Step up your outdoor grilling this summer: Beer can chicken is back

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

Remember the beer-can grilling trend? Not everyone does, so it’s high time to introduce a new generation to the quirky grilling method, says grilling guru Steven Raichlen, the cookbook author behind titles such as “The Barbecue! Bible,” “Project Fire” and “The Brisket Chronicles.”

In case you missed the original viral phenomenon, which went down back at the turn of the century, before “going viral” was even a thing, it’s a simple way of grilling a whole chicken. You place a half-full can of beer on the grill, plop a whole chicken on top, so the poultry is sitting upright, then cook it low and slow.

There are, of course, many variations — for the rub, for the liquid, for everything — for this campground and backyard favorite, and they filled Raichlen’s original “Beer-Can Chicken” cookbook, which debuted in 2002. Two decades later, a new, revised edition has just arrived, complete with recipes for Cola-Can Chicken, Cola Barbecue Sauce, Grilled Artichokes and more.

“Generally, I take a more scholarly approach to barbecue,” Raichlen says. “I’ve written a lot about the history of barbecue. This was my whimsy book, and it’s kind of fun to see it back in print!”

Naturally, we had questions.

Q. I’m curious, what inspired a whole cookbook about beer-can chicken in the first place?

A. I discovered beer can chicken about 20 years ago. I came across it at a barbecue festival in Memphis. I did not invent it. It’s so whimsical, unusual and just pure fun. I demonstrated it on Good Morning America, and the response was phenomenal, and then I wrote a story about it for the New York Times, and it became a thing… and I thought, let’s use beer can chicken as a metaphor and travel around the world with the idea. The original (cookbook) sold half a million copies — it was just the right book at the right time.

“Beer-Can Chicken: Foolproof Recipes for the Crispiest, Crackliest, Smokiest, Most Succulent Birds You’ve Ever Tasted (Revised)” by Steven Raichlen gives a refreshed look to the 2002 original. (Courtesy Workman Publishing). 

Q. What makes this grilling technique so effective?

A. It has two primary things going for it. The first is the position itself. You’re roasting the bird in an upright position, so you get heat from 360 degrees, and the skin on the back crisps as much as the skin on the front. The second thing is it’s just super fun. Eyes pop. Jaws drop. It’s uniquely American. I can’t imagine a French or an Italian chef conceiving of it. It shows our original thinking, no holds barred, any idea is worth pursuing.

Q. The cookbook has a lot of different beverage and bird combinations. What were some of your favorites?

A. The basic beer can chicken, which I’ve made hundreds if not thousands of times, is a classic and teaches you how to make a basic barbecue rub. Another favorite is the tandoori beer can chicken. If you think about how chicken is cooked in India, it’s roasted on a vertical stick in a tandoor. So in a way, this is an American channeling a venerable Indian technique.

There’s another dish called Diabolical Chicken. I have a degree in French literature, which is sort of an odd background for barbecue, but sort of works. After college, I lived in Paris for two years studying medieval cooking in Europe. And part of what I did for that was I attended a cooking school, where I learned to make a dish called Chicken a la Diable. It’s a spatchcock chicken that’s painted with mustard, encrusted with bread crumbs and garlic and grilled. I love the way that my classical French training found its way into this distinctly American book on beer-can chicken.

Steven Raichlen’s popular cookbook “Beer-Can Chicken” has been re-released and revised to introduce a new generation to the unique grilling technique. (Courtesy Roger Proulx) 

Q. What advice do you have for folks looking to grill this summer?

A.  The whole secret to successful grilling is to learn to control the fire, not have it control you. … One way you do that is by building a zone fire where you have a hot zone, a medium zone and — very important — a safety zone with no coals, where you can put the food if it starts to burn. Another little mantra is keep it hot, keep it clean, keep it lubricated. Start with a grill grate, clean it with a stiff wire brush or wooden grill scraper and oil it with a paper towel dipped in oil or a chunk of beef fat. The idea is that food won’t stick if your grill is clean and well-lubricated.

Q. What other unusual grilling methods would you recommend?

A. I think my favorite is another that I sort of pioneered called caveman-style grilling, where you get rid of the grill grate and lay the meat directly on the embers. The epitome would be a caveman T-bone where you get surface charring and a smoke flavor that’s very different than if you cooked it on a conventional grill grate.

Find “Beer-Can Chicken: Foolproof Recipes for the Crispiest, Crackliest, Smokiest, Most Succulent Birds You’ve Ever Tasted (Revised)” at local bookstores and online. Learn more about Raichlen, stream his demos and check out his recipes at barbecuebible.com. Follow him on social media at @stevenraichlen.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.

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