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Photo by: Joseph DeLeo
Okay, here it is. The master recipe for the ur-beer-can chicken, the showstopper that will dazzle your family and friends. If you’ve never made beer-can chicken before, start here, and once you’ve mastered the basic procedure, there’s no limit to its variations.
For the rub:
1. Put the salt, brown sugar, paprika, and pepper in a small bowl and stir to mix. (Your fingers actually work better for mixing the rub than a spoon or whisk does.)
For the chicken:
1. Pop the tab off the beer can. Pour half of the beer (¾ cup) over the soaking wood chips or chunks, or reserve for another use. If cooking the chicken on the can, using a church key-style can opener, make 2 additional holes in its top. Set the can of beer aside.
2. Remove the packet of giblets from the body cavity of the chicken and set aside for another use. Remove and discard the fat just inside the body and neck cavities. Rinse the chicken, inside and out, under cold running water and then drain and blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the rub inside the body cavity and ½ teaspoon inside the neck cavity of the chicken. Drizzle the oil over the outside of the bird and rub or brush it all over the skin. Sprinkle the outside of the bird with 1 tablespoon of rub and rub it all over the skin. Spoon the remaining 1½ teaspoons of rub into the beer through a hole in the top of the can. Don’t worry if the beer foams up: This is normal.
3. If cooking on a can: Hold the bird upright, with the opening of the body cavity at the bottom, and lower it onto the beer can so the can fits into the cavity. Pull the chicken legs forward to form a sort of tripod, so the bird stands upright. The rear leg of the tripod is the beer can.
If cooking on a roaster: Fill it with the beer mixture and position the chicken on top, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
4. Tuck the tips of the wings behind the chicken’s back.
5. Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium. If using a charcoal grill, place a large drip pan in the center. If using a gas grill, place all the wood chips or chunks in the smoker box (see Notes) or in a smoker pouch and preheat on high until you see smoke, then reduce the heat to medium.
6. When ready to cook, if using a charcoal grill, toss all of the wood chips or chunks on the coals. Stand the chicken up in the center of the hot grate, over the drip pan and away from the heat. Cover the grill and cook the chicken until the skin is a dark golden brown and very crisp and the meat is cooked through (about 180°F on an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of a thigh, but not touching the bone), 1¼ to 1½ hours (see Notes). If using a charcoal grill, you’ll need to add 12 fresh coals per side after 1 hour. If the chicken skin starts to brown too much, loosely tent the bird with aluminum foil.
7. If cooking on a can: Using tongs, hold the bird by the can and carefully transfer it in an upright position to a platter.
If cooking on a roaster: Use oven mitts or pot holders to remove the bird from the grill while it’s still on the vertical roaster.
8. Present the bird to your guests. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes, then carefully lift it off its support. Take care not to spill the hot beer or otherwise burn yourself. Halve, quarter, or carve the chicken and serve.
Use soda or fruit juice instead of beer. Substitute any of the rubs in this book to season the chicken or use your favorite commercial rub (you can vary the ethnic character of the chicken simply by the rub you use). As you can see, the possibilities are endless.
Smoker Box Tips:
To smoke on a charcoal grill, simply toss the wood chips or chunks on the piles of glowing embers before you put the food on the grate.
To smoke on a gas grill, if your grill has a smoker box (a long, slender drawer or box into which you can put wood chips for smoking), fill it with wood chips and light the burner under or next to it on high until you see smoke. If your gas grill lacks a smoker box, you can position wood chunks (not chips) under the grill grate directly over one of the burners or pilot lights and preheat on high until you see smoke. Once you see smoke, turn the grill down to the temperature at which you plan to cook.
If you want to use wood chips in a gas grill that doesn’t have a smoker box, you’ll need to make a smoker pouch. Wrap the soaked chips in heavy-duty aluminum foil to make a pillow-shaped pouch. Poke a few holes in the top of the pouch with a pencil or knife tip, and place the pouch under the grate over one of the burners. The traditional drawback to gas grills is that many don’t get hot enough for smoking. To overcome this, preheat the grill to high until you see smoke—lots of it—then turn the burner knobs to reduce the heat to the desired temperature and put on the food.
Instructions for Determining if Chicken is Cooked Fully:
What if my chicken browns too fast?
Lower the heat and/or loosely tent the bird with aluminum foil to prevent it from burning.
How do I know when the chicken is cooked?
There are three basic tests for doneness. The most accurate is to use an instant-read meat thermometer. Steady the chicken with one hand using clean, well-insulated rubber gloves or a pair of tongs. Insert the metal probe of the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, but away from the bone. The temperature should be about 180°F. Alternatively, insert a slender metal skewer in the thigh and leave it there for 10 seconds. It should come out very hot to the touch and the juices that run from the hole should be clear. Another test is to wiggle one of the legs, again steadying the chicken with your other hand. The leg should move loosely and freely in the joint.
Nutritional information is based on 4 servings, using a 3½ lb chicken.
Nutrients per serving (% daily value)
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