You may not find too many restaurant chefs plopping their poultry on cans of PBR, but all those tailgaters are on to something.
There are solid scientific reasons that chicken really does roast better in a more upright, lifelike pose than when it is flat on its soggy back. And by adding a couple of extra prep steps to the technique and taking your care with the temperature, you can get the best of both worlds: succulent, juicy meat and crispy, golden brown skin.
On top of all that, you get to drink the beer! The chicken doesn't actually need it.
Beer-can chicken recipes are everywhere on the Internet, but most of them don't address the two biggest challenges of roasting poultry. The first is to avoid overcooking the meat.
The solution to this first challenge is simple: take your time, measure the temperature correctly and frequently, and choose the right target for the core temperature (as measured at the deepest, densest part of the thigh).
The federal government recommends bringing the meat to 165 F for at least 15 seconds. But guidelines issued by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service show that 35 minutes at 140 F achieves the same degree of pasteurization, even in the fattiest chicken.
The recipe below calls for several hours in the oven and a core temperature of 145 F to 150 F, which will meet those guidelines as long as you slow-cook the bird at a low temperature. But be sure you use a reliable, oven-safe thermometer and place it properly as directed in the recipe.
The second challenge that most beer-can chicken recipes fail to overcome is crisping the skin. Here, liquid is the enemy, and adding additional liquid in the form of a can full of beer is the wrong approach. So empty the can first and use the empty can merely as a way to prop up the bird and to block airflow in its interior so that the meat doesn't dry out.
Also, give the skin some breathing room by running your fingers underneath it before roasting. As the subdermal fat melts away, it will trickle downward; a few well-placed punctures provide exits without compromising the balloon-like ability of the skin to puff outward under steam pressure. Held apart from the juicy meat, the loose skin will dry as it browns, especially during a final short blast of high heat in a hot oven.
Slow-roasted chicken on a beer can
Start to finish: 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours (30 minutes active)
1 medium roaster chicken
12-ounce can of cold beer (any variety you like to drink)
Set oven rack in lowest position in oven. Remove upper racks. Heat oven to 175 F, or as low as it will allow if its controls do not go this low.
Wash hands well with soap. Remove neck and bag of giblets, if included, from inside chicken. Slide fingertips underneath skin at neck opening and gently work skin away from meat. Use care to avoid tearing skin as you pull it loose from body; continue as far as you can reach on both front and back. Turn chicken over, and repeat from cavity opening at base of the bird, making sure to loosen skin on the drumsticks so that it is attached only at wings and the ends of legs.
Use a knife to pierce skin at foot end of each leg and at tail end of front and back. These small incisions will allow cooking juices to drain away so they don't soak into skin.
Pour contents of beer can into a glass, and enjoy it at your leisure. Push empty can into tail end of bird far enough that chicken can stand upright as it rests on can.
If neck was included with chicken, use it like a stopper to close up opening at the top of bird. Otherwise you can use a bulldog clip to pinch skin closed so that steam inflates loose skin like a balloon and holds it away from damp meat as chicken roasts.
Set a baking sheet in oven. Insert probe of an oven-safe thermometer into the deepest part of the chicken's thigh. Stand chicken upright (on can) on baking sheet and roast until core temperature reaches 145 F if you want white meat to be juicy and tender; for more succulent dark meat, continue roasting to a core temperature of 150 F. A medium-size roaster will need 3 to 4 hours.
After first 30 minutes of roasting, check effective baking temperature by inserting a digital thermometer through skin to a depth of 3/8 inch. The temperature there should be within 5 F of the target core temperature (either 145 F or 150 F). If it is too high, open oven door for several minutes; if too cool, increase oven setting slightly. Repeat this check of the near-surface temperature every half hour or so.
When core temperature hits the target, take the chicken out and let it rest, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, increase oven temperature to its hottest baking setting. Don't use the broiler, but do select a convection baking mode if your oven has one.
Return bird to hot oven, turn on light, and watch carefully as it browns. The goal is crisp, golden brown skin. The skin will start to brown quickly, and browning will accelerate once it starts. So keep your eye on it. Once chicken is browned, remove can, carve bird, and serve immediately, while the skin is still crispy.