Beer-can cooking devices are basically upright chicken roasters with a reservoir for holding liquid. They originated from a novelty cooking method known as “beer-can chicken,” in which you impale a whole chicken on a can of beer and cook it on a grill. The beer-can technique really just wastes beer, since the top of the chicken cavity prevents steam from escaping, and tempts fate, since you’re essentially balancing a heavy, irregularly shaped piece of meat on a can of steaming hot liquid perched atop a fiery grill – not exactly an image of safety or finesse in cooking. Beer can devices, however, work on the same principles but pose less of a safety hazard.
Place the chicken on a plate lined with paper towels and cover it loosely with plastic film while it comes to room temperature. Whole chickens cook more evenly on a grill when started from room temperature than when started cold.
Turn the burners on medium-high on one side of the grill and close the lid. If using a charcoal grill, place about 25 to 35 briquettes one side of the grill and light them with a chimney starter. Close the lid and let the grill heat to between 350 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the giblets, if included, from the cavity of the chicken. Pull off any excess fat that hangs loosely inside and around the chicken cavity. Cut the tail remnant from the chicken with kitchen shears and discard it.
Rinse the chicken and pat it dry with paper towels. Place the chicken on a cutting board.
Rub the chicken inside and out with a liberal coating of oil that has some flavor and a high smoke point, such as peanut, canola or olive. Rub a small bit of butter on the outside of the chicken along with the oil, if desired.
Season the chicken to taste, including in the cavity, using kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper as the base. Add your choice of dried spices to the outside of the chicken, and add fresh spices, such as rosemary and thyme sprigs, and aromatic vegetables, such as whole crushed garlic cloves and shallots, to the inside of the cavity.
Pour your liquid of choice in the beer-can device’s reservoir to the fill line, or, if using a vertical roaster, add it to the drippings pan. In addition to beer, you can also use fruit juice and wine to impart aromas when cooking.
Insert your hand in the cavity to hold any herb sprigs or vegetables inside while you place the chicken on the roaster. Invert the chicken, cavity-end down, and impale it on the roaster’s vertical post while simultaneously removing your hand from the cavity.
Open the grill lid with your body and face away from it. Scrape the char from the grill grate using a wire grill brush. Place the vertical roaster on the unlit side of the grill and close the lid.
Cook the chicken for one hour and check the internal temperature of the thigh and breast using a probe thermometer. Rotate the vertical roaster 180 degrees every 15 to 20 minutes to distribute the heat on all sides of the chicken. Baste the chicken with the drippings using a long-handled ladle when you open the grill to rotate it.
Cook the chicken until the thigh and breast reach a minimum internal temperature of at least 165 F. Remove as much of the drippings and liquid as you can from the roaster using a long-handled ladle, and pour them in a baking dish. It’s safer to remove the vertical roaster from the grill when it doesn’t have hot fat and liquid in it.
Grasp the sides of the vertical roaster while wearing oven mitts and remove it from the grill. Place the roaster on a cooling pad and allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes per pound.
Slide the chicken from the roaster when it’s cool enough to handle. Gently spin the chicken while still on the post before lifting it away to loosen it in case it sticks. Remove the aromatics and vegetables from the cavity and sprinkle freshly chopped herbs on the skin, if desired.