The American backyard BBQ; apple pie, fresh sweet corn, chilled watermelon, and a Beer Can Chicken slowly roasting on the grill. For over two decades this technique of using a can of beer to support a chicken while it cooks has been showing up at backyard cookouts and bar-b-ques across the nation.
Roasting chicken “bone in” has many benefits but it also introduces an added level of complexity. You are bringing all the taste benefits and moisture from the bones, always a plus in my book, and cooking multiple meat types with a lack of a uniform shape. The breasts react to heat much faster than the thighs and legs, which also need to be cooked to a higher internal temperature to ensure they are both tender and not overcooked.
In its most simplistic sense, beer can chicken is a chicken cooked upright and propped up by a can of beer. The beer’s main goal, supposedly, is to infuse the bird with flavor and moisture, creating a chicken that is juicy and infused with lovely beer flavor.
Unfortunately, this theory is off base. Since the beer can is not being exposed to a direct fire source and is thermally insulated by the chicken, it will never get the liquid to a boil. The highest temperature I was able to reach during my cooking attempts was 176°F (80°C), around a low simmering point but nowhere close to boiling. What the can does do is to provide support and act as a drip pan to collect the juices from the chicken as the bird cooks. This does not mean that there is no opportunity for the transfer of flavors, but you must choose strong aromatics that will become activated at a lower temperature. These strong flavors will steam inside the bird and help give your final chicken a beautiful aroma.
Another downside is that this method does not produce the same cracker crispy skin that a normal roast or spatchcocked chicken would produce, like this one. But that is not to say this is a bad thing, it only means we need to change our expectations and adjust our recipe.