Beer can chicken, 6 ways

by Ben on July 22, 2010 · 43 comments

in Beer Can Chicken, Chinese, Fusion, Index, Korean, Poultry, Vietnamese

My goodness, has it really been that long since July 4?  That would have been the date of our 3rd quasi-annual Battle Beer Can Chicken Competition, held at the frozen tundra (otherwise known as “The Inner Sunset”) where Chez Babychili can be found. And for the record, pictured above is the second-best chicken I tasted this year (sorry, @riceandwheat! :-) ).

Battle Beer Can Chicken (BBC) was, in many ways, the inevitable outcome of gathering a bunch of socially awkward, Type A science geeks at a backyard BBQ. As the organizer, I quickly realized the following things about my labmates:

  1. We tend to take after our socially awkward, hyper-competitive, lead geek (otherwise known as our “thesis advisor”) .
  2. We have an unusually high percentage of people who could be described (for better or for worse) as “foodies.”
  3. We likely had no other plans for July 4. (Lab, anyone?)

I had always been interested in attempting a beer can chicken, so I began campaigning early for a collective, one-day work stoppage to hold this food contest. Due to above realizations, this was not a tough sell. It just made so much sense. I mean, we all love food, right? Why not try to channel that love toward an activity of mutual annihilation? The rules were fairly simple: Bring, dress, and carve your own chicken. It must be cooked on the grill with a beer can in its cavity. Popular vote decides the winner. To up the stakes, I assembled a mantle-worthy traveling trophy out of a Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboy, a rubber chicken, metallic gold spray paint, and glue. The prize was dubbed “The Golden Gob,” in honor of Will Arnett’s character on the greatest show ever to be cancelled by Fox.

The inaugural BBC was a smashing success, with 8 competitors representing 3 countries. One particularly enthusiastic German (whom I will only refer to as “Mr. F”) entered not one, but two birds for consideration. My wife, just to make us look bad, made a Zuni chicken in the oven. The recipes also spanned the globe, including a Tandoori-style chicken and a black tea dry rub. I personally entered a take on pollo a la brasa, inspired by the signature dish of New York City’s Flor de Mayo. The only mildly awkward thing about the whole affair was that I, uh … won my own contest and trophy. I felt a bit like Stephen Colbert accepting applause on behalf of his interview guests. But I graciously accepted the award with an appropriate degree of humility.

A couple years passed between the first and second installments of BBC. In 2007, Esme was born. And in 2008—well, dealing with a 1-year-old’s nap schedule isn’t exactly a walk in the park. But by 2009, I had run out of excuses. The Golden Gob was to go up for grabs once again. And alas, it fell to foreign hands, as the diabolical Dr. H became the first Austrian national to take home the vaunted prize with a chicken he describes as simply, “The Bruno.”

Confused, disappointed, and frankly a little embarrassed, I immediately began plotting my revenge. The anticipation reached a fever pitch with this year’s BBC III, as official entries rolled in from defending champ Dr. H and foodblogging juggernaut Rice and Wheat, who had previously ghost-written recipes for her husband (“Wheat?”) that were good enough for 3rd and 2nd place in the first two competitions. Game on.

Both Dr. H and r+w employed what we refer to as the “giant chicken” strategy, which is simply: Use the largest bird you can find. According to this school of thought,  larger birds will be juicier when done. Also, if grill space is shared with a less attentive competitor, a smaller bird may dry out if not removed early. Indeed, r+w’s entry (described by one onlooker as “Gigantor”) weighed in at a whopping 6.5 lbs, requiring a beer can reminiscent of a pony keg to hold it up. And this time, the two heavyweights went on the grill together.

The remaining entries were all in the neighborhood of 4 – 4.5 lbs. Asian flavors dominated this year, with 4 out of the 6 entries sporting flavors from our planet’s largest continent.

Equipment I cannot say enough good things about the Classic Old Smokey Barbecue Grill (#18), which we used to cook all 6 chickens. What makes this particular make and model ideal for this competition is its 10.5″ of clearance above the grill, which accommodates vertical placement of virtually any chicken we are likely to use. Because the lid is cylindrical (rather than domed), you get this amount of clearance regardless of the lateral position on the grill.

