My husband and I have recently discovered the beauty of barbecuing a full roasting chicken versus individual chicken pieces. Of course there's nothing wrong with barbecuing chicken breasts, thighs, or drumsticks—some of our favourite recipes call for these—but we've found that we're using whole chickens more often now because there are so many benefits. It's much more economical to cook a whole chicken and there are delicious leftovers for the week. We use the leftover chicken to make homemade pizzas, to put into sandwiches instead of processed meat, to add to salads or soups and to throw into stir-fries or into quesadillas. It's a great way to "cook once, eat multiple times" if you're week nights tend to be busier like ours.
Not to mention the fact that barbecuing a whole chicken (especially when you make beer can chicken) produces deliciously juicy and moist meat that you often can't produce with chicken pieces alone.
My three-year-old absolutely loves when we cook this recipe because he thinks it's hilarious to see the chicken "sitting" on top of the beer can, and my nine-month-old can't get enough of the tender meat. My husband loves it because it involves beer, and I love it because it's easy and creates great leftover meals. It's an easy and delicious recipe that your whole family will love.
If you can find yourself a whole fresh (or frozen) chicken (preferably organic—I buy our organic chickens at Costco!) and if you have a can of beer sitting around the house as well as some common dry herbs/spices, you're almost there!
(Note: if you are missing one or more of the rub ingredients, don't fret. You can make your own concoction—using as many if the above as possible—with the herbs/spices that you have on hand)
Preheat your gas grill. Mix all of your rub ingredients in a bowl. Brush your chicken with the olive oil or melted butter and then coat the outside of the chicken with two thirds of the rub mixture and then use the remaining third to sprinkle inside of the bird's cavity and into the beer can. If you're using fresh thyme and/or rosemary, place them inside the beer can.
Here's my husband's secret instruction: take your cloves of garlic and stuff them underneath the chicken's skin wherever you can (at the neck, at the bottom or make a small cut in the skin somewhere in the middle).
Set chicken aside. Note: some recipes instruct to "rinse and dry" your chicken, but I find no benefit in doing this and to me it just creates a food safety issue inside of your sink).
Open your can of beer and drink about 1/4 cup (my husband's favourite part) of it and punch an extra hole (or two or three) in the top with a bottle opener. Place the chicken on top of the beer can before you place it on the grill or use a special "beer can chicken holder" (like we did), which holds the can of beer in place and steadies the chicken over top.
We got ours at Barbecues Galore I believe. If you find that you're making this recipe all of the time, you may want to invest in one of these (they aren't expensive as I recall—maybe $10). Make sure half of your grill is at medium-high heat and half is on low heat. Place your chicken on the low temperature side of the grill.
Close the grill lid and cook the chicken, rotating the chicken every 20 minutes or so so that it doesn't burn on one side, until the internal breast temperature is 165 degrees F and the thighs are 180 degrees F (1-1.5 hours).
Remove the chicken using tongs on either side to steady it, and sliding a large spatula underneath to transfer it off of the grill and onto a cutting board or other work surface. Using tongs again, carefully slide the beer can out of the bird and discard it. Let the chicken sit for 10 minutes before carving.
For decades, saturated fat—also known as "bad" fat—has been labeled one of the leading causes of heart disease. Greasy hamburgers, T-Bone steaks, cheesy pizza and cream sauces have long been avoided because of advice given by nutrition professionals such as myself, health officials, and as laid out by national health authorities and heart associations. But the truth is, there is absolutely no link between saturated fat and heart disease risk. But wait. Don't let this new evidence be your license to gorge on greasy burgers everyday.
A new large study published on Monday in the journal 'Annals Of Internal Medicine' reviewed 49 observational studies and 27 randomized control trials on heart disease risk based on diet data from more than 600,000 people throughout North America, Asia, and Europe.
What they found was that consumption of saturated fat alone does not predict heart disease.
They also found that those who ate more unsaturated or "healthy" fats such as monounsaturated fat-rich olive oil or polyunsaturated fat-rich canola oil or nuts, were not at a lesser risk of developing heart disease. It turns out that heart disease risk is much more complicated than saturated vs. unsaturated fat intake. The researchers did confirm, however, that trans fats, the big "bad guy" often found in processed, packaged foods or in deep fried foods like potato chips or French fries, does increase the risk of heart disease such as heart attack or stroke.
The reason that saturated fat got a bad rap initially was because of it raises LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins), the "bad" type of cholesterol that increases cardiovascular disease risk. But it turns out that saturated fat also raises HDL (high density lipoproteins), the "good" type of cholesterol. The lead researcher, Rajiv Chowdhury, MD, also explains in an interview that the specific subtype of raised LDL cholesterol doesn't seem to be harmful—it is less harmful than the smaller artery-clogging subtype of LDL that seems to spike with a diet high in refined sugars and excess carbohydrates.
Still, the researchers explain that it is old-school thinking to pick on one single nutrient when it comes to chronic disease risk, and I agree. What I find fascinating is that people tend to swing heavily towards one type of food when another is deemed "bad"—when saturated fat was thought to be the big cause of heart disease, people turned to carbohydrates to fill in the gap. When carbs became the villain, people turned to higher protein diets, and now that we know that too much protein isn't so good and that saturated fat isn't considered the culprit, we'll probably see a trend towards higher fat foods.
It's this all or nothing mentality that gets people into trouble.
