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Beer can chicken

Beer can chicken The New York Times was far too tasteful to mention this when they ran a story a few years ago about an unusual way to grill chicken that had become popular on the national barbecue-competition circuit.

But knowing good old Southern boys as I do (being one of sorts myself), I can't imagine that some ribald hilarity doesn't surround the procedure, which involves shoving a can of beer up a bird's, er, cavity, then posing it in a position not unlike Rodin's "Penseur" at his morning ablutions.

The belated arrival of steamy summer weather makes the outdoor grill look mighty tempting this week, so I've retrieved my 1999 recipe report from the archives. Although I no longer have the original article with its "official" recipe, I took careful notes on my version, which substituted Southwestern spice for the suggested Cajun, and brought in a microbrew in place of a mass-market beer.

The overall concept is simple enough: The chicken is roasted vertically, using the beer can as a prop to hold it upright; and the can, with its top removed, is left partially filled with beer and seasonings, which boil off during cooking and, one hopes, infuse the bird with flavor.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

12 ounce (350 ml) can of beer
1 whole frying hen, 2 or 3 pounds (1 kilo)
1/2 cup (120 ml) barbecue sauce (see below)

PROCEDURE:

1. Open the beer and use about half of it to soak a cup of hickory or mesquite chips (or other wood for grill-smoking). Leave the chips to soak for an hour or so, leaving the rest of the beer in the can. The original recipe, as noted, called for mass-market domestic beer, but I substituted a regional microbrewery ale, figuring that - just as with wine cookery - it doesn't make sense to cook with a beverage that you wouldn't drink. I recommend a lighter ale or lager, although if you like this procedure and try it often, it might be fun to experiment with a Porter or Stout. Guinness, anyone?

2. Have ready your choice of barbecue sauce. If you have a preferred commercial brand or a recipe that you like, stick with it. I made a simple "slather" with a Southwestern accent, mixing 1/4 cup of Minor's brand concentrated ancho "base" (available at specialty food shops) with 1 tablespoon of the sauce from a can of La Morena brand chiles chipotles en adobo, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and enough warm water (or beer, if you like) to make about 1/2 cup.

3. Rinse the hen and pat it dry. Rub a generous portion of the slather all over the bird. Put about a tablespoon of it into the beer remaining in the can, and rub a little more over the outside of the can. Shove the can into the bird and set it upright, arranging it so the can and the bird's legs form a stable tripod. Subscribers to our HTML/graphics edition will see a picture above. If you're reading this in our plain-text edition, you can click to the illustrated archived edition at
http://www.myspeakerscorner.com/forum/index.phtml?fn=2&tid=42757&mid=357962

4. Set up your grill for indirect cooking - I removed the top racks from our barrel grill to ensure enough vertical room for the upright bird, and built a mound of coals at one end, allowing plenty of room for the bird to sit next to the coals but not directly over them. To simplify cleanup, I also put an aluminum pie pan under the bird to catch most of the drippings.

When your coals are ready, position the bird, and put about half of the beer-soaked wood chips on the coals. Close the lid and go away for a while, checking the bird's progress every 15 minutes or so, turning it occasionally, brushing with a little more slather, and moving it closer or further from the heat as needed. Add more coals and more hickory chips if you start running low.

Taking care to grill gently and not too fast, I extended the cooking period to about 90 minutes. (Slower is better in grill-smoking.) The results were surprisingly good. Although I couldn't detect any noticeable beer flavor in the bird (contradicting The Times reporter's observations), it was just about a perfect grilled chicken, with glassy-crisp skin and moist and plump flesh, both light and dark.

WINE MATCH: An idiosyncratic choice, a Sparkling Shiraz from Australia's Seppelt - a cold, fruity and bubbly dry red wine - made a fine match with the spicy chicken, although my wife said she would really rather have had a beer.

Discuss this recipe in our online forum:
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Last Week's FoodLetter and Archives

Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: "African" Chicken stew (June 19)
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Thursday, June 26, 2003
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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