There seems to be heightened attention to all matters culinary in the Time of COVID. That’s a good thing, I think. Keeps people out of restaurants and other enclosed spaces and builds skill that we should all have anyway.

Dining Chez-Nous

We are people who cook and watch cooking and food-centric shows. I’m happy to learn about dishes I wouldn’t in my wildest dreams attempt to make. I look for interesting variations on recipes I already have. But not roast chicken. I use the time devoted to roasting chickens to take a pee, refill my wineglass, check my Facebook feed, or all of the above. I don’t need instructions on how to roast a chicken. I already make a killer bird.

The Roast Chicken Challenge

So why was I watching Bill Buford’s video on “Perfecting a Roast Chicken, Without Having to Roast”? Maybe it was COVID fatigue. Or perhaps it was because Condé Nast included it in their spam distribution a few days ago. The “without having to roast” part also caught my attention.


Apparently, this video is part of the New Yorker series. Bill Buford, locked up with his twin sons, has filmed instructions for “Perfect Bistro Chicken.” Frederick directs and George runs the camera. “Today,” Buford proclaims as the video starts, “we are talking about roasting a chicken. The roasted chicken is the test for every home and professional cook, and it’s almost impossible [stress on impossible] to get right.”

Agree to Disagree

What? It’s almost impossible to do a good job roasting a chicken? Balderdash!

A great roast chicken requires special kitchen skills and a complicated sequence of tasks? Malarkey!

A roast chicken doesn’t need to be roasted? In my universe, at any rate, one may not have to light the gas in the oven, but gaslighting alone won’t do the trick.

Buford goes on to explain that the problem is in getting the breast meat and leg meat to the same amount of doneness at the same time. True enough. He points out that there are methods for dealing with this: spatchcocking the bird and “beer can” chicken, for instance. I’ve done both. Spoiler alert: “beer can” is my go-to method.

Then, having acknowledged the merits of the beer can, he dismisses it, claiming “It’s not really roasting, it’s barbecuing.”

He Says To-may-toe and I Don’t

It’s not what?

Of course beercanning a chicken is roasting it. Merriam-Webster defines “roast” as a transitive verb meaning (1a) to cook by exposing to dry heat (as in an oven or before a fire) or by surrounding with hot embers. The same dictionary defines barbecue as to roast or broil on a rack or revolving spit over or before a source of heat (such as hot coals). Let’s not get into specious semantic differences, Bill.

In fact, this is an opportunity to talk about the tricks he learned in France and in New York from chefs whose food is, shall we say, too rich for my budget.

Bill Buford’s Perfect Bistro Chicken

Here’s the summary. Truss the bird. Poach it in a stock that requires vegetables not in your fridge and a chicken broth bought from an exclusive purveyor I have never heard of. Haul the mostly cooked bird out of the stock and finish in the oven.

Aha! Even Bill Buford can’t make a roast chicken without roasting it.

At this point in the video, I have the urge to raise my hand here and ask a question: “Please, teacher, why is it that Bill Buford of all people buys chicken stock? We make our own and there are probably five or six quarts of it in the freezer right now. Bet my stock is better than your stock.”

So go ahead and watch Buford roast a chicken without roasting it. The comments the boys make are entertaining. My recipe does, however, involve roasting. Here it is. The results won’t be as pretty as Bill Buford’s  “Bistro Chicken” and it likely won’t have that French elegance, but it will have crispy skin over every inch. Don’t overcook and it should be moist throughout. Easy. Hard to screw up.


Chicken Roasted on a Beer Can


At the store:
  • Get a holder for the beer can at your grocery. Should be in the aisle that has utensils , foil pans and such things.
  • You will also need a sturdy pan. I use a cast-iron skillet but anything will do.
Basic Ingredients:
  • utensils needed

    A whole chicken. It can be a roaster, a broiler, whatever they have that fits your budget. My only advice is to get a bird that has not been frozen. Even when thawed the leg joints stay much colder than the rest and the dark meat never seems to get properly cooked.

  • Oil or butter. I favor a light olive oil but any oil will do. Butter is rich and wonderful but it may scorch.
  • Salt and pepper.
  • White wine, vermouth, beer or water to half-fill an aluminum beer or soda can.
Herbs and flavorings.
  • Sweet paprika or smoked paprika for sprinkling on the skin is nice but salt and pepper is fine.
  • I like to stuff a fistful of fresh herbs into the cavity. Rosemary, sage and thyme are my favorites. Sometimes I use dried poultry seasoning. Whatever.
  • Preheat your oven or gas grill to about 400 degrees F.  If you have a three-burner grill and are preheating your pan, keep the center burner low, then turn it off once the chicken is in. You don’t want the drippings to scorch. If you are using an oven, remove one rack and adjust the other so there is plenty of vertical space.
  • Oil up the bird. Sprinkle cavity and outside with salt and pepper and whatever else you like. Stuff herb in the cavity.  Sit the bird on the half-full can you have placed in the holder. Wings will droop. Not to worry. Place bird and holder in pan. You can cross its legs at the ankles but again, don’t fuss.
  • Place pan in oven or grill (close the top if you are using a grill). In about 15 or 20 minutes, check it, see if  it needs rotating.  Close up the oven/grill and reduce heat to about 350 degrees. In 15 or 20 minutes  check on it and baste with drippings if any. Cooking time is between 75 minutes and 120 minutes, depending on the bird’s size and your heat source.
  • If your chicken has a plastic thermometer in it,  wait till it pops and then remove the chicken from the oven to cool, leaving it on the can. Otherwise, use a kitchen thermometer and look for a temperature of  165 degrees at the leg joint  Or give the legs a wiggle. If the legs wiggle, the bird is done. Pan drippings make excellent gravy.
  • Let sit for at least 20 minutes on the can before hacking it apart. Enjoy fighting over the brown, succulent skin.