There’s nothing quite like the smell of a roasting chicken. It fills the house and lets you know that a delicious, warm, and comforting meal is on its way.
Roast chicken is definitely one of my top ten favorite meals. Even when I was little, and a very picky eater, I loved it. It was always like a special treat to me, and still is — no matter how often I make it!
One of the great things about roasting chicken is that you end up with an impressive meal, but one that doesn’t take too much effort. Roasting chicken is actually surprisingly easy, when you consider how good it is!
So how do you roast chicken? Well, there are lots of ways of doing it. I’ll go over the different ways of roasting chicken, and talk about the advantages and disadvantages of each method.
I’ve split this article up into the different steps of roasting chicken:
Some of those steps are optional, but all have advantages that’ll help you make outstanding roast chicken!
Step 1: Brining the Chicken
The first step to making a fantastic roast chicken is brining. Brining is a cooking technique where you soak your chicken in salty water (the brine!) for a few hours. It’s very easy to do but it does mean you have to plan ahead a little.
You can find out all about how to do it in our brining chicken article, but I’ll at least give you the reasons why you’d want to brine your chicken:
- Brining helps keep your chicken moist. Soaking it in water increases the moisture in the meat, and the salt helps prevent it from drying out when it cooks.
- Brining also really enhances the chicken’s flavor. The salt from the brine penetrates deep into the chicken flesh. It’s much more effective that just seasoning the surface!
I feel that brining makes a huge difference when roasting chicken. But it’s not necessary. You can make a great roasted chicken without brining. It all comes down to whether you have the time.
Step 2: Seasonings
Whether you decided to brine your chicken or not, the next step is to season it.
There are a few different ways to season a chicken for roasting, and you can mix and match them all.
But no matter which ones you choose, you want to start by patting the chicken dry first. It’ll help the skin get crispy when you cook it. You can even leave it to air dry in the fridge for an hour or so if you like extra crispy skin.
In this section I’ll go over a few different ways of seasoning the chicken: seasoning the skin, seasoning under the skin, buttering the chicken, and seasoning the cavity.
Seasoning the skin
When roasting chicken, the easiest thing to do is to season its outside: just sprinkle your favorite herbs and spices on the surface of the chicken. Some seasonings that go well with chicken are:
- Salt and pepper. Try sprinkling a small handful of salt from a foot or two above the chicken. This will let the salt rain down on the chicken and coat it evenly.
- Fresh herbs like thyme and tarragon. Tarragon is especially good if you stuff the chicken with lemon.
- Garlic, fresh or granulated. Onion powder is good, too.
- Spices like paprika or chili powder.
Seasoning the skin is really easy. You barely have to handle the bird and you’ll be done in just a few minutes. But there are a few disadvantages:
- The skin helps protect the chicken from drying out, so you really need to be leave it on whether you plan on eating it or not. But it also protects the chicken from the seasonings! Your herbs and spices will taste great on the skin, but they won’t season the meat as much as seasoning under the skin.
- If you’re not planning on eating the skin, you’ll be throwing out a lot of those delicious seasonings.
- If you’ll be roasting chicken at a higher temperature, the seasonings can burn — especially if you’re cooking in something small like a toaster oven.
Seasoning under the skin
Seasoning a chicken under the skin is a bit more work that just seasoning the skin, but the results are definitely worth it. Here’s how you do it:
Place the bird breast side up.
Using a sharp knife, trim away any excess skin and fat from around the cavity.
Starting from the edge of the cavity, gently push the skin away from the breasts.
You may need to use a sharp knife near the edge to get things started, but after than, put it away or you could tear the skin.
If there’s a membrane keeping the two together, you can just push at it with something blunt until it gives way.
Remember, you don’t want to remove the skin, just access the meat underneath. Separate the skin from the top of the breast, but leave it attached on the side.
From the breast, you should be able to reach the leg without damaging any skin. Lift the skin from the leg the same way you did for the breast.
Rub your seasonings in the area you cleared under the skin.
Why is seasoning under the skin so much better? Well, all your herbs and spices are in direct contact with the meat and eventually they’ll penetrate it and infuse the whole chicken with flavor.
If you just season the skin, the skin acts as a shield between the meat and the seasoning. The skin will be delicious, but the meat won’t get much of the flavor.
So what should you use as seasoning? Definitely salt, and anything you would use to season the skin works fine.
Butter on and under the skin
A little bit of butter can go a long way when you’re roasting chicken. It really does make a huge difference!
- Rubbing a bit of softened butter over the skin will help your chicken brown nicely.
- Rubbing some softened butter under the skin helps prevent the chicken from drying out as you cook it — even without basting! The butter helps baste the meat, adding its own delicious flavour.
You don’t have to use a lot of butter. I hardly ever use more than a tablespoon on a 4-5 lb chicken and my family is always thrilled by the results.
If you prefer, you can also use margarine or oil. The major difference will be the flavor. Personally I’m not a fan of using oil because I love a tiny buttery flavor, but it’s definitely an option.
