Playing Chicken


Recipe and photos by Brandon Matzek

Whether it’s for tailgating, bonfiring or glamping, this recipe for Aromatic Beer Can Chicken is the new go-to for on-the-go grilling. Take a four-pound bird, infuse it with big, bold flavors, and you get a one-two flavor punch.

The first hit comes in the form of a dry rub made with kosher salt, brown sugar, paprika, cayenne pepper and black pepper. The second flavor hit is provided by a canful of light lager and fresh aromatics. As the grill heats the can, boozy vapors spiked with thyme, garlic, onion and lemon rise through the chicken, flavoring it from the inside.

To ensure an easy away-from-home experience, prep everything in advance. The bulk dry rub can be made a week in advance and stored at room temperature. Give your bird a rubdown at least one hour in advance, allowing the flavors to get into the meat. The thyme, onion and garlic can be prepped and stored together. Do not zest the lemon in advance - lemon oil’s flavor diminishes quickly after zesting. Finally, when transporting chicken, wrap it in plastic and chill it on ice.

For the dry rub:
4 tbsp. kosher salt
3 tbsp. light brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. paprika
1/2 tbsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tbsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper

For the chicken:
1 (4 - 5 pound) whole chicken, neck
and giblets removed, rinsed,
and well dried
2 heaping tbsp. dry rub
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1/4 yellow onion
2 strips lemon zest
1 can or bottle of room temperature light lager (or whatever’s available)

Lemon wedges, for serving

Special equipment: 1 14-oz. can (label removed and any glue cleaned off), charcoal or gas grill, 1 aluminum baking dish (if using charcoal grill)

Flavor bomb. Add kosher salt, brown sugar, paprika, smoked paprika, cayenne and black pepper to a jar. Cover and shake to combine. Measure out two tablespoons and save the rest for another chicken. Season the chicken all over with the dry rub (including in the cavity). Transfer to the refrigerator, and let sit for at least 1 hour.

Fire it up
. Prepare the grill for indirect heat cooking. If using a charcoal grill, place an aluminum baking dish in the middle of the charcoal grate, and then surround with hot coals. The pan will catch any dripping fat, minimizing flare-ups. If using a gas grill, fire up only half of the burners.

Can can. Place thyme, garlic, onion and lemon zest in a clean 14-oz. can. Pour in beer until the can is half full. Enjoy remaining beer immediately. Lower the chicken onto the can. The can should fit snugly in the chicken’s cavity. Transfer the chicken to the grill over the indirect heat zone. The chicken’s legs and can should form a tripod to keep it stable. Cover, and then cook until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 160°F - 165°F (50 - 65 minutes). Transfer the chicken upright to a cutting board and let it rest for 10 minutes before carving.

Slice and serve. Carefully remove the can from the cavity (the beer may still be hot), and cut chicken into halves or pieces. Serve with lemon wedges.