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Summer Grilling: Part II
Beer Can Chicken & Useful Grill Tips
By Kirk Leins

Summer Grilling: Part II - Beer Can Chicken & Useful Grill Tips - By Kirk Leins

To conclude my homage to the summer barbecue, I thought it would be best to hand out some utilitarian advice, painted in broad strokes, as opposed to a tutorial on a specific recipe or technique. The reason is that barbecuing/grilling is a huge subject, one that no chef or food writer on this planet could completely tackle in two articles. To concentrate on one area of grilling wouldn't be fair to you, the reader, or the subject of grilling. In that spirit, here are some great tips to improve your overall barbecue-ability. But first, here is the recipe for Beer Can Chicken, which I prepared in the video!

Beer Can Chicken (serves 2-4)

  • (1) 3 1/2 - 4 pound chicken, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 portion of the chipotle/lime marinade (from Summer Grilling: Part I)
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 can of beer, room temperature
  • 1 large freezer bag or turkey roasting bag
  • an old roasting pan or cookie sheet

The day before cooking, place the chicken and marinade inside the freezer bag. Be sure to reserve a 1/4 cup (or so) of the marinade for basting. Seal the bag and allow the marinade to fully coat the chicken. Refrigerate overnight. On the day of cooking, remove the bag with the marinated chicken from the refrigerator, allowing it to come close to room temperature. Preheat a gas grill or light a charcoal grill. If your grill has a thermometer, keep the temperature between 350 and 400 degrees. Remove the chicken from the bag and wipe off the excess marinade. Season the bird liberally with salt and pepper. Place 1/2 empty beer can in the middle of the roasting pan. Stand the chicken upright on the pan by placing the opening of the chicken's cavity over the beer can. The beer can, along with the tips of both drumsticks, should produce a tri-pod effect. Place the roasting pan with the chicken on top of the grill and close the cover. Allow the bird to roast for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, basting with any reserved marinade during the last 10 to 15 minutes of cooking. The chicken is done when the drumsticks pull away easily from the body and the chicken's juices run clear. A reading of 160 degrees from an instant-read thermometer, inserted into the thickest part of the chicken breast, is another indication your chicken is ready. Allow chicken to rest for 10 minutes before carving. Be careful when removing the chicken from the pan. The pan and the can will both be very hot.

So, there you go, an excellent recipe made from one of last issue's delicious marinades. Speaking of which, don't be afraid to use any of the marinades when making Beer Can Chicken.

Now, let's take a look at some additional tips which will help to improve your barbecue experience!

Quality food starts with quality products
There's a tendency to think that charring a piece of meat over fiery hot coals and drowning it in barbecue sauce can turn an inferior piece of meat into something pretty good. I say, "Phooey!" As with any other cooking, a great finished product requires equally great ingredients.

When shopping for meat or fish for the grill, it's very important that you deal with butchers and fishmongers who can make proper suggestions and answer your questions correctly. The last thing you want is to pay good money for something better suited for a frying pan.

Avoid basting with sugary sauces too early in the cooking process
The reason is sugar burns, and it burns quickly. Swabbing your food with these types of sauces too early is a guaranteed way to end up with food that's charred black on the outside and is raw on the inside. Instead, wait until the final moments of cooking before adding sauce.

Also, if the meat or fish you're cooking has been marinating, make sure to drain off any excess liquid and pat dry. No matter the marinade, it will drip onto the fire if it's left on the meat. The oils and sugars within the marinade will cause flaming and, in turn, burn your food.

Room temperature is a beautiful thing
Another sure-fire way to ruin your barbecue is to take food directly from the refrigerator to the grill. When a piece of meat is cold, it cooks differently than when it's at room temperature. Ergo, it is highly important to allow your food to sit out (covered, of course) for an hour or so, depending on the density of the meat you're cooking. Doing otherwise will cause the outside of the meat to cook at a different rate than the inside, yielding an improperly cooked finished product.

Know your heat source
Having a grill or barbecue that evenly distributes the heat is far less important than knowing how the heat is distributed. The reason is you can use this information to your advantage, especially when cooking for large groups of people. Knowing how the heat breaks down allows you to strategically position various cuts of meat as well as cook in batches.

Finding the hot spot is not nearly as hard as it may sound. Prior to cooking, simply pass your hand 3 to 4 inches above the entire surface of the grill. Take notice of which spots are hottest and vice versa. Use these hot spots at the start of cooking to put grill marks on food like burgers, steaks, and chops. After flipping them over, or as food is added to the grill, move the meat towards areas which give off less heat. This allows for maximum production, while giving you the ability to cook food to specific degrees of doneness.

Brush, Brush, Brush
You know the steel brush that's sitting in your grill's utensil tray? Use it! And after you use it, use it again and again and again. You may think I'm joking, but I'm absolutely serious. The more you brush your grill before cooking on it, the better your grill will be. Here's why.

Most grills are made of cast iron or similar materials. In any case, these metals are very porous. Once the grill is heated, the pores open and expand. During this time, oils from any previously cooked food are released from the grill's surface. These oils not only allow for easy cleaning but they flavor the grill and create a nearly non-stick surface. Once the grill is completely heated, brush it over and over for at least five minutes. The more you do this, the more benefits you will reap.

The Problem with Chicken
For many people, chicken on the bone poses a huge problem, resulting in burnt skin and undercooked meat. This issue can be handled in a couple of ways. One is to cook your chicken over a very low heat, diligently turning it and moving it around the grill. Another method is to pre-cook your chicken by either poaching it lightly in chicken broth or baking it. Once the chicken pieces are 3/4 cooked through, brush it with sauce and put it on the grill. This will allow the skin to become perfectly crispy while completely cooking the meat.

To avoid overcooking the chicken, the best thing to do is check the temperature using an instant-read thermometer which can be purchased for less than $10. Breasts should register between 160 and 165 degrees. Thighs and legs should be 175 to 180 degrees.

There you go, folks. Follow these tips and you're sure to improve your grilling skills. Happy barbecuing!

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