What? Chicken on a beer can? Or is it a chicken in a beer can? Coq au can? Whatever it is, we’re making it absolutely easy and delicious. This BBQ beer can chicken comes out super juicy and is almost impossible to mess up. The skin is so crispy and flavorful that you might want to eat it for every meal this summer.
While the invention of Beer Can Chicken is lost to history, men have likely been cooking chicken with beer cans since the first beer cans became widely available after Prohibition. And, really, is there a dish guys have not tried putting beer in?
Look, I’m not going to tell you that this is the most technically correct way to cook a chicken. Because in fact, it's not. It’s not the most efficient or fastest. There are many other ways to cook chicken on a grill, but please don’t let that stop you. This is one of the most fun, crowd-pleasing, easy, flavorful and overall satisfying ways to cook our favorite BBQ bird. I promise!
The secret of the beer can is that it acts like a rotisserie without the rotating. The bird gets evenly cooked on all sides because it is propped up above indirect heat, rather than having parts of the chicken being right on the grill grate and others far from the heat.
This has been my go-to method when we need a delicious bird and want to be almost completely hands-off. There’s no need to flip, rotate or really even check on it while it cooks.
While Meathead Goldwyn says the benefits of Beer Can Chicken are a myth and lists plenty of reasons not to use this method; I will respectfully keep on using a beer can as one of my favorite ways to cook chicken.
He says it is a waste of good beer (don’t use good beer!) and is potentially unsafe because of the insulation of the can (America's Test Kitchen did some scientific tests and determined it is actually safe). Honestly, I totally agree with him on a lot of his points. But all the science in the world is not going to stop me shoving a beer can up a chicken until I have something better to replace it with, like a vertical roaster (affiliate). And a vertical roaster just doesn’t have the same backyard panache and conversations.
What Does the Beer Do to the Chicken?
In my experience, the beer itself really does nothing to the flavor of the chicken. In fact, I will often just drink the whole beer myself and add water to the can to help it stand up. It’s more about the can that acts as a base for the chicken to sit on to prop it up above the grill heat.
While many people say that the beer steams and adds flavor, keeps it moist, etc., likely none of this is true. I don’t do scientific testing for this type of thing, but my suggestion is to just drink the entire beer and fill the can halfway up with water. It will do the same thing in my experience. So to actually answer the question: The beer does nothing for the bird, but makes YOU feel good. Feeling good makes you happy. You get the point.
Alternatives to Using a Can
If you don’t want to use an actual beer can, you can totally use a vertical roaster instead, and it will work just as well — or maybe even better because the hot air can circulate inside the chicken as it cooks.
- A soda or other aluminum cans will work, too. The can doesn't have to be from a beer.
- Vertical Roaster - A stainless steel roaster holds the chicken upright just like a can would.
The Benefits of the “Beer Can Chicken” Method
- Hands off Set it and Forget it - No need to flip, turn or baste the bird. It’s good-to-go in place.
- Crispy, flavorful skin
- Beautiful color
- Great grill flavor (which comes from the dry rub, charcoal fire and wood chips if you use them)
- Even cooking - since the chicken is suspended above the heat, it cooks evenly all the way around.
How Long to Cook Beer Can Chicken
Beer can chicken takes about 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes with the grill lid closed, or when the internal temperature of the breasts reaches 160° F and the thighs reach 175° F.
In my experience, the a 4 to 5 pound chicken has taken 1 hour and 10 minutes, so I usually just leave the lid closed for an hour and start checking then.
The cooking time will vary based on the starting temperature of the chicken, the temperature of the grill, and many other factors.
Beer Can Chicken Rub
When it comes to seasoning the chicken, you can really use anything. I prefer to use a basic spice rub with plenty of kosher salt, some brown sugar and a few spices like cayenne pepper and smoked paprika to kick it up a bit. You can totally switch up the flavors and just use salt, pepper, thyme and lemon pepper. Go with your favorite, or experiment a little!
- Use a probe thermometer (affiliate) to monitor the meat temperature remotely so you don’t have to open the lid. This helps reduce cook time.
- Add a few apple or other moderately-flavored fruit wood chips to add even more amazing smoky flavor to the chicken.
- Don’t cook based off of time. Cook based off of temperature.
- Keep the charcoal on the perimeter, not directly below the bird. This will help to evenly cook the chicken.
Making Beer Can Chicken in the Oven
Don’t have a grill or bbq handy? No problem. You can totally make similar beer can chicken right in your oven without having to step outside the house. Simply pre-heat your oven to 350° F and follow the rest of the recipe minus any references to the grill. Instead of placing it right on a grill grate, use a sheet pan to set it on and to catch all the drippings.
Perfect Sides for the Beer Can Chicken
Tools & Equipment Used
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- Vertical Roaster
- Thermapen Mk4 Instant Read Thermometer
- Thermoworks Smoke
- Weber Kettle Charcoal Grill
- Weber Charcoal Chimney Starter
- Weber Char-Basket Charcoal Briquet Holders
- Wood Chips
- Disposable Aluminum Disposable Drip Pan
- ¼ Sheet Pan
- 1 - 4 to 5 lb Whole Chicken (giblets discarded)
- 1 tbsp Olive or Canola Oil
- 3 tbsp Spice Rub (recipe below)
- 1 can of beer half full
- 2 cups Optional: apple or other fruit wood chips for smoky flavor
- 2 tbsp Diamond Kosher Salt (reduce salt if using another brand)
- 2 tbsp Brown Sugar
- 2 tsp Smoked Paprika
- ½ tsp Cayenne Pepper
- 1 tsp Black Pepper
- 1 tsp Garlic Powder
- Pat the chicken very dry with paper towels and trim off any excess fat around the openings.
- Drizzle the entire chicken with the olive oil, which will act as a slather to help the spice rub stick to the skin.
- Coat the chicken with your favorite dry rub and massage in. This can be done right before you cooking, or even better, the day before to infuse more flavor.
- Place the half-full beer can on the sheet pan, then sit the chicken down right on top of it so the drumsticks reach the surface and act like a tripod with the can. Let the chicken sit out at room temperature while you prep the grill.
- Prep the grill (preferably charcoal) for high heat indirect grilling.
- Place the aluminum drip pan in the middle of the coal area, then carefully pour half of the coals on one side of the pan, and half on the other. Add wood chips or wood chip packet and place the cooking grate back on the grill.
- Oil the grates and carefully transfer the chicken to the center of the grill, standing it up on the grates so the wings face the coals.
- Cover the grill and cook until the internal temperature of the breasts reaches 160° F and the 175° F in the thighs, about 60 to 80 minutes. Verify with an instant-read probe thermometer.
- Carefully transfer the chicken to a large cutting board or sheet pan and let rest for 10 minutes before carving and serving (discarding the beer can).
- There will be some extra spice rub, which can be saved for next time.
- Don’t cook based off of time. Cook based off of internal temperature of the chicken to know when it is done.
This recipe post was originally published July 7, 2014 and has been updated on February 11, 2020 with new text and photographs.