Beer Can Chicken

Winter isn't the only season that boasts beautiful centerpiece dishes! When you're firing up the grill this summer, consider cooking up a beer can chicken — a dish as impressive as it is delicious.

Keith Kamikawa has all of the secrets to help you master this chicken, which is coated in a medley of spices before being slowly smoked over a can of beer. The brew adds moisture and even more flavor to the tender meat.

If you're feeding kids, don't fret! According to Kamikawa, "The whole family can eat this chicken. As the beer heats up and evaporates, all of the alcohol evaporates as well."

And since the grill is already lit, take advantage of the heat to prep some sides. "If it's in season, I'll always roast corn on the grill with beer can chicken," says Kamikawa, who also loves serving this impressive main with homemade pickles, coleslaw, and barbecue sauce. Add a basket of fresh Hawaiian rolls, and your feast is ready to enjoy.

"Nothing crazy and pretty traditional, but you really can't beat classic sides. Of course, if you have time, some grilled bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers are always welcome when spending time outside working the grill!"

Gather the ingredients to make beer can chicken

To make this beer can chicken, you will, of course, need a chicken. Four pounds should do it to feed a family of four.

To season the chicken, you'll be using a panoply of spices: paprika, black pepper, cayenne pepper, as well as aromatics like celery salt and garlic powder. Poultry seasoning, which usually contains a mix of dried herbs and nutmeg, rounds out the spice blend nicely. A touch of salt, and the mix is ready!

The last things you'll need are charcoal briquettes — 5 quarts of them — and wood chips or chunks to add that smoky flavor. And, of course, a can of beer.

Choose the beer for your beer can chicken

You'll also need a can of beer — Kamikawa prefers something light and crisp like Miller High Life, but you can use any beer you like.

"I'd recommend a lighter beer, like an ale, pilsner, or Weiss," says Kamikawa. "Beer I would stray away from would be stronger more pronounced beers which can become bitter in flavor like stouts and IPAs."

A light beer will add loads of moisture to the chicken without imparting too distinctive a flavor — just the light hint of hops and maltiness is perfectly balanced with all that spice and smoke.

Make the spice mix for the beer can chicken

To make this beer can chicken, start by making the spice mix. Combine the salt, celery salt, paprika, garlic powder, poultry seasoning, black pepper, and cayenne in a bowl, and mix until well combined. This mixture will season the chicken and form a beautiful crust on the outside of the bird.

"Although the chicken ends up looking quite spicy due to the paprika, the paprika itself isn't spicy really at all, and the peppers chill out a bit when roasted on the grill," says Kamikawa. "Of course, if anyone is sensitive to hot spices, the cayenne can be removed completely. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you'd like your chicken hotter, adding more cayenne will do the job."

Season and brine the beer can chicken

With the spice mix made, it's time to season the chicken. Generously rub the spice mix all over the bird, coating all of the skin and the inside of the cavity. And to ensure it's extra flavorful, gently lift the chicken skin from the breasts so that you can season the white meat directly. 

Then, walk away. Before you get cooking, it's important to let the chicken sit and dry brine in the spices to help it absorb all of the flavors. Kamikawa recommends a minimum of 30 minutes or up to 24 hours, noting that he brined his chicken for 20 hours before moving on to the next step.

Get ready to cook the beer can chicken

Once the chicken has brined, it's time to add the star ingredient to this beer can chicken: the beer can!

To do so, first open a beer and take a sip (or several). You want the beer can to be about ⅔ full before using, so with that first third, err, disposed of, you're ready to move on to the next step: positioning the chicken on top of the beer. Do this by inserting the can into the cavity, stabilizing the chicken using the can and both ends of the drumsticks. This is a bit of a balancing act, but it can be done — and Kamikawa notes that you can also use a beer can chicken stand to make your life easier.

Cook the beer can chicken

With the chicken balanced on the can, it's ready to go on the grill. Prep it by removing the top grate and firing 5 quarts of lump charcoal. Meanwhile, soak the 2 cups of wood chips in cold water, which will keep them from catching fire and help them make the chicken lovely and smoky.

"Pecan and apple are my go-to woods for smoking most meats when I'm looking for a light smoke," says Kamikawa. "Pecan is not aggressive in its smoke flavor. If you do want a more intense smoky taste, use mesquite."

When the coals are hot, place the chicken in the center of the bottom grate, and divide the hot coals into two piles facing the thighs. "The thighs and drumsticks take the longest to cook, so lining the coals this way makes sure they cook properly," explains Kamikawa.

Place the wood on the coals, cover the grill, and open the upper vent a third of the way and the bottom vents halfway. 

After about an hour, check the chicken temperature with a probe thermometer inserted into the thick part of the thigh. When it reads 170 degrees Fahrenheit, it's done! Rest the chicken 15 minutes before carving and serving with the sides of your choice.

Beer Can Chicken
5 from 38 ratings
This beer can chicken pairs perfectly with homemade pickles, coleslaw, and barbecue sauce.
Prep Time
1
hour
Cook Time
1
hour
Servings
4
servings
beer can chicken
Total time: 2 hours
Ingredients
  • 1 (4-pound) whole chicken
  • 1 can beer
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon celery salt
  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 1 ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 5 quarts charcoal briquettes
  • 2 cups wood chips or equivalent wood chunks
Directions
  1. Make the spice mix by combining the salt, celery salt, paprika, garlic powder, poultry seasoning, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.
  2. Generously rub the whole chicken all over the outside skin and the interior cavity. Gently lift the skin on the top of the chicken and directly season the breast meat. Let the chicken dry brine for a minimum of 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.
  3. When ready to cook the chicken, take one can of beer and remove ⅓ of the beer. (Drinking it is a good solution.) Place the chicken on top of the beer can by inserting it into the chicken cavity. Balance the chicken using the can and both ends of the drumsticks. (If you have a beer can chicken stand use that in the same process.)
  4. Remove the top grate from the grill, as it will not be needed. Fire 5 quarts of lump charcoal and soak 2 cups of wood chips (we used pecan). Place the chicken in the center on the bottom grate of the grill. Divide the hot coals into two piles lined on opposite sides of the grill facing the drumsticks and thighs. The thighs and drumsticks take the longest to cook, so lining the coals this way makes sure they cook properly.
  5. Place the wood on the coals, cover the grill, and open the upper vent ⅓ of the way and the bottom vents halfway. Cook for 60 to 80 minutes.
  6. Temp chicken in the thick part of the thigh. When the thermometer reads 170 degrees Fahrenheit, the chicken is done. Rest the chicken for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.
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