How to Make Beer Can Chicken

June 27, 2014

Each week this summer, Cara Nicoletti of The Meat Hook is helping us get to know our favorite cuts a little bit better – and introducing you to a few new ones, too. Read on, study up, then hightail it to your nearest butcher.

Today: It may look a little silly, but the flavor of this beer can chicken is no joke.  

Beer Can Chicken

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The first time I saw a beer can chicken at a friend’s barbecue a couple of years ago, I thought he was playing a joke on everyone. There's certainly something comical about the way this chicken looks -- like maybe it should be wearing a pair of sunglasses -- but the flavor and juiciness that beer imparts is no joke.

More: Before firing up the grill, get your barbecue game in tip-top shape with these tools, sauces, and rubs.

When you cook chicken perched on top of a can of your favorite beer, the steamy alcohol rises into the cavity and keeps the meat moist and tender -- like basting, but without all the work. Some theorize that the malt and yeast in the beer also help to give your chicken a crispy skin. Here's what I know: Beer can chicken looks cool, gives you an excuse to chug half of a beer really quickly, requires little to no fussing, and, in my humble opinion, tastes amazing. Here's how to make it tonight -- and every night for the rest of grilling season.

Beer Can Chicken

A few tips before we begin:

  • Where high-quality meat is concerned, I’m generally a simple salt and pepper girl. However, a good barbecue rub pairs really nicely with the beer -- I recommend going this route. If you need some inspiration, here's my favorite recipe.
  • If you have any leftover, save it -- it's also delicious on pork ribs or non-beer can chicken.
  • Although it’s usually thought of as a grilling recipe, you can also make beer can chicken in your oven -- I give directions for both cooking options here.
  • If beer isn’t your thing, you can use a pint-sized mason jar filled halfway with chicken stock, white wine, or lemon juice mixed with water.  
  • Be very careful when removing your chicken from the grill -- both the meat and the can will be extremely hot. With oven mitts on your hands, slide a metal spatula under the can while gripping the chicken with tongs. Transfer the whole thing onto a cutting board before removing the can.

Beer Can Rub   Beer Can Chicken

Let's begin. Pat your chicken dry with a paper towel and rub it all over with softened butter or olive oil. Sprinkle on dry rub in an even layer and pat lightly to make sure it adheres. Drink or spill out half of your beer, drop a few garlic cloves in the can, and place the whole thing inside of the chicken cavity. You want your chicken to be sitting on top of the can (it can use its legs to support it, if need be). Grill your chicken until its internal temperature reaches 160° F, and be sure to let it rest for 10 minutes before digging in!

Beer Can Chicken

Note: Ever since the days of Julia Child, it has been common practice to rinse your chicken inside and out before cooking. I don’t like to disagree with Julia, but this is entirely unnecessary, and in fact does more harm than good. Washing your chicken won’t kill any of the bacteria that is present on the outside or inside of it -- cooking will do all of this for you, without spreading salmonella into your sink and onto your countertops like washing will.

More: For the full lowdown on chicken safety tips, check out this video. 

Beer Can Chicken

Beer Can Chicken

Serves 4

For the spicy BBQ rub

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon fennel, toasted and ground
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon coarse black pepper

For the chicken

2 tablespoons soft butter or olive oil
One 4- to 4 1/2-pound chicken, giblets removed
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
One 12-ounce can of beer (lager or ales work nicely, but feel free to experiment with whatever you like)

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here. 

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Erock
  • Brian Flaherty
    Brian Flaherty
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  • Robin
  • Richard Shewmaker
    Richard Shewmaker
Cara Nicoletti is a butcher and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Cara started working in restaurants when she moved to New York in 2004, and was a baker and pastry chef for several years before following in her grandfather and great-grandfathers' footsteps and becoming a butcher. She is the writer behind the literary recipe blog,, and author of Voracious, which will be published by Little, Brown in 2015. She is currently a whole-animal butcher and sausage-making teacher at The Meat Hook in Williamsburg.


