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Food and Drink

Use a local brew to infuse a juicy Alaska beer can chicken

Beer can chicken made with Alaska lager. (ADN/Julia O'Malley)

I write you having graduated from the school of beer can chicken hard knocks. I have made a lot of chickens and spilled a lot of beer; here’s what I’ll tell you: beer can chicken is totally delicious and, if you go in prepared, pretty dang easy.

First some FAQs. Some people worry about the beer can heating up and contaminating the chicken with BPA. Cooks Illustrated actually tested it and found that there was no contamination in the chicken juices. Even so, you can make beer can chicken using a beer can chicken holder, which you can buy at a hardware or kitchen store for less than $10. It gives you a lot more stability on the grill, and some let you pour the beer directly into them, rather than holding an actual can, so no aluminum worries, either. I think the holder investment is the way to go.

You are going to cook the chicken standing up in a closed grill over indirect heat. The main thing that can go wrong, for those of you who do not use a beer can holder, is that your chicken can tip on the grill. I made four chickens sans holder and half of them did this, despite my best efforts. If this happens, you need to be there to put it quickly back upright or it gets torched. A holder relieves a lot of anxiety.

Another consideration is the crispiness of the skin. The best way to achieve it is to dry your bird really well before you put it on the grill. The best way to do that is to leave it in the fridge overnight uncovered. Using a local beer to infuse the bird is just fun. I went with a Denali Brewing’s Single Engine Red, but you can try other sorts and see what you think.

Finally, you’ll have to use some care getting the bird off the grill. I recommend using large tongs and slipping them under the wings, a little like picking up a baby. To get the beer can out once the chicken is done, use a potholder to brace the can and use the tongs to grab the chicken inside the cavity from the top and gently wiggle the two apart.

Alaska beer can chicken

(Serves 4)

Ingredients:

1 4-pound chicken

2 tablespoons olive oil

Zest of one lemon

2 tablespoons Herbes de Provence

2 teaspoons garlic powder

About 20 cracks of fresh ground pepper

One can of beer, preferably local

Method: Fire up the gas grill and place on medium heat or prepare a charcoal grill. Dry the chicken thoroughly with paper towels. (If you have time, place it uncovered, overnight in the refrigerator, which makes for really crackly skin.) Mix oil, zest, Herbes de Provence, garlic powder and pepper. Open the beer and pour out — or drink — roughly half of it. Place the beer can on a plate or ready a beer can holder. Place the chicken over the beer can, wings up, until the can fits snugly in the cavity and it acts as a stand. Rub the herb mixture all over the chicken. Before placing the chicken on the grill, turn off one grill burner or move the coals to one side. Using tongs, put the chicken on the grill carefully in the center of the indirect heat side, making sure it is stable. Close the grill and watch it, adjusting the gas or coals so it stays about 375 to 400 degrees. Leave the lid closed for 45 minutes, but if you are not using a beer can stand, watch it carefully. A big burst of smoke likely means your chicken tipped over. At 45 minutes, open the lid and rotate the bird so the other side is closer to the heat. Leave on the grill another 15 to 30 minutes, until the internal thigh temperature is 160 degrees. Let it rest for 10 minutes before carving.

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