Rachel is on vacation this week. This entry was written by her brother Erik Zenhausern.
My interest in food is almost primarily in the eating of it. While I do enjoy cooking, it is really a means to an end rather than something I do for its own sake. I don’t know how to make a dish look pretty and portion control to me means nobody goes hungry.
When I cook, it’s by my apron strings. My wife chides me for not writing things down, as I can never accurately duplicate my efforts.
This presents a problem when writing for a cooking blog. “A bitta this - a pincha that” might work in my kitchen, where I can always hide (or eat) the evidence, but if I’m trying to provide something marginally useful, I’d better get a bit more precise.
Allow me to present what I’m calling “Bicentennial Beer Can Chicken”.
The ingredients for this dish are simple. Once you know the technique you can modify the recipe in many ways to suit your tastes. There are four key ingredients, two of which are the chicken and the beer can. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
I had dismissed beer can chicken as something of a novelty when I first heard about it. I admit to being a beer snob. With the exception of a few “Pub Draught” style beers, I prefer my beer in bottles, or better yet, from a fresh, hand pulled keg. I am prejudiced against anything that has to do with beer in a can. With that predisposition, it’s a bit hard to say why I decided to try the beer can method, but now I can’t get enough.
The basic idea is to insert a beer can, with beer in it, into the cavity of the chicken and cook it, either through indirect heat on the barbecue or in a roasting pan in the oven. The can stands the chicken up so it cooks evenly; the moisture from the can keeps the chicken moist. I am here to tell you that as redneck sounding as it is, beer can chicken works, and it works really well, producing moist and tender chicken indoors or out.
To prepare your can for cooking, it’s best to remove the contents first. Take a manual can opener and remove the top. It’s a little tricky, but if you have trouble use a church key and punch a bunch of holes in it.
Make sure the can fits snugly in the cavity of the chicken. It should be able to stand up with the can and the drumsticks forming a tripod. Not all chickens are created equal so you may have to play around with the balance. Once you've confirmed the chicken can stand on it's own you’re ready to add your beer back into the can. Take it out of the chicken and fill it up half way and properly dispose of the remainder. Then carefully reinsert the can back into the chicken without spilling the beer. This might be easier with an extra set of hands but I've managed to do it by myself on several occasions.
If cooking with a beer can isn’t your style there are commercial versions of a roaster that will do the same thing. You can buy one from Steve Raichlen for $30 or a $5 one from Sears. One online vendor claims heating the paint on the can leaches harmful chemicals into your food. Could be, but so could his roaster.
What’s great about this method is the flexibility you have. You can vary the type of beer, and the spices to your liking. The cooking liquid doesn’t even have to be beer; it can be a combination of beer and spices or other liquids - wine, stock, crab boil. If you cook the chicken in a roasting pan in the oven, you can add some carrots and potatoes for a great one pan meal. You can cook it on the grill in the hot weather so as not to unnecessarily heat up the kitchen in the summer heat.
For seasoning, I used a prepared spice blend called Bicentennial Rub made from coarse flake salt, Tellicherry black pepper, sugar, turmeric, minced orange peel and coriander, sold by Penzey’s Spices. I like creating my own rubs, but a few years ago Rachel gave me a Penzeys assortment of spices and rubs and I’ve been hooked ever since. Quality ingredients, premeasured, all you do is shake it on!
The beer choice was a bit more difficult. I’ve been a beer snob ever since I had my first pint of real British ale many years ago. So finding a brew suitable to my tastes in a can is challenging. Some variations on this recipe call for stout, readily available in a can. I was afraid stout was too heavy and not suitable for a simple roasted chicken.
Luckily, the neighborhood beverage mart carries a wide variety of beers. I found a canned beer called “Dale’s Pale Ale”. It conveniently comes in red, white and blue cans, the color keeping with the patriotic theme. It is made by the Oskar Brewery in Colorado and boasts on the can that it is a “voluminously hopped” beer.
The beer is a light amber, almost orange, color, with a tremendously thick head. Sam Adams likes to brag in some of their commercials that the head of their beer is so thick you can float a bottle cap on it. The head on this beer is so thick you can float the whole can on it.
As for the taste, the can did not lie. The hops were very present in the beer in both flavor and aroma. The hops aroma is flowery and citrusy, while the hops flavor manifests itself in the characteristic bitterness of beer. There is no doubt; this is a very aggressively hopped beer.
Admittedly, I am something of a hophead and don’t mind a beer that tends more towards the dry side. My guess is that most casual beer drinkers would find the taste too aggressively hopped. Luckily A) you don’t have to drink the beer and B) you can use a beer you prefer (especially since I don’t know how readily available Dale’s Pale Ale is in your neck of the woods).
But wait, this isn’t a beer review, it’s supposed to be a chicken recipe. Excuse me.
Bicentennial Beer Can Chicken
1 3.5 -4 lb chicken
1 Can Dale’s Pale Ale
2 T olive oil
2 T salted butter ( Feel free to use unsalted or omit and just use a bit more oil.)
4 teaspoons Bicentennial Rub
1 Lemon, quartered
1. Add olive oil and butter to a small saucepan on low heat, to melt the butter.
2. Coat chicken with olive oil and butter mixture.
3. Cover the skin on both sides with the Bicentennial Rub, as well as inside the cavity.
4. Pour out beer and reserve liquid. Using a can opener or sharp knife remove the top of the beer can.
5. Pour half the beer back into the can. Add a ½ teaspoon of Bicentennial Rub to the beer and 2 lemon quarters, squeezing some juice into the beer.
6. Insert the other two lemon quarters inside the chicken.
7. Carefully slide the can onto the chicken and stand it up, making sure it balances
8. If cooking indoors pre-heat oven to 350; if cooking outdoors set up your grill for indirect grilling. There should be no fire directly beneath the chicken. Make sure the grill cover can completely close.
9. A 3.5 lb chicken will cook in 1.25 - 1.5 hours at 350. To be safe, internal temperature should be 165 degrees.
10. Remove chicken from grill and let it rest, standing, for 10 minutes.
11. When the chicken is cool enough to handle remove the can, carve and serve.