Traverse City Record-Eagle

Food

September 5, 2013

Beer-can chicken is a popular classic

You may not find too many restaurant chefs plopping their poultry on cans of PBR, but all those tailgaters and beachside grillers are on to something.

There are solid scientific reasons that chicken really does roast better in a more upright, lifelike pose than when it is flat on its soggy back. And by adding a couple of extra prep steps to the technique and taking your care with the temperature, you can get the best of both worlds: succulent, juicy meat and crispy, golden brown skin.

On top of all that, you get to drink the beer! The chicken doesn’t actually need it.

Beer-can chicken recipes are everywhere on the Internet, but most of them don’t address the two biggest challenges of roasting poultry. The first is to avoid overcooking the meat. Nothing is more disappointing at a Labor Day cookout than to bite into a beautiful-looking chicken breast only to end up with a mouthful of woody fiber that seems to suck the saliva right out of your glands.

The solution to this first challenge is simple: take your time, measure the temperature correctly and frequently, and choose the right target for the core temperature (as measured at the deepest, densest part of the thigh). When you cook the bird slowly, the heat has more time to kill any nasty bacteria living in the food, so you don’t have to cook the heck the out of thing.

The federal government recommends bringing the meat to 165 F for at least 15 seconds. But guidelines issued by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service show that 35 minutes at 140 F achieves the same degree of pasteurization, even in the fattiest chicken.

The recipe below calls for several hours in the oven and a core temperature of 145 F to 150 F, which will meet those guidelines as long as you slow-cook the bird at a low temperature. But be sure you use a reliable, oven-safe thermometer and place it properly as directed in the recipe.

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