Beer Butt Chicken
This method of roasting chicken has been around tailgate parties for years but became an overnight sensation after it was published in John Madden's tailgate party cookbook in 1999. If you read the Food section of your local paper, you've seen a recipe.
Beer-butt chicken is simply a vertically-roasted chicken, but in place of the vertical roaster (such as Spanek), a can of beer (top removed) is used. You also need a kettle grill with a lid high enough to cover the chicken. As with any indirect-heat method, a charcoal grill works best, since the coals can be arranged in a perimeter around a drip pan supporting the roaster set in the bottom.
The technique is tailgate-simple. Season the chicken well inside and out. Marinate the bird if you like in your favorite marinade*, or use one of the more popular brining methods. Make sure the bird is room temperature before roasting. Drink half of a can of beer and remove the top. Put some chopped onion and whole garlic cloves inside the beer can. Shove the can into the bird's cavity (you may need an assistant to hold the can upright while you impale the bird). Set the bird upright in a small roasting pan inside the grill (easier said than done). Close the lid and leave it alone for 2½ to 3 hours. The bird is done when the wing elbow joints are loose (180°F thigh temperature). Remove from grill and place on a carving board under a foil tent for 15 minutes, then carve.
(*John Madden's technique is to make a marinade with the beer, marinate the bird for at least two hours, then pour the beer marinade back into the can with chopped onion and garlic.)
The idea behind this is that the beer can will help cook the bird from the inside. But in my experience, the vertical roaster is easier to use and does a better job. The beer is supposed to moisten and flavor the chicken, and it may, but the vertical roaster also produces a moist chicken, and the seasonings and marinade dominate any flavoring effect. (Look, if you really like beer-flavored chicken, you can just put beer in the marinade. I tried it, but it tastes bland compared to more acidic marinades. Even a vinaigrette salad dressing works better.)
My biggest problem with the beer can is stability. You have to position the legs just right to keep the bird upright, then hope it doesn't tip over.
Beer-butt chicken is a technique, not a recipe. Try it out, have fun with your tailgate party guests. You can use our recipe for Pollo a lo Oaxaca and use a beer can instead of a vertical roaster. Then go out and buy a Spanek.