I made these chickens for a neighborhood barbecue a few weeks back and they turned out to be the star of the show. Brining the birds overnight keeps the meat moist throughout the long smoking process, and the liberal amounts of rub give the finished skin a fabulously spicy and sweet crust. You could do these impaled beauties on a grill if you aren’t in to the whole smoking thing, but the finished product is worth the effort smoking requires.
Smoked Beer Can Chickens
2x 3.5-4 lb whole chickens (roasters preferably)
A cup or two of your favorite BBQ rub.***
2x 16oz or 500ml tallboys of your favorite beer.
Bring 1 gallon of water to boil in a large non-reactive pot. Whisk in salt and brown sugar, and remove from heat. Add the rest of ingredients to the pot, give it a stir, and allow the brine to cool until it hits room temperature.
Remove gizzards, liver, neck, (aka the good stuff) from inside the bird and stash them away for a rainy day. Rinse the chickens under cold tap and pat dry. Place chickens in brining vessel, cover with brine, add another half gallon (or so) of cold water, and as much ice as you can can without putting yourself in danger of overflow once the ice melts. Cover and place your vessel in the fridge or a large cooler filled with ice. Brine the birds overnight.
Fire up your smoker in whatever manner suits it. I recommend using a fruit wood such as apple or cherry for this recipe, but a little hickory or mesquite wouldn’t hurt. I use a Weber Smokey Mountain, and I already had the smoker going for a brisket that started the night before. If I was starting from scratch, however, I’d have filled the charcoal chamber about half full of unlit briquettes (with 5-6 wood chunks interspersed) and top it with 3/4th of a chimney’s worth of hot coals. Alternatively, you can use a grill in lieu of a smoker. Set your grill up for indirect heat and use the foil pouch method to achieve some semblance of smoke in the meat.
You’ll be cooking the chickens at 250 F, so do whatever you gotta do to hit and maintain this temperature on your cooking apparatus for the 4 hours you need to cook the chickens.
While your smoker is heating up, pull the chickens out of the brine and rinse thoroughly. Pat dry with paper towels and place on a big plastic cutting board. Apply handfuls of rub to the skin and cavity of the birds; the goal is to get as much rub as possible to stick, so be gentle with them once rubbed.
Open the cans of beer, remove the ring, and drink half of each. With a church key, place a few more holes in the top of each can. Lower the birds on to the beer cans as far is they will go and use the legs to help the chickens stay propped up. It’s going to feel dirty, so just sit back and enjoy it. I recommend waiting until the last possible moment to violate the chickens, as the resulting beer/chicken monster is very top heavy and will fall over with little provocation.
Place the chickens on the smoker or grill and cook at 250 F for 3.5-4 hours, or until a thermometer inserted until the thickest part of the thigh registers 170. Carefully remove chickens from smoker, Remove beer cans from cavity (be very careful, beer will be very hot), place chickens on a rimmed baking sheet and cover with foil. Keep the birds covered until you’re ready to serve.
The chicken should be fall off the bone, but you can try and slice if you want. I suggest ripping chunks straight from the carcass and depositing them directly in your mouth, but that might be awkward if you have guests over. The flesh should be moist as hell and well seasoned (thanks to the brine), but the pièce de résistance of this meaty masterpiece is the skin. If you’ve done your job right and kept the temperature steady throughout the cooking process, you will be rewarded for your efforts by the most amazing chicken skin you’ve ever experienced. And if you’re not into skin, well, you’re and idiot and don’t know what you’re missing.
While this chicken is pretty much the best I’ve ever had, I don’t think the beer can was really necessary. Seeing the chicken perched just so on a P-Bers is both pleasing to the eye and a fun talking point, but the smoker temp was low enough that I doubt the beer in the cans ever really reached a steady boil. The brine, coupled with the long slow smoke did all the work. I will concede that the beer can may play a more important role if you do this recipe at a higher recipe, but next time I do these birds I’ll forgo the can.
Update from Sept 2010: I busted out this recipe recently for a neighborhood block party. I did 5 chickens per the recipe above but I didn’t bother with the beer cans. The chickens turned out exactly the same, and were just as moist and flavorful as their can filled cousins.
P.S. Here’s my standard rub recipe. It’s great on briskets, pork shoulder, ribs, salmon, whatever.
***Brett’s All-Purpose BBQ Rub
½ cup sweet paprika
¼ cups ground chili, such as gaujillo or ancho
3 tbsp fresh ground black pepper
3 tbsp turbinado sugar (Sugar in the raw, or other natural sugar)
3 tbsp kosher salt
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp granulated garlic
2 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
Mix ingredients with whisk in shallow bowl and apply liberally to everything. The recipe makes a good bit, but it keeps for weeks if stored in an air tight container. It produces a sweet, smoky, and peppery bark when caked on and smoked for several hours.