A couple of years ago, my sister and brother in-law introduced us to what they have coined “Beer Butt Chicken.” You can find a variety of recipes for this style of chicken online (boringly referred to as Beer Can Chicken), and Bobby Flay even sells his own special “rub” to apply to that Beer Can Chicken. It tops the list of best uses of chicken out there, and it requires minimal prep and delivers maximum bang for your taste buds.
For a good portion of the past two years, I was in the dark about the “secret rub” that was placed on the chicken with a beer can inside that was served to me. Innocently, I thought my brother-in-law had invented it himself because my sister-in-law had done such a good job at marketing it to us as “Jeff’s special rub.” I learned relatively recently that it can be bought in the store (or online!!). It’s called ”Szeged: The World’s Best Chicken Rub.” And they are not overpromoting their product. It really is good.
That is why we stocked up before the summer arrived, ordering three cans of the stuff on Amazon. BTW, if you don’t have a grill, you also adapt it to the oven (see cooking note below).
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for easy recipes and keeping guests in the dark about how easy they are, but I got to thinking recently could I invent a better, more improved rub using fresh herbs and ingredients? I actually didn’t know if it was possible because the World’s Best Chicken Rub was in my mind worthy of that title. Nor did I know whether it was worth the extra effort of chopping and rubbing or the expense required when the easy version is so good!
So we decided to have the “Beer Butt Chicken Off.” We would cook 2 whole beer can chickens right next to each other on the same grill and do a taste test to see which one was better.
On the left, weighing in at around 4.5 lbs, was “Traditional [Read: Easy to Make] Beer Butt Chicken” - a young brute of an animal, slathered inside and out with the store bought chicken rub combined with a hefty amount of extra virgin olive oil and sitting atop the “King of Beers.”
On the right, also weighing in around 4.5 lbs, was the “Delux-o-rama Beer Butt Chicken” – a sophisticated, slightly egocentric thing, slathered inside and out with a rub of olive oil, fresh cilantro, fresh basil, fresh parsley, fresh thyme, chopped garlic, lemon zest, cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, sea salt and ground pepper and sitting on top of our family’s favorite and more expensive microbrew, Dale’s Pale Ale.
The prep time for “Mr. Traditional” was a total of 3 minutes. The prep time for Mr. Delux-o-rama was 20.
Both beer can chickens got placed on a hot grill (hood down) for a little over an hour, sat for another fifteen and were sliced up by the lovely and talented knife skills master, my husband. The stage was set for “Beer Butt Chicken Off –2012.”
And the verdict is……
Well, both tasted very delicious. And there was a split on the voting among the three tasters. My 4 1/2 year old daughter voted for “Mr. Traditional.” Mom and dad decided that Mr. Delux-o-rama won out only marginally provided that you ground sea salt and fresh pepper on it before serving. Basically, we came to the conclusion that the World’s Best Chicken Rub has the perfect amount of salt combined with the rest of the mystery spices. It is yummy and earthier than its competitor. The Delux-o-rama bird was a bit milder and very “fresh” tasting. You could really taste the fresh herbs and the lemon zest. We’d probably be a bit more generous with the salt in the Delux-o-rama recipe next time around. I may also add a little bit of melted butter to give it a little more flavor (I’ve made these tweaks below).
My take on this whole experiment is if you are having a Sunday BBQ and serving kids and adults with paper plates DO NOT WASTE the precious 17 minutes chopping and slathering. The kids will like the premade rub better, and your guests will still think it is delicious. If you are serving a sit down dinner party of guests with a more sophisticated palette, you may decide to take the time to make the Delux-o-rama Rub. Having said all that, I’m not sure you need to use the Dale’s Pale Ale over the traditional Budweiser. I think any beer will do in a can. But I leave that decision up to you.
Traditional Beer Butt Chicken
1 4 lb chicken
4 tbsp Szeged Chicken Rub
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Budweiser (half full)
Combine the chicken rub and olive oil and rub the chicken inside and out. Be generous with the rub. Make more if you don’t feel like it is adequately covered inside and out. Insert the Budweiser can into the cavity (Butt!) of the chicken so it stands straight up. Cook on a pre-heated gas grill for 60-70 minutes. Assuming you can maintain a consistent temperature it should take about an hour. If you keep opening the lid to check on the birds every five minutes (sending the temperature of the grill plunging from 400 to 200) or if your gas happens to go out in the 3/4 of the way through cooking (as happened to us last night), leave it on a bit longer. Turn off the grill and let it sit on top of the grill for about 15 minutes and then slice.
NOTE: If you do not have a grill. You can simply replace the beer with a lemon. Cut the lemon in fours and squeeze into the cavity of the chicken, placing the leftover rinds inside. Cook on 400 for approximately 70-75 minutes. It’s a slightly different flavor, but tasty nonetheless.
Delux-o-rama Chicken Rub
1 4 lb chicken
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp melted butter
2 tbsp sea salt
ground pepper to taste
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp paprika
1/4 cup fresh cilantro finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley finely chopped
10-15 sprigs of fresh thyme (depending on size of sprig)
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tbsp lemon zest
Dale’s Pale Ale (half full)
Combine the olive oil and melted butter along with the rest of the ingredients and rub the chicken inside and out with the mixture trying to evenly apply all over. Insert the Dale’s Pale Ale can into the cavity (Butt!) of the chicken so it stands straight up. Cook on a pre-heated gas grill for 60-70 minutes. Assuming you can maintain a consistent temperature it should take about an hour (see above for how that might change).
Julie du Pont is a Darien resident, mom and lawyer. She blogs about food and entertaining on weekendtable.com