Warning: This post contains graphic imagery.
My wife and I debated the point all weekend: Is the cavity in a chicken the neck opening or the butt? Turns out it’s the butt. Once that was settled we procured a fresh chicken from Marlow and Daughters, fired up the grill and lodged a can of beer in its ass. Hence: Beer Ass Chicken. Or as it’s more often known, Beer Can Chicken.
I felt a certain evolutionary guilt about sticking a metal can up a fellow creature’s exit hole, and wished things had turned out differently in the neck vs. ass debate. But what’s done is done, and the incredibly moist and tender result eased my conscience.
My recipe is a modified version of Pat Neely’s, of Memphis barbecue and Food Network fame. Because yes, I have a thing for cooking shows with painfully canned banter (we all have our embarrassing vices: Conklin has golf; I have the Down Home With the Neelys [Ed.—I also count Down Home With the Neelys as a vice, for what it's worth.]). But do the Neelys use dark brown sugar and ground mustard? No they don't, because doing so would be too extreme for the Food Network. Ok, it’s actually not that extreme, but I needed to make this recipe my own, and the brown sugar gives the chicken a nice charred and crispy caramelized crust. So without further ado, go make a Beer Ass Chicken this weekend:
For the rub:
Keep in mind these are rough estimates.
-1 tablespoons smoked paprika (careful - stuff’s powerfully smoky)
-2 tablespoons salt
-2 tablespoons onion powder
-1 tablespoon dark brown sugar (go easy here, otherwise the sugar can burn)
-1 tablespoon garlic powder
-1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
-1 tablespoon ground mustard
-1 tablespoon cumin
-2 teaspoons dried thyme
-2 teaspoons dried oregano
-2 teaspoons black pepper
For the Chicken:
-1 4 pound chicken, give or take a pound
-1 12-ounce can of beer*
*A note on the beer: I like to use a medium-bodied lager with some malty sweetness to it for extra flavor; something like Brooklyn Lager, which does come in cans if you look hard enough. In reality it probably doesn’t matter what you use since the beer is mainly just a water source to help steam the chicken and keep it moist. But beer is more fun than soda, so you know, stick with beer.
For the rub:
1) Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. That’s it.
For the chicken:
1) If you’re using a propane grill, preheat it to medium. But ideally you want to use charcoal to maximize that wonderful, carcinogenic grilled flavor. In this case buy one of those cheap aluminum baking trays from the supermarket and place it in the center of your grill below the grate. This will serve as your drip pan to catch any chicken drippings and also allow the chicken to cook over indirect heat, which is key to the Beer Ass Chicken process.
2) Light the charcoal in a charcoal chimney and scatter around the pan; place grate back on the grill. If you’re chimney-less, scatter the charcoal first and then light it, though I try to avoid lighter fluid since it can give your meat an 87 unleaded quality.
3) Rub the chicken and its cavity down with the vegetable oil and season inside and out with the rub.
4) Drink a third of the beer and cut the lid off with a can opener; this allows more steam-flow to the chicken.
5) Set the beer can in the center of the grill over the drip pan.
6) And now the humiliating part: slide the chicken (cavity first) over the beer can and balance it upright using the legs to stabilize.
7) Cover and cook for 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees F.
8) Once cooked, carefully remove the chicken from the grill. Try lifting from beneath with a metal spatula and using tongs for support. While doing so don’t—I repeat don’t—accidentally brush your bare knee against the incredibly hot grill cover.
9) Remove the hot can with tongs and let cool for 10 minutes.
10) Dismantle chicken and eat.
Serving suggestions: I served my chicken with grilled corn on the cob and grilled red potatoes with fresh sage butter, because everything’s better grilled.