This majority of this article was originally published in Pit magazine, I've tweaked it a bit here.
But me no butts, beer can chicken is utter bunkum.
Now, I know there are about a gazillion grill hounds that are about explode with rage but, bear with me, beer butt chicken is not your buddy.
However, before we get into the ins and outs of why cooking in this fashion is not the best method, let me just warn you that, even if you remain unconvinced that this is not the world’s most perfect poultry, there are three little letters that you should be aware of when you’re considering heating modern beer cans… BPA.
BPA or, to give it its full name, Bisphenol A, is in the linings of lots of food-approved cans to stop them from becoming tainted by the metal and to prolong the shelf life, but it is known to be an endocrine (or hormone) disruptor and has come under a lot of medical scrutiny in the past 20 years or so. To be clear, there hasn’t been enough research produced that yields absolute results, but there has long been concern about its effect on hormone development, possible links to breast cancer in particular and disruption to liver and kidney function.
The one thing that we do for certain is that when you heat BPA, it can leach into the liquid at up to 55x the rate it does at room temperature, which was just one of the factors that led the EU to ban it from use in baby bottles in 2010, and whilst I’m very strong on leading where science goes, I think we can all agree there is sufficient concern about BPAs to, at the very least, be wary of pumping them into ourselves at an elevated rate.
All this is before we even talk about the ink that’s used to print cans not being tested as safe at high temperatures and please don’t even get me started on the person I saw online who used a Guinness can without removing the widget, the little plastic ball that is filled with nitrogen to give your beer a smoother mouth feel, can you imagine how loudly I screamed at the screen?!
But even if you take all these contamination concerns into account, scrub the can clean and not be daft enough to use a widget can, it’s quite simply just a crap way to cook your chicken and fraught with potential for trips to A&E, whether for food poisoning reasons or just because you’ve scalded yourself with hot beer.
Now, because people would have you believe that the whole point of BCC (I’m using that from now on because it gets boring to keep reading beer can chicken), is that it keeps the bird juicy and infuses it with flavour, so let’s break down the ideas behind this process one at a time.
Chug, Chug, Chug
Most BCC recipes call for you to grab a can of beer, chug half of it and then poke holes in the top ‘to let the beer escape and infuse the meat’.
The easiest way to debunk the idea of shoving a can up a chicken’s butt in the first place is to look at the actual physics of the process, how does the beer infuse all the meat when you’ve shoved it up the butt of the bird and the top stops, depending on the size of the can you're using, between half and two thirds of the way up its body? But that's a relatively benign issues in comparison to the others we need to think about.
After looking at over 20 beer can chicken recipes online, and a subsequent visit to the doctors for temporary blood pressure issues, not one of them specifies the temperature of the can of beer, meaning most people will be grabbing a beer from the fridge, which is going to be roughly 4C or below.
So, let’s get this straight, before you put your bird on the grill you want to stick it over a four degrees centigrade object full of equally cold liquid… in the middle of something you are trying to cook to a safe temperature… right next to where the heat takes the longest to penetrate… I think you can see what I’m getting at here.
But just in case it’s not clear, what you are doing is impeding the chicken from cooking safely all the way through and, equally importantly, preventing it from getting out of the dangerous bacterial growth zone as quickly as possible, partly due to the temperature of the can and partly because you’re preventing hot airflow through the bird’s cavity.
What this means is that any area of the chicken that isn’t cooked to a safe temperature is likely to have vastly increased bacterial growth, hugely increasingly the chance of food poisoning, or requiring you to cook the outside of the bird to the point of cremation - neither of which is a good outcome.
It Will Make the Chicken More ‘M’ Word
I know some people have a problem with the word ‘moist’ but it’s possibly the most oft-repeated reference to this method of cooking so, I’m afraid for the sake of veracity, this article also has to include it. However, let's take a look at the reality of cooking temperatures, evaporation and boiling points and how ‘staying moist’ actually works in order to debunk this canard.
The ideal done temperature of a chicken is 75C, now considering beer is roughly 95% water, this means that the temperature of the beer to turn into steam to ‘infuse’ the flesh is well above what you need for the chicken to be done (and given that water alone does not infuse meat, and why brine exists, I think we can get past that one pretty quickly) .
But before you say, but Melissa, the ethanol will start evaporating at just over 78C, you should be removing the chicken from the heat before it hits 75C in order for it to not overshoot your ideal mark, and even if you left the chicken on for a bit longer, it’s unlikely that even the more volatile alcohol will hit that vital temperature.
And whilst I acknowledge that some of the fermentation by-products like esters, phenols and other flavour and aroma compounds from the hops will start driving off below these temperatures, given that heat rises and you have a flipping great hole in the shape of the chicken’s neck for these compounds to escape through, all you’re doing is making the air smell pretty for about five seconds before they’re destroyed by the heat or dissipate into the atmosphere.
The Bitter Truth
I also wanted to add some extra beer nerdery to the types of beers that are frequently recommended for use in these recipes, they’re often basic lagers or other commodity brands and these nearly all use a pure hop bitterness extract that’s designed to be heat and light stable.
Now, I’m not here to judge what you drink, but if you’re cooking with beer then it’s best to keep away from commodity brands and bitter beers full stop because they will leave a nasty taste in your mouth, which seems a fitting way to sum up an article on the pernicious myth of beer can chicken.