Another option is to use a butter-flavored cooking spray. A friend of mine’s mom always makes her chicken just spraying it inside and out, and I don’t think she’s ever made anything that wasn’t delicious.
Seasoning the cavity
Now that we’ve talked about seasoning the outside of the bird, let’s talk about the inside of the bird. There are lots of ways of doing it.
The very simplest way of seasoning the cavity is to take a generous amount of salt and pepper and rub it in there.
Salting the inside helps the salt penetrate the meat and season it the whole way through. Much tastier than just seasoning the surface!
In addition to salt and pepper, you can add any herbs and spices you like.
You can also stuff the cavity with lemon or orange wedges, or pieces of onion. As they heat up, they’ll create a bit of steam in the roasting chicken, but they’ll also infuse it with flavor.
You can also make a bread, rice or grain, or cornbread stuffing to place inside the chicken. The chicken will flavor the stuffing and the stuffing will flavor the chicken.
If you decide to stuff the cavity, be sure not to put too much in there. You don’t want it spilling out! If you’re afraid of the stuffing falling out while you’re cooking, here’s a little trick:
- Take a skewer and poke it through the bottom of the cavity so that it’s horizontal across the cavity; the middle of the skewer should be inside the cavity and both ends should poke outside through the meat.
- Take a few more skewers and do the same thing, a bit higher each time.
- Take a piece of kitchen twine and lace it through the skewers to pull the cavity close.
And there you go! Nothing will fall out. Or, you can truss the bird; that helps the cavity stay closed, too.
One more thing: if you stuff the chicken, you’ll have to add 15 to 30 minutes to the cooking time.
Step 3: Trussing
Once you’ve seasoned and stuffed your chicken, the next step is to truss it.
Trussing a chicken just means tying it up so that the legs and wings are tight against the body of the chicken. It’s absolutely an optional step, unless you’re using a rotisserie, in which case if you don’t truss it you’ll have very burnt wings and legs.
There are a few good reasons to truss a chicken. It can help it cook more evenly and keep the meat moist, and also makes the bird easier to handle and a lot prettier looking!
If you want to know more, check out our article on trussing chicken. It has everything from why to truss, why not to truss, and how to do it in an illustrated, step-by-step guide.
Step 4: 3 Ways to Roast Chicken
There are lots of ways to season a chicken, and there are just as many ways to cook it. In this section, I’ll go over the different ways of roasting chicken.
Remember, all of these methods are good, but some might be better suited to your lifestyle. If you don’t have a lot of time to get dinner ready, the quick-roasting method is probably your best bet.
But if you have lots of time, experiment with the other methods to find out what you like best.
In this section, I’ll give a few tips and tricks that’ll come in handy when roasting chicken. Then, I’ll talk about three different cooking methods: quick-roasting, roasting at 350F, and slow-roasting.
Tips and Tricks for Roasting Chicken
Tip 1: How to Tell if the Chicken is Done
It’s very important that chicken be fully cooked before you eat it. If it’s not, you could eat some harmful bacteria that could make you sick.
The only way to know for sure that the meat is cooked is by using a meat thermometer.
- Stick the meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh and breast. You need to check both.
- Chicken is cooked when it has reached an internal temperature of 165F. I’ve cooked chicken to 170F and even 180F without it getting overdone, so it’s best to stay on the safe side.
There are a few other hints that your chicken is ready, too. They’re not as reliable as a meat thermometer, but they can help.
- When the chicken is done, the thighs should wiggle freely.
- If the chicken is done, the juices that come out when you poke it should be clear, not rosy.
- Some chickens have flesh that will stay rosy no matter how long you cook it. That’s fine, but be sure to test it with a meat thermometer so that you know for sure it’s done.
Tip 2: Basting the Bird
When you’re roasting chicken, you can pour a bit of liquid over the cooking bird every so often – it’s called basting, and keeps the skin from burning and the meat from drying out.
- You can use cooking juices, wine, broth, stock, water, or any other liquid to baste your roasting chicken: whatever you pick will add its own flavor to the chicken.
- When you take the chicken out of the oven to baste it, the oven will lose some heat. Keep it closed as much as you can, and don’t baste too often – about every half hour will do.
- When you baste a roasting chicken, you keep its skin moist, which can prevent it from getting crispy. If you really want crispy skin, skip the last basting or two.
- Instead of basting, you can spread butter under the chicken’s skin and inside the cavity. This lets the roasting chicken self-baste without keeping the skin from browning, and without opening the oven door.
Tip 3: Flipping the Chicken
A neat technique that you can use with any of the cooking methods is to roast the chicken breast side down for the first two thirds of the cooking time, then flip it over.
- This way, all the fat from the dark meat seeps into the meat instead of dripping out, and you end up with really juicy breast meat.
- When you flip it breast side up for the last third, you give the skin a chance to get crisp.
- If you’re planning on flipping the chicken, it’s a good idea to truss it, or you’ll end up with very hot wings and legs flopping all over the place.
