Some people are of the belief that the ability to grill is inherent to the ability to light a fire. I have watched many times as the ‘grillmaster’ goes outside, lights the grill, then re-lights the grill - almost setting something (house, tree, patio furniture) on fire, has a few beers, whoops, adds more charcoal, a few more beers, then three hours later, someone, a very hungry person, takes over and finishes the job. This theory was recently proven true. My friend Jason went to a cooking class presented by a famous American chef known for his grilling prowess who expressed that there are two types of people, those that can grill and those who think they can grill.
My old man can grill. It’s a craft really. Very few people I know can do it well. There are too many variables, you can’t really give specific instructions, like, say a temperature. Different types of charcoal burn differently. Much like our traditional birthday and Father’s day breakfasts it is traditional on these days for Jim to cook dinner for us. I’m not sure how this tradition got started but he’s happy with it. The kids got Jim Steve Raichlen’s new book, Planet Barbecue! for Father’s Day. Steve’s been good to Jim over the years; he’s offered numerous valuable tips in his other books. When I read his recipes he sounds very patient. I would say if you really want to know how to grill, check Steve out. More importantly he’s reliable and somewhat of a barbecue anthropologist.
Jim decided the first recipe we’d test out of Steve’s new book would be beer can chicken. Yup. Beer. Can. Chicken. This delighted the children. To help me with my sense of horror Jim knew just what to do. He knows I can choke down anything I perceive as having a questionable pedigree if it is somehow ‘fancied’ or ‘neatened’ up (which inspired me to make fancy pizza for dinner tonight; that’s right watch for my pizza ‘recipe’ tomorrow). Steve had Jim’s back on this one. His recipe for the beer can chicken was marinated in an Asian pesto. I could handle a beer can bird covered in green sauce.
I had never had beer can chicken before. I’ve never had a turducken either (neither has Jim, or so he insists). I’m sure there are a whole host of other items from the same menu I need to try. I think part of the problem is I can only imagine how either of these recipes came into existence. I picture some gentleman having a culinary epiphany resulting from the consumption of a case of beer, resulting in such commentary as: ‘Why don’t we shove this here beer can up that chicken’s ass and GRILL it!’ or alternatively: ‘Hey, I just had an idea, why don’t we shove a chicken up a duck’s butt and then let’s shove that duck up a turkey’s butt and then let’s DEEP FRY the mother!‘ Steve did not document the true anthropology of the dish; his recipe hails from Australia.
Honestly, I would have written about our Asian inspired rice noodle salad I made to go with it if I could remember the proportions I put in there but cocktail hour starts an hour earlier on Sundays. I’ll tell you it had rice noodles, carrot, asparagus and cucumber ribbons, green onion, mung bean sprouts, cilantro, thai basil, mint and toasted un-salted peanuts. It was dressed with a healthy dose of fish sauce, peanut oil, turbinado sugar, soy sauce, lime juice, hot water and rooster sauce. The sharp flavors and textures went really well with Steve’s smoky, Asian-y beer can chicken.
Oh and let me apologize about the picture. Apparently I photographed it from the wrong end and according to Jim it may be seen as vulgar.
Beer Can Chicken with Asian Pesto adapted from Planet Barbecue! by Steve Raichlen
1 - 4lb. chicken
1/2 of a 12 oz. can of beer
6 green onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 stalks lemongrass (Our local grocery store was out so we used about 2 tablespoons of the kind from a tube, but if you get the real deal, chop it up)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 - 2” piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
Put everything for the marinade, except the oil, in a food processor, pulse a few times until it’s pasty, but not goop, turn on and stream in oil to emulsify. Spoon some in the cavities, then coat the outside of the bird with it. Steve says to marinade it for 3 hours, we did not have that luxury of time. Soak 2 cups of wood chips or chunks in a bucket of water or beer or beer/water combo (we just did the water and just did it for 20 minutes as it was Sunday in Georgia (no beer to spare) and 6:30 (hungry kids). Steve recommends an at least an hour and I’m sure he’s probably right.
Prepare your grill for indirect heat (coals to one side or two sides, but not directly under your bird), light coals, set large pan in the center of the grill or put some aluminum foil on the grate under the bird to avoid flare ups. Jim has a special beer can chicken holder device thingy; it secures the beer and therefore the chicken, putting the bird into a sparring like position. Drink half of the beer, or in Jim’s case, accidentally drink more than half, finish the first beer, go get another and repeat. Add two more holes to the top of the can. Place the 1/2 can of beer in the holder or on the pan. Seat the chicken on top so it sits on top of the can, place chicken on on a can over the drip pan or foil in center of grill, add in the wood chips. Cover. Watch it and if it starts getting too brown, tent the overly browned side with foil. Steve says 1.25 hours and that’s how long ours took. It came out looking lacquered. It was really quite good.
Notes: Jim was apprehensive for me to list this blog since I didn’t cook it and he has not yet perfected the recipe. I rack it up to it being part of our culinary landscape and I’ll certainly update the recipe as we do.