It's GAME DAY!
Every weekend, all over the world, someone’s enjoying a sporting event and is a true fan. At this point in the US, we’re nearing the end of basketball season, and baseball season just started. My personal love is European football, aka Soccer. With the Chicago Fire season kicking off and the World Cup coming in June, it’s the time of the year to gather with friends, enjoy the warm weather (when it happens) pack up the gear, and head off to the field for a game. Of course what game could not be complete without tailgating
Tailgating has been a truly American pastime and ritual that was popularized back in the 1980s and 1990s. Rather than just show up twenty minutes before a game, park, and find a seat; fans would show up two hours early and set up a small mini-barbeque off the back of a truck, car, or van. Food is cooked, alcohol is drunk, and games such as baggo are played. Tailgating today has become an industry of sorts both for food and alcohol distributors as well as makers of specialized gear for these events. Folding tables, chairs, all sorts of portable items specifically engineered not only to be easily packed away, but to allow fans to show their team spirit.
A few years ago, I learned of a method of cooking a whole chicken that became quite popular with college football game tailgating. Foodies explored the idea of roasting a whole chicken on a grill without a spit, and yet end up with a juicy and flavorful bird. The answer came in what is scientifically called indirect grilling. Tailgators simply opened up a can of beer, shoved it into the open crevice of a whole chicken, and then placed it on the grill in a seated position. The heat from the grill will boil the beer and create steam inside the chicken, cooking and basting it while the outer skin ends up crispy.
Much variation on beer can chicken has been explored. Some like to use beer, others use wine or even chicken broth. Some try water, but that doesn’t seem too flavorful in my book. The exploration took beer can chicken outside of tailgating and into the kitchen, which is how I first tried it. Instead of a grill, I used my oven, and I can’t imagine any other way to cook chicken now.
In order to pull this off yourself, you will need a special stand you can find now in many hardware stores. I know the old way was to simply balance the chicken on the can, but trust me, a stand can cost as little as a dollar and can make life so much easier.
I generally like to use my barbecue spice rub on the chicken, but this technique of indirect grilling offers loads of variety to literally make the flavor anything you desire.
Beer Can Chicken
- 1 whole chicken
- 1 can of beer, preferably at room temperature
- 1/4 cup of olive oil
- 1/2 cup of the spice rub of your choice
- Preheat the oven to 400º.
- Open the can of beer and pour half of it out (or drink half).
- Using a can opener, remove the entire top of the can, so it’s open like a glass.
- Place two tbsp of the spice rub into the beer and stir a little.
- Set up the can on your indirect grilling stand.
- Using the olive oil, rub the oil all over the chicken. Use your hands to get into all the outer areas, under the wings, between the folds of the legs. Make sure the chicken is fully coated with oil.
- Rub the chicken with the remaining spice rub.
- Place the chicken on the stand in the sitting position it will end up in, can up it’s opening.
- Wait 10 minutes to let the rub work its way into the chicken a bit, then place it in the oven. It’s good to use a baking dish or cookie sheet underneath to catch any mess.
- Cook the chicken for 15-20 minutes at 400º, then lower the heat to 350º.
- Continue cooking the chicken at 350º for two hours, or until it’s done.
- Pull the chicken out of the oven and allow it to rest for 10-20 minutes before carving.
I’d advise not using ice cold beer. I know it tastes good to drink, but in this recipe we want the beer to get heated and bubbling so it creates steam inside the chicken. Opening the top of the can is to make sure plenty of steam gets into the meat.
The oil serves two purposes. First it will make the chicken moist and golden as opposed to cooked and dry. Second, it helps hold the spices onto the bird.
When applying the rub, be sure to rub firmly, as you want the spices to get into the meat and flavor it. Rubbing lightly or coating the chicken will flavor the skin, but not the meat. I usually like to get some inside the chicken as well.
Use a meat thermometer when checking to see if the chicken is done. Stab it into the breast and get it deep in there. I highly advise cooking the chicken for at least 1 1/2 hours after you turn the heat down. In my kitchen, two hours brings me a a perfect bird. It might be different for you.
I mentioned before, you can variate this to your heart’s content. I originally used my barbeque spice rub, but then later tried doing things more “Slovak” style with just Vegeta, paprika, and black pepper. I’ve even taken a whole chicken and marinated it using the recipe I have for Greek style chicken. One of these days I might try a more Mexican flavor or Asian flavor.
The liquid you use is also open to variation. Many say to use a light-colored beer, but I’ve tried this with darks, lights, stouts, ales, etc. Even a beer as thick as Guinness worked quite well. You can use wine instead of the beer, or even stock. Some tried water, but I think it defeats the purpose. When I did it Greek style, I simply poured some of the marinade into the can. Worked wonderfully.