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updated: 11/9/2010 1:49 PM

You can make beer-can chicken sans the can

Lean and Lovin' It

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If you've ever made or eaten a beer-can grilled chicken you know that it's one well-flavored, moist, smoke-scented chicken. Some backyard grilling gurus I know rarely make anything else on their grills.

I agree that grilling a brined (soaked in a seasoned saltwater solution) and season-rubbed whole chicken sitting on a half-full can of beer is a great way to deliver a dinner that pleases almost every palate, but when snowy weather and an icy deck come along this technique loses much of its appeal.

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Instead of dreaming about beer-can grilled chicken throughout our long winter, I set out to create an oven-roasted chicken that rivals the beer-can cooked variety.

Skeptical? Hang in there.

Before getting to work in my kitchen, I headed to the Internet and stopped by Fine Cooking magazine's website where I discovered something I'd never thought of doing: brining in beer. A solid "Eureka!" moment.

Fine Cooking brined its whole, butterflied chicken in water and beer for two to four hours, dried it, coated it with an herb and spice mixture and then headed out to the grill.

Not exactly what I was after, but close. I wanted to brine chicken pieces, specifically bone-in, skin-on organic chicken thighs. I didn't want the brining to take four hours either, and I definitely didn't want to haul it out to an ice-covered deck. Nope. I was counting on the oven to warm my kitchen and fill my house with tempting aromas.

I took Fine Cooking's brine and altered the ratio of water to beer, adding more beer to boost the flavor. Next, using my speed-brining recipe for bison as a guide, I added enough kosher salt so that my chicken needed only to take a quick, 30-minute saltwater bath.

Knowing my chicken wasn't headed to my grill made it clear that it wouldn't deliver smoky flavor. To solve that problem I created a seasoning mixture that included smoked paprika.

Mixing my brine was easy: I added the dry ingredients then the liquids to a re-sealable bag and shook it vigorously to dissolve the salt and sugar and remove most of the beer's carbonation so the bag wouldn't pop open during brining.

Next, I trimmed the visible fat off my chicken thighs, dropped them into the bag, pressed the air out and sealed it. No need to refrigerate the chicken since it'd only be soaking for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile I got my oven heating and mixed up my seasonings. After lightly spraying a foil-covered jellyroll pan with olive oil, I pulled the chicken thighs out of the brine and placed them skin-side down on the pan. I used all of the spice mixture to heavily coat the top of each chicken piece and then into the oven they went.

My kitchen quickly filled with the aromas of my no-beer-can chicken. A short 40 minutes later I brought the thighs out of the oven and let them rest. The thigh's skin stuck to the pan when I removed them so it didn't have to be removed at the table. I couldn't wait to try it.

Was it as good as grilled beer-can chicken? I don't think I would have fooled anyone into believing my chicken had been grilled instead of oven-roasted, but the meat was just as moist and delicious. The seasonings added just the right flavor notes and carried all the smoky flavor I wanted. Give it a try.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe make-over requests. Write him at don@theleanwizard.com.

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