Erock August 2, 2014
Hey great photos of the beer can bird! Glad I found this blog. Was just going to say that If using the beer can for "beer can chicken" gives you the heebie jeebies, it's easy to buy a vertical roaster that allows you to do the exact same thing, minu the can. I'm writing up a post about this "controversy" ; ). But check this out for a round up of roaster and rack options. Cheers!
Brian F. July 22, 2014
The insert for a bundt cake pan works great. . .I like to put it inside a Corning baking dish to make things easier to clean. . .A Corning quiche "baker" is about the perfect size (Corningware is dirt cheap at thrift stores. . .And, there is generally a great selection to choose from )
cccwertz July 22, 2014
What do you think about a Bundt Cake pan? Would that work?
Richard S. July 22, 2014
The sides of a bunt cake pan would prevent the radiant oven heat from getting to the chicken, thus, no browning. Also read my comment about using an angel food tube. The upside down posture is key to the method, and there's no way you could stretch the neck cavity of a chicken over the center of a bundt pan.
Robin July 20, 2014
My main concern is the ink on the outside of the can. We don't know if it contains lead. Is there a suggestion for something that will hold the chicken in this position in the correct position pigment free?
Robin July 20, 2014
OOPS. I didn't read far down enough in the comments. My question was already answered. Sorry about that!
Richard S. July 17, 2014
I agree with the debunkers of beer can chicken. The "success" of the method results from the posture of the chicken influencing its exposure to the heat source, and neither the beer nor the can have anything to do with it.
Mark O. July 28, 2014
As an avid beer can chicken cooker, I can tell you that without a doubt the beer absolutely has a major impact on the flavor and moisture of the finished bird. A light beer doesn't add much flavor but a dark beer has a major impact on flavor and meat color. The breasts will actually be slightly tinged in color.
Daniel O. July 17, 2014
What's your take on the numerous of times the beer can chicken has been debunked? Like here
Cara N. July 17, 2014
My take is I test it myself, and if it works beautifully every time, I trust my own results
Richard S. July 16, 2014
If you have an angel food cake pan, the kind with a removable center, you have a much better device for roasting a chicken than a beer can. The liquid, beer or otherwise, in the can adds nothing to the moistness of the meat, so forget about it. The point of beer can chicken is the posture of the chicken in the oven. But this can be much improved. The most difficult challenge of roasting a whole chicken is getting the dark meat done without overcooking and drying out the breast meat. Your angel food cooker solves this problem neatly. First, after preparing the chicken for roasting however you prefer, put a skewer through the dark meat part of the bird near the joint between the thigh and the leg. Now, place it on the center tube of the cake pan center BREAST SIDE DOWN! Place this on a foil lined sheet pan, and roast in the preheated oven. The skewer is to keep the chicken elevated off the metal by an inch or so. Upside down is to allow the legs/thighs to be exposed to more heat than the breast, and, importantly, to let gravity help the juices to migrate down into the white meat where they are more needed.
Scott M. July 18, 2014
??? Really, the boiling beer in the can that filters up through the chicken doesn't do anything to help keep the chicken moist?

Are you mental? Obviously have never done a beer can chicken or at least haven't been doing it right!
Richard S. July 19, 2014
Boiling beer? Tests have shown that the beer never gets above 130 degrees. Besides , steam, boiling water, even cooking in a pressure cooker where the steam gets above 250 degrees does not moisten chicken. Dryness or moistness of chicken (or other meats) is strictly a function of its fat content and the temperature to which it is cooked. Cook breast meat above 165, and it will be dry no matter how moist the environment in which it is cooked.
Richard S. July 19, 2014
Don't waste that beer--drink it instead!
Rodolga July 15, 2014
Ill tell you what is the culprit of carcinogens in your body--hatred. Hating yourself, hating others. Don't do wrong and stop hating and start praying. Best medicine.
Richard S. July 20, 2014
I agree that hatred is toxic to the hater, not the hated. the medicinal value of prayer, however, has been thoroughly debunked. For one thing, the British royalty are unquestionably the most prayed for individuals in the world. (Every religious service and public event includes a prayer for the monarch. Even every performance of the national anthem is a prayer to "God Save The Queen/King." But over history, the kings and queens of England have suffered the same illness, suffering, and death as have their common subjects.
Richard W. July 27, 2014
"...the medicinal value of prayer, however, has been thoroughly debunked." fascinating, love to see the proof lol.

