In short, yes, beer can chicken is great – but it has nothing to do with the beer (or the can for that matter).
Beer Can Chicken is A Waste of Time; and Beer.
It's difficult to end up with a bad tasting chicken when grilled at a low and slow temperature. Look at the chickens above: they look so good I may not complete the rest of this article so I can prep a chicken for dinner. A real #MeatGeek knows how to roast a chicken: the right way; without the gimmicks.
The reason Beer Can chicken is such a fail is because the method is flawed.
Do you want to know the secret to a really good beer can chicken…… skip the beer. The internet is rife with recipes and blogs advocating for the juicy flavor of beer can chicken. But a real #MeatGeek knows these recipes do nothing for you except waste your time, waste your beer and make a bigger mess to clean.
The Beer Can Chicken Method
To understand how beer can chicken is a waste of time let's review how it is done. A chicken is prepped for the grill while the cook drinks half a can of beer. The half full (or half empty) can is then punctured at the top and placed inside the cavity. The bird rests vertically on the grill, on top of the can, with drumsticks for balance. The chicken is roasted for approximately and hour and a half until the internal temperature of the breasts are 168 degrees and the thighs are 180.
When it's done, if it was done correctly, the chicken will have a crunchy skin, beautiful browning, and tasty juicy meat. Yum!
All of these great qualities are the result of your own roasting prowess, but they have nothing to do with beer.
Examining the Science
Myth 1 - Beer Moistens the Chicken
The beer in the can must become hot enough to boil and let steam escape in order for it to add moisture to the meat. The boiling point of water is 212 degrees and the boiling point of ethanol is 173 degrees. Since beer is mostly water, the can of beer must reach a minimum of 212 to produce the necessary steam.
Numerous experiments have been done by various grilling masters, and the average high temperature of the beer, in their experiments, is 130 degrees. Several dozen degrees from boiling.
The reason the beer never reaches boiling:
The beer can in placed inside the cavity of the chicken and it acts as a thick, meaty, watery insulator, keeping the beer from becoming hot enough to boil. This is further evidenced by the amount of beer left in the can once it is removed after roasting.
The beer can hinders even heat distribution:
The beer can blocks heat from reaching the center of the chicken. If you’re not careful, you’ll either burn the outside or undercook the inside.
Myth 2 - Beer Adds Flavor
Given the above, we know the beer does not come into contact with the meat. It never escapes its aluminum dungeon. No contact equals no flavor. In addition, beer is 98% flavorless (water and alcohol); sugar, proteins, acids, and minerals all makeup only 2% of beer or approximately 1 teaspoon of flavor. If any of these flavors ever did escape, they would only continue to rise directly out of the top of the chicken.
If you're not convinced by science let's talk danger.
While the beer never really boils, it's still hot
Trying to remove a beer can chicken from the grill is a trick only mastered by experience. Where do you grab it, by the can or the chicken? The can, which is heated, can often stick to the chicken making removal tricky. Spilled beer or fat is a mess to clean up, but worse if it lands on you, then the nurses at the ER will have to clean it up.
Aluminium + Ink = Boooo
The cans themselves raise red flags; they were not designed with the intention of cooking them. Surely, the ink on the cans is not food grade, also some brewers use plastic liners, neither of which is tested at cooking temperatures.
In short, beer can chicken is nothing short of a gimmick. An unnecessary ploy to create an illusion of mastery. If you really want a delicious roasted chicken, try brining.