Steven Raichlen's Barbecue! Bible

Lacquered Saigon Chicken

Recipe from Steven Raichlen's Barbecue! Bible Beer-Can Chicken

  • Advance Prep: 12 to 24 hours for marinating the chicken

Mention poulet laque (“lacquered” chicken) to a Vietnamese and his eyes will light and mouth water. When properly prepared, the bird will have crackling crisp, mahogany-colored skin that shines like Asian lacquer. The effect is achieved by marinating the bird overnight in a fragrant mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, and wine, then roasting it vertically in a hot oven. In short, it’s just the sort of preparation that’s ideal for grilling on a beer can. The only even remotely challenging thing about this recipe is remembering to marinate the chicken ahead of time.

  • Yield: 2 to 4 servings
  • Equipment: 2 cups wood chips or chunks (optional; preferably apple or cherry), soaked for 1 hour in water and/or beer to cover, then drained; Vertical chicken roaster (optional)

For the marinade:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons rice wine or dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon Asian (dark) sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1 chicken (3 1⁄2 to 4 pounds)
  • 1 clove garlic, lightly smashed with the side of a cleaver
  • 1 slice peeled fresh ginger (1⁄4 inch thick), gently crushed with the side of a cleaver
  • 1 can (12 ounces) beer
  • Spicy Peanut Sauce (see Step 10, below)

Step 1: Make the marinade: Place the soy sauce, wine, sesame oil, garlic, coriander, five-spice powder, and cinnamon in a large nonreactive bowl and whisk to mix.

Step 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. Place the garlic and ginger in the main cavity of the chicken. Place the chicken in the bowl with the marinade or place the chicken and marinade in a large resealable plastic bag. Let marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 12 to 24 hours, turning the bird several times so it marinates evenly.

Step 3: Pop the tab off the beer can. Pour half of the beer over the soaking wood chips or chunks, if using, or reserve for another use. If cooking the chicken on the can, using a church key-style opener, make 2 additional holes in its top. Set the can of beer aside.

Step 4: Remove the chicken from the marinade and discard the marinade.

Step 5: 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.

If cooking on a roaster: Fill it with the beer and position the chicken on top, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Step 6: Tuck the tips of the wings behind the chicken’s back.

Step 7: Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium. If using a charcoal grill, place a large drip pan in the center. If using a gas grill, place all the wood chips or chunks, if using, in the smoker box or in a smoker pouch and preheat on high until you see smoke, then reduce the heat to medium.

Step 8: When ready to cook, if using a charcoal grill, toss all of the wood chips or chunks, if using, on the coals. Stand the chicken upright in the center of the hot grate, over the drip pan and away from the heat. Cover the grill and cook the chicken until the skin is a dark golden brown and very crisp and the meat is cooked through (about 180 degrees F on an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of a thigh, but not touching the bone), 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. 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.

Step 9: If cooking on a can: Using tongs, hold the bird by the can and carefully transfer it in an upright position to a platter.

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.

Step 10: 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 and serve with Spicy Peanut Sauce.


Smoking isn’t really common in Vietnam, so I’ve made wood chips optional.

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