The late Hank Lumpkin, co-founder of Boss Hawg’s Barbeque in Topeka, with his wife, Elizabeth, was a Beer Can Chicken fan.
Hank didn’t care why the chicken crossed the road as long as it straddled his can of beer when it crossed over. Befitting of barbecue jargon, Hank called it Beer Butt Chicken.
Call it what you will, Beer Can Chicken debunkery has revved up again these days in food media with the publication of Meathead Goldwyn’s outstanding new book, “Meathead — The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling.”
After reading Meathead or spinoffs inspired by Meathead, America’s backyard pitmasters may soon be drowning legions of drunken garden slugs with canned beer previously set aside for cooking. The Beer Can Chicken Myth has been busted!
Here’s what Meathead says about Beer Can Chicken not being “the best way to cook a bird.” My comments are in italics:
Half a can of beer with holes punched on top doesn’t get hot enough to emit steam inside a chicken carcass because the carcass insulates the beer like a koozie. I tested this with a full can of beer and a half full beer can, each pop-topped to avoid the Thunder Bird Reaction. I barbecued two chickens at 250 to 300 degrees for 3 hours. Meathead is correct: the chickens didn’t give up a single drop of beer.
Beer doesn’t add flavor to chicken.
True. My fully cooked chickens were moist and tender, gently kissed with pecan smoke and DennyMike’s Chick Magnet seasoning, but no beer flavor.
Beer can chicken is a health risk because the beer can cools the bird’s center, risking undercooked chicken.
Undercooked chicken, regardless of cooking method, is a health risk.
Beer can chicken wastes good beer.
“Waste” is a subjective value judgment, not science.
It’s an inferior cooking technique.
“Inferior” is a subjective value judgment, not science.
Final nail in Beer Can Chicken’s coffin: Fine dining restaurants don’t serve it because their chefs know “better ways to roast.”
A more relevant analogy for backyard barbecue cooks would be “barbecue restaurant pitmasters and competition barbecue cooks don’t serve Beer Can Chicken to customers or judges.”
How would Hank Lumpkin react to Beer Can Chicken debunking?
We’ll never know, but I imagine his first reaction would be an amused smile.
Proving that the Beer Can method doesn’t steam the bird’s cavity or enhance the flavor with beer is a valid basis for saying that the method doesn’t do what it purports to do. That’s objective science. Value judgments such as “waste” and “inferior” are subjective opinion.
Although I have a few more minor bones to pick with Meathead, I highly recommend his new book.
Meathead Goldwyn is one of the most thorough, passionate, genuine and downright fun barbecue entrepreneurs I have ever met. Although I’m closer to the Neanderthal end of the barbecue methods continuum than the science end, I get valuable insights from his writing and research.
Will I kick the can? I favor the spatchcock method as perfected by the late Giancarlo Giannelli in Tuscany.
I seldom use the Beer Can method, but now and then, regardless of the myth, I’ll roast a Beer Butt Chicken in honor of Hank Lumpkin. I raise a toast to Hank with six ounces and share the remaining six ounces with the chicken. Beats the heck out of feeding good beer to slugs!
Ardie Davis founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on food shows and writes for barbecue-related publications. His most recent releases are America’s Best BBQ (Revised Edition), with chef Paul Kirk, and Barbecue Lover’s Kansas City Style .