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Counter Intelligence: Beer-can chicken is a dream

Carefully stand the chicken, with the beer can inserted, on your grill, then forget it for just over an hour.
The final product, crispy, tender and juicy, all at once.
All the ingredients for a delicious and simple grilled chicken.

By April Hamilton

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — I’m no movie critic, but the food lover in me needs to share the good news of the fabulous film “The Hundred Foot Journey.”

I guess I’ve been hiding under a rock. I didn’t realize that the dream team of Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey had produced this cinematic gem.

While teaching a cooking class at the Capitol Market recently, something I said or did during the presentation prompted a participant to ask, ”Have you seen ‘The Hundred Foot Journey’?” I stopped mid-chop and looked up to inquire. I knew nothing of it! When the details of its richness emerged in our discussion, I put it at the top of my to-do list. Date night!

Released to great reviews earlier this month, the film engages all the senses and keeps you craving more, pulling at your heartstrings with its tender stories of love, family and tragedy while tempting the taste buds throughout. Think classic French beef bourguignon updated with an accent of Indian spices.

I fell in love with it instantly, drawn in by an early scene where a boy and his mom are cooking together in their village in India when tragedy strikes. This unfortunate turn of events leaves the family to find a new life in another part of the world.

In this fantastic new setting, where ethnic harmony ensues, a young chef embraces his craft with his whole heart. To his surprise, he is gifted a treasure from his former life, a collection of spices from his native land. With this gift, he sprinkles his signature liberally on all the succulent dishes he creates. He awakens a simple omelet with his secret spices and urges those in his company to cook outside the lines.

Again, I’m not authorized to review films, but this one is a must-see for anyone who loves food, romance, drama and a breathtaking setting. I will surely see it again soon; I want to be sure I didn’t miss a single taste of this delight.

I love a traditional roast chicken, but to salute the exotic flavors of this film, I give you:

Spice Crusted Beer Can Chicken

Roast chicken is good, and this is better — a perfect BBQ dish for the long weekend. My husband called it “dream dinner” and my daughter asked, “Why don’t you always make chicken this way?” Good question! It’s hands-off easy and impressively gorgeous. The spice mixture is also great on salmon and pork. Adapted from Steven Raichlen’s “The Barbecue! Bible.”

1 12-ounce can beer

1 whole chicken (3 to 4 pounds), cavity cleaned out

About 3 tablespoons Spice Rub (recipe below)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 cup wood chips, soaked in ¾ cup water or beer (for smoking, optional)

Prepare grill for medium indirect heat.

Open the beer and pour out ½ to ¾ cup (if you have wood chips for smoking, the chips can be soaked in this extra beer). Using a church key-style can opener, make 2 small holes in the top of the can. Set aside.

Rinse the chicken and discard the fat inside the body and neck cavities. Drain well and blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels.

Sprinkle the cavities with about 2 teaspoons of the rub.

Drizzle the oil on the chicken and sprinkle with about 2 tablespoons of the rub, coating evenly. Gently spoon 1 teaspoon of the rub into the large hole in the beer can.

Slide the large cavity of the chicken over the beer can, forming a “tripod” with the legs angled forward to keep the chicken balanced upright on the grill.

If using wood chips, toss the soaked, drained chips over the charcoal, or into a smoker box or pouch if using a gas grill.

Stand the chicken up in the center of the hot grate.

Cover the grill and cook the chicken until the skin is dark golden brown and crisp and a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 180° on an instant-read thermometer, about 1¼ hours. This is almost a “set it and forget it” concept — be careful lifting the lid so that the chicken doesn’t fall over.

Using good grilling tongs, carefully lift the chicken off the grill and transfer it in an upright position to a platter. Let it rest 5 minutes, then carefully lift it off the can. (Be really careful with the spicy can of hot beer.)

Carve the chicken and serve.

Spice Rub

Makes a scant half-cup.

2 tablespoons coarse salt

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons sweet paprika

1 tablespoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients and store in a spice jar or other airtight container for up to 6 months.

April Hamilton has always said, “Cooking is fun!” She shares her easy, practical recipes for delicious food through her cooking classes for kids and families. April’s husband and three daughters help with testing and tasting in their Charleston kitchen. April would love to hear from you at Hungry for more? Visit, and follow her on Facebook at

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