Thursday, February 9, 2012

Beer Can Chicken

Now that the Super Bowl is over and the BCS games are far behind us, we begin the tailgating offseason.  The pressure that comes from producing our best work for the weekend crowds is finally gone and we no longer have to study YouTube films for Saturday’s upcoming protein.

This was my favorite Super Bowl commercial.  It wasn't funny, but my jaw was on the floor the whole time I watched it.

But this isn’t the time to let your grills get rusty.  The tailgating offseason is when the hard work is done to get ready for next fall.  You don’t want to be figuring out your pregame ritual when the home opener rolls around, and you especially don’t want to be questioning your starters for that big non-conference matchup. 

Michigan Wolverines know all too well what can happen when you're not ready for your home opener.

However, the biggest thing that needs to be ironed out before next season is the basic recipe book.  If you can’t execute your bread and butter recipes, how do you expect your secret recipes to turn out when you need them?

A classic example of a bread and butter recipe.

Beer can chicken is one recipe that all tailgaters should have in their recipe book.  It is incredibly easy to make and pretty much always produces positive results when executed properly.  You just can’t beat the steamy pressure coming up the middle with the complex smoky flavors on the outside. 

Here’s what you’ll need to make a delicious beer can chicken:

A chicken or two, 4-5 pounds each.
Your favorite rub or two
A can of beer or twelve.

The kind of beer doesn't really matter, but you might want to avoid light/lite beers in order to enhance the flavor.  I went with Bud heavy because it was Super Bowl Sunday.

The only special equipment you’ll need for beer can chicken is something called a “church key” opener.  It’s that one can opener that punches a triangle-shaped hole on top of a can. 

Start by soaking about 2 cups of apple wood chips in water for about an hour.

Rinse off the chicken and remove anything weird that you might find inside.  Pat it dry with some paper towels and season the bird all over with the rub, inside and out.

Now would be a good time to decide on your wing formation (Ha! and you thought the football puns were over!).  Most people say to tuck in the wings behind the chicken's back.  I usually forget to do this and I always get great results, so it doesn't really matter.

While the rub settles in, set up your grill for indirect grilling at 350 degrees.

On a charcoal grill:  Use a chimney starter and put hot coals on each side of an aluminum drip pan.  Place the wood chips over the coals and adjust your vents until you get the desired temperature of 350 degrees.  After one hour, you will have to throw in about a dozen more pieces of hot charcoal to maintain the heat.

On a gas grill:  Keep the middle burners on low and adjust the outside burners so that the internal temperature of the grill is 350 degrees.  Place the wood chips in a smoker box over one of the hot burners.

On a Big Green Egg:  If you have a place-setter, fill up your egg with unlit charcoal and light the coals in the middle.  Wait until a good fire is going and evenly distribute the wood chips over the coals.  Put on your place-setter legs up, and adjust the vents until you hit 350 degrees.  If you don’t have a place setter, use the method for a standard charcoal grill.

As you’re setting up your grill for indirect grilling, drink ¾ of a beer.  Go ahead, I'll wait...

Actually, that’s a bit too much.  Go ahead and finish that beer and drink ½ of another one.

Take the church key and punch another hole in the top of the half empty can.  Sprinkle about a teaspoon of the rub inside the can.

Apparently this is what a modern church key looks like.

Just so we're clear, these cans are half full.  1/2.  0.5

Pick up the chicken and put the can of beer up the chicken’s butt.  Carefully place the chicken on the grill, balancing it between the legs and the can.

Going in for a nice steam.  The guy on the right should have that growth on his neck checked out.

Close the lid and adjust the vents so that the temperature inside is around 350 degrees.  Let the chicken smoke for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

After the 1 hour and 15 minutes have passed, open it up and check the internal temperature of the chicken with your meat thermometer. 

A portrait of two chickens.

As soon as the breast meat hits 165 degrees, carefully remove the chicken from the grill.  This might require using two sets of tongs or the insulated food gloves that you got for Christmas.  

The guy on the left had to bail on the party early.  He couldn't handle any more heat.

One chicken took 1 hour and 20 minutes, while the other took about 1 hour and 30 minutes.  They were both almost identical in weight.  This just goes to show that you should always use a meat thermometer.  Not only will it ensure that you don't undercook your meat, but that you don't overcook it either.

Allow the beer can to cool for a couple minutes before taking it out and throwing it away.  Then you should let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes.  

Carve it up however you'd like and enjoy.  The thing that makes beer can chicken so great is the smoke and steam combination.  While the smoke adds great flavor, the steaming beer makes sure that the meat stays extra juicy. 

If you don't have a grill, you can still make great beer can chicken in your oven.  Just follow the same instructions, but preheat your oven to 350.  You wont have the smoke flavor, but it'll still be one of the best roasted chickens you've ever had.

Don't like cooking or consuming beer?  Not a problem.  You can replace the beer with any tasty canned beverage.  Coke and Dr. Pepper are particularly good alternatives.

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