Beer can chicken makes an attractive and sumptuous centerpiece for any barbecue. It’s also very easy to make, which leaves you plenty of time to work on side dishes. Here’s our guide to the best beer can chicken sides.
Beer Can Chicken Sides
You can serve whatever you like with beer can chicken, but traditional barbecue sides are a nice way to adhere to the theme. Try mac and cheese spiked with Dijon mustard and Tabasco sauce, a tangy coleslaw, German potato salad with bacon and chives, or cucumbers marinated in oil, vinegar, and spices.
About Beer Can Chicken
To make beer can chicken, you insert an open can of partially full (or completely full) beer into the chicken’s cavity before putting it on the grill.
In addition to providing moisture and flavor, this technique allows the chicken to sit upright on the cooking grate. This allows the skin to get nice and crispy, as most of the surface area is exposed to indirect heat.
You don’t have to use beer, although this is the most common method. Some people use cans of cola or root beer instead. If you’ve ever used these ingredients in a marinade or mop, you’ll understand how they can influence the flavor of your grilled or smoked meats.
Some pitmasters scoff at the beer can technique, believing that the beer doesn’t get hot enough to create the steam that would influence the texture of the meat. Others don’t think that it makes any difference in terms of flavor, either.
Our verdict on the subject is: If you want to try making beer can chicken, go ahead. Even if you don’t notice a difference between this and regular smoked chicken, it won’t do any harm to give it a try.
Beer Can Chicken Sides
Now that you’ve decided that beer can chicken will be the anchor for your meal, what can you serve alongside it? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Mac and Cheese
Macaroni and cheese is widely regarded as a main course in the northern parts of the US, but barbecue aficionados know that it goes great with barbecue. The rich, creamy goodness is the ideal foil for smoked meat.
We prefer to use sharp cheddar for our mac and cheese, but you can substitute whatever type you prefer. In fact, this can be an innovative way to use up any leftover scraps of cheese you have on hand. Try adding minced jalapenos to the cheese base for a spicy kick.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
- 2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 1 quart whole milk
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 20 ounces (about 2-1/2 cups) shredded Cheddar cheese, plus about 4 extra ounces (1/2 cups) for sprinkling
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3/4 teaspoon Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce, plus more to taste
- 1 pound tubular pasta, such as cavatappi, penne, or rotini
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 6-8 Ritz crackers
- Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Set the oven to 400 degrees. Butter two 9×13-inch baking dishes.
2. In a large Dutch oven, melt the butter. Cook the onion over low heat until soft but not brown, about 5-10 minutes.
3. Stir in the flour, then remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the milk until thoroughly blended. Return the pot to the burner, increase the heat to medium, and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture starts to thicken.
4. Remove the sauce from the heat. Stir in mustard, 20 ounces of grated cheese, nutmeg, hot sauce, and salt and pepper to taste.
5. While you’re making the sauce, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until it’s just tender to the bite.
6. Gently combine the sauce and pasta and taste to see if it needs more salt, pepper, or Tabasco. Adjust the seasonings as needed.
7. Spread the mixture in the prepared baking dishes, then top with the remaining cheddar, along with the parmesan. Crumble the Ritz crackers over the top.
8. Set the baking dishes in the bottom third of the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the mixture is golden brown and bubbling. Serve hot.
Traditional coleslaw, with its cool, crunchy texture, tames the richness of the barbecued chicken and keeps you coming back for more. If you’re not a fan of this mayo-based version, use shredded red cabbage with carrots and sweet Thai chili sauce.
Yield: 6 servings
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 4 scallions, minced
- 2 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 3 cups shredded green cabbage
- 3 cups shredded watercress
- 2 carrots, grated
1. Combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, scallions, vinegar, Worcestershire, salt, pepper, and sugar in a large bowl.
2. Add the cabbage, watercress, and carrots, then gently combine until the vegetables are thoroughly coated with dressing.
3. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
4. Chill until serving time.
German Potato Salad
Of course, just about any type of potato salad makes a superb side dish, but we’re particularly fond of this German version. Instead of mayonnaise, it utilizes the sharp flavors of bacon and mustard to jazz up the potatoes.
Yield: 6 servings
- 2-1/2 pounds small red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into slices about 1/4-inch thick
- 4 tablespoons red wine or malt vinegar
- 6 slices raw bacon
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 3/4 cup beer
- 2 tablespoons grainy mustard
- 1/4 cup snipped chives
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil over high heat. Add potatoes and about 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and return the mixture to a boil.
2. Adjust the heat to medium-high and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.
3. Drain the potatoes and spread them out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with about 1-1/2 tablespoons vinegar and let cool for about 15 minutes.
4. While the potatoes are cooling, fry the bacon in a large skillet over medium-low heat until rendered and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate.
5. When the bacon is cool enough to handle, crumble the slices and set them aside.
6. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the skillet. Increase the heat to medium and add the oil, onion, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
7. Cook until onion is soft and light golden in color, about 5 minutes.
8. Add garlic and sugar and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds.
9. Add the beer and adjust the heat to high. Cook, stirring, until mixture is reduced to 1/4 cup, about 3-4 minutes.
10. Add remaining 1-1/2 tablespoons vinegar and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more.
11. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in mustard and pepper to taste.
12. Transfer potatoes to a large bowl. Add the prepared dressing, crumbled bacon, chives, and parsley. Mix gently to combine.
13. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. This salad can be served warm or at room temperature.
This is one of the easiest beer can chicken sides you’ll find. You can put it alongside any grilled meat, especially on hot summer nights when you don’t want to offer anything too heavy.
- 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 large cucumbers (preferably the seedless English variety), peeled and cut into slices 1/4- inch thick
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, seasoned salt, garlic powder, black pepper, and crushed red pepper flake.
2. Whisk in the canola and olive oils in a steady stream until mixture is well combined.
3. Toss the cucumbers in the dressing and chill until serving time.
The Bottom Line
Once you’ve tried these beer can chicken sides, you’re bound to want to make them again and again, no matter what smoked meat you have on the menu.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!