I mocked my friend Reid for bringing a wire beer can chicken holder. Normally, a chicken should be able to stand up with its legs and can in classic, tripod formation. However, I quickly ate my words when I realized that my marination strategy had left my chicken too floppy to be free-standing. Reid was kind enough to let me use the holder, which I now grudgingly recommend.

Grilling instructions None of us is an expert at barbecue, so we worked together to share grill master duties. Though a proper beer can chicken calls for indirect heat, we knew we had to get 6 birds out by lunch, so we put 3 each on 2 grills, which covers much of the usable surface. That’s worked well for us in the past. The target temperature for the grill was 350F. At this temperature, a 4.5 lb bird takes about an hour and a half to cook (with the larger ones taking about 2 hours). You can go as low as 250F, but it takes longer. Fresh coals were added at the one hour mark. Doneness was determined by each individual, but the consensus temperature was about 170 – 175F in the thickest part of the thigh.

* * * * *

THE RECIPES

As you might imagine, I can provide the most detailed information about my own entry, which was called “I wish I were short ribs.” It is essentially my sister’s homemade kalbi marinade, which I once used on my weekly oven roast chicken because I had a lot of the marinade around.

“I wish I were short ribs,” a kalbi-style beer can chicken

A 4 – 4.5 lb, high-quality chicken
1/2 onion
1/4 C Chinese or Korean rice wine
2 T brown sugar
1/4 C usukuchi (light soy sauce)
2 T dark sesame oil
dash of fish sauce
3 cloves crushed garlic
togarashi (Japanese red chili flakes) to taste
1/4 whole, ripe kiwi
kosher salt
1 lemon
1 can beer (it matters not what kind)

Let me know if I’m crazy, but I dry brined and then followed with the marination. Could I have simply added salt to my marinade? Possibly. But I wasn’t sure how much to add, and I knew that my way would work. So I patted the chicken down with paper towels and rubbed about 1.5 T of salt inside and out. I let it sit in the fridge, loosely covered, for 2 days.

To make the marinade, puree onion and mix with rice wine. In a separate bowl, mix brown sugar with soy sauce, sesame oil, and fish sauce. Stir into onion-wine mixture. Add fresh crushed garlic and togarashi to your liking. Mix well.

Then take 1/4 of a whole, ripe kiwi. Mash with a fork, and stir vigorously with 1/2 cup of the marinade. Using your hands, massage this kiwi-marinade mixture all over the chicken, being sure to put plenty underneath the skin. Put the well-rubbed chicken into a giant zippered plastic bag, and pour the rest of the marinade on top. Refrigerate 24 hours, turning once.

The kiwi will make the chicken extremely floppy and tender, so it does help to have a wire beer can chicken holder. Drink about 3/4 of the beer. Using a “church key” style can opener, punch a number of additional holes on the top of the can and liberally add marinade and juice from 1/2 of a lemon. Use the other half of the lemon (trimmed if necessary) to fashion a plug at the neck hole to trap steam.

Grill @ 350F over indirect heat for about 1.5 hours, or until the temperature reads 175F in the thickest part of the thigh.

Some notes from the rest of the field:

“Bruno 2.0: Bigger, juicier, tastier …” [pictured above]

Ok, here it comes:
dry rubbed the night before (not brined) with the following spices:
sweet paprika
some salt
some celery salt
garlic powder
onion powder
white pepper
ginger powder
black pepper
caraway
cayenne pepper

full recipe ( in German :-) ) with a not so tasty picture here

“Chicken 888″

We wet brined / marinated for ~5 hours the day before in water, sugar,
salt, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, green onions, and chinese five spice.
We then air dried it overnight on a rack in the fridge. In addition to
beer our can was packed ~1/3 full of garlic.

“Imitation Seoul” [pictured at the top of this post]

i’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats…

dry-brined for 36 hours with salt and korean chili powder
morning of BBC, brushed chicken with gochujang
made bbq sauce consisting of soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, gochujang, rice vingear
towards the end of grilling, basted chicken with some bbq sauce to get some caramelization on the skin

we also adopted the strategy  (a la dr. h) of finding the largest chicken we could – our dream was realized at trader joe’s with a 6.5 lb chicken.

