The Mysterious Origin Of Beer Can Chicken

There's nothing quite like beer can chicken. The barbecue hack is half myth, half pseudoscience, and 100 percent a great conversation starter for your cookout. Some skeptics have questioned the effectiveness of sticking a half-filled can of beer into the cavity of a whole chicken. Does it really change the flavor? Or is it nothing more than a frat-friendly party trick? The answer's pretty vague because the skeptics have some pretty good reasoning: the beer hardly evaporates enough to flavor the chicken, according to Huffington Post. On the other hand, there are die-hard fans of the chicken-and-beer cocktail. Food writers have insisted that the barbecue trick adds something extra to the bird. (And let's face it: it's just a fun thing to do.)

Perhaps it's the positioning and not the beer itself that makes this recipe so beloved. When food writer Emily Saladino roasted six (six!) different chickens, propped up on half a dozen different cans of beer, she noted something important about the art of beer can chicken. When a chicken is literally sitting on a can of beer rather than lying horizontally in a pan, its fatty, greasy drippings run clean off its body rather than simmering with the chicken in a hot Dutch oven. The result of a vertically standing chicken? Crispy skin, according to Vinepair. And who doesn't want a nice, golden-brown Maillard reaction on their roast chicken?

Where did it come from?

If you thought the science of beer can chicken is confusing, its origin story is no different. It's difficult to trace the very first cookout or kitchen in which the idea was born, but it most likely happened somewhere in the American South, according to Atlas Obscura. Food writer Steven Raichlen, who's so dedicated to the grill that he wrote a book called Planet Barbecue!, has been fiddling with the beer can chicken for decades. He first saw the ingenious poultry invention in the 1990s at a Memphis cooking competition.

Raichlen thinks the beer can chicken must have started somewhere around that time: "The minute people saw it, it had to have spread instantly," he said, according to Vinepair. But the team who whipped out the beer can, Raichlen said, was from Texas — not Tennessee. And some investigative work (a Google search) reveals that in 1994, Raichlen raved over the Bryce Boar Blazers, an innovative cooking team who introduced him to beer can chicken, according to The Washington Post. Raichlen has popularized the dish since; he even wrote a book about it. But maybe, just maybe, we ought to be thanking Texas — not only for chicken fried steak and chili but for the party-friendly, haphazard, beer can chicken.