Grillist

How to Grill the Perfect Beer-Can Chicken Every Time

Welcome to Grillist, our annual celebration of all things smoke and fire. Join us all summer long as we get up in your grill with expert BBQ advice, insightful interviews, and bad grilling puns -- but mostly those first two.

There are three main reasons why beer-can chicken is hands down the best summer cookout food: it's easy, it's delicious, and most importantly, it involves beer. Because without beer, a cookout is just a lame picnic with hot meat. Gross.

Follow these simple steps and in just under two hours, you'll be serving up the juiciest, tastiest dish in the yard.

Step 1: Ready the bird

Your mission begins at the market. When choosing a chicken, it’s extremely important to make sure that the bird can stand up inside your grill with the lid completely shut. I find that a 3-4-pounder works best -- it's small enough for most standard grills, sits comfortably on top of the beer can without tipping over, and is meaty enough to feed about four lucky folks.

Step 2: Dress her up

First, remove the giblets (the wrapped innards inside the bird, for the uninitiated), pat the bird dry with a paper towel, and rub it all over with a drizzle of olive oil. Then it's time for some flavor. I like to sprinkle on a nice BBQ spice rub -- either something store-bought or DIY-style. For the latter, whisk together Old Bay, chili powder, garlic powder, mustard powder, salt, pepper, a touch of cayenne, and a little brown sugar. If you're less spice inclined, a simple dose of salt and pepper will also do the trick.

Step 3: Prepare the throne 

Next comes the beer. There's a small but vocal group of haters out there that claim that the beer does virtually nothing during the roasting process except keep the bird vertical. To that, I say, haters gonna hate -- beer is a fantastic steaming agent, infusing the meat with moisture and rich flavor. Also, it provides a great excuse to drink while cooking (though don't mistakenly drink a beer that's touched raw chicken). I recommend using a tall boy if your bird's big enough, since it's guaranteed to keep the chicken upright, but a regular old 12-ouncer is just fine, too.

In terms of style, go with something malt-forward and low in alcohol. Almost any lager, pale or mild, will work, but stay away from hoppier beers -- no one likes a bitter bird. If you want to get creative, try using a spicy saison, brown ale, or hearty oatmeal stout, though in my experience, most people go with an American-style pale lager.

Once you’ve got your can cracked, drink or drain half of it, poke a few extra holes in the top, and then toss in some garlic cloves, lemon slices, and a bay leaf for added flair.

Step 4: Position the bird

Bring it down over the can and slide the can inside the cavity, applying a little extra olive oil if needed. The can should be in deep enough that the chicken's legs touch down on either side for support. Then tuck the wings back and secure them in place with skewers. A grill-ready bird should look something like a chicken version of the Mick Jagger strut (albeit impaled).

Step 5: Grill it up

Set up your grill for indirect heat, making sure that it's 300-350 degrees Fahrenheit by cooking time. For a gas grill, simply turn off half the burners, and for a charcoal grill, pile the coals up on a single side. Place the bird carefully on the cooler section of the grill, making sure that its precious skin avoids direct exposure to the flames. Widen the chicken's stance so that its legs form a tripod, shut the lid tightly, and let it be for 75-90 minutes, checking on it every 10 minutes or so during the last 30 to make sure the heat stays at medium-high.

Step 6: Bring her on home

Once your bird reaches an internal temperature of 165 F (breast) and 185 F (thigh), it's time to take her off the fire. Turn off the grill, grab some tongs, and grip the base of the can, lifting the whole thing off the grill and onto a nearby cutting board or baking sheet.

Then, slide the tongs under the chicken's wings and -- holding the base of the can using a dish rag or oven mitt -- wiggle the bird up and off. Be very careful, since everything, including the aluminum, the bird, and the beer inside, will be very, very hot.

Step 7: Dig in!

Rest the chicken for 10-15 minutes before carving. Serve with BBQ sauce, mayo, or spicy mustard, some classic cookout side dishes, and, of course, plenty of (un-grilled) beer.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Meredith Heil is a former staff writer for Thrillist. She got a crib on the coast, two yachts, barbecue chicken wings on the boats. Follow her at @mereditto.