A few weeks ago, a new friend of mine asked me to make beer-can chicken. He had never had it before and had always wanted to try it. At first, I was surprised because_to me_beer-can chicken is as common as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But then, I posed the question to the other people invited to dinner, and none of them had ever made beer-can chicken. And, only one of them had tasted it before because he had it at my house!
That was when I realized that I needed to re-visit beer-can chicken. It is my go-to main course and my comfort food. It never fails to satisfy. The skin is crispy and burnished by the convected heat of the grill. But that’s not all — the chicken is tender, juicy and has a slightly smoky but pure chicken flavor that is accentuated by the steamed beer.
I make it almost once a week in the fall and winter. What I serve with it varies based on what’s in season, but my favorite back-pocket meal is beer-can chicken, grilled asparagus, sweet potatoes and cornbread. If you know how to make beer-can chicken, you will always be able to make a great grilled meal for yourself, and/or your friends and family.
The key to beer-can chicken and in my opinion, great grilling, is indirect heat. And to understand indirect heat, you must understand direct heat. Once you understand the difference between direct and indirect heat and when to use it, you will be able to cook anything. I use indirect heat or a combination of the two at least 80 percent of the time that I use my grill.
There are two major grilling methods and they can be defined this way:
— DIRECT GRILLING means that you put the food directly over the heat source_similar to broiling in your oven.
— INDIRECT GRILLING means that the heat is on either side of the food and the burners are turned off under the food_similar to roasting and baking.
My general rule of thumb is:
— If the food takes less than 20 minutes to cook, use the DIRECT METHOD
— If the food takes more than 20 minutes to cook, use the INDIRECT METHOD
Once you’ve mastered cooking by Direct and Indirect heat, you are ready for the COMBO method. It is exactly what it sounds like. A combination of the Direct and Indirect methods. It is as simple as searing the food over direct heat and finishing (cooking) over indirect heat.
This technique works well for everything from chops and steaks to whole tenderloins and even slices of denser vegetables such as sweet potatoes. It is a time honored and well-respected tradition and the outdoor grill version of the way most restaurants chefs cook almost everything_searing on the stovetop and finishing the dish in the oven.
Now that you know the difference between direct and indirect cooking and how to use it, you are ready to make beer-can chicken. I guarantee that if you make it once, you’ll make it over and over again and it will become an instant family favorite! I truly believe that it is the best way to prepare a roasted chicken, bar none!
THE ORIGINAL BEER-CAN CHICKEN
Beer-Can Chicken is easy to love. Once you understand indirect heat and how to set your grill for it, I know that beer-can chicken will become your go-to winner dinner. A porcelain chicken sitter makes the cooking a little easier because it has a flat bottom that can’t tip over as the chicken cooks. If you use a beer-can, you must make sure that the legs of the chicken are positioned in front, like a tri-pod to stabilize the chicken and the can. If you prefer a classic roasted chicken flavor, use only kosher salt and black pepper to season the chicken. If you want it to have a “barbecued” flavor, use your favorite dry rub.
Start to finish: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Grilling Method: Indirect/Medium Heat
1 whole roasting chicken, 4 to 5 pounds
1 tablespoon favorite dry rub or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 12-ounce can favorite beer
Special Equipment: Chicken Sitter if you don’t want to use a beer-can
Remove the neck and giblets, and rinse the chicken inside and out if desired; pat it dry with paper towels. Coat the chicken lightly with olive oil and season with a tablespoon of the dry rub. Set aside.
Preheat your grill. Fill the Chicken Sitter with the can of beer, or open a beer can, pour out about 1?4 cup of the beer, and make an extra hole in the top of the can with a church-key can opener.
If using a dry rub instead of salt and pepper, sprinkle about a tablespoon of it inside the Chicken Sitter or beer can. Place the chicken sitter or beer can in the center of the cooking grate over indirect medium heat and “sit” the chicken on top of the beer can. The chicken will appear to be sitting on the grate. Make sure the legs of the chicken are in front of the Sitter or the beer can to support the chicken as it cooks.
Cover and cook the chicken for 1 to 1 1?2 hours, depending on size, or until the internal temperature registers 165 F in the breast area and 180 F in the thigh. When removing the chicken from the grate, be careful not to spill the contents, as it will be very hot. Remove it carefully to a platter, holding the Sitter or beer can with tongs. I use tongs and a clean dry kitchen towel to keep the chicken from toppling over.
Let it rest for 10 minutes before carving.
Nutrition information per serving: 389 calories; 183 calories from fat; 20 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 132 mg cholesterol; 606 mg sodium; 3 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 41 g protein.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pit master at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and the author of three books, including “Taming the Flame.”