“Pho-king Good Chicken”

My chicken was just a super simple marinade with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, salt, pepper, and oil. Inspired by grilled chicken you get at Vietnamese restaurants (ga nuong). I think the recipe I followed was from Andrea Nguyen. Other than that, I didn’t really do much to the chicken.. and I didn’t cheat by getting a giant bird :)

“DNF” [Disqualified in advance for pre-cooking in an electric smoker.]

Are you speaking of my famous “Unjustifiably Disqualified Chicken”?

Brined overnight in liquid
Dry rubbed with a blend of every spice I could find (emphasis on Adobo, and some dried peppers I collected in Oaxaca in 1999)
Smoked 1 hour at low heat (200ish)
Beer can BBQ’ed 1 hour
Finished with a secret bitterness sauce!

* * * * *

THE OUTCOME

Since this is a popular vote, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there is virtually zero chance of my winning this again next year. But what can I say? Revenge is a dish best served with a beer can up its butt. I think everyone agreed that all of the chickens were absolutely delicious. Not a dud in the bunch. The voting reflected that, as r+w and I required a tiebreaker (most #1 votes) to determine a winner by the smallest of margins. The auspicious “Chicken 888″ rounded out the medalists.
I’m already looking forward to BBC IV, and hope to see everyone here again next year!

* * * * *

Oh, and we also ate vegetables.


chicken dance

sweet, sweet victory

vegetables on stovetop grill

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37 comments… read them below or add one

Chocolate Shavings July 22, 2010 at 5:07 am

That’s pretty amazing stuff! Wish I could have had a taste!

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Ben July 22, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Thanks, Jennifer! You would definitely have VIP status if you want to attend BBC4. :)

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Joy July 22, 2010 at 9:49 am

That is hilarious…my husband would love to try that.

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Ben July 22, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Glad you liked it! Do I sense a beer can chicken adobo in your future?

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Nooblet July 22, 2010 at 10:39 am

Haha! A very entertaining read.
I’ve been wanting to try beer can chicken ever since I saw one of those stands for sale in a catalogue. Yours all look wonderful. Do you think you do this in an oven instead of grill?

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Ben July 22, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Hello there, Nooblet! Thanks for the words and the link!

Yes, people do this in the oven all the time. Use a shallow baking pan or a pie tin to stand the chicken in. You won’t get the smokiness, but you will have a lot more control. Might be an easier way to cook at a lower temp (250 or 275) since you don’t have to futz with the coals.

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Jean July 22, 2010 at 5:13 pm

What a fun event! I would have loved to taste all the offerings of the day. I had to look up “usukuchi” to make sure I got an accurate feel for your marinade and I really like it. Yum!

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Ben July 22, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Thanks–it works pretty well on slow roasted short ribs, too!

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The Duo Dishes July 22, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Wow! We’ve only done 1 beer in the butt chicken, but he was good. Very good. That Pho-king Good Chicken recipe sounds like something to try! Fun competition. :)

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Ben July 22, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Details, please!

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Jean July 22, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Your beer can chicken looks mighty good on the front of Foodgawker! :-)

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Ben July 22, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Especially when the stars align and Tastespotting deems me worthy on the same day! :)

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Lisa July 22, 2010 at 6:34 pm

very interesting… and innovative…:)

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Ben July 22, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Thanks, Lisa!

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Kathleen July 22, 2010 at 7:05 pm

So like you totally rocked this.

Am hanging my head in shame at the
sad little blog I was going to do on beer butt chicken.
I live in Minnesota. We live on bbc. f’real.

props to you man.

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Ben July 22, 2010 at 9:54 pm

I do live to shame people.

KIDDING!!! Thanks so much for the very high praise. Would love to read your kickass upcoming bbc post. Shockingly, no one in our contest has yet dared to do a straight-up American bbq …

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Dr.H July 22, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Oh, how I miss that trophy…

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Ben July 22, 2010 at 9:54 pm

How does it feel to be hunted?

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Sharon July 23, 2010 at 6:06 am

We love our “up the butt” chicken down south. Thanks for the inspiration and your hysterical recap!

