Choosing the Right Beer for Beer Can Chicken

Beer-can chicken
Jamie In Bytown/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The recipe is simple – cram a full can of beer into the cavity of a whole chicken, stand it up on the grill or in a pan and Viola! you have beer butt chicken. But often it’s the simplest of ingredients and recipes that show the way to the most interesting of possibilities.

A recent question posted in the About Beer forum by Derrick Riches, About’s guide to Barbecue and Grilling, inspired me to consider different beers that one could use in a beer can chicken recipe.

The choices are as numerous as there are different kinds of beer. Of course, most beer is sold in the bottle so you’d have to buy some beer in cans and save the cans but from there you’re faced with a limitless choice of beers to use.

Derrick mentioned that he’d heard stout would be a poor choice for a beer butt chicken because it would contribute too much bitterness. Given the wide variety of stouts, though, this is oversimplifying the matter a bit. Guinness, easily the world’s most popular stout, would make a poor choice as would most dry stouts. But sweet stouts or oatmeal stouts could make a very good chicken. I’m thinking specifically of one of my favorite stouts, Bell's Kalamazoo Stout, but there are probably quite a few stouts and porters that would serve this recipe well. Think chocolate stout and chicken, hmmm.

When I cook with chicken I almost always add lemon whether the recipe calls for it or not.

The sour citrus just seems to make the flavors come alive. So why not some soured beers? Regular readers will know that any mention of sour beer makes my mind leap to the king of sour beer – Berliner Weisse. This beer would certainly make the chicken stand up and shout! Another interesting choice would be lambic beer, the great sour beer of Belgium, or Flanders brown ale which would bring the sour flavor along with some interesting complexities of malt and old beer to the chicken.

Frankly, I’m not sure if this would be good or not but it would certainly be interesting to try.

A safer route to go would be with rich malty beers that are low on hops. I agree with the premise that bitter flavors would tend to detract from the beer butt chicken. IPA and Barley Wine would be poor choices but the other end of British beer styles, brown and mild ales would be ideal. These brews are often rich with malt and wonderfully complex from aging or blending. Thus they make great beers to cook with and natural choices for this recipe. An easy to find an example of what I’m talking about is Newcastle Brown Ale.

The Germans make their fair share of rich, malty beers that would work great. Bock, Double Bock, Oktoberfest, Alt, and Weizenbock would all add some pretty interesting flavors to chicken. One style, in particular, Rauchbeir, would make a really exciting bird. Rauchbeir, or smoked beer, can sometimes be hard to find but it would be worth the search in this case. When the grain used to brew Rauchbeir is killed some of it is smoked in much the same way that you would smoke meat.

The resulting beer is an amazing brew with deep and wide flavors. Notes of leather, jerky, and soil are regularly detected. Talk about an interesting chicken!

Derrick also mentioned hefeweizen which could make a good bird. I’ve personally never cooked with wheat beer and I wonder if the heat would destroy the delicate flavors of this style. Many fruit beers, however, begin with wheat beer and would make some really interesting grilled chicken. There’s always the ubiquitous raspberry wheat which you can probably pick up a growler full of at your local brew pub, especially in the summer months. Some other interesting fruit beers to try with your chicken: Pyramid Apricot Weizen, Pete’s Strawberry Blonde, Grozet Gooseberry and Wheat Ale, and Lindemans Framboise. Or maybe you could skip the beer altogether and try this with a Woodchuck Cider.

But there is one beer that has puzzled me since it appeared on the scene. Beer can chicken may be the reason, cosmically speaking, that Chili Pepper Beer was created. Shove that up your chicken’s butt and I’m sure you’ll be in for a great bird!

So pull out the old’ Weber and give it a try. There is a whole world of beer to choose from. Hopefully, I’ve given you some ideas. If you try any of my suggestions, I’d love to hear how they turned out for you.