It had been several years since I last did beer can chicken. I first learned about it ages ago on a Food Network program. For those who may not be familiar with this method of roasting a chicken, it’s actually pretty simple. Season a whole chicken with salt and pepper, brush the skin with oil, open a can of beer, slide the whole chicken over the can, place it on the outdoor grill, put a disposable tin plate on the coals to catch dripping, close the lid, and cook. The results: a beautifully browned bird, juicy and full of flavor. I did it a few times, but then ran into a problem. I began having trouble getting beer in the proper size can. You see, in order for the chicken to sit correctly, it requires a 12-oz. can (like a normal-size soda can). With a taller can, the bird would topple over. Unfortunately, the liquor stores near our house stopped carrying the smaller size cans. So, I just put beer can chicken out of my mind.
Fast forward to recently. When I mentioned to Michael that I was considering spit-roasting a chicken on our outdoor grill, he commented that it’s too bad we can’t do the beer can chicken. The thought then occurred to us that maybe someone had come up with a way to do it without the can. So, we Googled. Turns out, someone did! Barbecue expert Steven Reichlan had put together this kit.
We found it on Amazon. (Is there anything they don’t have?!) Michael ordered it using some of his Amazon Prime points.
Now that we had the equipment, we needed a whole chicken. That should be easy, I thought. Well, not so fast. I have always bought only kosher poultry even after I stopped keeping kosher because it has, in my view, superior flavor and juiciness. This is in large part due to the kosher laws’ requirement that poultry be salted and soaked; in essence, they’re brined. So, off to ShopRite to get an Empire chicken. I like to get whole chickens 3 lbs. or slightly over which is a good size for just the two of us. But the chickens there were more than four pounds. Wegmans also carries Empire, but I encountered the same situation vis-à-vis size. The kosher chickens at Whole foods were not Empire. Not that it mattered since those chickens, too, were over 4 lbs. At that point, I decided this was an opportunity to try a non-kosher chicken for the first time. I found one at Whole Foods that was just under 3 lbs.
One thing I have to say about this non-kosher chicken. It was a lot cleaner than Empire’s. Not a pin feather in sight! I considered brining it, but the only vessel I had on hand large enough to hold the required amount of liquid and the bird was made of aluminum, a material that can’t be used for brining (it has to be glass or stainless steel). So, I sprinkled the inside of the chicken generously with salt and pepper, coated the skin with peanut oil, and applied more salt and pepper. I poured beer into the container and put on the lid.
After positioning the chicken on top of the can, I carefully carried it outside. I had already pre-heated the grill. Since the chicken would be roasted using indirect heat, I turned off one side of the burners before setting the chicken on that side of the grill and closing the lid.
An hour later, the chicken was ready for its close-up.
While the skin had a nice bit of crunch, to be honest, I didn’t find this chicken as flavorful or juicy as a kosher chicken.
A few weeks later, when I was able to find an Empire 3-pounder, we gave it the beer can treatment, and it was definitely superior on both counts.
*A note about the beer. Using Amstel Light, we didn’t get much beer flavor in the roasted bird. We thought that beer’s flavor might be too weak. So, when we roasted the kosher bird, we used Paulaner Wheat Ale, which has a stronger flavor. But we found it didn’t result in much beer flavor either. That leads us to think that the beer is used to impart moistness rather than any beer flavor.