Coffee Can Cooking With Chicken

Recently I was approached by a sweet lady who told me about a television program that she had watched where they cooked chicken in a can. I did some research and found quite a bit of information about “coffee can chicken” sometimes called “swingin’ chicken”. I’m sure that other meats could be cooked as well but I decided to follow the procedures that I found. They varied a bit but most recipes called for a three pound chicken. I took a “middle of the road” approach to the various instructions figuring that it would be successful with a little monitoring for any adjustments if needed.

I began by preparing the coffee can (alternatively you can use a number 10 can). This particular coffee can had a wide flange on the top so I trimmed if off so that there was no restriction for inserting the chicken and would allow for air flow around the sides. An inch from the bottom I punched 1/4″ holes using a very large nail. I placed a few blocks of wood inside the can for support for this process. I chose to make 6 holes but more would be okay. Be careful of the jagged edges inside when removing the blocks of wood. To fashion a handle I pierced two holes on opposite sides of the can just beneath the top rim through which I fastened coat hanger wire. I used extra wire to suspend this apparatus from a beam on my porch.

Next I placed 16 briquets into the bottom of the can. When doused with charcoal lighter fluid it should take about 20 minutes to become ready with a white coating of ash on each briquet. I didn’t have charcoal starter fluid so I used some pieces of newspaper and a hair dryer that I used as a bellows to get it started. This process should be performed on a surface that won’t be damaged by the heat, for instance, a grill or rock.

While the coals were getting ready I prepared the chicken by adding a dry rub to it then placed it head-end down on two large sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil. I tightly wrapped each sheet separately, folding the edges so that it was sealed to prevent any juices produced during the cooking process from leaking that could potentially extinguish the coals.

My wife suggested that I put veggies like onions, garlic and celery inside the chicken body which I did, but it may have extended the cooking time a little. Most recipes call for a 3 lb. chicken that cooks for 3 hours, but I could only find a 4 3/4 lb. chicken which extended the cooking time by another 1 1/2 hours which pushed the limits of the coals but was still successful.

When the coals were ready, I placed the foil wrapped chicken into the can with the feet side up. Because of my chickens’ large size, I decided to ensure air flow along the sides of the chicken by sliding the handle of a butter knife down between the foil and the inside of the can to create air channels. A smaller chicken would not require this extra step.

The beauty of this cooking method is that once the chicken is placed into the can, it can be unattended so that you can go on a hike or go fishing while it cooks by itself. The can gets hot on the bottom and can potentially damage any surface that the can might be placed on so I like to hang the can high enough to avoid critters yet low enough from the supporting structure above it to avoid any damage. While it cooks you can feel the heat at the top of the bundle that lets you know that cooking is under way.

When the meat has finished cooking it will be so tender that you can just pull it apart by hand. The basic rule of cooking time is 1 hour per pound of meat, but with the meat being sealed I wouldn’t worry about over cooking if you return a little later from fishing than expected.

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26 thoughts on “Coffee Can Cooking With Chicken

  1. This is a good method… i suggest opening a can of beer. drink some. then put the can inside the chicken and shove the chicken legs down into the big can after wrapping in foil.

  2. You will get very similar results using rocks. Heat three smooth fist-sized rocks in your campfire for about half an hour. Then lay out two layers of heavy duty foil and put your chicken in the middle. Using mitts, put one rock in the cavity. (You can wrap the rocks with foil if they are really ashy.) Put the remaining rocks under each wing. I often douse the whole thing with barbeque sauce at this point. Then wrap and seal each layer of foil. Then you can wrap it in several layers of newspaper, except that I never have newspaper, so we just wrap it in two or three towels before heading to the lake to swim. Three hours later you have a chicken that is melt in your mouth tender. One of our favorite camping meals.


  4. I really recommend that someone stays behind to tend the open fire. The way you wrote you left the camp to go hike and the chicken was cooking by itself. This can cause forest fires so always be careful with campfires.
    Thank you…..

  5. Please let me know how you keep the chicken from sliding down onto the charcoal or if it does not matter if it does.

    Thank you,

  6. With this method there is no open fire. The briquets are completely concealed in the bottom of the can and covered by the chicken. The entire set-up is suspended and does not touch anything. it’s safe!

  7. Regarding how far down the chicken goes… I don’t think that it really matters. It has a double layer of heavy duty aluminum foil as a barrier. Give it a try and let me know about your results. :-)

  8. Alluminum foil should never be left in contact with food while heating. A huge transfer of harmeful chemicals takes place,hotter more transfer.

  9. Hi Jay… I don’t have much experience with cooking parchment but it sounds like an interesting alternative. I don’t know that it would seal too well, but if you care to test the method we would all enjoy hearing your results!

  10. I punched 6 small holes and ran hanger wire through..this kept the chicken from sitting on the coals. Worked great. Also have been cooking in foil for over 50 years and I am fat and free of any illness…post your facts for the foil transfer of chemical. Unless you use free range chickens your getting tons of chemical.

  11. As a person with a food safety certificate I wouldn’t use the rock method, as chicken has to be heated to 170 degrees or higher to be considered sake to eat.

  12. As a person with a food safety certificate I wouldn’t use the rock method, as chicken has to be heated to 170 degrees or higher to be considered safe to eat.

  13. Try using banana leaves to cover the chicken and then cover it with aluminum foil to avoid any direct contact of chicken vs foil.

  14. Oh please, I’m 60 and have been eating food that was cooked in Aluminum foil my entire life. If you make a tin foil hat and wear it while your cooking you can transfer those harmful chemicals from the chicken directly to your brain and you won’t even have to worry about eating it. Give me a break.

  15. I’ve been using this method for years to cook Tri-tip. Comes out amazing. Wrapping so juices don’t extinguish coals is very important. The other thing I’ve done is I take the lid and bend it so its square and after the coals have a ashed over drop it on top and then put my meat in. I push the meat all the way down. Have made this many times for people and they are amazed at how moist and flavorful the Tri-tip is. I’ve made a whole chicken too and it just fell off the bone. I let all my meat cook for about 4 hours, yes the coals stay lit that long.

  16. I’ve made this several times…I’ve injected them with different things, and they have all tasted great!! I have also put half stick of butter in the cavity of the chicken & poked holes through the aluminum foil on the tip of the legs

  17. I have used this method several times. cooked two and half hours and meat fell off the bones. same with saint louis style ribs. meat fell off the bones in two and half hours

  18. I forgot to tell yoy all mine chickens were over 5 pounds and had no trouble with the cooking of two and half hours.

  19. mover crock pot. I just cooked a sirloin pork loin end roast over 3 pounds in 3 hours and 45 mi. It came out wonderful. I am going to try a beef roast next.

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