Quite simply, buy an upright chicken roaster,* they cost next to nothing, and will give you that glorious all-round crispy chicken skin, and if you want to put beer in the tray at the bottom to improve any gravy then by all means do.
However, my suggestion if you want to incorporate beer somehow, is brine the chicken for four hours in a 10% salt Belgian wheat beer brine (or overnight in a 5% brine) but don't, for the love of god, stick a perfectly good can of beer in any of that poor bird's cavities - at best it's a waste of beer, at worst it's a trip to the emergency room.
p.s. If you want me to publish a full recipe on how I made the chicken in the picture, leave me a message below and I'll publish it!
*Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links at no additional cost to you, but I may earn a small commission.
Ok, I get it, a lot of breweries don't have an in-house ability to write a press release, or the funds to hire someone, so I am giving you the most basic of templates here to send information to journalists.
We want to write about you, we really do, but after the past few years of not being able to travel around festivals and places, it's got ever harder to keep up with what's going on, so here's a small tool to make your, and my, job easier.
Generally, most places will have a brew schedule, just as we have a writing and filing of copy schedule, so please think about longer lead times for people like me who write some columns in advance.
Rough rule of thumb, you should think about sending out a release four-six weeks in advance of the beer's release - with the planned release date and high res artwork mocked up on a can/bottle included, on a white background is generally what's needed.
Ok, so here is just one way that you can write a release - it's not absolutely cast in stone, but if you don't have experience, it's a good structure to start.
Headline Goes Here
Standfirst goes here - this is a brief overview of what the story/release/brewery news is about to whet the reader's appetite.
Intro: this should succinctly sum up the message you are trying to get across, don't go big on the hyperbole, save that for later.
Body text: this is where you can jazz it up a bit, give more detail, flesh out the story, why was the beer made, who came up with the idea, how did it come about, what actually is it including style, tasting notes ABV, format it is available in, where is it available from and when?
And if a beer release isn't the point of the release, please remember: who, what, where, when, why and how - the answers to these questions are the core of nearly every story.
Notes to Editors:
I CANNOT OVERSTATE THE IMPORTANCE OF THESE! If you include a boiler plate bit about your brewery (which brings us back to: who, what, where, when, why and how) you will imprint yourself in writers' minds. Also, don't be shy to include links to 'our brewing process' or offer to answer any questions a journalist may have. Trust me, when I was first starting, the releases and people who helped me feel more confident in my questions about what is, let's not forget, a speciality subject, got written about way more than snooty elitist berks!
A PHONE NUMBER! I don't want to hear about how you hate talking on the phone, if I'm on deadline and I need something in the next half hour, trust me, I'm not waiting for you to answer an email, I'm going to someone I can speak to personally, who will reassure me they are sending it ASAP.
Make sure you have a high-res image, lifestyle shots are normally best reserved for social media, packaged beer shots on a white background are vital. Preferably, send me links to permanent online product shot libraries.
So, hopefully you have your hands on a copy of the new book by now and are enjoying it thoroughly.
However, I have always tried to be honest and, as I literally write it in the book, I have to ‘fess up that there are a couple of errors in there.
These things happen (especially when you are trying to sign off proofs when you’re on the other side of the world) and they are being corrected for the next version but I still feel it’s important to be honest about these things - and I’m sure as I look more and more I’ll find other little flaws and will include them here as I go.
Anyway, before I run the risk of sounding like I’m excusing rather than correcting, I shall crack on with the two big ones I’ve spotted so far (although I’m sure the beer-savvy amongst you have already picked these up!).
Red Onion & Fruit Lambic Quick Pickle
The beers on pg 54 for this recipe are incorrect - if you refer to the beers on pg 89 or 184 for the cranberries or use any other sour berry fruit beer you’ll be in a good place for this recipe... and whilst we are speaking of pg 89...
Quick Chocolate Pots with Kriek Cranberries
The beers listed in cook do not match the style listed in the ingredients (which should read spiced, imperial or barrel-aged stout) if you reference the beers on pg 184 or 204 you’ll be in the right area.
So, you know all those pictures of food and beer I post on social media that make you all hungry? Well, I’ve gone and done a thing with it all...
The Beer Kitchen: the art & science of cooking, & pairing, with beer has been a long time in the making in my head (and tummy) but it’s only just become a reality and I am utterly overwhelmed with how many people are looking forward to it and, very importantly, the support my publishing company Hardie Grant UK has given me during its creation.
As many of you may know, I have a huge passion for beer and food matching, but I also love cooking with beer and hate bad science, so I’ve combined all those things to create a book that I sincerely hope will become spattered with grease, smeared with chocolate and get generally battered (but hopefully not deep fried!) through use.
I believe there’ll be something for nearly everyone in there, and I’ve tried to keep it really accessible by breaking it down into four different sections: So Simple, Some Effort, Show Off and Say Cheese.
Inside you’ll find a wide range of options from dishes for dedicated carnivores, to vegetarian & vegan recipes, to sweet toothed temptations and some more refined dishes, that take beer beyond the dull and cliched ‘dude food’ arena.
Out in October, you can pre-order it here https://tinyurl.com/y76nneoz, and thank you all for all your drool emojis, finger wags, requests for home delivery and just being so supportive of me over the years and I hope this doesn’t let you down.
I also want to add a huge thanks to my editor Kajal Mistry, photographer Patricia Niven, designers Not On Sunday and food stylist and hand holder Kathy Kordalis 😘