Beer Can Chicken on a Pellet Grill: A Can-Do Recipe

November 8, 2022
Written by Kristy J. Norton

This chicken dish is my favorite alternative to rotisserie chicken. It is moist, tasteful, and so easy to make. One of my aunts showed me how to make this just before I joined culinary school and it has been a go-to recipe ever since!

In this post, I will show you how to make beer can chicken on a pellet grill complete with techniques, tips, and tricks. Let’s begin!

Beer Can Chicken on a Pellet Grill

Smoked Beer Can Chicken Recipe


  • 3 to 5lb whole chicken
  • 1/2 can of beer
  • 2 tbs. of olive oil or vegetable oil, optional

Dry Rub

  • 2 tbs. of brown sugar
  • 1 tbs. of smoked paprika
  • 1 tbs. of chili powder
  • 1 tsp. of kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. of garlic powder
Roasted Chicken


Step 1

Preheat your Traeger pellet grill or Pit Boss pellet grill to 350 degrees F.

Step 2

Combine the ingredients of the rub in a small bowl.

Pat dry the chicken with paper towels.

If using rub chicken with vegetable or olive oil, including the cavity.

Sprinkle the rub on the entire chicken including inside the cavity.

Step 3

Pour out or drink half the beer in the can.

Place the chicken cavity over the beer and push down so that the chicken is balanced on the can.

Step 4

Place the chicken in the pellet grill.

Close the lid and cook chicken until the internal temperature reaches 165 F.

Take out of the pellet smoker and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

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Choosing Your Chicken

There is no right size or weight for your beer can chicken. Instead, it depends on how many people you want to feed.

You should also taking cooking time into consideration. A smaller whole chicken will cook a lot faster. So, if you are short on time, this is the way to go.

I would always advise you to get the freshest chicken possible. It will always taste better. Try to go shopping for the chicken no more than a day before you plan to cook it.

The other thing that I would insist on is using a whole chicken with the skin on. Even if you are trying to cut down on fat in your diet, make sure that the skin is there for this smoked beer can chicken. It will take the taste and texture to another level.

Pasture Raised Whole Chicken Roasted with Fresh Herbs

Does the Pellet Smoker or Grill Matter?

Does your grill or smoker have any kind of impact on how your smoked beer can chicken will turn out? That’s unlikely.

Naturally, a top of the line option such as Traeger or a tried and true brand like Pit Boss will go a long way in producing a beautifully smoked chicken.

Nevertheless, a decent smoker should get the job done just fine. As long as you make the effort to follow all the techniques and tops here, your chicken will be delicious.

Should You Brine the Chicken?

One of the trickiest parts of smoking beer can chicken – or any whole chicken really – is ensuring that you get nice and crispy skin.

In this smoked beer can recipe you can overcome this when you pat dry the chicken. Use paper towels to ensure that the surface of the skin is bone dry.

I also smoke the beer can chicken at a much higher temperature than I typically would.

Both of these tactics help up to crisp up the skin.

Traditionally, though, I would dry brine the chicken to ensure that this happens. Brining is also a great way to make sure that the chicken doesn’t dry out either.

If you are interested in doing this as well, sprinkle kosher salt all over the chicken. Then, place in a container or baking sheet uncovered and refrigerate. Leave the chicken overnight or until the skin is completely dry to the touch.

Then, apply the chicken rub and smoke as directed.

If you do decide to dry brine the whole chicken make sure to skip the olive oil application as this will only undo all of your hard work.

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Choosing Your Rub

As this is a smoked beer can chicken instead of a grilled chicken, I do prepare a more barbecue style rub.

However, you are free to choose any spices – and even herbs – that you like. If you have a favorite store bought brand then go for it.

If creating your own rub, I would pay attention to the side dishes that you are serving along with the beer can chicken. These will often give you a good idea of which direction that you should go in.

What Beer Should You Use?

One of the great things about this beer can chicken on a pellet grill recipe is that you can use any beer that you want! Whatever you have in stock will work just fine.

A lot of people tend to prefer lager as it isn’t too fruity or too bitter. I would suggest using a beer that you enjoy drinking.

If beer isn’t your thing, there are other beverage options for you. People have had success with cola and Dr. Pepper.

Once again, it is all about using a beverage that you enjoy drinking.

Whatever it is that you use, make sure that the drink is at room temperature. Warm beer is pretty gross to drink but it can come in useful when making smoked beer can chicken.

If you use cold beer and a cold can then it is going to take longer for your pellet grill to warm up the beer and the meat. In turn, this will extend the overall cooking time.

Also, always drain or drink half of the can before placing the chicken on top.

Cold Beer

Do You Need a Chicken Stand?

I will be the first one to admit that balancing a whole chicken on a beer can isn’t the easiest thing.

This is especially true if the chicken is on the larger side. Now, if you have tried beer can chicken before and found it to topple over, then I would suggest a stand.

These have a balanced platform and even have a place for you to place the beer can.

If you don’t want yet another kitchen accessory, though, then I would suggest trying to balance the chicken on the can.

Go for a smaller chicken and use a beer can that seems to be a bit more evenly balanced. Cooking for a crowd? Then get two or more smaller chickens to feed a greater number of people.