Tip 4: Air flow
When you’re roasting chicken, you want to make sure you have a lot of air flow around the bird. It’ll help it cook more evenly.
Instead of placing it directly on the bottom of a roasting pan, it’s better to raise it up a little so air can pass underneath it.
- If your roasting pan comes with a wire rack, place the chicken on top of the rack.
- If you don’t have a wire rack, you can place some veggies like potatoes, celery or carrots at the bottom of the pan, and place the chicken on top. Just be sure that the you leave some room between the veggies — they should support the roasting chicken, but also leave room for air to flow.
- You can also place the chicken directly on the oven rack, and place a roasting pan underneath to catch the drippings. It’s a bit messy and tough to clean, though.
- As an extra bonus, any drippings that hit the pan will have a chance to caramelize, and you can deglaze the pan later to make an outstanding gravy.
Three Methods for Roasting Chicken
Method 1: Quick-Roasting Chicken
There was a time when roasting chickens came from older, tougher birds, and the only way to get it to be tender and juicy was to cook it at a low temperature for a long time. That’s not so much the case nowadays, so if you don’t have a whole lot of time, a quick way to cook a chicken is to quick roast it.
- Preheat your oven to 450F.
- Place the chicken in the oven. Roast it for about 45 minutes, or until your meat thermometer tells you the chicken is cooked.
Basting the chicken can make the oven lose a lot of heat, and that can increase the cooking time quite a bit. The best thing to do for this method is to add a little butter inside and out so that it’s self basting.
Method 2: Roasting Chicken at 350F
Roasting a chicken at 350F takes a bit more time that the quick-roast method I described in the section above. The chicken generally ends up a lot more tender, though. Any tough fibers like collagen have more time to melt.
Here’s how you do it:
- Preheat your oven to 350F.
- Place the chicken in the oven. Roast it for about 20 minutes per pound, plus an additional 20 minutes, or until your meat thermometer tells you the chicken is cooked.
This method cooks chicken at a fairly high heat for a longer period of time. The goal is to get it nice and tender, but you also have to be sure it doesn’t dry out or burn. There are a few ways to keep this from happening.
Method 3: Slow Roasting Chicken
When we were growing up, my mom always cooked a whole chicken by slow roasting it.
Just a few simple spices, hours of low heat, and the house smelled wonderful the whole time, and we ended up with a chicken so tender the meat literally fell off the bone.
This method for roasting chicken does take a long time. But you can’t really end up with chicken more tender than this. It’s especially good if you’re using a chicken that’s a bit older and tougher.
Here’s how you do it:
- Preheat your oven to 275F.
- Roast the chicken for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, or until your meat thermometer tells you the chicken is cooked.
Roasting chicken at such a low temperature means that the white and dark meat will cook much more evenly, so you shouldn’t end up with dry breast meat.
The low cooking temperature can keep the skin from getting brown and crisp. If you love brown, crispy skin, here’s what you can do:
For the first 10 minutes, cook the chicken at 400F. This will get the outside of the chicken really hot, but it’s not enough time to heat up the inside.
Turn the heat down to 200F. The outside will take more time to cool down, and so it’ll help crisp up.
If the skin isn’t as crispy as you like it, stop basting the chicken during the last half hour or hour of cooking, and increase the heat again for the last 20 minutes.
It’s a bit more work, but if you have to have crispy skin, it’s worth it.
To get the meat to be especially tender, it’s best to baste the chicken, or flip the bird breast side down for the first two thirds of cooking time.
Because the cooking temperature is so low, there won’t be as much evaporation as the other methods. Unfortunately, when water evaporates, what’s left behind becomes more concentrated — in this case, the flavor! Slow-roasting chicken gives you an incredibly juicy and tender chicken, but the taste is a bit less intensely amazing.
And that’s how you roast a chicken! Lots of different ways, but all of them are delicious. You just have to find the right one for you.
Personally, my favorite method for roasting chicken is to season it with butter and herbs under the skin, then roast it at 350, starting the cooking breast side down.
It’s juicy, tender, and super flavorful… and hard not to eat the whole thing before it gets to the table!
Step 5: Carving the Chicken
Now that your chicken is cooked and smelling delicious, it’s time to get it ready to serve.
The first thing to do is… wait! It’s important to wait 10 to 20 minutes before carving a roasted chicken. The rest time gives the juices time to redistribute and settle, so that your chicken is more evenly juicy, and easier to carve.
Once you’ve waited, you can carve the chicken. But be careful, it’ll still be very hot!
Here’s what you do:
- Remove the legs. Just cut off the whole thigh and drumstick in one big piece — you can cut it into smaller pieces once it’s off the bird. Just tug on it, and use a very sharp knife when needed.
- Remove the wings. Just do the same as for the legs, tug and slice when needed.
- Carve out the breast meat. I like to cut it off in slices instead of one big piece, but you can do it either way.
- Any pieces still left on the carcass you can remove by hand — later, if the chicken is too hot to handle now!
And now the only thing left to do is… enjoy!