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Beer-Brined Butterflied Chicken


Serves 4

Butterflying is the secret to this juicy, flavorful, and quick-cooking chicken dish. 

  • 1 3-1/2- to 4-lb. chicken (I prefer organic)
  • 3/4 cup plus 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup plus 1/2 tsp. packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs. plus 1/4 tsp. freshly ground coarse black pepper
  • 6 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 2 12-oz. cans or bottles cold lager beer (like Budweiser)
  • 1 tsp. smoked sweet Spanish paprika (pimentón)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. celery salt
  • 1/4 tsp. chili powder
  • Large pinch dried oregano, crushed
  • Pinch cayenne
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

Place the chicken, breast side down, on a flat surface. Using poultry shears, cut along each side of the backbone and remove it. Flip the chicken over and press firmly on the center of the breast to break the breastbone. You can see a video of this technique, called butterflying, here.

In a large bowl, combine the 3/4 cup kosher salt, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon pepper, and bay leaves. Add 4 cups very hot water and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Add the beer and stir well to remove the carbonation. Add about 4 cups ice cubes to cool the brine rapidly. When the ice has melted and the brine is cool, put the chicken in the brine, adding more cold water if needed to cover. Refrigerate, covered, for 2 to 4 hours.

In a small bowl, mix the 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp. brown sugar, and 1/4 tsp. pepper with the paprika, cumin, celery salt, chili powder, oregano, and cayenne.

Remove the chicken from the brine and let it air dry for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, build a charcoal fire or heat a gas grill with all burners on high. For a charcoal grill, when the charcoal is covered with a white-gray ash, divide it into two piles and set a drip pan between the coals. For a gas grill, turn the burners that will be directly underneath the chicken off and the other burners to medium. (If your grill has only two burners, turn one off and set the other one at medium. You may need to rotate the chicken periodically so that both sides brown.)

When ready to cook, if the chicken is still very wet, blot it dry with paper towels. Brush or rub both sides of the chicken with the oil and sprinkle with the spice mixture. Tuck the wingtips under the breast. Set the chicken, skin side up, in the center of the grill (or not directly over the heat). Cover and cook until the juices run clear and a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh registers 175º­ to 180ºF, 40 to 50 minutes. Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before cutting it into quarters and serving.


Leftover chicken is delicious in Tex-Mex Chicken Salad.

Drink Suggestions

Try a fruit-forward red wine with spice elements and moderate oak and tannins, like the Rosenblum Cellars Vintners Cuvée XXVIII Zinfandel, California; Bogle Winery's Old Vines Zinfandel, California; Deakin Estate Shiraz, Victoria; or d’Arenberg's "The Footbolt” Shiraz, McLaren Vale.

nutrition information (per serving):
Size : based on four servings, Calories (kcal): 520, Fat (kcal): 33, Fat Calories (g): 290, Saturated Fat (g): 8, Protein (g): 52, Monounsaturated Fat (g): 15, Carbohydrates (mg): 3, Polyunsaturated Fat (mg): 6, Sodium (g): 670, Cholesterol (g): 165, Fiber (g): 0,

Photo: Scott Phillips

This would be a very good recipe except that it is way too salty. I lowered the salt the first time a bit in the brine, but it was still too salty. Not sure how much to use, but maybe reduce salt by 1/3? At least. Nice flavors otherwise, but chicken is almost inedible for us.

I have made this many times and it is always so good. I recently used the brine for grilled chicken wings. Yummmmmmm.

Beautiful bird and all that was promised in the recipe- moist, tender, flavorful, a little spicy. The recipe makes enough to brine 2 chickens. One got cooked after a 2 hr soak and tomorrow is the next one.

AMAZING! so good. And even better when (if!!) leftover as cold chicken chopped up for salads or sandwiches. So easy and a hit with everyone. Hardest part was convincing the guys to part with the beer....

AMAZING! so good. And even better when (if!!) leftover as cold chicken chopped up for salads or sandwiches. So easy and a hit with everyone. Hardest part was convincing the guys to part with the beer....

This is my absolute all-time favorite chicken recipe. It's a sort of high-brow version of classic "beer can chicken." The flavor is exceptional and the butterflying makes the chicken cook thoroughly and evening without drying out, so the chicken stays incredibly juicy. Everyone I've made this for has loved it...from picky eaters to gourmands to kids to my grandparents. Fantastic. Can't recommend this highly enough and I always make an extra chicken, as the flavorful chicken is wonderful in other recipes for future use (chicken salad or salads topped with chicken, tossed into pasta dishes, on top of a chicken pizza...I LOVE the previous commenter's enchilada idea...I'll have to try that!) Seriously, if you haven't tried this before...make it NOW. I use Lone Star, because I live in Texas and that's what my brother drinks, so I usually keep it on hand for him, but just use whatever lager-ish beer that you prefer.

I've made this over and over again. It is impressive. Tender and as flavorful as can be. You can also do chicken pieces, but I find you get a far more moist result with the butterfly cut. If you do the pieces, keep them close to each other and watch the cooking time!

This recipe is one of our go to chicken dishes ever since we made it when the magazine first published it. I've brined it as long as overnight with no ill affects. We do the whole butterflied chicken and then use the leftovers (if we don't have people over) in enchiladas later in the week. If you don't mind the smell of beer for a short while after making the brine, the recipe is well worth trying.

This is a wonderfully tasty dish, with just the right amounts of spiciness, saltiness and flavourful beer. I have not yet done a whole butterflied chicken, preferring instead to simply grab some thighs (I'm a bachelor, so a whole chicken is too much), but it works just as well. I've marinated it both for 2 hours and for 4 hours, with both resulting in satisfying dishes. However, the 4 hour time is preferred. The rub is perfect, although I tend to add a bit more ground pepper and a bit less salt. As for the beer, I use Budweiser, and it goes without saying that a few extra cold cans of beer goes wonderfully with the chicken when it's time to eat. I have a 2-burner gas BBQ, so there's little preheating necessary (given that much of the heat quickly escapes anyway). I've served this with a side of salad and asparagus, and works well. In total, I've cooked this dish on six different occasions, all with guests, and all of them have commented on how good it is. Highly recommended and as a fan of chicken, this is definitely in my top 5 chicken recipes. Also, I forgot to mention, you really do need to ensure that the chicken has skin on it, otherwise the rub won't stick and is far, far less flavourful.

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