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June 4, 2011: Today was the great experiment to combine the absurdly popular beer can chicken recipe with the tried and true cast iron dutch oven. First, the BAD NEWS: if you're a hardcore believer in beer can chicken, you are going to be disappointed -- the method I used goes against the rules of beer can chicken. That's why I'm calling this "Dutch Oven Beer Chicken." I can't call it "beer can chicken" because I didn't even use a can! The GOOD NEWS is that despite the whole "beer can chicken" idea being a fraud (see below), I applied the beer directly to the bird and ended up with a surprisingly moist, tender, and tasty chicken! In fact, to do this recipe all you really need to do is add the rub and baste the chicken with beer...you don't even need the can.
When I did a little research I discovered the whole idea of "beer can chicken" is, in fact, a myth. Check this site out, which does a good job of scientifically busting the theory of beer can chicken: http://www.nakedwhiz.com/beercanchicken.htm As you can see here, the method of cooking with a beer can inserted into the cavity does not result in the beer boiling into the chicken. That's why there's still a lot of beer left in the can itself when the chicken is done.
In addition, I considered the advice given on the Cast Iron Cooking Facebook group by William H. Robyn: "I'm leery of aluminum cans being cooked in my food (especially sitting on an iron skillet). The other issue with cans is the ink or the liner. I dont think the ink burns until well above any reasonable cooking temp, but some micro brew companies use some kind of liner on the inside of their can to protect the beer from the aluminum. That liner does burn and turn your chicken toxic." I decided to follow his advice and get a glass jar to mount on the stand instead. I went looking for one, and at Target I unexpectedly found one that fits *perfectly* into the beer can stand -- it's not a jar, but rather it's a votive candle holder. When filled to the brim it holds 2/3 cup of water, or just under 6 ounces. Since most of the beer can chicken recipes call for you to either pour out half of the beer or "take a big swig from the can," then use the rest, I figured that should be enough.
Most of these recipes call for a 3 to 4 pound chicken, i.e. your typical rotisserie-sized chicken. The chicken I had in my freezer was 6 2/3 pounds. As for the beer, I got a 12-ounce can of Budweiser at the liquor store. After reading that debunking of the beer can chicken urban legend, I decided to change things around and directly apply the beer to the chicken, which would hopefully give it a good taste. I'd had the beer in my fridge for freshness, but I took it out of the fridge at about 6:00 this morning and left the can on the counter, unopened, to warm it up to room temperature.
To prepare the liquid for insertion into the bird, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees F. As it was heating up, I put dashes of kosher salt, sugar, paprika, and black pepper into the glass container, then filled it with beer; I then poured the remaining beer into a small bowl for basting, and tossed the can into the recycle bin. I made a rub for the bird using the same mixture of 1 teaspoon each of kosher salt, sugar, paprika, and black pepper (twice as much as would be needed for a smaller bird). As per the Web instructions for beer can chicken, I sprinkled 2 teaspoons of the rub inside the body cavity, and the remainder inside the neck cavity of the chicken. After this, I placed the beer can mount with the glass container of liquid and herbs into the dutch oven, then lowered the chicken onto it in a standing position. Using a basting brush and the bowl of extra beer, I rubbed the liquid over the outside of the chicken, and then poured the remainder of the beer over it, letting it pool at the bottom of the dutch oven, so that hopefully it would evaporate and be absorbed into the bird that way. Because the typical beer can chicken recipe simply instructs you to stick the bird onto the beer can and then place the whole thing in the grill, I left the dutch oven uncovered.
And into the oven it went...and I waited 90 minutes. At that point, I measured the chicken with a meat
thermometer and read it at just over 140 degrees, so I put it back in for another 30 minutes. The skin was very crisp, and it took some effort to get the thermometer in. (Of course, I was using a larger bird than the one called for in the recipe, in an uncovered dutch oven.) At approximately two hours, I inserted the thermometer about an inch to the side of the previous point, and the temperature climbed to just over 180 degrees . The liquid at the bottom of the pan, where the beer had pooled and the juices had dripped, was bubbling nicely. Finally, after letting the bird sit for somewhat more than ten minutes, I was able to take it out. As predicted by the mythbusting Web site, most of the beer was still there in the glass container; it had not boiled into the chicken. Some of it had also spilled out when I was revoving the chicken from the stand.
The end result of making chicken with beer, in the dutch oven for two hours at 350 degrees Fahrenheit: the skin was very crispy, but the meat was moist and tender...but still slightly pink at the joints. This recipe still needs adjusting before it can really be seen as a *good* roast chicken method. The *inside* of the bird definitely has a beer taste, but the outside is a generic roast chicken -- which still tastes fine, and it's definitely juicy and not dried out at all. I don't care for the taste of the beer myself, and it was better after I sprinkled pepper on it (but then, I love lots of pepper), but this recipe gave me an easy-to-make roast chicken that will certainly tide you and your family over.
I'd like to ask that if or when you use this recipe, try it at 400 degrees instead of 350 to get a thoroughly well-done chicken...without the beer can in the bird. You may also want to go for two and a half hours or more. Using a stand to keep the bird in a vertical position is a good way to roast it, and I'll probably do it again in this manner. Simply use the rub, baste the chicken with beer, and then pour the rest of the beer over it to cover the bottom of your dutch oven with an alcoholic baste. That will definitely flavor the chicken with beer, and you'll have a more genuine "beer chicken" than you'd get by sticking an open beer can into it. I'm especially glad I paid all of $1.99 at Christmas Tree Shops for the beer can rack, as opposed to spending $45 for the Emeril cast iron "vertical poultry roaster!"