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Beer-can chicken: Setting up your grill and a recipe

By Times staff
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 29, 2002

To cook beer-can chicken on a backyard grill, you need to use the indirect method, which means that you configure your fire so that it is hottest away from the food.

On a charcoal kettle grill, light the charcoal or Charwood. When it glows red, arrange it in two piles at opposite sides of the grill. (Some grills come with side baskets for this purpose.)

Place a foil drip pan in the center of the grill between the mounds of embers. Place the grate on the grill and cook the chicken in the center over the drip pan. Toss soaked wood chips on the coals to generate smoke.

Keep the grill covered, adjusting the vents to keep the temperature at 350 degrees. After cooking the chicken for an hour, add 10 fresh briquettes or an equal amount of Charwood. Leave the grill uncovered for a few minutes until the coals ignite.

On a gas grill, if it has two burners, light one side on high and cook the chicken on the other. On a three-burner grill, light the front and rear or outside burners and cook the chicken in the center. On a four-burner grill, light the outside burners and cook in the center.

Many gas grills come with smoker boxes in which you can put the wood chips. If you don't have a smoker box, loosely wrap the chips in heavy-duty foil, make a few holes on top and place the foil package under the grate over one of the burners.

Beer-Can Chicken

  • 1 large whole chicken (4 to 5 pounds)
  • 3 tablespoons Memphis rub (recipe below) or your favorite dry rub
  • 1 12-ounce can of beer

Remove and discard the fat from inside the body cavities of the chicken. Remove the package of giblets, and set aside for another use. Rinse the chicken, inside and out, under cold running water; then drain and blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the rub inside the body and neck cavities; then rub another tablespoon all over the skin of the bird. If you wish, rub another half-tablespoon of the mixture between the flesh and the skin. Cover and refrigerate the chicken while you preheat the grill.

Set up the grill. Pop the tab on the beer can. Using a "church key" type of can opener, punch six or seven holes in the top of the can. Pour out the top inch of beer; then spoon the remaining dry rub through the holes into the can. Holding the chicken upright (wings at top, legs at bottom), with the opening of the body cavity down, insert the beer can into the lower cavity.

Oil the grill grate. Stand the chicken up in the center of the hot grate, over the drip pan. (You can use a perforated rack on top of the grate for added stability.) Spread out the legs to form a sort of tripod, to support the bird.

Cover the grill and cook the chicken until fall-off-the-bone tender, about an hour. Use a thermometer to check for doneness. The internal temperature should be 180 degrees.

Using tongs, lift the bird to a cutting board or platter, holding a metal spatula underneath the beer can for support. (Have the board or platter right next to the bird to make the move shorter. Be careful not to spill hot beer on yourself.) Let stand for 5 minutes before carving. (Toss the beer can out along with the carcass.)

Serves four to six.

Source: The Barbecue Bible by Steven Raichlen (Workman Publishing, 1998).

Memphis Rub

  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 1 tablespoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons Accent (MSG, optional)
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 to 3 teaspoons cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder

    Combine all the ingredients in a jar, twist the lid on tightly and shake to mix. Store away from heat or light for up to six months. Makes about 1/2 cup.

    Source: The Barbecue Bible by Steven Raichlen (Workman Publishing, 1998).

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