Mythbusting the Beer Can Chicken myth

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beer can chicken
Beer Can Chicken is a showstopper. The two beauties here were cooked by Steve Navarre, a loyal reader, good cook, and fine photographer.
beer can chicken
Beer Can Chicken is a showstopper. The two beauties here were cooked by Steve Navarre, a loyal reader, good cook, and fine photographer.

THUNDER BAY – If you are like a growing number of Canadians, just because the calendar says winter, you are still busy grilling or barbecuing up a storm. Over the past several years, one of the favourite barbecue offerings has been ‘Beer Can Chicken’. Yet maybe all the excitement about BCC is more hype than reality.

Craig ‘Meathead’ Goldwyn offers this commentary on Beer Can Chicken – “Think about this: You’ve never seen a fine dining restaurant serve Beer Can Chicken, have you? That’s because real chefs know it is not the best way to roast a chicken.

“Yes, I know Beer Can Chicken tastes wonderful. Yes, I know your neighbors and family think your Beer Can Chicken is fabulous. It is fabulous. What’s not to love about roast chicken? Yes, I know there are millions of devotees.

“Yes, I know there are two books on to the subject, a blog, and scores of gadgets to assist the process. Yes, with the fowl perched comically on its legs seemingly guzzling brew through its posterior, Beer Can Chicken is a showstopper. The two beauties here were cooked by Steve Navarre, a loyal reader, good cook, and fine photographer. One is on a can and another on a fancy can holder.

“But Beer Butt Bird remains a gimmick and a waste of good beer. In the words of Sterling Ball of BigPoppaSmokers.com ‘I think Beer Can Chicken is a religion. We need a little separation of faith and science here’.”

If you are looking for an expert on the art, and science of good grilling and barbeque, ‘Meathead’ is arguably one of the best.

Now Craig doesn’t bash the BCC but rather offers some positives, followed by options to do a much better job.

beer can chicken cut-a-way

On the plus side, he says that BCC gets several things right. This includes “Crackly skin. Beer Can Chicken exposes the exterior to even convection heat so it can crisp the skin on all sides. Do it right and you’ll always have crunchy, crackly, tasty skin. If you bake a chicken horizontally in a standard roasting pan, the bottom doesn’t brown and often gets soggy. Even if you raise it up on a rack, the air does not circulate under the bird properly unless the rack is well above the pan, as it is on a grill”.

However there are several important considerations to make in this discussion. One of the wonders of BCC is that the beer, or as I have used root beer never gets hot enough to boil, thus busting the myth that the extra moisture steams into the meat.

Meathead shares, “As you cook, both the meat, which is 70% water, and the beer, which is 90% water, heat at about the same rate (see Dr. Blonder’s data below). When you are done cooking, when the meat hits 165°F, the beer will be about the same temp, well below the boiling point of water which is 212°F. . That’s because the beer and chicken become a single thermal mass. It helps if you think of the chicken as a thick watery insulation blanket wrapped around the beer. Now some of the beer at the bottom of the can may be hotter because it is exposed to hot air, but that liquid rises and mixes with the cooler beer above, so there is no way it will come close to the boiling point. Even though the beer is 40 to 50F below the boiling temp, there is still a small amount of evaporation at that low temp, but very very little. So, hardly any moisture escapes the can, and you can prove it yourself by weighing the can before and after cooking. Even on a digital scale, there is no measurable difference. So how can it moisturize the meat? And anyone who says the beer crisps the skin, which is separated from the can by at least 1″ of meat really has been smoking more than chicken. The skin is crisp because there is warm dry air all around it”.

The proof is in the cooking

So I asked the AmazingRibs.com science advisor, Dr. Greg Blonder, to think about all this. He started by roasting three pound chickens at 325°F, the temp I recommend for chicken and turkey. It is low enough to slowly cook the meat without badly overheating the outside layers, and high enough to render fat for crispy skin.

temp of roasted chicken

1) Plain roasted chicken measurements. He roasted the birds in an indoor oven where he had better temperature control. He did not put a dark rub on the skin for his tests so they will look paler than many other beer can chickens. He monitored the breast meat temp and the air temp in the cavity with highly accurate thermocouples.

It took the meat just less than an hour to reach 165°F. By that time the air temp in the cavity was about 212°F, boiling temp for water. So by the time the bird was done, the air in the cavity was about 125°F cooler than the air outside. The results were a bird that was ” lightly brown and very moist and tender” on the outside, and pale on the inside.

2) Vertical roasted chicken measurements. vertical chickenNext he took a vertical roaster (left), a stainless steel wire rack with a built-in drip pan beneath it. He repeated the test several times and there was surprisingly little difference in the time the meat took to cook on the vertical roaster and the horizontal roaster. We had expected the vertical alignment of the bird would allow more hot air to enter the cavity.

3) Beer Can Chicken Measurements. Then he tested the classic beer can chicken using an 18 ounce can (right). To make sure there was enough surface area for the beer to evaporate, he poked extra holes, and to make room for 5 crushed cloves of garlic, he drank about 1/4 of the can. That’s his story, anyway.

The garlic was added to create a strong aroma that would be easy to taste if it penetrated the meat. He even let the beer come to room temp, more than 30°F warmer than fridge temp, so the beer would not cool the interior of the bird and hamper its cooking. Most cooks don’t do this.

Thermocouples were inserted into the breast meat, the beer, and hovering just above the beer. All three rose in temp together and reached serving temp at about the same time, a little more than an hour later.

To get the ‘Full Story’ on the art and science behind Beer Can Chicken, along with the an amazing recipe and techniques for chicken on your grill, visit www.amazingribs.com.

Amazing Ribs

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