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David Lissner
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Eat this! Beer-can chicken, an upright bird

Beer-can chicken at Fizz Bar & Grill.

Beer-can chicken at Fizz Bar & Grill.

What it is: A whole chicken cooked upright with an open can of beer stuffed up its hindquarters, beer-can chicken has become a staple of summer cookouts. The beer steams and slightly flavors the bird, making for tender, tasty meat, while the grill-roasting process crisps the skin and adds smoky flavor. (You can bake beer-can chicken in an oven, too, but it’s typically an outdoor favorite.) The chicken is delicious, but we think the recipe’s popularity stems partly from the fact that you need to empty out half the beer before you start grilling, and usually that beer winds up inside the cook.

Where it comes from: The originator is unknown, but by most accounts, beer-can chicken exploded spontaneously throughout the U.S. sometime in the late 1980s or early ’90s. After making its way around the competition barbecue circuit, the concept became widely popularized by food writer Steven Raichlen, who eventually wrote a cookbook highlighting the variations. Local columnist John Kass has also been puffing beer-can chicken since the ’90s, writing, “Once you try it, you will be transformed, forever.”

What to do with it: Most people simply plunk the chicken on top of a half empty beer can on the grill, but if that makes you nervous, Raichlen (and others) will sell you a $30 gizmo to hold the beer and chicken upright.

Depending on what kind of beer you use and what other seasonings you add, you can create all sorts of variations. You can make your own dry rub, or use your favorite commercial blend. Some aficionados like to cut the whole top off the can of beer and mix extra seasonings into the beer. Some cooks add wood chunks or chips to the grill for extra smokiness. Kass eschews smoke and goes for lemon and Greek seasoning.

At Fizz Bar & Grill in Lakeview, which hosts “Beer Can Chicken Sunday” weekly in its beer garden, photo-shy Chef Weslie Bellini sticks close to basics, using Hamm’s Beer and a paprika and brown sugar rub. (The Fizz feast, served from 2 to 5 p.m. each Sunday, includes sliced chicken, a burger and a hot dog, with sides such as baked beans, pasta salad and fried-potato salad, for $10; $2 cans of Hamm’s are available, too.)

Fizz’s beer-can chicken
Chef Weslie Bellini

1 cup kosher salt
1 gallon water
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (your favorites)
1 3- to 4-pound whole chicken
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons barbecue dry rub (recipe follows)
1 12-ounce can Hamm’s Beer

Dissolve the kosher salt in the water in a large container or zippered plastic bag, add the herbs and submerge the chicken in the brine. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

Prepare a covered barbecue grill for indirect cooking or preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Take out the bird, pat dry, salt the inside cavity then cover the chicken with the rub.

Pour out half the beer for another use. Use a church-key can opener to poke a couple more holes in the top of the can. Stand the bird up on the half-full can of beer, pushing the can up the rear cavity and pulling the legs forward so the bird sits upright. Drizzle the olive oil over the bird.

If you’re cooking on a grill, set the upright bird onto the grate, away from the coals, and close the lid. (In the oven, use a disposable foil pan for easier clean up.) Cook about 1 hour, until the internal temperature reaches 175 to 180 degrees on an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh, but not touching the bone. Using tongs, with a spatula under the can, carefully transfer the chicken to a platter or cutting board, and wait 5 to 10 minutes before cutting up the bird. Use tongs to lift the chicken off the can, taking care not to spill the hot beer or burn yourself. 4 to 6 servings.
Dry rub

1/2 cup Hungarian paprika
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley

Mix together all ingredients. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 1 cup.
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