)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup sweet paprika
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
Cook’s note: When using rub, be careful not to contaminate it. Scoop what you need from container; do not touch uncooked chicken with spoon and return spoon to container.
1.Put salt, brown sugar, paprika and pepper in small bowl and stir to mix. Your fingers actually work better for mixing rub than spoon or whisk does.
2.Store rub in airtight jar away from heat and light; it will keep at least 6 months.


  • Can-do? Use seamless aluminum cans. Avoid old-fashioned soldered cans, the ones with a visible seam at the bottom.
  • Taste that beverage? Beer imparts a delicate, malty flavor to chicken. Raichlen says that soft drinks and fruit juices add “their own subtle essences.”
  • No-alcohol guests? If your guests don’t drink alcohol, use soft drinks or fruit juice. Raichlen says canned iced tea tastes great with chicken; cola does, too.
  • Rub now, rub later? There are two ways to use a rub: as a seasoning or as a cure. For a milder flavor, apply rub just before grilling. For stronger “cured” flavor, rub as much as 24 hours in advance, cover and refrigerate.
  • Vertical roaster gizmo? Some folks like to use a vertical roasting device. It can either support the beer can itself or serve as a receptacle for beer or other liquids. You don’t need one unless you’re nervous about the can tipping.


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