Sunday, September 1, 2013


Shove the can in the can for tender breasts

So Carton goes and puts Boat Beer in cans. This is a wonderful thing and an important moment in New Jersey craft beer history. This is the first New Jersey craft beer to be canned. Fanfare, hoorahs, huzzahs and all that celebratory stuff. Okay, done now? Two questions now arise: 1) can you shotgun it and 2) will it make for good beer can chicken.

Augie Carton brews Boat because he loves it. It's his favorite beer, period. Just ask him. The hop profile sings to him and he sings back in a voice for everyone to hear. Every pint of the cloudy, hoppy goodness is testament to that blend of humulus lupulus that gives Boat its distinctly wonderful flavor. But in cans there is an intensification in the delivery of those hops to your tongue. Augie describes it as having the outriggers of a trireme of hops riding along the sides of your tongue as well as the usual assault on the bulk of your lingua. Yes, he used a boat analogy to describe Boat...go figure. But, he claimed, shotgunning a can of Boat is like having Cascade hops shot directly into your mouth and down your throat. Well, this I HAD to try! 

As usual, he's right. On all accounts. Drinking Boat from the can does intensify the hops along the sides of the tongue and shotgunning it does make it seem as if fresh hops were injected straight down your gullet. So that's settled and we're all better for it. On to the chicken. 

Almost all beer can chicken recipes agree that you use a 4-pound bird liberally dusted with spice rub. You then open a can of beer, drink about half of it and then insert the open end into the bird's cavity. Place the bird on the grill using the can and the two legs to form a tripod and place it away from the heat. Cook it, rotating every 15 minutes or so, for an hour or more, until you reach the correct temperature. That's about 180 in the thickest part of the thigh for those, like me, who constantly forget. Yes, it's this easy.

So I made a rub of salt, black pepper, paprika, garlic powder, chipolte and cumin...a pretty standard concoction in my kitchen. I wanted something pretty aggressive thinking that the strong hop presence in Boat would inundate the breast meat with hoppy goodness and I wanted to give the flavoring on the skin the chance to stand up to it. So I skewed the percentage of black pepper and chipotle upwards and then rubbed the bird inside and out with the blend. I gladly drank half a can of Boat Beer and shoved the can up the chicken's can. The coals were ready so the chicken got placed on the grates, away from the coals, just under the chimney vent.

After 20 minutes I gave the bird a quarter turn and you could already smell the hop aroma coursing through the interior of the grill. I wondered if I had enough spice rub on it. Another turn and then another and then the thighs were facing the fire. After fifteen more minutes I checked the temperature and got a 176 degree reading. Knowing that meat will thermally "cruise" five degrees or so while resting, I removed the bird, carefully extracting the can. I pondered drinking the contents, but thought better of it. That could be all kinds of nasty and none of my bad influences were around to coerce me.

After a 10 minute rest I started to butcher the bird. Well, "butcher" is not the correct word. That implies that some force was used. This bird came apart with little effort and the knife was mostly to cut through the skin as each joint came apart with the slightest of coaxing. This is typical of beer can chicken as the steaming beer inside the can keeps everything nice and succulent. The inside of my mouth was moist with anticipation. It was time to eat.

I knew that the breast meat would carry most of the flavor that the beer imparted, so I tried that first. Bummer. It only barely held any hop flavor, leading to some degree of disappointment on my part. That also meant that the rub I made was too aggressive, but that was okay. So this leaves me wondering if I did something wrong or there's something in the chemistry that does not allow the meat to absorb flavors from the beer. Some may suggest that the hop flavors do not carry into the steam rising from the beer, but if you could smell those wonderful, hoppy aromas you'd know otherwise.

Overall, the meal was a success despite not getting a lot of hop flavor into the meat. The bird was exceptionally tender and quite delicious, but I see no point in wasting a good can of Boat next time. With what little I was able to derive from it, you could use a can of a lesser beer and get the same result. I'll save the can of Boat to drink with the meal. It would be wonderful drank out of a teku, I presume.

ADDENDUM: I had come up with a few theories as to why this did not seem to work involving the art of brining, osmosis and the penchant that salt has for allowing liquids and the inherent flavors to enter into meat. Since none of that is present in beer can chicken, what you expected to work just didn't. So I did a bit of research and found this study.

It thoroughly tests if beer can chicken works or not and conclusively reaches the opinion that it does not. Is that a busted myth? I don't know. So many people swear by it, but the scientific method shows that shoving a can half full of beer up a chicken's keister really makes no difference, which is what I experienced.

So the next round is going to be brining a chicken in Boat Beer and seeing how that works. I'm thinking one 16 ounce can of Boat, 1/4 cup of salt and 2 tablespoons of sugar dissolved in water. Soak the chicken in this mixture for at least an hour, no more than two and then roast as you normally would. I've got good money on this method working a lot better for imparting the flavor of the beer into the bird. We'll see; it's starting to get cool enough to roast again.

SECOND ADDENDUM: Would that be an addendumdum? I brined the bird to the exact specifications listed above and cooked it on the grill using the beer can method, but with water in the can since it's been established that the liquid doesn't matter. In fact, having any liquid in the can doesn't particularly matter, but the vertical posture of the chicken does seem to deliver a very evenly cooked bird with amazingly crispy skin.

This time all portions of the bird were infused with the flavor of the beer. The wings seemed to have the highest saturation, followed by the breast meat. The thighs had the least, but it was still evident. This attempt was a resounding success and I urge anyone to use any hoppy beer as the brining liquid. You won't be disappointed. This is exactly what I was looking for when I embarked on this experiment.