Beer-Can Tandoori

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Blessings can come disguised as bad luck sometimes. When Meena Patel lost her job of eight years as a buyer of fine jewelry for a department store, she turned to a dream she had nurtured since childhood: to open a restaurant. And, thank goodness for me, she happened to open Anokha near where I live in Miami, Florida. Born in Indore, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, one of those instinctive cooks whose taste buds lead her to utterly transform everyday dishes by the simple addition of an unexpected ingredient. Consider her tandoori chicken—a pit-roasted bird marinated in an explosive mixture of yogurt, lemon juice, ginger, garlic, and spices. Those are the ingredients found in every tandoori recipe, of course, but Meena adds a fillip of fiery mustard oil. You’ve simply never tasted tandoori until you’ve sampled Meena’s. Indians would roast the chicken in a tandoor—a superhot, vertical barbecue pit—but the preparation works great for beer canning, which, after all, is another form of vertical roasting.

In order to be strictly authentic, you’d make this chicken with mustard oil, available at Indian grocery stores. If you can’t find mustard oil, prepare the recipe with vegetable oil, if possible adding 2 teaspoons prepared Chinese mustard (available in plastic packages from a Chinese carryout).

Kingfisher is India’s most famous beer. It comes only in bottles, but you could certainly transfer it to an empty can or a vertical chicken roaster.

Tips on Chicken Preparation:

Indians always skin chickens for barbecuing—first, because the skin impedes the absorption of the marinade, then because it often burns in the blistering heat of the tan-door. This may seem a little fussy so, if you prefer, leave the skin on in this recipe.

Instructions for Determining if Chicken is Cooked Fully:

What if my chicken browns too fast?

Lower the heat and/or loosely tent the bird with aluminum foil to prevent it from burning.

How do I know when the chicken is cooked?

There are three basic tests for doneness. The most accurate is to use an instant-read meat thermometer. Steady the chicken with one hand using clean, well-insulated rubber gloves or a pair of tongs. Insert the metal probe of the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, but away from the bone. The temperature should be about 180°F. Alternatively, insert a slender metal skewer in the thigh and leave it there for 10 seconds. It should come out very hot to the touch and the juices that run from the hole should be clear. Another test is to wiggle one of the legs, again steadying the chicken with your other hand. The leg should move loosely and freely in the joint.

Serves2 to 4

Preparation Time - Text  4 to 12 hours for marinating the chicken

Cooking Methodbarbecuing, grilling


Total Timehalf-day

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

One Pot MealYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, halal, kosher, peanut free, soy free


Five Ingredients or LessYes


Taste and Texturejuicy, meaty, savory, smoky, spiced, tangy


  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • 1 chicken (3½ to 4 pounds)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • 2/3 cup whole milk yogurt
  • 1/3 cup mustard oil or vegetable oil (see Note)
  • 2 teaspoons prepared Chinese mustard (if using vegetable oil; optional)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground mace
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon red food coloring (optional; Indians like their chicken very red)
  • 1 can (12 ounces) beer, or ¾ cup bottled Indian beer
  • ½ red onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup rough-chopped cilantro
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges and seeds removed
  • 1 clean empty 12-ounce beer can (optional) or a vertical chicken roaster (optional)


  1. Make the “wash”: Combine the lemon juice and salt in a deep nonreactive bowl or in a large resealable plastic bag and stir to mix.

  2. Remove the packet of giblets from the body cavity of the chicken and set aside for another use. Remove and discard the fat just inside the body and neck cavities. Rinse the chicken, inside and out, under cold running water and then drain and blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Remove the chicken skin if desired, pulling it off the meat and cutting it off at the joints as needed. Using a sharp knife, make two deep slashes in each leg (one in each drumstick and one in each thigh) and two in each breast. This helps the absorption of the marinade.

  3. Place the chicken on its side in the bowl with the lemon juice. Let marinate in the “wash” in the refrigerator, covered, for 15 minutes, turning twice. Make sure each breast side and the back have each marinated for 5 minutes.

  4. Prepare the marinade: Place the garlic, ginger, and salt in the bottom of a large mixing bowl and mash to a paste with the back of a spoon. Add the yogurt, oil, Chinese mustard, if using, lemon juice, cumin, mace, nutmeg, cardamom, turmeric, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and food coloring, if using, and whisk to mix. Spoon the mixture over the “washed” chicken. Cover the bowl or reseal the bag and let the chicken continue marinating in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, turning the bird several times so it marinates evenly.

  5. If the beer is canned: Pop the tab off the can and pour out half of the beer (¾ cup) and reserve it for another use. Using a church key-style can opener, make 2 additional holes in the top of the can.

  6. If the beer is bottled: Fill an empty can halfway or fill a vertical chicken roaster, following the manufacturer’s instuctions.

  7. Set aside the half-filled can of beer or filled chicken roaster.

  8. Remove the chicken from the marinade and discard the marinade.

  9. If cooking on a can: Hold the bird upright, with the opening of the body cavity at the bottom, and lower it onto the beer can so the can fits into the cavity. Pull the chicken legs forward to form a sort of tripod, so the bird stands upright. The rear leg of the tripod is the beer can.

  10. If cooking on a roaster: Position the chicken on top, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

  11. Tuck the tips of the wings behind the chicken’s back.

  12. . Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium-high. If using a charcoal grill, place a large drip pan in the center.

  13. . When ready to cook, stand the chicken up in the center of the hot grate, over the drip pan and away from the heat. Cover the grill and cook the chicken until nicely browned on the outside and the meat is cooked through (about 180°F on an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of a thigh, but not touching the bone), 1 to 1¼ hours for skinless chicken, 1¼ to 1½ hours for a bird with skin (see Notes for tests for doneness). If using a charcoal grill, you’ll need to add 12 fresh coals per side after 1 hour. If the chicken skin starts to brown too much, loosely tent the bird with aluminum foil.

  14. . If cooking on a can: Using tongs, hold the bird by the can and carefully transfer it in an upright position to a platter.

  15. If cooking on a roaster: Use oven mitts or pot holders to remove the bird from the grill while it’s still on the vertical roaster.

  16. . Present the bird to your guests. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes, then carefully lift it off the support. Take care not to spill the hot beer or otherwise burn yourself. Halve, quarter, or carve the chicken. Place the sliced onion and chopped cilantro each in a small serving bowl. Serve the chicken with lemon wedges for squeezing and the onion and cilantro for sprinkling over the meat.



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