The beer can chicken is an interesting recipe, especially when you think of its probable origin story. Our guess? Four or five guys, pounding down brewskis (probably not IPAs, but hey, you never know), staring at a chicken, wondering what to do with it. Maybe they had intentions before they started their case race to do a nice roasted chicken. Maybe they were always intending to cook the bird whole on the grill. Whatever it was, one of those dudes — a hero to humanity — cocked his head, closed one eye (so that he could make sure there was only one bird), pointed at the fowl in question, and said, “Let’s stick a beer can up its ass.”
And that, friends, is how we assume the beer can chicken was created. (More than likely, it was created by Big Beer as a gimmick to sell more beer during grilling season, but we’re not going to get into that here.)
If you’d like to give it a whirl, check out this easy beer can chicken recipe below.
Beer Can Chicken
- 1 whole chicken (3 to 5 lbs)
- 1 12-oz can of beer (When it comes to beer, think about the flavor profile you’ll want. An IPA will give more citrusy notes, for example, while an amber ale or a light lager will give you those more traditional beer-y flavors. If nothing else, make a bunch of chickens and experiment!)
- Salt and pepper
- Vegetable oil
- Dry rub of choice (We recommend any of these dry rubs.)
- Preheat your gas grill to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit or start the coals in your charcoal grill
- Remove giblets from a thawed chicken. Discard them or set them aside for gravy, if you wish.
- Rinse the inside and outside of the chicken thoroughly with cold water, then pat the whole thing dry with paper towels.
- Rub a light coat of vegetable oil on the chicken’s inside and outside, then do the same with your salt, pepper, and dry rub. Which dry rub you use depends on your personal preference.
- We don’t recommend grilling while drunk, but you shouldn’t exactly be sober, either. It’s un-American. So crack open a can of room temperature beer and take a few healthy pulls. Drink a quarter to a half of the beer (who are we kidding, drink half) and poke a few holes in the top of the can. Note: Technically you don’t have to use a beer can, but c’mon — who wants to eat “Diet 7-Up can chicken”? No one. No one ever in the history of humanity and no one in any day that this world continues to turn.
- Set your beer on a flat surface, then gently lower the chicken onto the beer can to create a tripod effect. Balance may be an issue, which is why smaller birds are generally better for beer can chicken.
- Once you get your grill to medium-high heat, it’s time to get cooking. You should be able to close the top of the grill — another reason why a smaller bird is best. If you’re using a charcoal grill, wait until the coals are an ashy gray color and make sure they aren’t directly beneath the cooking area. Note: Direct heat will cook the chicken unevenly. For help stabilizing your chicken, consider placing a disposable aluminum pan beneath the can or use a special cooking rack.
- As you might have learned from any time cooking meat (or from our podcast with pitmaster Chad Ward), there’s no precise, fool-proof cooking time. Generally speaking, you should cook the chicken somewhere between 1 and 1.5 hours. Start checking the internal temperature after 45 minutes, then keep checking every 15 minutes after that. The chicken should be ready once the thick part of the breast (white meat) reaches 160-165 degrees Fahrenheit and the thigh (dark meat) reaches 175-180 degrees. Having a meat thermometer on hand is essential for getting this step right.
- Remove the bird from the grill very carefully. This is somewhat easier if you have your chicken on an aluminum pan. If you’re taking the bird straight from the grill, enlist the help of one or two folks with grilling mitts, tongs, and spatulas.
- After you take the bird off the grill, let it sit atop its beer can throne for another 15 minutes or so. This resting time will allow the bird to finish cooking.
- You know what’s left to do. Start carving and enjoy. It should serve about four.
In addition to being a marvel of human endeavor, beer can chicken is fun, easy, and delicious. The next time you’re drinking beers with a few buddies and a raw whole chicken, consider shoving a beer can up the chicken’s keister and tossing it on the grill. It’s bound to be a hit.
Article originally published by TJ Carter on February 3, 2015. Last updated by Sam Slaughter in June 2018.