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Who's Cooking: Peter Cavanaugh

Peter Cavanaugh and his daughter, Emily, 5, with

Peter Cavanaugh and his daughter, Emily, 5, with his Beer Can Chicken in their Levittown backyard. (June 16, 2012) Credit: Steve Pfost

An inventory manager at a milk plant, he lives in Levittown with his wife and 5-year-old daughter.

When did you start cooking? I guess I learned a lot from my parents. My mother was basically inside cooking spaghetti, meatloaf, all kinds of stuff, for my entire childhood. My father barbecued everything from ribs to kielbasa to chicken. If you could cook it, he would put it on the barbecue.

Are you known for particular dishes? I do a lot of Italian cooking though I’m Irish.
But no, not really, because I’m always trying something new. Whenever there’s a party or get together I always bring something, but it’s never the same.

Tell me about Beer Can Chicken. I’d seen it done on TV and read about it. A friend told me he tried it, so I had to give it a try, too. I changed things up with the seasonings. The smoked paprika is the secret ingredient that flavors my version. It’s a great cooking method because the beer keeps the meat really moist inside.

Do you make a lot of spice rubs? I like this particular combination for chicken. But I like to make different rubs for different things. For ribs I like a dry rub with cumin, brown sugar and salt. For steak I keep it simple: good quality meat, salt and pepper.

Do you use an instant-read thermometer when grilling? I do. I need my thermometer. When you think the chicken looks ready and you cut into it and it’s not, it’s hard to recover from that. And you don’t want to leave something on the grill too long and serve a dry piece of chicken or tough steak.

Peter adjusts the heat on his grill so the front and back of the grill are hotter than the middle, and then cooks the chicken in the middle, on the cooler part of the grill. The temperature inside the grill should be on the low side, 300 to 325 degrees. For even cooking and the crispiest skin, resist the urge to uncover the grill before an hour and 15 minutes.

One can of beer
One 4-pound chicken
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons smoked
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch black pepper

1. Preheat gas grill to medium or medium-low, adjusting settings so one part of the grill is cooler than the others. Pour half of the contents of the can of beer out and reserve for another use. Remove neck and giblets from cavity of chicken. Rinse and pat dry.
2. Combine brown sugar, paprika, mustard, salt and ground black pepper in a small bowl.
3. Brush outside of chicken with olive oil and rub with brown sugar mixture, inside and out (don’t brush inside of chicken with oil before rubbing with spices). Insert half-empty beer can into cavity of chicken so chicken is upright, balanced on its legs and the can. Transfer chicken, still on can, to cooler area of grill.
3. Cover grill and cook until instant-read thermometer registers 180 degrees when inserted deep into breast, 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1½ hours. Remove from grill and let stand 15 minutes before removing from beer can and carving.
Makes 4 servings

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