Beer Can Chicken ~ A Favorite for “Grill Guys”

Steven Raichlen's Signature Dish: Beer Can Chicken

This recipe has a bit of a history. Before I was "in the picture", Mike went with some friends to the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, which is the premier event for food & wine lovers. He attended a bunch of cooking demonstrations and a private tasting dinner featuring Landmark wine. One of his favorites was Steven Raichlen’s Beer Can Chicken, Steven is best known for his expertise in barbecue. His cookbook is one of our favorites and is truly OUR BBQ bible!!

One day when we were first dating, Mike told me that he was going to make me Beer Can Chicken for dinner. He’s quite the “Grill Guy”, and I was curious to see what this weird recipe would produce. Really? A chicken standing upright, held up by a can of beer on the barbecue grill? He made the spice rub, covered the chicken in it, including under the skin and in the cavity, threw some into the beer, fired up the grill, and kept a close eye on it for almost 2 hours. I have to say, it was one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had!

Now, 10 years after MY first introduction to this grilling method, whole chickens mounted on beer cans have become familiar sights in backyard barbecues. And for good reason: the liquid creates steam that helps cook the chicken from the inside and keep it moist. Also, standing the bird vertically means the legs, which take the most time to cook, are exposed to the most intense heat. That way it cooks evenly without drying out the breast. The result is one of the tastiest chickens imaginable.

We make this quite often now, and I still love it. We’ve been to the Aspen Food & Wine Classic twice since then, once for my 50th birthday, and then with my Mom for her 75th. Mom stalked Jacques Pepin all week-end, but I’ll save that story for another time.

Guys, here’s a fabulous meal that will impress your wife…. If you’re looking for something special to celebrate an anniversary, her birthday or Mother’s Day, this will definitely earn you some points! It’s great with grill-roasted potatoes and a salad. The beverage of choice: beer, of course!

Beer Can Chicken
adapted from Steve Raichlen’s “The Barbecue! Bible
and Cooks Illustrated The Best Recipe Grilling & Barbecue Cookbook
Serves 4 to 6

Note: Be sure not to open the lid of the gas grill too often during cooking; the temperature of the grill will drop significantly each time you open it. If you prefer, use lemonade or wine instead of beer; fill an empty 12-ounce soda or beer can with 10 ounces (1¼ cups) of lemonade or wine and proceed as directed.

I prefer to use a vertical roaster, widely available in most grocery stores during the summer, and almost always available in Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma. The roaster is safer to use, keeping the chicken steady during roasting.

“Best Recipe” Spice Rub:
½ cup sweet paprika
tablespoons kosher salt
tablespoons garlic powder
tablespoon dried thyme
teaspoons ground celery seed
teaspoons ground black pepper
teaspoons cayenne pepper

Memphis Rub:
¼ cup paprika
1 Tablespoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 3 teaspoons cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder

The Wildtree Rotisserie Chicken Rub is also delicious. I’d add cayenne to the mixture if you want to add a little heat to the flavor.


 cups wood chips
whole chicken (about 3½-4 pounds)
can beer (12-ounce), or lemonade or wine
bay leaves
Large disposable aluminum baking pan (13 by 9-inch)


1. For Spice Rub: Combine all the ingredients in a jar; twist the lid on airtight, and shake to mix. Store away from heat and light for up to 6 months. Measure 3 tablespoons for use in this recipe.

2. For Chicken: Massage the spice rub all over the chicken, inside and out. Lift up the skin over the breast and rub the spice rub directly onto the meat. Insidertip: I recommend rubbing spice mixture between skin and flesh, and letting the chicken “marinate” in the refrigerator for several hours.

3. Open the beer can and pour out (or drink) about ¼ cup. With a church key can opener, punch two more large holes in the top of the can (for a total of three holes). Crumble the bay leaves and 1 Tablespoon of the spice rub mixture into the beer. Slide the chicken over the can so that the drumsticks reach down to the bottom of the can and the chicken stands upright; refrigerate until ready to grill.

4. Soak the wood chips in cold water to cover for 1 hour, and drain. Place the wood chips in the foil tray or smoker box. Place the tray on top of the primary burner of a gas grill and replace the cooking grate(s). Light all the burners and turn to high, cover, and heat until the chips are smoking heavily, about 15 minutes.

5. Carefully open the grill (there may be some smoke) and scrape the cooking grate clean with a grill brush. Turn the primary burner down to medium and turn off the other burner(s). Place the chicken over the cool part of the grill with a wing side facing the primary burner. Cover and grill-roast for 45 minutes, adjusting the lit burner as needed to maintain a temperature of 325 to 350 degrees inside the grill. Rotate the chicken so that the drumstick and wing that were facing away from the lit burner are now facing toward it. Cover and continue to grill-roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 180 to 185 degrees, 25 to 40 minutes longer.

6. With a large wad of paper towels in each hand, transfer the chicken to a platter or tray, making sure to keep the can upright; let rest for 15 minutes. Using wads of paper towels, carefully lift the chicken off the can and onto a platter or cutting board. Discard the remaining beer and can. Carve the chicken and serve.

Grill-Roasting Two Chickens:
There are some occasions when you may want to cook more than one chicken—when you have more guests to serve or if you’d like to have leftovers on hand. Here’s how:
Increase the amount of wood chips to 4 cups, use 6 tablespoons Spice Rub, and use two 3½-pound chickens. Set the chickens (with cans) over the cool part of the grill, with a wing side facing the primary burner, allowing as much room around each chicken as possible. Grill-roast as directed.

Happy Mother's Day! And Ladies, if you're married to a "Grill Guy" and you're wondering what to get him for Father's Day, I recommend the Big Green Egg Barbecue Grill. We have one up at our Camano Island beach house, and we love it!


P.S. In my email today, there was an ad from Williams-Sonoma for a dual vertical grill roaster: I'll be going out to buy one today!!

One thought on “Beer Can Chicken ~ A Favorite for “Grill Guys”

  1. OMGoodness this looks yummy … I think I’ll be sending this recipe straight to Steve since we obviously have the WT Rotisserie blend on hand;) He been asking about a rotisserie addition tool for our grill … but this method just may do the trick. And leftover chicken is so wonderful on salad or in pasta the rest of the week!
    Thanks Lisa!
    Yvonne Hall


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