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Best Beer Can Chicken, Safe Temps for a Modern Classic with an International Flair

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.

THE PROCESS

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.

AN INTERNATIONAL PROFILE

A sticky, sweet, and savory glaze made with an Asian influence creates a truly unique and delicious chicken to change up your traditional BBQ offerings. Since we are not aiming for that crackly skin, a glaze is perfect. As the chicken roasts the glaze caramelizes and mixes with the juices of the skin, creating an irresistible-lip smacking-flavor profile and smell that can’t be beat!

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This process starts with a simple overnight dry brine of salt and white pepper. A dry brine is best here because we do not want to add extra water to the skin or waterlog the meat before cooking.
On cook day you want to use a beer with a low IBU (bitterness) like a wheat beer or lager (with the top of the can completely removed to increase evaporation). To enhance the flavor of the beer I add grated ginger, cilantro, star anise, and a little Shaoxing wine.

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While the temperature of the can will never get to a boil it will simmer, and these aromatics are strong. The can is inserted into the chicken cavity and placed upright in the middle of a preheated grill, set to 340-365°F (171-185°C).  Make sure to place your Quad XPro Thermometer probes into the center of the breast, the thickest part of the thigh and the ambient temperature probe close to where the chicken will cook. Since we are using indirect heat make sure the middle burners are turned off.

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As the chicken cooks it’s time to make the glaze. This glaze is a perfect combination of sweet and savory, with just a touch of heat. Soy, hoisin, ginger, garlic, lime, brown sugar, sweet chili sauce, Shaoxing wine, and little chili flake are cooked together to create a dark concoction that is bold but not overpowering. A fun and unique twist on your classic BBQ fare.

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When your chicken reaches 130°F (54°C) in the breast its time to start glazing. Using a pastry brush, or a tablespoon, brush the warm glaze all over the chicken then close the grill. This process will slow down the cooking due to loss of heat, but the end result will be worth the wait.

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Glaze the chicken every 8 minutes till the internal temperature of the breast registers 155°F (68°C), this will carry over to a safe 165°F (74°C). The thighs should be closer to 170-175°F (77-80°C), which is perfect for tender dark meat.

Let the bird rest for 10 minutes before removing the can and cutting for service I like to cut the chicken into 8 pcs so everyone can pick a light or dark meat. You can cut the breasts in two if they are large. Garnish with sesame seeds and lime wedges.

Beer can chicken is a fun and unique way to cook a whole chicken, and it’s a bit of a conversation piece as the chicken rests on your cutting board. Enjoy this spin on the classic safely by paying attention to your critical temps and monitoring your progress the entire time with the Quad XPro Thermometer.

chefstemp beer can chicken

ASIAN GLAZED BEER CAN CHICKEN

 

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DESCRIPTION

Sticky, sweet, savory, and delicious.
A modern interpretation of a backyard classic with an international flair.

INGREDIENTS

3-4# Chicken

2T kosher salt

1.5tsp white pepper

1 can wheat beer or lager

¼ bunch cilantro, lightly chopped

3 star anise pods

2 tsp Grated Ginger

1t Shaoxing Wine

SAUCE INGREDIENTS

1.5t Grated Ginger

1.5 Tsp Garlic, Minced

½ C Brown Sugar

¼ C Soy Sauce

1.5t Hoisin Sauce

1t Sweet Thai Chili Glaze

1/2tsp Red Chili Flake

1/2 Lime Juiced

1t Shaoxing Wine (Optional)

Sesame Seeds, garnish

1 lime, cut into wedges, garnish

INSTRUCTIONS

24 hours before you cook

Prepare the Chicken

  • Mix salt and white pepper together in a small dish, set aside.
  • Pat the chicken dry and dust all over with the mixture.
  • Place chicken in a zip top bag and remove as much air as possible.
  • Place in the bottom of your refrigerator overnight.
  • This is an optional step, but it is worth the wait.

Cook Day

  • Pour half of the beer into a glass, to enjoy while you cook, and then use a can opener to remove the entire top of the can. The top can be sharp so take extra precaution when you are filling and inserting the can.
  • Add the chopped cilantro, star anise, wine and the 2tsp of grated ginger to the beer can.
  • Preheat your grill to 340-365°F (171-185°C), ensure this temperature is accurate with your Quad XPro Thermometer. Either turn off one side, the middle, or move your coals to one side of the grill creating an indirect cooking space.
  • Carefully place the chicken on the can so the bird is completely supported and sitting upright.
  • Insert the probes into the thickest part of the breast and thigh, set a temp alarm for 130°F (54°C) degrees for the probe in the breasts, no need to set an alarm for the thighs, then go make your sauce.
  • In a small skillet or pot add all the sauce ingredients, except the lime juice, together and bring up to a simmer.  Cook for 4-5 minutes or till the sauce thickens.
  • When the breasts register 130°F (54°C) brush on the glaze with a pastry brush or BBQ brush. Repeat these steps every 8 minutes or till you are out of sauce or the chicken breasts reach an internal temperature of 155°F (68°C), this will carry over to a safe 165°F (74°C).  The thighs should be closer to 170-175°F (77-80°C).
  • Remove the chicken from the grill, careful the beer will be very hot!
  • Let the chicken rest on your cutting board for 10 minutes before removing from the can and cutting into 8 pieces to serve.
  • Garnish with sliced green onions and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.