How to Make a Perfect Roast Chicken

We will start by acknowledging that you can buy a perfectly great roast/rotisserie chicken in almost any supermarket in the land at this point.  And in a pinch, my goodness, they are lifesavers.  Whether you are grabbing on on the way home for a last minute hot dinner, or tucking on in the fridge for use later in the week (10 Things To Make With Leftover Shredded Chicken, anyone?) I am never going to be one to turn up my nose at a store-bought roast chicken.

Homemade Roasted Chicken

But here’s what you miss out on – the smell of a chicken roasting in your own home, and the bragging rights.  And it’s SO simple.  We all know that Ina Garten makes a roast chicken for Jeffrey every Friday night (which is kind of amazing in so many ways).  And Ina knows a thing or two about what people like.  Roast chicken is the poster child for the best kind of straightforward comfort food.  

How to Make a Perfect Roast Chicken

Once you start roasting your own chickens you’ll be celebrating that aha moment that comes with realizing how joyful this simple pleasure can be.  Leftovers can be used in recipes all week long.  It will take you all of 2 minutes to realize that roasting 2 chickens at once takes about 5 extra minutes, and if that isn’t a smart investment of cooking time I don’t know what is.  Make sure to roast them in a large roasting pan or baking sheet to give the chickens ample room to cook and brown evenly.

Seasoning Roast Chicken

You can season the chicken in any number of ways.  There’s never anything wrong with just salt and pepper, but roast chickens take to all kinds of flavorings from Mediterranean to Asian to Indian to Middle Eastern, you name it.  It’s a great way to explore some of those condiments of spices that haven’t been put to good use in your kitchen. 

How to Make Perfect Roast Chicken: Roast chicken is the poster child for the best kind of straightforward comfort food.  

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How to Make a Perfect Roast Chicken

How to Make a Perfect Roast Chicken

1. Preheat the Oven and Set Up A Rack

Some cooks swear by higher temperatures, while others find that lower and slower gets them the chicken they want.  I like 400°F to 425°F, which is also ideal if you are cooking additional vegetables along with the chicken.

Place a wire rack in a shallow roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet.  Cooking the chicken on a wire rack allows air to circulate under the chicken, and the skin on the bottom will become a bit crispier than if you cooked it directly on the pan.  This is optional, however – a chicken roasted directly on the pan will also be wonderful.

2. Butter Under the Skin

Make sure your chicken is very dry first – rinse under cool water, and blot well with paper towels.  Also have the chicken at room temperature for more even cooking.  Smearing some soft butter, on its own, or combined with herbs and other seasonings under the skin helps keep the breast meat moist and juicy.  Gently lift up the skin over the breast, and use your hand to smear some butter underneath, trying not to tear the skin.

How to Make a Perfect Roast Chicken

3.  Butter Over the Skin

Rub the chicken all over with softened butter (or olive oil is also a fine thought), which will give the skin additional flavor.  

How to Make a Perfect Roast Chicken

4. Season the Chicken

Be generous with the salt and pepper!  Some cooks like to season the chicken and then leave it uncovered in the fridge for a day or two to allow the salt to sort of dry brine the chicken, which is a nice way to create juicy meat, but it’s not at all necessary.  Salt and pepper are the basics, other seasonings are welcome.  Make sure to get the seasonings inside the chicken as well as outside.

5. Add Ingredients Into the Chicken if Desired

Often some extra ingredients are placed into the cavity of the chicken, like halved lemons, onions, or apples, or sprigs or herbs.

How to Make a Perfect Roast Chicken

6. Trussing the chicken: HIghly Optional

Trussing the chicken is something some cooks like to do, and others think is not necessary.  Trussing the chicken means to tie up the legs with kitchen twine, close to the body of the bird, so that it keeps a neater, more compact shape. 

Sometimes recipes will instruct you to fold the wings behind the chicken (which I think is sort of awkward and hard).  The intention is that the light and dark meat will cook more evenly.  I kind of think all of it is overrated, partly because it’s just one extra step.  So usually, no trussing for me

7. Add Additional Ingredients to the Roasting Pan, if Using

Other vegetables may be added to the pan to cook alongside the chicken.  Make sure they are the right size and texture so that they will cook in the same time as the chicken takes to finish, like potatoes, or if they need less time (like broccoli florets), you might add them part way through the cooking process.  If you are adding vegetables, scatter them around the chicken.

8. Roast the Chicken

If you are not roasting any vegetables with the chicken, it’s a good idea to add about 1/2 cup of water to the pan to prevent the drippings from burning.   Place the chicken on the rack breast side up, slide the pan into the oven, and roast it for about 60 to 70 minutes.  Basting is highly optional – some people feel like it makes for a crisper more flavorful skin, others (like Thomas Keller!  Like Ina Garten!) feel like it’s not necessary.  That’s the camp I like best.

