The exact history of this culinary technique is lost to the greasy fingers of time, but the most widely-accepted origin places it at college universities around the 70's and 80's. Some frat boy presumably shoved a beer can up a chicken's ass and stood it on the grill as a joke, then quickly discovered that this is a pretty good way to cook the bird. The vertical orientation allows the skin to brown evenly (three cheers for the Maillard Reaction!) while the fat renders away clean, leaving a crisp skin.
It's my belief that the beer doesn't really provide much flavor to the meat. Because you're adding a strong flavor on the skin with the rub, I doubt you'd be able to detect any beer-like notes in the meat. Some say the beer adds additional moisture to the bird, but I don't know about that. Even with an oven temp of 350, the beer never heats up to the point that it will steam. As the guys from AmazingRibs.com have said, you are essentially wrapping your beer in a chicken coozie.
Honestly, the beer can is just there to provide stability: the third leg of the tripod created by the chicken's legs. That's it.
So spend your time building flavor with the rub and the smoke and you'll have an amazingly flavorful chicken afterward.
Here's the rub I used:
- 1/4 cup Brown Sugar
- 1/4 cup Paprika
- 3 tbs Kosher Salt
- 1tbs Black Pepper
- 1 tbs Garlic Powder
- 1 tbs Onion Powder
- 1 tbs Chili Powder
- 1 tsp Cumin
Rub some olive oil on the bird and sprinkle the rub liberally over the chicken. Rub it in to all the nooks and crannies. Be sure to get some rub on the inside cavities as well.
I stuck a chunk of onion into the neck cavity at the top, It didnt do anything for the chicken, but it sure tasted good. That's the chef's treat.
Get your smoker or grill set up for indirect cooking. (coals on one side, meat on the other). Place a chunk or two of your choice of smoking wood on the coals. (I used mesquite, but any aromatic wood will do)
Keep your smoker at 325 deg or less. After about 2 hours, you should have an internal temperature in the breast of 165.
Take off the smoker, wrap loosely with foil and let it rest for at least 15 minutes. (30 is better)
Cut, serve, bask in the glory of happy diners.