Grilled Beer Can Chicken

This is our go-to method of cooking whole chickens all year long. This recipe has stayed with us for many reasons. It makes use of the grill, keeping the kitchen cool in the summer and the oven clean year round (cleaning the oven after roasting a juicy, but messy chicken is tiring). It allows us to carry on with other things about our farm while dinner cooks since it doesn't require much tending. It delights guests with crispy skin and tender, juicy meat. It allows us to use the whole chicken-- we can pull off the meat for freezing or meals later in the week-- as well as provides us with a scrumptious dinner that night. Once the carcass is bare, it can be used for making broth or stock later on. Store it in a bag in the freezer for this purpose. Blog post on stock coming soon!

We make this with a Weber kettle-style charcoal grill, but I've researched the instructions for making it on a gas grill as well and included those below. Remember that it can take quite a long time to defrost a whole chicken in the fridge. When we plan to make one for Sunday night dinner, I take it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge on Friday morning.

We've borrowed from the original Cooks' Illustrated recipe, but see my notes of modifications below. The quality of beer seems not to matter; this is a good time to use up that Coors the neighbor left at the last potluck... You could also fill an empty soda or beer can with lemonade.

 Spice rub applied and ready for the beer can insertion

Spice rub applied and ready for the beer can insertion

Dry Spice Rub

2 Tablespoons ground cumin

2 Tablespoons curry powder

2 Tablespoons chili powder

1 Tablespoon ground allspice

1 Tablespoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a jar or bowl with a lid. This recipe makes enough for several chickens.

The original recipe directs you to brine the chicken before, but I have never done that. I start with simply applying the spice rub and lighting the grill. For an even spicier, flavorful meat, you could loosen the skin and rub the spices under the skin, directly on the meat.

Open beer can and pour out (or drink) about 1/4 cup. With a churchkey can opener, punch two more large holes in the top of the can (for a total of three). Slide chicken over can so that the drumsticks reach down to bottom of can and chicken stands upright.  (See illustration below. This can take some doing, or two people if someone's around to help. Do not put the can on the grill, then attempt to slide the chicken on. Too hot! We try to tripod the legs and the can to make it steady.) 

Cover and grill-roast, rotating bird 180 degrees at halfway mark (ok, we have never done the rotate) to ensure even cooking, until instant read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 170 to 175 degrees, 70 to 90 minutes. (On the charcoal grill, this time can vary with outside temperature, wind and size of the bird.)

With paper towels in each hand, transfer chicken and can to platter or try, making sure to keep can upright. Let rest 15 minutes: using paper towels, carefully lift chicken off can and onto platter or cutting board. Discard remaining beer and can. Carve chicken and serve. (We normally extract the can right at the grill and let the chicken rest without it.)

Gas Grill Instructions

Here are the instructions from Cook's Illustrated on making this with a gas grill:

"Be sure not to open the lid of the gas grill too often during cooking; the temperature of the grill will drop significantly each time you open it. 

Soak the wood chips in cold water to cover for 1 hour and drain. Place the wood chips in a foil tray (see the illustrations below). Place the tray on top of the primary burner of a gas grill and replace the cooking grate(s). Light all the burners and turn to high, cover, and heat until the chips are smoking heavily, about 15 minutes.

Carefully open the grill (there may be some smoke) and scrape the cooking grate clean with a grill brush. Turn the primary burner down to medium and turn off the other burner(s). Place the chicken over the cool part of the grill with a wing side facing the primary burner. Cover and grill-roast for 35 minutes, adjusting the lit burner as needed to maintain a temperature of 325 to 350 degrees inside the grill. Rotate the chicken so that the drumstick and wing that were facing away from the lit burner are now facing toward it. Cover and continue to grill-roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 170 to 175 degrees, 25 to 40 minutes longer."

 from Cook's Illustrated

from Cook's Illustrated

 Separating the coals and placing the drip pan in

Separating the coals and placing the drip pan in

Charcoal Grill Instructions

To prep the kettle-style grill, we use a charcoal chimney and wait at least 20 minutes until the top coals begin to gray. Then we dump the coals onto the bottom grate, and separate them to each side, mounding them up. We add 3 new coals to each side. We add 3 more coals to each side after one hour. We also make a drip pan for the juices. Micah insists on pouring a bit of beer into the drip pan. 

 In place and ready for the cover

In place and ready for the cover

print recipe
Grilled Beer Can Chicken Spice Rub
This is our go-to method of cooking whole chickens all year long.
Ingredients
  • 2 Tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 Tablespoons curry powder
  • 2 Tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 Tablespoon ground allspiece
  • 1 Tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Instructions
Combine all ingredients in a jar or bowl with a lid. This recipe makes enough for several chickens.
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: many chickens
ChickenJennifer Knoetgen