How to Make a Perfect Roast Chicken

9. Testing Roast Chicken for Doneness

The skin should be browned and crispy.  A meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh (but not touching the bone) should register 165°F.  When you make a small cut in the thigh, the juices should run clear, not pink.  

10. Let the Chicken Rest

Roast chicken, and really all meat, especially large pieces of meat, need to sit for several minutes for the juices to be able to regroup into the meat before you slice it and lose all of those delicious juices onto your cutting board.   Make sure to tilt the chicken before transferring it so that any juices that have accumulated in the cavity of the bird go into the pan.  

How to Make a Perfect Roast Chicken

11. Make a “Jus” (Sauce) – Optional!!!

While the chicken is resting, you can make a jus, which is a very simple pan sauce, if you wish.  You can simply pour all of the juices that have accumulated in the pan into a heat proof measuring cup, wait for the fat to rise to the top, then skim that off and drizzle the remaining juices over the chicken, though there probably won’t be much. 

Or, once the fat has been skimmed off, place the pan you roasted the bird in on a burner (or two) set to medium high heat, return the skimmed juices to the pan, and add 1/2 to 1 cup of chicken broth or stock, and bring to a simmer, stirring to loosen all of the browned bits from the pan.  Strain if desired.  Pour into a small pitcher or cup, and drizzle over the meat.

12. Carve the Chicken

It’s best to use a cutting board or serving board with a moat to catch the juices that will emerge as you cut into the chicken.  Start by cutting off the drumsticks.

How to Make a Perfect Roast Chicken

13. Finish Carving the Dark Meat

Cut the thighs from the chicken.

How to Make a Perfect Roast Chicken

14. Carve the White Meat

Cut the wings from the bird.  You can then either cut the breast meat into slices directly from the chicken, or remove the breast meat as a whole piece, and then slice it on the cutting board.

How to Make a Perfect Roast Chicken

15. Arrange and Serve

If you’ve roasted other vegetables along with the chicken, arrange them with the chicken on a serving platter, and serve with the jus, if desired.  A sprig or two of fresh herbs really makes a simple roast chicken look very special.

How to Make a Perfect Roast Chicken

16. Save Everything for Stock!

Place the bones and any bits and pieces and extra skin from the chicken into a large pot, cover with cold water, and bring to a simmer for about 1 hour, and you will have a light broth.  More than one chicken carcass (recommended) will give you a richer broth, as will the option of using canned or boxed chicken broth instead of water to simmer the bones – use less-sodium broth if you’re doing this. 

You can also add some vegetables, such as onions, carrots and celery, and perhaps some fresh herbs to the pot for a more flavorful broth.

What to Serve Roast Chicken With:

More Roast Chicken Recipes:

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How to Make a Perfect Roast Chicken

Roasted chicken is the poster child for the best kind of straightforward comfort food.  
Yield: 4 people
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken , 3 1/2 to 4 pounds
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter , softened
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 lemon , halved
  • 1 head garlic , halved crosswise
  • Several sprigs fresh thyme
  • Several sprigs fresh rosemary

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  • Rub the chicken all over with the softened butter. Season inside and out with salt and pepper.
  • Stuff the lemon, garlic, thyme and rosemary into the cavity of the chicken. Place the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan, or use a wire rack placed into a rimmed baking sheet. If you don’t have a rack, just place the chicken in a roasting or baking pan, or on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 60 to 70 minutes until the skin is browned and crispy, an internal thermometer registers 165°F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh (but not touching the bone), and the juices run clear not pink.
  • Remove the chicken from the oven, tilt it so any juices captured inside the bird run into the pan, and let it rest on a cutting board for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Cut up the chicken. Start by cutting off the drumsticks, then cut the thighs from the chicken. Remove the wings. Then carve the breast: You can then either cut the breast meat into slices directly from the chicken, or remove the breast meat as a whole piece, and then slice it on the cutting board (see above for step by step instructions and photos for carving a roast chicken).
  • Arrange the pieces on a platter and serve.

Notes

Make a “Jus” (Sauce) – Optional!!!

You can simply pour all of the juices that have accumulated in the pan into a heat proof measuring cup, wait for the fat to rise to the top, then skim that off and drizzle the remaining juices over the chicken, though there probably won’t be much. Or, once the fat has been skimmed off, place the pan you roasted the bird in on a burner (or two) set to medium high heat, return the skimmed juices to the pan, and add 1/2 to 1 cup of chicken broth or stock, and bring to a simmer, stirring to loosen all of the browned bits from the pan. Strain if desired. Pour into a small pitcher or cup, and drizzle over the meat.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 503kcal | Carbohydrates: 5g | Protein: 36g | Fat: 37g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Cholesterol: 165mg | Sodium: 136mg | Potassium: 425mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 529IU | Vitamin C: 20mg | Calcium: 43mg | Iron: 2mg

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