There’s a lot of debate over how long to roast a chicken. What’s the ideal temperature? How do you get the crispiest skin? Is basting a waste of time? What sort of knife do you need to carve it? I’ve roasted a lot of chickens lately, and after a good deal of trial and error, I’ve come up with some solid conclusions.
I should add that just as I was about to post this, I did a search on Google and found that Sunset wrote a great article about how to roast the perfect chicken that touches on a lot of the same points I discovered on my own, though our opinions vary a bit.
For tips on how to roast a turkey, I’ve written another [similar] post.
- 1 whole chicken
- Larger birds meant for roasting have a heartier taste, while smaller fryers tend to be less flavorful. Organic chickens taste a little better to me, though most people won’t be able to tell the difference.
- The jury is in: 400°F is the perfect temperature for cooking a whole chicken. You’ll get crispy skin and a fairly quick dinner without compromising tenderness.
- Depending on the size of your chicken, it should take about 1 to 1-1/2 hours to roast at 400°F. I highly recommend a meat thermometer, one that stays in the chicken while it cooks and lets you set an alarm for when it reaches the proper temperature. This keeps you from continually opening the oven door, which will greatly increase your cooking time.
- Basting the bird won’t give you crispier skin. In fact, you’ll get limp, soggy skin and it only marginally affects the flavor.
- Some argue that rubbing the entire bird with fat, inside and out, doesn’t affect the flavor, but I disagree. It depends on the fat, though – olive oil won’t give you a flavor boost, but butter mixed with a heaping dose of salt and herbs will yield a tasty dish indeed. I didn’t notice that it makes the skin much crispier, but Sunset thinks it does.
- When learning how to roast a chicken, you should know that it doesn’t matter what orientation you roast the bird in. Breast up, breast down, or flipped over halfway through – no position will make the breast more moist.
- Stuffing some flavored fat (such as butter with salt and herbs) under the skin will help flavor meat, but don’t go overboard. Too much fat will just just make the meat greasy. A dab under the skin of each drumstick, thigh, and side of the breast is all you need.
- They (whoever “they” are) say that you’re supposed to cook a whole chicken to 180°F, but I find that 170° yields a perfectly moist bird that’s still cooked completely through. Make sure to measure in the thickest part of the breast.
- Let your bird rest for a few minutes after you take it out of the oven. A good ten minute nap will let everything settle and keep the moisture where it belongs: in the meat.
- The easiest way to guarantee that pieces of breast will be moist is to let them soak in the chicken’s juices for a few minutes after they’ve been cut. This includes the fatty runoff from what you’ve rubbed over the surface or stuffed under the skin.
- You want the entire bird to roast evenly and have crispy skin all over, so consider elevating it off the surface of the roasting pan. A small roasting rack will do the trick, which allows air to circulate under the bird – crisping it all the way around. Or get one of those pokey racks that holds the chicken upright, crisping all possible skin. (YES!!!)
- GET A DECENT OVEN THERMOMETER. ‘Nuff said.
- Don’t waste the juices in the bottom of the pan! Reduce in a saucepan with a little white wine, and you’ve got an amazing sauce.
- Truss your chicken! Preventing air circulation in the bird’s cavity will keep it from drying out. Here’s an awesome video on trussing a chicken. Otherwise, stuff it with a quartered onion or lemon to keep internal airflow to a minimum.
What are your secrets for how to roast a chicken? Have you created the perfect roast chicken experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts.