How to Elevate Beer Can Chicken to the Throne of Delicousness

Tommy Habetz puts a Tex-Mex spin on a lowbrow classic.

By Benjamin Tepler June 14, 2013 Published in the July 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Nomad

Is there anything more beautifully brazen than a whole chicken, perched on a metallic throne of beer and charred to a golden crisp over an open flame? We certainly don’t think so. In our minds, beer can chicken falls into the same, deeply beloved culinary category as deep-fried turkey: simple, effective, and deliciously lowbrow. Zealots stake their reputations on its transformative qualities, praising moist, beer-steeped meat with hoppy high notes and malty undertones. 

Bunk Sandwiches co-owner Tommy Habetz puts his own Tex-Mex twist on the BBQ classic, marinating the bird in a spicy mix of chiles, citrus, and dark beer before cleaving it lengthwise and serving it slathered with a sweet, nutty mole sauce. Habetz explains that the key to achieving a moist interior and crispy exterior is the can itself, which ensures that the legs and wings cook evenly while the chicken effectively self-bastes in its unruffled vertical pose. “To be honest, none of the beer flavor really gets into the chicken,” says Habetz, gleefully debunking many a grillside fairytale. “You might as well use a Coke can—but where’s the fun in that?”

The two most important steps to beer can chicken success? 1) Don’t splurge on craft brews; lower-shelf Tecate is just as effective as your favorite summer seasonal. 2) Open the beer can before propping your chicken; otherwise it will explode. And that, Habetz reminds us, would be a waste of a perfectly good cheap beer.  

Beer Can Chicken

(Serves 8–12)

  • 2–3 chickens, 3 lbs each 
  • Yucatan marinade*
  • 2–3 24-oz tallboy beers (Habetz recommends Tecate)
  • Hazelnut mole**

Submerge birds in marinade and refrigerate 48 hours. Open beers and drink half of each. Insert half-filled beer cans halfway into each chicken cavity and stand them upright on the grill. (Make sure chickens will fit under your grill cover—if they don’t, substitute 12-oz beer cans.) Grill chickens over medium-high, indirect heat (not directly above coals), covered, until a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees in the breast, 180 degrees in the thigh (about an hour and 15 minutes). Remove chickens from heat and let rest 15 minutes. Slather with hazelnut mole sauce and serve. 

*Yucatan Marinade

  • 12 dried ancho chiles, deseeded
  • 12 dried guajillo chiles, deseeded
  • 20 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 12-oz bottle Negra Modelo
  • 2 tsp achiote powder or annatto seed
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 tbsp salt

Submerge chiles in hot water and soak for 20 minutes. Remove chiles and purée them with ½ cup of the soaking liquid. Add remaining ingredients, and purée.

**Hazelnut Mole Sauce

  • 2 dried ancho chiles, deseeded
  • 2 dried New Mexico chiles, deseeded
  • 1 dried guajillo chile, deseeded
  • 1 head garlic
  • ½ cup roasted hazelnuts
  • 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cups water (divided)
  • 1 cup crushed tortilla chips
  • 1 cup tomato purée
  • ¼ cup golden raisins
  • 1 oz bittersweet chocolate
  • 2 tbsp molasses
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ cup lime juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat full head of garlic in olive oil and salt, and wrap in tin foil. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet. Add garlic and hazelnuts to oven, removing hazelnuts after 10 minutes and garlic after 30 minutes. Submerge chiles in hot water and soak for 20 minutes. Drain chiles and roast in a cast-iron skillet over high heat for 5 minutes. Saute onion in olive oil over medium-high heat until browned around the edges. Squeeze garlic to separate from its skin—discard the skin. Add chiles, garlic, hazelnuts, and onion to a food processor, along with 1 cup of water, tortilla chips, and almonds, and purée, adding more water if needed. Pour mixture into a medium saucepan and add remaining water, tomatoes, and raisins. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 1 hour and 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Add chocolate, molasses, cinnamon, cloves, and lime juice, season to taste with salt and pepper, and simmer another 15 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool, and purée until smooth.

In the Kitchen with Tommy Habetz

Filed under
Show Comments