Food & Drink Guess what? Chicken butt! 

Tender and succulent, beer-can chicken is no joke

A few hazy evenings ago, the only prerequisite for our beer-can chicken barbecue was absolutely no chicken-crossing-the-road jokes. Even so, the sight of a chicken upended with a tallboy in its hindquarters hatched an evening of raunch and bodily humor rivaled only by the potty-mouthed picture The Aristocrats. But seriously, beer-can chicken, the love of which causes scores of folks from Louisiana to Michigan to bust out with wild tales of the recipe's provenance, from a secret post-Civil War Cajun specialty to a group of manly grillers trying to inject more beer in their diet, is the most tender, succulent grilled chicken I've ever had.

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Use a tallboy to make your beer-can chicken. If your favorite beer doesn't come in big size, simply use a smaller chicken, such as these nice game hens.

I once believed beer-can chicken was just a gimmick, but a brief internet search reported more than 2 million related sites, with devotees offering books, websites, and even accessories, for those inclined to forego the can. I stuck with the can, a tried and true "first time" approach, and barbecued two chickens. Here's the how-to:

First, open two cans of beer. This is key because the inserted cans should only contain half their contents - so drink up half, or reserve. Next, rinse the birds, patting each bone dry with a paper towel before liberally applying salt, pepper, and a store-bought barbeque rub. Add one clove of crushed garlic, thyme, more rub, and one bay leaf to the beer. Holding the chicken neck up, slide it completely over the can, using the legs as a prop so that it looks like it is sitting atop a barstool.

For my chickens, I tested the recipe on a 12-ounce Tecate and a 16-ounce Lone Star tallboy. The immediate difference was that the tallboy made a better seat for the chicken because it was more stable.

Beer-can chicken, the love of which causes scores of folks from Louisiana to Michigan to bust out with wild tales of the recipe's provenance, is the most succulent grilled chicken I've ever had.

Place the chickens on a medium-to-high-heat grill, but not directly over the flame. While the chicken roasts, the beer steams, slowly infusing the meat with herbs and garlic and sealing in moisture as the fat drips away. The chicken should cook for 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours, or to 165 degrees.

There is plenty of time during this process for side dishes, but remember that the bird is center stage and tether your additions to complement your game. With a pantry full of sweet yellow onions, a steal these days, and some left over beer (am I kidding?), we chose the mighty onion ring as a partner.

I used four onions to feed six, but I'd recommend doubling that as they seem to disappear before you can get them to the table. Slice about a half-inch thick, marinate for 15-30 minutes in a bath of two beaten eggs combined with a half cup of beer, and then dredge in flour, salt, pepper, and spices. I used a sassy seasoning blend of paprika, cayenne, and coarse black pepper. Once the oil registers at 370 degrees, fry away, until the onions are glistening, golden brown.

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Sweet corn has hit its seasonal stride, so why not doll it up southern style? I cut it from the cob, creamed it, and added a Texas-style twist of chopped cilantro, diced jalapeño, and lime juice.

When your chicken is finished, allow it to rest, which not only redistributes juices but also gives the red-hot can - otherwise inextractible unless you have welders' gloves - a chance to cool.

My sister said this was the best meal I had ever cooked. "Have I been aiming too high?"

I thought, ontologically. More importantly, which is better: the Tecate or the Lone Star bird? The dining companions were all Texas beer drinkers, so I should have known the answer before cowering to the stare down. Conversation moved on to art, travel, and a few lingering, forbidden chicken jokes, and the evening's music selection, Japanese girl rap band Cibo Matto (Italian for "crazy food"), provided a metaphysical, secondary theme of the evening with the song "Know your chicken."

By Melissa Sutherland-Amado


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