Smoked Beer Can Chicken

4.34 from 12 votes
4.34 from 12 votes

The classic way to smoke chicken in your backyard. This smoked beer can chicken recipe is a twist on poultry like no other. Find out everything you need to know with our tips and techniques for the best BBQ beer can chicken.

smoked beer can chicken

This smoked beer can chicken is the classic barbecue showstopper that always goes down a hit. Prepared with our hit BBQ chicken dry rub and cooked over applewood, this chicken centerpiece balances sweet with smokey perfectly.

Best of all, it only takes a couple of hours to smoke, making it a great recipe for barbecue newbies or smoke fans wanting a fuss-free dinner that doesn’t need an afternoon dedicated to it.

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barbecue glazed beer can chicken

What is Beer Can Chicken?

The concept around beer can chicken is simple: Mount a whole chicken on a half-filled beer can, then smoke it on your smoker or backyard grill. Fans of the barbecue dish believe that as the beer temperature rises, it steams and infuses the chicken with moisture and flavor.

While the impact on flavor that the beer has is very much up for debate, there are benefits of beer can chicken. 

One clear benefit is that the vertical positioning of the bird ensures even cooking all over when compared to when it’s placed horizontally on your smoker’s grates. All sides of the bird are exposed to convection heat, meaning we get an even coverage of crackly skin. No need to flip the meat or rotate it. Once you’ve set it, you’re good to go.

Another advantage is that the insertion of the can negates the need for trussing the chicken legs in the same way that traditional roast chickens are. Again, this also allows for better heat exposure, allowing both the white and dark meat around the leg area to cook evenly. This is especially beneficial in the case of dark meat, which is juicy and tender if allowed to reach a temperature closer to 170°F (76°C). By not trussing the legs, we’re allowing the dark meat to come to that temperature at the same rate as the breast meat.

How to Smoke Beer Can Chicken

  1. Fire Up: Preheat your smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit (120 Celsius)
  2. Meat Prep: Remove the chicken giblets and then apply a thin layer of olive oil to the skin
  3. Season: Season your chicken with our homemade BBQ dry rub, covering evenly and working it into any crevices or folds along the chicken surface
  4. Mount: Open a can of beer and empty half of it. Pierce two additional holes in the top of the can. Place the chicken on top of the can so that the can fits inside the entire cavity
  5. Smoke: Place the mounted chicken on an aluminum pan and then transfer to your smoker’s grates. Smoke for two hours to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 Celsius)
  6. Eat: Remove from heat, rest for ten minutes, then carve to serve!

Beer Can Chicken Holder

Despite what everyone says, propping up the chicken on the grill isn’t easy. You’re effectively trying to form a tripod out of the beer can and the chicken’s two legs, and then hope that holds in the grill for well over an hour.

Purists might be up in arms over me suggesting such a thing, but there’s no harm in pulling in a little outside help with this. I recommend getting a beer can chicken holder, like this one on Amazon. It makes the whole thing much easier and lets you get on with, you know, actually cooking the chicken.

Dry Rub

A lot of people have a go-to chicken rub, so start thinking about what you would like for yours. While you can easily buy one from your local store or online, where’s the fun in that?

I recommend making your own. It’s quick and easy, and gives you so much control over the flavors and spice levels of your rub.

If you don’t know where to start, try our beer can chicken rub. It’s packed with paprika, thyme, chili powder, and cayenne to give a really well-rounded rub… with a bit of a kick. The ingredients are:

  • 2 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp ground black pepper

Simply combine all the ingredients in a small bowl, using a fork to remove or crush any lumps that form (it happens). Try to make the rub as fine as possible so it’s easier to apply to the chicken.

Smoking Wood

The best smoking woods for chicken are fruitwoods that infuse the meat with mild, sweet flavors, like apple, pecan, cherry, and maple. Look for a fruitwood that will complement the chicken rather than overwhelm it, so avoid hardwoods like mesquite and oak.

For our barbecue beer can chicken, we’re using applewood. It’s our go-to choice as the best wood to smoke chicken thanks to its mild and subtly sweet flavor, letting the flavor of our chicken and dry rub come through.

Quick Tips

  1. Use a drip pan to catch runoff juices from the chicken. Because the cavity is facing downwards, this could get a little bit messy, and we want to shield your coals from fat.
  2. Don’t forget to spread a thin layer of olive oil over the chicken skin before you apply the dry rub. Not only will this help prevent the chicken from turning dry, but it will also help give you beautifully crispy chicken skin.
beer can chicken recipe

Smoked Beer Can Chicken

4.34 from 12 votes
The classic way to smoke chicken in your backyard. This smoked beer can chicken recipe is a twist on poultry like no other.
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time2 hours
Total Time2 hours 10 minutes
Servings: 4



  • 4 lbs whole chicken
  • ½ can beer
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Dry Rub

  • 2 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp ground black pepper


  • Fire up smoker to 250°F (120°C). If using a charcoal or pellet grill, ensure you have set up for indirect 2-zone cooking.
  • Prepare the chicken by removing the giblets. Discard them entirely. Rinse the chicken thoroughly inside and out under cold running water. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.
  • Open the can of beer and pierce two more additional holes in the top of the can. Set the can to one side at room temperature.
  • In a small bowl, combine all the dry rub ingredients, using a fork to remove or crush any lumps that form
  • Apply a thin layer of olive oil to the chicken skin, covering it evenly
  • Apply the dry rub to the chicken, working it across the entire surface and inside the cavities. Leave a teaspoon of the BBQ rub.
  • Put the remaining BBQ rub into the beer through the top of the can (it may foam up a bit)
  • Hold the bird upright with the body cavity opening at the bottom. Lower carefully onto the beer so that the entire body of the can fills the cavity.
  • Once the can is in place, leverage the legs of the bird so that it can stand independently with the legs and can forming a kind of tripod.
  • Place drip pan beneath smoker grates to catch any juices or run-off from the chicken. Add wood chips to coals or wood tray.
  • Carefully place chicken on your smoker grates. Close the door/lid and smoke to an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C), about 2 hours. The chicken skin should turn golden brown and start to crispy.
  • Once cooked, use tongs to remove the chicken from the grill and carefully transfer to chopping board to rest. Keep the chicken upright at all times. Rest for 10 minutes before removing the can (it will be hot!)
  • Carve your chicken according to your preference and serve

About the Author

Ben Isham-Smith

A BBQ obsessive, Ben is behind 250+ of The Online Grill’s recipes, as well as countless barbecue guides to help barbecue newbies get to grips with the world’s best form of cooking.

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