britian having sunk to the depths it has might have something to do with GOD not listening. you know that whole henry viii thing,
Kaycee July 2, 2014
Hello everyone! I just wanted to add that I have been using the CHICK CAN RACKS for a few years now. I ordered them from and the rules apply the same the only thing is the can is hed in this stainless steel rack and the chicken slides down over the rack so you don't have to worry about the chemicals transferring onto the chix from the can... I use it in the oven during the winter months and on the grill during the summer and it's great! Hope this helps! I tried to copy and paste a pic of it for you guys but it didn't work but go to the site click on grills at the top of the page scroll down to the bottom and it is where you will see Accessories! Good luck I have my chix in a brine right now to grill later for dinner!
fldirt June 29, 2014
You can buy a cooking device that has a place for a can & the chicken sits down on this. I have a small can without writing on it that I use. Add my beer & spices…rub some olive oil that my magic spice rub over the whole chicken..put the chicken in pan & put the whole thing in the oven! Yummy & easy.
Tasty M. June 29, 2014
"Here's what I know: Beer can chicken looks cool, gives you an excuse to chug half of a beer really quickly, requires little to no fussing, and, in my humble opinion, tastes amazing." HA!
Brian F. June 29, 2014
I have been making chickens (and, turkeys) this way for years. . .without a beer can. [I agree re: the harmful effects of paint and plastic that are inherent in a beer can]. . .I use TWO items that are quite simple to obtain: 1) a tall "skinny" coffee mug, from which I snap off the handle with pliers). . 2) The insert from a cake pan. . .it has a flat bottom with a "cone-like" center. . .Both the coffee mug and the cake pan insert can be placed in a ceramic (Corning) quiche pan; and, used either in the oven or the BBQ. . .There are also wire cones made ESPECIALLY for upright cooking of poultry (a large one for a turkey; and, a smaller one for chicken). . .PS. . .I am using the same implements for over 30 years; and, all of them were purchased for 50 cents or so from a thrift store. These days, when I see them in a thrift shop, I get them to give as gifts. . with a full set of instructions and recipes. . .
Mark O. June 28, 2014
1. You can cook over direct heat by placing an cheap aluminum pie pan under the chicken.
2. Add fresh rosemary along with the garlic in the beer can. Adds great flavor!
Cara N. June 28, 2014
Thank you for this, mark!
Linda June 27, 2014
How long do you grill and do you use indirect heat with the grill and at what temp. What keeps that glass from breaking. Thanks in Advance for answers.
Cara N. June 27, 2014
Hi Linda!
The full directions for grilling and oven cooking can be found by clicking the link at the bottom that says "see the full recipe."
Ball mason jars can withstand heat of 325-350F without cracking, I've baked many cakes and wine-jar chickens in them. Because ovens are much easier to control the temperature of, I would recommend doing this in the oven if you're going to use a jar (although I've used a jar on the grill with no problem). At 350 it takes about 1 1/2 hours, at 325 around 2 hours. I hope this helps!
Linda June 27, 2014
Thanks I will give it a try. :)
Gemma June 27, 2014
Ps. Ps. Every major food site has a recipe for (beer) can grilling. If people are neurotic about something comparable to using aluminum foil in the oven, just don't do it! Later haters!
Judith R. June 27, 2014
Not a hater, and it's not aluminum foil. Cans are lined and printed with plastic materials that are not meant to be heated to a cooking temperature. If you want to eat melted plastic chemicals, go ahead, it's your food. And calling people haters for pointing out the obvious is just plain rude.
Gemma June 27, 2014
This is awesome. This girl is the real deal.
Judith R. June 27, 2014
It's a delicious way to cook chicken, no arguing about that, but I wouldn't and don't put anything like a beer can into heat. Between the materials used to line the aluminum can, and whatever they use to print on the outside of the can doesn't belong in my food. They sell gizmos in kitchenware stores that will do the same thing, you can fill it with whatever you want, and they are made of non-reactive stainless steel, or other heat appropriate materials.
Andreas D. June 27, 2014
I couldn't agree more with you. The aluminum cans are lined with a plastic compound that melts and evaporates in the heat of a BBQ. Paint also burns off, creating a nice cancerogenic fog inside the BBQ. If beer can chicken is really a favourite, then grab a stainless holder.
Cara N. June 27, 2014
If you're feeling nervous about the aluminum, a pint ball jar with half a can of beer in it works just as well.