Beer-brined BBQ chicken relies on a relatively quick and unconventional brine to lend a tender juiciness to grilled chicken. The spice rub and sauce bring all the flavor you could want.
This is hands down a brilliant method to master when cooking whole chicken on a barbecue. Taking the time to brine the chicken in a mixture of beer, salt, and sugar will make all the difference to the final texture. And that’s not all: once brined, making a spice mixture to coat a spatchcocked chicken ramps flavor like nothing else. Until, that is, you begin basting the chicken with the sauce—mayonnaise made punchy with miso, mustard, and cider vinegar. This American-style barbecue chicken is outrageously good. It’s my guess you’ll never barbecue a chicken any other way again.–Claire Thomson
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Beer-Brined BBQ Chicken FAQs
What’s the best way to tell when the chicken is done?
Buy a meat thermometer. They are inexpensive and will give you rock-solid assurance when the meat is ready to serve; no ifs, no buts.
Can I make beer-brined bbq chicken in the oven?
To make this chicken in the oven, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Roast the chicken, basting often with the sauce, until the chicken juices run clear when skewered in the thickest part of the leg, and the internal temperature reads 165°F [74°C] on a meat thermometer, 60 to 75 minutes. Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before carving.
Beer-Brined BBQ Chicken
For the chicken
- Generous 1/3 cup warm water
- 5 tablespoons coarse salt
- 1/4 cup superfine sugar (or blitz granulated sugar in a food processor until finely ground but not powdery)
- 2 3/4 cups light beer such as lager
- 1 whole (about 3lb 5oz) chicken
For the spice rub
- 1 tablespoon sweet or hot paprika
- 1 tablespoon mustard powder
- 1 to 2 teaspoons chile powder (chipotle, if you have it)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground coarse black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
For the sauce
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- Generous 1/3 cup cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground coarse black pepper
- 1 clove of garlic crushed
- 1 teaspoon superfine sugar (or blitz granulated sugar in a food processor until finely ground but not powdery)
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon miso (optional)
To serve (optional)
- 1/2 to 1 napa cabbage or other cabbage cored, leaves thinly sliced
- 1/2 small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves picked and chopped
- Good bread
Brine the chicken
- In a large deep bowl or stockpot, stir together the warm water, salt, and sugar until dissolved. Pour in the beer and top off with 3 3/4 cups of cold water. Place the chicken in the brine, adding more cold water if necessary to completely immerse the chicken. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 12 hours.
- Remove the chicken and discard the brine. Pat dry with paper towels.
- To spatchcock the chicken, place it on a large rimmed baking sheet, breast-side down. Using sharp kitchen scissors, cut along both sides of the backbone. Remove the backbone and flip the chicken over so that the breast side is now up. Press down firmly to flatten the chicken. If you have time, refrigerate, uncovered, for another hour to further dry out the chicken (this will help ensure crisp skin).
Make the spice rub
- In a small bowl, combine the paprika, mustard powder, chile powder, cumin, and black pepper. Rub this all over the chicken and then rub in the olive oil.
- Prepare the grill for indirect heat. (If you’re using a gas grill, this means turning off the center burner and reducing the side burners to medium. If you’re using charcoal, place the coals to heat up on one side of the grill.)
- Place the chicken, breast-side up, over indirect heat. Cook, turning every 10 minutes, until the juices run clear on the thickest part of the thigh and the chicken is cooked through, and the internal temperature reads 165°F [74°C] on a meat thermometer, about 60 minutes.
Make the sauce
- While the chicken is cooking, in a medium bowl, mix all of the sauce ingredients together and season with salt. Divvy the sauce equally between 2 bowls. After 20 minutes of cooking time, begin to baste the chicken using one of the portions of sauce. Do so every 10 minutes.
- Once the chicken is cooked through, move the chicken to cook over direct heat, breast-side down, until the skin is charred and crisped, about 5 minutes. Remove the chicken from the grill and let it rest on a plate for 10 minutes.
- Carve the chicken and serve with the remaining sauce and with the cabbage and parsley and good bread on the side, if desired.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This is a fantastic recipe for succulent barbecue chicken with incredible flavor. The multi-stage process is actually very simple, and it’s a great prep ahead meal. Spatchcocked chicken has become one of my favorite ways to prepare the bird to allow for cooked perfection—it seems to help preserve moisture in the breast meat and even out cooking time for the bird as a whole.
I’d never basted a bird with a mayonnaise-based sauce before, and I was curious how it might turn out. *Spoiler: beer-brined BBQ chicken is definitely going to be a repeat recipe in my house. I served it with roasted zucchini and the recommended accompaniments in this recipe.
Why don’t I brine chicken in beer more often? Honestly, because I think it takes forever to work. Well, now I know differently. I eat a lot of chicken, so I know this simple brine worked its magic in the couple of hours it bathed the chicken in my refrigerator. The chicken came out moist and tender so there were no complaints there—we all enjoyed it. However, I would have liked to taste a little more complexity when I bit into the chicken covered in that rich reddish-brown rub. The chicken was beautiful coming out of the oven, and it smelled amazing, but the rub could have used a little salt.
To prepare this recipe, you have to spatchcock a chicken. I didn’t know why so I looked it up; long-story short, crispier skin and shorter cook time – SOLD! It’s not as hard as it sounds, but a good sharp pair of kitchen scissors make all the difference. I think I spent more time hoping I’d do it correctly than the actual time it took to shimmy that backbone out. (Save the innards and the backbone to make a quick broth if you plan to make rice or potatoes to go with your chicken.)
I served the mayonnaise sauce on the side. It paired well with the chicken, and had a tangy kick which reminded me of white BBQ sauce. The consistency was thinner than I would have liked and I felt the flavor was missing something. The cider vinegar taste was strong, which probably amplified the off balance.
I served the beer-brined BBQ chicken with 3 sides—broccoli and cabbage slaw, brown rice and radish seed medley, and sautéed asparagus.
The beer brine helped tenderize the chicken and once barbecued, it stayed moist and delicious. The sauce, however, made the dish! It complemented all of the wonderful flavors in the dry rub. I didn’t spatchcock as I bought halved chicken to make this beer-brined BBQ chicken recipe.
Originally published April 3, 2021