To avoid it tipping over, try to limit how often you open the lid. In general, allow jostling the wood pellet grill as much as possible. This way, the chicken will continue to remain upright.

Now, usually, I would advise you against placing the chicken on a baking sheet or tray. This is because this can prevent the smoke from circulating properly.

However, the last thing that you want is for your beer can chicken to tip over and for beer to go everywhere.

You can try balancing both the beer can and the chicken on a tray to make cleanup easier.

Choosing Your Wood Pellets

This is one of the main questions when making beer can chicken. What kind of pellets should you use with your pellet grill?

When it comes to smoking chicken, I always prefer milder woods. The thing is that chicken has a pretty mild flavor itself. So, if you use something strong like hickory, mesquite, or even oak it can overpower the natural flavor profile.

This is why I find apple or cherry to be the best. Pecan and maple can be really nice too.

If you do have a Traeger or Pit Boss grill, then you will find that these have brand specific pellets.

It is a good idea to use these. I now that they are pricey but I have found them to work best with these grills. At the very least, make sure that you are using high quality pellets that will produce a good flavor.

Selecting the Pellet Grill Temperature

Usually when smoking chicken, I like to keep the temperature as low as possible. This is because chicken tends to dry out quite easily. Smoking it low and slow helps to overcome this.

With smoked beer can chicken, though, I have taken the temperature pretty high. As I explained, this is so that I can maintain that nice and crispy skin.

Brining the chicken ahead of time can guarantee this. So, if you brine your beer can chicken, then you can turn down the temperature on your pellet grill to about 275 degrees F.

If you do this, remember that the smoked beer can chicken is going to take a lot longer to cook. Therefore, you should prepare for this accordingly. On the upside, you will have a juicier chicken.

Your other option is to let the beer can chicken cook for about an hour on the wood pellet grill at 350 degrees F. This will give the skin enough time to crisp up. Then, lower it to 250 degrees F and continue to cook it until it is done.

person cooking meat on grill

Tracking the Internal Temperature

Keeping track of the internal temperature of any meat is important. When it comes to smoked beer can chicken, though, it is even more vital that you do so.

As I mentioned, chicken has a tendency to dry out on a wood pellet grill. The best way to avoid this is to stay on top of the internal temperature at all times.

Now, I know that the safest temperature for chicken is 165 F. However, I do like to take the chicken out of the pellet grill when it is at about 155 degrees F.

See, once you take the meat off the pellet grill, it continues to cook. The internal temperature can go up by as much as 10 degrees.

Thus, even though it is not be directly heated anymore, your chicken will be cooked to perfection. At the same time, you can prevent the meat from drying out. It is a win-win situation.

As I stated earlier, the last thing that you need to do is to keep jostling the grill while the chicken is so precariously perched.

This is why I suggest placing the thermometer or temperature probe in the thickest part of the bird at the start of the cook. Leave it in there and monitor the temperature from outside.

This is also a great way to ensure that you get to the chicken just before it is ready.

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Should You Apply Sauce?

There are some that like to apply sauce about half an hour before the chicken is cooked through. Is this something that you should do too?

Well, this does all depend on personal preference. I tend to prefer it without as I think that the spices and the smoking process do an excellent job of adding flavor to the meat.

If this is something that you do want to try, though, go ahead.

I would make a couple of suggestions in this case, though.

First, make up your own barbecue sauce. It is incredibly easy to do and is far tastier than most commercial brands.

The problem with commercial brands is that they can be a bit too sweet and they tend to have an odd aftertaste to them as well. This can ruin that smoky flavor that you have been trying so hard to achieve.

The other thing to keep in mind is to apply a very thin layer of sauce on the chicken. You want the spices from the rub to shine through as well.

Not to mention, if you apply a too thick layer then it will take the chicken longer to cook as well.

Use a pastry brush, dip it in the sauce, and then lightly pain on a layer of sauce.

Needless to say, you have to be very careful when doing this. Stabilize the chicken near the neck when applying the sauce. I would suggest getting someone to help you.

Resting the Chicken

It is important to always rest the chicken. Once the meat has reached the optimal temperature, take the chicken off the pellet smoker and place it on a cutting board.

Then, let it sit for about 10 minutes. During this period, the chicken will reabsorb any juices that it has lost. This will result in a more moist chicken so don’t skip this step.

Storing the Chicken

If you have made too much, this isn’t a problem as you can easily store it. If you are planning on eating the chicken within six days, then refrigeration is possible.

Place the chicken in an airtight container. Make sure to label the container with the date so that you know when you should use it by.

If you are planning on freezing the chicken, I would suggest first removing the meat from the bones. Not only will this make it easier to freeze, it will also ensure an easier reheating process.

Now, this smoked chicken can last in the freezer for up to six months but I would suggest using it up in a couple of months. The taste and texture isn’t quite the same after that.

Once the chicken has been removed from the bones, place in a Ziploc bag and squeeze all the air out before sealing it. This will prevent freezer burn. Then, label the bag with the date.

Place in the freezer.

Make sure to always defrost the meat before reheating it.

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Wrapping It Up

This is your ultimate guide to making beer can chicken on a pellet grill! As you can see, it is pretty easy to manage once you know what you are supposed to do.

So, go ahead and try this recipe out for yourself. Once you see how great it is, it is sure to become a part of your regular dinner rotation!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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