A couple weeks ago we interviewed barbecue know-it-all Stephen Perrin for some great tips on how to barbecue like a pro and get the most out of your grill, and with that in mind today we’re looking at one of summer’s most mythic feasts; barbecue beer can-chicken.
For years people have been cooking beer can chicken on their barbecues and claiming that cooking the bird this way keeps it moist, infusing the chicken with beer and flavor. It’s a nice story, but it doesn’t really work that way, as Noelle Carter points out in this article for the L.A. Times.
The gist of her argument is that the temperature inside the roasting fowl does not reach the necessary temperature to steam up all that beery goodness into the bird. Stubbornly sticking to the love of a good story, we recently did a chicken “beer-can” style and Carter was right. The can of beer was full, almost to the brim, with a shallow pool of chicken fat floating on top, which presumably would have been preventing any beer from permeating the flesh anyway. And to be honst, getting the can out of the chicken cavity is a bit of a hassle. That being said, the chicken itself was indeed delicious nevertheless; moist with a perfectly crispy skin and gently smoked throughout thanks to some good hardwood charcoal and a few applewood chunks.
Forget humiliating your poor bird with a beer can. If you want to impart a real beer flavor to your chicken the best way to do it is to brine it for a few hours in a flavourful beer brine. Many of us brine our chicken anyway in a weak solution of water, salt and sugar, but if you replace that with a good beer and let it brine for at least four hours you will indeed get that extra flavor you are craving. Another good idea is to spatchcock – or butterfly – your chicken, which simply means cutting out the backbone and flattening the bird somewhat so that it is basically the same thickness overall when you lay it on your grill. (as a bonus, butterflying your chicken takes up less room in your fridge while it brines and cooks in less time too, about 45 minute to an hour)
Don’t be intimidated by this procedure, it is really easy, and you can remove the backbone with a good pair of chicken shears, a boning knife or your chef’s knife. Here’s a good article on the procedure, complete with a recipe for Honey Glazed Chicken cooked under a brick.
When brining your chicken, choose a flavourful, full-bodied beer.We like to use the small-batch Scottish beer, Innis and Gunn Original for the task, a delicious brew on its own, with notes of malt and vanilla and oak that really do come through the brining and roasting process. The deep, burgundy/amber brown colour of the beer also adds a lovely colour to the skin, darkening it up beautifully as it cooks. It is a good idea to invest a few bucks in an electronic meat thermometer like this so you can check the temperature of the chicken without having to constantly lift your barbecue lid, and remember, always be careful to avoid cross-contamination, especially when handling chicken, especially as this recipe is a little hands-on.
Innis and Gunn Spatchcock Chicken
1 three to four pound chicken
2 cans Innis and Gunn Original Oak Aged Beer
Butterfly the chicken, saving and freezing the backbone for stock. Cover chicken with beer and place in fridge for at least four hours.
Bring temperature of your grill to 375-400 F. Add hickory, mesquite or applewood chips or chunks if using.
Remove chicken from brine, pat dry and season with salt and pepper. Insert probe of meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and set thermometer to 165 F. Place chicken skin side up on grill and close lid. Chicken is ready when internal temp reaches at least 165 F, about 45 min to an hour depending on barbecue’s heat.
Remove chicken from grill, let rest ten minutes and serve.