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 you have beer butt chicken. Yet, often it’s the simplest of ingredients and recipes that show the way to the most interesting of possibilities. The question here is, which beer is best?
Beer in a Can
Beer butt chicken requires beer in a can. However, that doesn't mean you have to buy canned beer. All you need is a can.
Whether you begin with an actual beer can or have an empty soda can around, you simply cut the top off and can pour whatever beer you like inside it. Once you realize this, your beer possibilities open up immensely because many of the best beers are only sold in bottles.
The next factor to consider is what type of flavor you want to add to your chicken. Does a sweeter bird sound good? What about one of the ales that are often used in beer-cooked food? How about something a little spicy, wheaty, or fruity?
Your options are limitless and the best way to find out what does or does not work is to try it. Yes, that means you'll have to buy a variety of beer and make beer butt chicken a few times, but that's part of the fun of backyard grilling season. To help you get started, let's explore a few possible styles you might consider at the beer cooler.
Guinness is easily the world’s most popular stout. Yet, it would make a poor choice, as would most dry stouts. Sweet stouts or oatmeal stouts, on the other hand, could make a very good chicken.
Bell's Kalamazoo Stout is a perfect example of what you want to look for. Its sweet, dark chocolate and roasted coffee flavors would season chicken wonderfully and avoid the bitterness. A chocolate stout would be another viable option, as would any rich oatmeal. Take a look at the store and explore your options because quite a few stouts—or even porters—would serve this recipe well.
It's also good to look at common flavors that are used with chicken. Many people enjoy adding lemon, even if the recipe doesn't call for it. The sour citrus seems to make the flavors come alive, so why not try soured beers?
When you think of this style, your mind might leap to the king of sour beer—Berliner Weisse. This one would certainly make the chicken stand up and shout.
Another interesting choice would be lambic beer, the great sour beer of Belgium. Flanders brown ale would bring the sour flavor, along with some interesting complexities of malt and old beer to the chicken as well.
Whether or not these would be good is a matter of personal preference, but it would certainly be interesting to try.
A safer route to go would be with rich malty beers that are low on hops. This follows the premise that bitter flavors may detract from the beer butt chicken. IPA and barleywine may 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. That profile makes them great beers to cook with and natural choices for this recipe. An easy-to-find example of this 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, would make a really exciting bird. Rauchbier, 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 rauchbier is killed, some of it is smoked in much the same way that you would smoke meat. The resulting beer is amazing and holds a variety of deep and wide flavors; notes of leather, jerky, and soil are regularly detected. This makes interesting chicken.
Wheat and Fruit Beers
Hefeweizen could make a good bird as well, though wheat beer is not commonly used for cooking. It's possible that the heat would destroy the delicate flavors of this style. Yet, it is a viable option worth experimenting with.
Many fruit beers, however, use wheat beer as a base and do make a really interesting grilled chicken. There’s always the ubiquitous raspberry wheat, which you can probably pick up a growler full of at your local brewpub, especially in the summer months.
Some other interesting fruit beers to try with your chicken: Pyramid Apricot Ale, Pete’s Strawberry Blonde, Grozet Gooseberry, and Wheat Ale, and Lindemans Framboise. Or maybe you could skip the beer altogether and try beer butt chicken with a hard cider like Woodchuck Cider.
Chili Pepper Beer
There is one type of beer that may be an absolutely perfect fit for beer can chicken. Chili pepper beers are an interesting lot, infusing the spice of chilies into a variety of beer styles, from porters to IPAs. It may not be the cold, refreshing brew you would drink, but shove that up your chicken’s butt and you'll likely be in for a great bird.