Beer can chicken finds new life in this wild game recipe adaptation that uses a smaller can to fit a smaller bird.
There’s no better time than the start of 2021 to try something different, right? That could mean a new beverage or vertical roasting birds or both. Upland birds such as chukar and pheasant are too small to fit on your standard beer can, but they will sit snug on thinner White Claw or other hard seltzer cans. And yes, I made fun of hard seltzers until my wife asked me to pick up some; I tried them and discovered I have no shame.
The concept of “beer can chicken” has been around for a while now and, though fans of it rave about its flavor potential, the truth is that beer and spices inside the can do absolutely nothing for the flavor. Sure, you can make gravy from those liquids and chicken juices, but the true appeal of the beer-can-chicken phenomenon is an evenly wood-fire-roasted bird. Even then, cooking experts will argue that having the aluminum can in the cavity of the bird inhibits even heat distribution, but for our comparatively smaller game birds with smaller cavities and less meat overall, I have not found this to be an issue.
I do recommend using some sort of baking or pizza steel, because when the White-Claw-stuffed-bird is placed atop it while over a fire, heat will rise from the thick steel and help to thoroughly cook those wild legs. And of course you can use a vertical poultry roaster (assuming it’s thin enough to fit in the cavity of upland birds) or even a Red Bull can, though I recommend thoroughly rinsing out any can prior to using it for roasting (which means no, you aren’t using a half-consumed can for this recipe).
Ideally you want the bird propped up vertically a few inches from the flames of a wood fire. What wood you use is up to you, though I believe pecan and hickory are great choices. Flames should never come in contact with the bird; their indirect heat will slowly roast the bird as you turn it every 10-15 minutes. Make certain to brine the bird and coat with olive oil prior to roasting to avoid drying out.
Ingredients for Two Servings
1 White Claw or similar-size can
1 average-size chukar, ideally plucked
For the Brine:
1 gallon cold water
½ cup kosher salt
½ cup white sugar
½ cup whole black peppercorns
1 cup fresh garlic, smashed
8 ounces (½ pound) fresh ginger, smashed
- Brine bird according to brine instructions for 6-8 hours and be certain to THOROUGHLY RINSE after brining.
- Pat dry and place in fridge overnight (with plenty of ventilation) to dry skin.
- Start wood fire in grill, ideally on one half and leave other half untouched.
- Place baking or pizza steel half in middle (half on fire side and half on non-fire side).
- Drink all that White Claw goodness and use can to stuff bird (can will serve as pedestal).
- Rub chukar with olive oil and place bird upright near edge of steel, inches from the fire. Rotate every 10 minutes for evenly crispy skin.
- For my grill setup, the roasting temp hovered around 325 degrees F, but I opted for crisper skins so I left the bird on for longer after an internal temp of 160 was reached. More than likely, it should take 45 to 90 minutes (depending on size of your fire) for legs to hit 180 degrees and breasts 160 degrees. After that, it is your choice how crisp you want the skin to be.
- Once skin is crisp and to your liking, and meat thoroughly cooked, pull bird with tongs or fire-resistant gloves and allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving.
Jack Hennessy grew up in the South Suburbs of Chicago and didn't start hunting until he attended graduate school in Spokane, Washington, at the age of 26. Hennessy began work in professional kitchens in high school but didn't start writing wild game recipes until he joined the Spokesman-Review in 2014. Since then, his recipes have appeared with Petersen's Hunting, Backcountry Journal, Gun Dog Magazine, among many others. He now lives with his wife, daughter, and Wirehaired Vizsla, Dudley, in Wichita, Kansas.