You’ve probably heard of beer can chicken, even if you haven’t had the pleasure of trying it yet. And if that’s the case, you’ll want to get started as soon as possible, because this recipe will supply you with some of the juiciest, most flavorful, most tender meat you’ll ever tasted.
Beer can chicken is prepared by inserting a partially filled can of beer into a chicken’s body cavity prior to grilling—or in this case, smoking—the meat. The moisture continuously “bastes” the chicken as it cooks slowly over low heat, thereby ensuring that the meat won’t dry out. You may also know it as “chicken on a throne,” “dancing chicken,” or “drunken chicken,” but “beer can chicken” is the most widely used term.
Pro Tip: If you have small children or non-drinking guests in your party, don’t worry. The alcohol in the beer will burn off during cooking.
Preparing the Bird
While the beer will keep the bird moist and tender throughout the smoking process, it won’t impart all that much in the way of flavor—at least not on its own. That’s what the seasoning process is for. Fortunately, the chef will find no shortage of options when it comes to seasoning a chicken for the smoker.
Our recipe below utilizes a simple barbecue rub recipe with onion, garlic, and chili powder, but poultry makes for an exceptionally versatile canvas. Once you’ve gotten the hang of making your own smoked barbecue chicken, feel free to get creative with whatever ingredients you have on hand. Marinade isn’t strictly necessary for beer can chicken, as the beer provides all the moisture you’ll need, but if you have a favorite recipe that would complement the smoky flavor, go ahead and use it.
Alternatively, you can experiment with different herbs and spices—tarragon, rosemary, and thyme are all excellent partners for chicken—to create an individualized spice rub. Be sure to record your ingredients if you go this route—you may need the reminder the next time you fire up the smoker if the results end up impressing your guests!
Pro Tip: When applying spice rub to a chicken, be sure to really massage the mixture into all of the crevices, including inside the body cavity. This will help to ensure that the flavor is evenly distributed, so that you’ll be able to enjoy every last fall-off-the-bone morsel.
How to Make Smoked Beer Can Chicken: A Step-by-Step Guide
While you’re gathering the ingredients and tools for the recipe, go ahead and help yourself to the other half of the beer. Otherwise, you can use it for another recipe (yeast-raised beer flatbread is amazing on the grill!) or pour it down the sink.
Pro Tip: This recipe can easily be doubled if your smoker is large enough to hold two birds. They may require a little more cooking time, so keep an eye on the temperature during the last half-hour or so.
- 1 whole chicken (sometimes labeled as “whole fryer”), 3 to 4 pounds
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 can (12 ounces) beer or ale, preferably at room temperature
For the Smoked Beer Can Chicken Rub:
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1-1/2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon prepared chili powder
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Pro Tip: If you can find it, Colman’s dry mustard offers the best flavor.
Tools and Other Equipment
- Prepare the chicken by removing the neck and giblets, if necessary. Trim any visible fat.
- Lightly sprinkle the salt over the entire surface and inside the body cavity of the chicken. This is a step that’s known as “dry-brining,” and it will season and tenderize the meat without the health risks posed by wet brine. Cover the chicken with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Try not to leave it any longer, or the meat may turn out spongy.
- Meanwhile, soak the wood chips in water for at least half an hour. Prepare the rub by mixing the ingredients together in a small bowl.
- Carefully rinse the chicken under cold running water, inside and out. Pat the entire surface dry with paper towels.
- Apply the dry rub to the prepared chicken, taking care to massage the mixture into every nook and cranny, including the body cavity. Try to fold the wing tips back as far as possible.
- Heat the smoker to the ideal temperature for indirect cooking over medium heat—around 400 degrees.
- Punch two extra holes in the top of the half-full beer can, using either the knife or can opener.
- Place the beer can on one of the two platters. Arrange the seasoned chicken over the can, nestling the can inside the body cavity so that the chicken looks like it’s standing up.
- Drain the wood chips. Add them to the smoker box and light as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
- When the smoker is ready (usually when the wood begins to turn out good smoke), carefully transfer the beer can chicken to the grill, making sure to place it over indirect heat. If the bird is too unstable to stand on its own, use the beer can stand to stabilize it.
- Cook with the lid closed for about 1 to 1-1/2 hours, or until the internal temperature of the thigh reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. (Be careful not to let the thermometer touch the thigh bone when testing the temperature.) The juices should run clear when you jiggle the drumsticks.
- With the tongs, carefully remove the chicken from the grill, using the spatula to keep the beer can in place. Keeping the bird in the same upright position, transfer it to a platter and allow it to rest for at least 15 minutes so the juices have a chance to distribute evenly.
- Carefully grasp the beer can using paper towels and twist it slightly to loosen it from the body cavity. Grasp the chicken with tongs and gently lift it off the can, taking care not to spill the beer (it will be very hot!).
- Discard the leftover beer. Divide the chicken into pieces using the carving knife. Serve warm and watch it disappear.
Pro Tip: It’s unlikely you’ll have leftovers, but if you do, this chicken makes an ideal sandwich when paired with barbecue sauce, griddled onions, baby arugula, and your favorite sharp Cheddar.
Preparing beer can chicken for the grill is easy, and the fast cooking time will make this one of the most carefree smoker recipes you’ll ever prepare. Whether you’re planning a backyard barbecue or a casual weeknight dinner, this chicken fits the bill. Try serving it with plenty of corn bread, your favorite cole slaw, and the same beer you used for the chicken.