I have no doubt in my mind that many people will see this study as a green light to indulge more often in greasy hamburgers, cheese-ladened appetizers, and French pastries, but I think that we have to pause, put the burger down and really think about what we're doing.
When I reached out to my Registered Dietitian support community to see what their take on this new study was, one RD pointed out the fact that many foods high in saturated fat are also high in refined carbohydrates, extremely high in calories, often high in sodium and void of much nutrition to begin with, so if people start eating these foods (think restaurant hamburgers, cheese buns, pastries, creamy pasta sauces, cold-cut subway sandwiches) more often, they are likely going to gain weight and may even increase their blood pressure, both of which are risk factors of heart disease. On the other hand, if someone decided to switch from margarine to butter, switch to 2% fat yogurt vs fat-free or make homemade burgers with lean ground beef instead of always using ground turkey, that seems sensible and completely healthy.
The media tends to create a frenzy around studies like this and people tend to translate research findings into their new diet mantra.
As we all know, nutrition research changes almost daily, so my suggestion is to focus on these three things instead:
Singling out one specific nutrient such as fat, carbohydrates, salt, or protein as being evil is the wrong way to go. Swearing off an entire food group often leads to feeling deprived and binging later on and could even lead to nutrient deficiencies. On the flip side, anything in excess is not a good thing either. The old adage "all in moderation" really does ring true when it comes to nutrition and eating. Indulge in chicken wings once in a while, not every second day.
Enjoy a freshly baked pastry once a week instead of every morning. Spread a bit of butter on your corn instead of dousing it so that it's dripping. Have a small glass of wine a night instead of half a bottle.
When I wrote a post on becoming a "Fooditarian" a while ago, I explained how my husband and I had decided to significantly decrease the processed/packaged foods that we bought. Instead of having breakfast cereal, we're now making homemade muesli or slow-cooker steel-cut oats. Instead of buying premade pizza shells, we're making whole grain pizza dough from scratch. We're focusing more on whole fresh foods and cooking from scratch more often. Because our food tastes so much better, and because we really don't feel deprived of anything, it works really well for us. Research consistently points to the fact that consumption of highly processed foods leads to negative health outcomes such as obesity, heart disease, Diabetes, and Metabolic Syndrome. Therefore, decreasing the amount of fast food, packaged/processed food-like items as well as sugary beverages and focusing more on real whole food is really a no-brainer.
I always come back to the importance of being a mindful eater. Even if your diet is perfectly balanced with only whole foods and no junk food, it is still possible to increase your weight and your risk of chronic disease if you're not eating mindfully (overeating). Pay attention to your personal hunger cues when eating. Eat before you become famished and stop before you're over full. Let your body be your guide when it comes to eating, not how much food is on your plate or how much your friend across the table has polished off. Eat slowly and taste your food.
Even if you do become a Fooditarian, there are still some packaged foods that you will buy. Don't waste your time analyzing food labels though. Here's the only thing you need to know about nutrition labels. And you might also be interested in learning about how being "skinny fat" has many health risks.
We all have friends or family members who are naturally thin, eat whatever they want, and never exercise.
We may be jealous of their slim silhouettes, but in reality, these people may be at a high risk of developing chronic diseases such as Heart Disease, Cancer, Diabetes Type 2, high blood pressure and Metabolic Syndrome.
The risk stems back to the presence of "visceral fat"—fat that builds up around the organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys. In a culture that is so deeply obsessed with weight, it's no wonder we assume that skinny translates into healthy, but the truth is, it doesn't at all. Because we don't notice visceral fat the same way that we notice subcutaneous fat (fat under the skin), being "skinny-fat" can be a silent killer.
Recently, researchers have found that visceral fat stems from a different source than subcutaneous fat. A study on genetically modified mice found that the majority of visceral fat (the dangerous fat around the organs) comes from embryonic cells that express a gene called Wt1. Subcutaneous fat originates from different cells that do not contain this gene. Although the foundations of visceral fat production are formed in the womb, cells expressing Wt1 continue to act as a source of visceral fat into adulthood, where they may be influenced by external factors such as diet and exercise.
Unfortunately, many people don't realize that they are at risk of chronic disease, such as Diabetes, until they are showing symptoms, especially when it comes to people who are naturally thin. If you haven't ever had to watch your weight or exercise to maintain a slim physique, there's a good chance that diet and exercise aren't at the top of your priority list (of course there are always exceptions here).
That's why it's so important for all of us to be aware of our family's medical history, see our doctor yearly for a complete physical and make our health a priority by staying active and eating a balanced diet.
My husband is one of those people who doesn't need to work too hard to stay slim. He doesn't carry a lot of subcutaneous fat. Although I've always envied this about him, I'm also well aware that his father (as well as his uncle and late grandfather) has Type 2 Diabetes and possesses the same slim build. This scares me—knowing that my husband could very well suffer the same fate. Luckily, he has a Nutritionist as a wife and we stay active as a family, so hopefully this greatly decreases his risk.
We've finally embraced the idea that being "fit and fat" is possible—that those who are overweight, but active and follow a healthy diet, can be perfectly healthy and at low risk of chronic disease—but we have yet to embrace the flip side of that. It's important to remember that even if you are naturally slim, it doesn't automatically mean that you have a clean bill of health. If you follow an unhealthy lifestyle by being inactive and eating unhealthy foods most of the time, you are likely carrying a large amount of this visceral fat around your organs that could one day kill you.
You may also be interested to read about how poor body image can be passed down through generations and about how many overweight teens are at a high risk of developing Eating Disorders.