I didn’t expect to be as excited as I am to talk about grilled chicken, but….I am. Before we go into that though, I’m happy to finally share that I’ve joined the Etsy team as a blog contributor where I’ll be profiling local producers, as well as writing the occasional commentary piece on pertinent food issues of the day. What does this mean for you? More content to read! Nothing will change on Beyond the Plate, the twice-monthly producer profiles will continue as will the recipe posts and garden updates. My first piece, on what it means to eat well, has clearly struck a chord with the Etsy community so head over to join the discussion if you haven’t already.
Right. Back to the chicken.
We spent this past July 4 ‘Cheftesting’ at Ben‘s semi-annual Battle Beercan Chicken contest for the chance to win the glamorous Gob Trophy – a plastic chicken set atop a bottle sprayed entirely with gold paint. For the uninitiated, Beercan Chicken is essentially what its name implies: a whole chicken with a beercan two-thirds full (you are supposed to drink the other third) cooked, covered, atop a grill. The beer ‘bastes’ the meat during the cooking process, imparting its flavor while preventing the meat from drying out.
As combative as the event sounds, what it really was all about, was the chance to get together on a long weekend to taste the variations on grilled chicken cooked with a can of beer up its patootie. Having never really bothered to delve into the sub-category of American cuisine that is summer grilling, I was intrigued and, after reading the recap of last year’s event, decided that it wouldn’t hurt to sign us up as one of the seven ‘competitors’.
(I also really wanted that trophy for our mantelpiece.)
Like any good student, I diligently researched everything one would possibly need to know about making a killer Beercan Chicken. Aided in large part by the Beercan Chicken blog (I kid you not – there is a blog dedicated to this, erm…craft), as well as the insights from last year’s event, I gleaned the basic principles for the perfect beercan chicken.
- Size: The bigger the chicken, the more juicy its meat is likely to be. Which makes sense, especially if you’re cooking it over the intense heat of a grill.
- Brining: An essential prep step to infuse your meat with flavor, complexity and ensure juiciness.
- Time: Obviously, the longer you brine and marinade your bird, the better it’s going to taste. Just be careful to calibrate the brining time for the size of your bird to avoid over-brining.
- Equipment: The only equipment you’d really need for beercan chicken is a beercan, tongs and oven mitts or foil. But if you really want to take your experience to a whole other level, this Beeroaster Deluxe is it. Our choice of equipment was slightly contentious among the other participants who pointed out that the cylinder wasn’t a beercan.
But isn’t it just a matter of semantics? If you think about it, the cylinder is fundamentally a receptacle, like a beercan, except made from a different material without a beer label on it. I contemplated getting a beercan wire holder for all of six minutes, but eventually settled on this roaster because it’s a lot more stable (especially if you’re cooking a big, heavy bird), collects the fat and juices for a sauce, while functioning as your serving tray. What’s not to like?
(For the more competitive beercan chicken grillers out there, this tray also takes up more real estate on the grill, leaving less space for other chickens. Just sayin’.)
So, it’s not rocket science, but keeping these ‘rules’ in mind provided a blank page for creativity, both in the brine and the marinade. I was going for a spicy Southeast Asian theme and knew that I wanted to beer-brine our bird, which we bought from Jim at Pampero Ranch. M selected Hefeweizen for our beer as it was similar to the types of light lagers commonly drunk with spicy dishes back home.
To the beer we added a few stalks of cilantro, lemongrass, thick chunks of galangal and many kaffir lime leaves, in addition to the usual characters of water, salt and sugar. We ended up perfuming the whole house with the aromatic concoction that brined our bird for 18 hours.
I initially planned to prepare a spicy chili paste to marinate the chicken, but after realizing the complexity of the brine, I made a dry rub featuring coriander seed, dried chilis and pink peppercorns instead, to flavor and crisp the skin without overpowering the subtlety of the meat. After the brine and letting the bird dry out for a bit, I rubbed it all over with the spices and let it marinade for another 18 hours before setting it on the grill.
While we waited for our chickens to cook, we feasted on grilled vegetables, pasta and salad, to whet our appetites before the big Beercan Chicken taste test which would decide the Top 3 winners.
Popular vote chose Ben’s “Faux Viet” chicken the winner of this year’s contest. While the Gob Trophy stays at Chez BabyChili for another year, I’m already planning our entry for 2012 and am unbelievably excited to cook more birds this way before Summer is over. It’s such a simple cooking technique, but lends itself to so many interpretations as this year’s event illustrated. We had two Vietnamese/Asian-style birds, another Asian-inspired bird featuring turmeric and coriander seed (which won second place), an African ‘Jerk’ variation, a ‘Boozy’ version featuring Bourbon and Peaches (classic!), one that was cold smoked prior to the event and served with white BBQ sauce (which won third place), and ours.
I’ll link to Ben’s recap when it’s up, but in the meantime, here’s our “Hawt Chick” beercan chicken recipe for your experimentation, and Ben’s round-up of the other chicken recipes here.
“Hawt Chick!” Super Spicy Beercan Chicken
We used Hefeweizen in the brine, but you could substitute it with your preferred wheat beer. The recipe for the dry rub below gives way more than needed to marinate a five pounder. Store the unused rub in an airtight container in a cool place. You will need to begin this recipe two days before you plan to cook the chicken.
- 1 whole chicken, cleaned and dried, about 5-5½ lbs (2-2½ kgs)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 8 ounces wheat beer
- Half a lemon
- 2 quarts beer
- 2 quarts water
- 5oz/ 145g Kosher salt (we used Diamond Crystal)
- 3½ oz/ 100g granulated sugar
- 8 kaffir lime leaves
- A 3-inch piece of Galangal (about 2oz), peeled and thickly sliced
- 3 oz/ 80g lemongrass stalks, trimmed and bruised
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 meyer lemon, sliced
- 6 to 8 stalks of cilantro
Super spicy dry rub:
- 2 tablespoons/ 11g dried chili flakes
- 1 tablespoon/ 4g whole pink peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons/ 3g whole coriander seeds, toasted
- 5 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons/ 11g onion powder
- Pinch of salt
- Begin with the brine. Combine all the ingredients in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Remove from heat and let cool fully before brining the chicken.
- Place the chicken in a deep pot or bag large enough to contain the combined volume of chicken and brine. Add all the brine, ensuring that the chicken is fully submerged, cover and refrigerate overnight for up to 18 hours.
- Discard the brine and pat dry the chicken, inside and out. Rest the chicken on a tray lined with paper towels in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours to fully dry out the skin.
- To make the dry rub, combine the chili flakes, peppercorns and coriander seeds in a food processor or spice grinder and process until finely ground. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the sugar, onion powder and salt. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
- Rub olive oil all over the skin and cavity of the chicken, especially the area under the wings and at the joints of the thighs.
- Measure out about 5 tablespoons of the dry rub and proceed to work it into the chicken’s skin and interior, sneaking some of it beneath the skin and around the tips of the wings and thighs.
- Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap (or transfer the chicken to a 1 gallon Ziploc bag) and refrigerate overnight for the flavors to really get into the skin.
- Heat the grill to 350F. Drink a third of the beer in your can then stuff it up the chicken’s butt. If you’re using a roasting tray like ours, pour your beer into the receptacle then balance the chicken on it. Stuff the neck cavity with the half-lemon to ‘plug’ the hole and keep the steam and liquid in the bird. Place the tray on the grill.
- Cover and let cook for 1½ hours, keeping the temperature at 350F as much as possible (add hot coals when needed). The chicken is done when the meat in the joint of the thigh registers 175F.
- Remove from heat, let rest for 10 minutes before carving and serving.