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Ben July 23, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Hi there, Sharon! Thanks for visiting and the kind words. :)

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Daisy July 25, 2010 at 11:32 am

I need that golden chicken.

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Ben July 25, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I don’t know, Daisy. Competition’s pretty tough.

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Mon Petit Chou July 26, 2010 at 12:06 pm

That looks like so much fun!

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Ben July 26, 2010 at 1:31 pm

It’s a blast, Sara! I also have offered special dispensation to competitors interested in entering a “toficken.” I don’t know how well it would do in the voting, but the degree of difficulty would certainly make it stand out!

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Mon Petit Chou July 26, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Count me in!

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Weight Loss Tips July 30, 2010 at 6:43 am

Absolutely great read. Congrats on your second win, so much information, sounds like a great get together. I haven’t had success yet with my chickens but look forward to trying again in the near future. Love the idea of a get together with some friends and we all try a hand in a chicken cook off. Thanks for the advice!

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Ben July 30, 2010 at 9:11 am

Thanks, “Weight Loss Tips!”

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Matt Kay August 14, 2010 at 10:59 pm

I love it! Hilariously good fun…and you get to eat some tasty chicken to boot. It’s practically a win – win. :D

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Ben August 19, 2010 at 11:44 am

That’s how we see it!

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Lauren Zabaneh August 19, 2010 at 11:39 am

Sorry about the weirdo ‘open i.d.’ thing on the site, Ben. there are so many times when I wished I had set myself up with wordpress instead of blogger. whatever.

Okay, love this chicken! I think, if chickens can be adorable, this chicken would be the poster child, especially that picture of it’s little leg sticking out to the side. hmmm, crispy. And if I were a chicken I would be wishing I were a short rib too. It looks like you guys had a blast with your friendly competition. I totally made fun of the stupid can-holder chicken thing too, when my mom got one, then I of course went and got one too.

I want to tell you how much I’ve appreciated your comments the last few posts. Super helpful. Your blog is stunning and that hugely in part to your photos, but your writing just cracks me up. I truly enjoy it.

Now Ben, you went all technical on me with the lens thing. Let’s put it this way, what would be a good body and lens to get, for a beginner, under $1000? And could you explain the “full frame and APS sensor” please? What I’ve been looking at is the Canon Xsi with the 1.4 50mm lens. I’ve also looked over at Pentax but I don’t know if there is any reason to change from Canon as it’s all I’ve ever used.

thanks again,
Lauren

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MeatHub Inc. October 22, 2010 at 3:09 pm

This beer can chicken looks awesome ;)

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Ben October 22, 2010 at 3:20 pm

This beer can chicken IS awesome. ;)

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Eric December 28, 2010 at 10:56 am

Ben — big fan of the site. But then, I have a small obsession with the beer-can chicken ; )
I would love to try to recreate the kalbi-style beer can chicken here at home.

These photos are incredible. The only thing I would suggest is that next year you procure one of George Bluth’s patented CornBaller, for additional tasty treats.
http://arresteddevelopment.wikia.com/wiki/Cornballer
cheers!
Eric

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Dieter March 3, 2011 at 6:33 am

Hi guys,

you won’t believe it, but i just won the German version of the reality TV show ‘Come dine with me”. To celebrate its fifth anniversary in Germany it was filmed in Cape Town, South Africa – and I had two beer can chicken as a main!
Cheers
Dieter

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Lisa { AuthenticSuburbanGourmet } June 28, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Ben – I absolutely LOVE beer can chicken. Atlas – I think your acronym BCC is just perfect – short and sweet. The versions that you put together are simply perfect – so much flavor and creativity. A must try. Love that you have made this an event. Have fun!!!

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Bernice June 9, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Hi, just reading your recipe and laughing because, as a New Zealander (colloquially known as a Kiwi) I read all the time about people using Kiwis as ingredients in their recipes. You do know that a Kiwi is a native bird of NZ don’t you? It’s also protected, so no KFC (Kiwi Fried Chicken) here. I know I know, you’re actually referring to a Kiwifruit aren’t you? Do you know when I was a child we called them Chinese Gooseberries? Yup, we got them from China, but really, ours taste a whole lot better. Smiles from Kiwi Land.

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Lisa Muscat July 22, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Awesome.

Reply

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