Thursday, August 23, 2012

Beer Can Chicken on the Smoker

A beer can chicken is probably one of the coolest things you can cook on your smoker. Pull a chicken sitting upright on a throne out of your smoker and it will definitely turn some heads. And believe me, your friends will be talking about it for days, especially once they get a taste. This cooking method produces a gorgeous looking succulent and juicy bird infused with flavor. Think about it - you are steaming the chicken from the inside out while at the same time roasting it and crisping the skin from the outside in. And, all the while you are infusing spices and flavors throughout the bird. I guarantee once you try it, you will want to cook your chicken like this from now on! Let's get started.

The first step is to select a throne for your bird. There 3 options shown to the right. Option 1 is a can of your favorite beer. Option 2 is a Chickencan Rack (lower left) and Option 3 is a Poultry Roasting Rack (back center).

The beer can is the simplest and most cost effective option. All you need to do is drain 1/2 the beer and use a can opener "church key" to make several holes (vents) in the top of the can. The challenge is you need to use the birds legs and the the beer can as a tripod to balance the chicken on the grill. Not so easy to do on a grill grate. It is a little easier to balance if you put the chicken on a baking pan, and then place it pan and all on the cooker.

The second option is the Chickencan Rack. The advantage of using this rack is that you gain stability via the metal legs. You still prepare the beer can as previously described and simply insert it into the built-in can holder. The main drawback of this rack is that it is slightly larger in circumference and you have to cram it into the body cavity (much politer term than poop shoot) and it may require some trimming to make it fit. I still recommend using a baking pan for stability and for ease of removing the chicken after cooking.

The final option is the poultry roasting rack which is my preferred method. The roasting rack has several advantages. First, you are not limited to canned beer. I prefer microbrews which generally are only bottled. This rack has a built in cup where you simply pour the beer and add spices. Secondly, the throne (infuser) is trim and tapered and therefore much easier to mount the bird. And finally, it has a built in pan that adds stability and that can be used to add more flavoring agents (beer, wine, broths, spices, etc).  So now that you have selected your type of rack, let's get started.

Set up your smoker for 2-zone indirect cooking. Our target temperature for the cook will be 250°F. I prefer to smoke chicken with fruit woods. They are milder and impart a sweetness to the meat. I generally use cherry wood or a 50/50 combination of cherry and apple. You will need two small chunks for the cook. We will add the wood to the smoker when we put on the chicken. For now, go ahead and get the coals started and we will move on to the prep.

You want to use a fresh chicken at least 4 lbs and no more than 5 lbs (any bigger and you might not be able to close the lid on the Weber). To prep the bird, remove the package of giblets and pat the chicken dry inside and out with a paper towel. Trim away the excess skin around the neck with kitchen scissors or poultry shears. You may also need to trim around the cavity to enlarge the opening so that the can or infuser will fit.

The next step is to apply the rub. I like to apply a light coat of oil (used chipotle olive oil) on the outside of the chicken. The oil helps the rub to adhere to the skin and it also helps to crisp the skin during the cook. Generously apply the rub inside and outside of the chicken. Now it's time to prepare the beer can or infuser.

If you are using a beer can, empty half of the liquid and vent the can as previously described. If you are using the poultry roasting rack, fill the built in infuser 3/4 full with beer. Next, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of chicken rub to the beer a little bit at a time (prevents foaming). If you are using a beer can, gently swirl the can each time you add some rub. If you are using the poultry rack, gently stir with a spoon each time you add some rub. Once you've finished adding the rub, the final step is to mount the bird on it's throne.

If you are using a beer can only, place the can in the center of a baking pan and ease the chicken (legs down) onto the beer can creating a tripod with the can and the legs. If you are using the Chickencan Rack, place the beer can in the built in holder, place the rack on a baking pan, and then ease the chicken onto the rack. Finally if you are using the poultry roasting rack (pictured at right), mount the chicken on the infuser and insert the infuser cap through the neck hole to lock the chicken to the infuser. Another advantage of the roasting rack is that you can add additional liquid and seasonings to the built in pan. For this cook, I added about 1/4 inch of beer, some more rub and some freshly minced garlic and onion. Yum! Now it's time to start the cook.

Put the chicken on the weber in the cooking zone with the legs and breast facing the heat zone. This positions the legs, which take longer to cook, closest to the heat source. As a final prep, pull the wings backwards and using toothpicks, pin them to the sides of the chicken. This prevents the wing tips from burning and it also exposes the sides of the breasts for optimal cooking. Next add the smoking wood and put the lid back on the cooker. Now it's time to cook!!!

Just kick back and let the smoker do it's thing. As long as you are able to hold the temperature near 250°, you won't need to check the chicken until 2 hours into the cook. At the 2 hour mark, you will want to check the meat temperature. Our goal temperature is between 160° to 165°. Insert an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of the breast to take the reading. If your not quite there at the 2 hour mark, quickly replace the lid and re-check every 15 minutes.

As soon as the temperature is within the target zone, remove the chicken from the weber and rest it for 15 minutes. The chicken and the beer can and/or rack and the liquids will be very hot even after 15 minutes, so you will need to exercise caution when removing the chicken. I recommend using a good pair of insulated food gloves to prevent from burning yourself. Also, if you used a beer can, the chicken might be stuck to the can and you may need work the can a bit to get it to separate from the meat. Use caution here because the liquids are extremely hot.

Now it's time to serve! You can slice it or pull it and serve it on a bun. If you used the poultry roasting rack, you can spoon some of the liquids from the pan over the sliced or pulled meat. The leftover's are fantastic in soups or salads or even in a BBQ Parfait!

So there you have it! If you decide to give this a try you won't be disappointed and you just may become a backyard legend with your friends and family - enjoy!

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