Best Beer for Beer Can Chicken (Both Lager & Ale Style Pairings)

Does beer can chicken actually taste like beer? What’s the point of a beer can? You might be surprised to find out the truth about beer can chicken. Let’s carve up the myth behind this cooking method and get to the truth behind beer can chicken.

The best beer for beer can chicken is whatever cheap can you have laying around – it doesn’t even have to have any beef left in it! The idea that the beer boils as the chicken cooks imparting flavor and moisture is untrue. To add a true beer flavor to your chicken, opt instead to use the beer in a marinade, a sauce, or baste the bird with it.

Let’s get to the bottom of this myth and find out how to actually get a beer taste into your chicken and why the beer can method doesn’t actually work.

Does it matter what kind of beer you use in beer can chicken?

If you’ve been to many barbecues, you’ve almost certainly seen the grillmaster stuff a half-drunk can of beer up an unsuspecting chicken’s backside and leave the bird to roast and soak up the condensed flavors of the beverage. It was probably a delicious piece of poultry, but did it actually taste like today’s beer of choice?

When it comes to beer can chicken, it doesn’t matter what beer you use. The purpose of the can is to make a more evenly cooked, more tender, juicier chicken. The flavor from the beer will not evaporate and therefore won’t be present in the taste of the chicken. You can, however, add beer flavor to your chicken with marinades and sauces.

Since chicken is cooked to an internal temperature of 160-165℉, and the temperature to boil water (and beer) is 212℉, the beer will never evaporate into the chicken and it will be like nothing happened to the beer.

The temperature of the grill is well above that 212℉ mark? I’m sure it is – but the chicken is insulating and cooking the beer can.

Still confused? Check out this video from Meathead Goldwyn for a great explanation (and a very helpful visual).

The best beer styles to use when cooking chicken

If you’re just getting starting with beer can chicken, you may be wondering the best type of beer. The good news is that answer’s shockingly simple: whatever kind you have on hand.

The ideal beer for beer can chicken is cheap, available, and flat. Since the beer won’t impart any flavor or moisture to the bird, use whatever you’re willing to waste. For other cooking methods, however, you should choose a beer whose flavors will complement the final meal without overwhelming it. A standard lager is always a good choice, but feel free to experiment!

While there may be some variation as to what’s appropriate for the dish, a good rule of thumb is that you probably don’t want to use any beer in the cooking process that you wouldn’t want to drink with the meal.

Let’s take a closer look at what ways beer can be used to flavor that beer-can roasted chicken.

How to add beer flavor to a roast chicken

If you can’t add beer flavor to chicken with the beer can method, how can you do it? There are three easy ways to add your favorite beer flavor to your next chicken dish.

Add beer flavor to your chicken through marinades, sauces, and basting. These methods guarantee that the beer flavor gets into or on your chicken.

Keep reading for a more detailed explanation of each method, plus a great recipe to try with your next roast chicken!

Marinades

A long, slow rest in a flavorful marinade is one of the best things you can do for most pieces of meat, and poultry is no exception.

One of the best marinades for chicken, in fact, is beer because it contains enzymes that break down the tough fibers in the chicken.

To add beer flavor to your chicken, include it in your marinade. Mix your choice of beer with oils, spices, and sugars to allow it to soak up the flavors and add moisture to the meat. Let your poultry sit in the marinade for a few hours (up to overnight) and grill when ready.

This recipe from The Spruce Eats is perfect for marinating chicken and other meats.

  • 4 oz Guinness Stout Beer, at room temperature
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon minced Vidalia onion
  • 1 teaspoon shallots, or you can use the white tips of a green onion
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh tarragon
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

If you made more than you need, this recipe also makes a great sauce. (Just make sure it hasn’t come in contact with any raw chicken!)

Sauces

Another great way to get beer flavor into your chicken is through a beer sauce. There are plenty of sauces that you can make with beer; use citrus beers for sweet chicken, or beers with chocolate malt notes for spicy chicken.

To add beer flavor to a roast chicken with sauce, use a beer that complements the rest of the ingredients used. For sweeter recipes, try a wheat beer. For spicier recipes, use a porter or stout. You’ll likely need half a cup of beer for your beer sauce recipe.

This recipe from Phoebe Wu at myrecipes.com makes a great honey beer sauce for roast chicken.

  • 2 teaspoons canola oil 
  • 4 (6 oz) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves 
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt 
  • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced shallots 
  • 1/2 cup beer 
  • 2 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce 
  • 1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard 
  • 1 tablespoon honey 
  • 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Basting

A third way to add beer flavor to your chicken is to baste your bird with beer.

Create a mixture of your favorite beer, butter, and herbs or spices, and baste your chicken while it’s cooking. Since the beer is directly on the chicken, the flavor will shine through and you will actually taste it. This will also keep your chicken juicy and tender.

Here’s a recipe for a tasty beer butter chicken baste:

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 12-oz bottle or can of your preferred beer
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/4 cup parsley
  • Pepper
  • Garlic Salt

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