Learning to roast a chicken has a promise beyond what most recipes deliver. Yes, a chicken will become dinner, leftover lunch, and hopefully soup, but a roast chicken also promises an evening spent in the kitchen with family and friends. Mastering a simple roast chicken also teaches kitchen confidence and patience, which the greatest cooks understand.
For a recipe much lauded and loved, roast chicken should be, above all things, simple — the meat tender and juicy, gently seasoned with salt and scented with herbs. Most of your work will be in preparing the chicken for roasting and then finding a way to while away an hour in the kitchen while it cooks.
Updating Our Classic Roast Chicken Method
Kitchn first published instructions for a simple roast chicken years ago, and while the method is great, we've found that a few small changes make for an even better chicken. You'll find those updates in the recipe below.
For Your Information
- A four- to five-pound chicken is commonly referred to as a broiler-fryer and will easily serve four to six people.
- The chicken is done when it registers 165°F in the thickest part of the thigh. The wings and legs will wiggle loosely and the juices will run clear.
- Total roasting time will be between one and one-and-a-half hours — the exact cooking time will depend on the size and type of your chicken.
5 Steps for Glorious Roasted Chicken
- Make sure the chicken is dry: We do not recommend rinsing your chicken before roasting. Washing may spread bacteria from the chicken to the sink and across other food prep surfaces, and we want the chicken's skin to be as dry as possible so it will cook up crisp. Once you've got the chicken out of its packaging, pat it completely dry inside and out with paper towels.
- Be generous with the salt: A tablespoon of salt may seem like too much for a small chicken, but you want to be incredibly generous with the salt on the skin and inside the chicken's cavity to ensure that some of the seasoning works its way past the skin into the meat. Salting keeps the chicken juicy too. Oil or butter on the chicken before roasting is optional.
- Truss the chicken: Trussing is a traditional method for tying the chicken's legs together. Although techniques for bigger poultry like turkey require tying up the whole tail end, for a simple roast chicken, just bring the drumsticks together with kitchen twine. This really just keeps those drumsticks from drying out while the breast cooks through, and makes the whole chicken cook more evenly.
- Roast with patience: A roasted chicken is simple, but it is not quick. The chicken will roast for a minimum of one hour, but you can help the bird along by leaving it alone. There's no need to baste or bother or probe the chicken for one hour.
- Rest before carving: Rest the chicken for at least 15 minutes before carving. This allows the chicken to continue to cook, redistribute its juices, and cool down enough for you to carve it after it rests.
How to Check Chicken Doneness Without a Thermometer
The question we get asked most often is "How do I know my roast chicken is done?" And while a probe thermometer is the best way to determine doneness — it should register 165°F in the thickest part of the thigh before coming out of the oven — there are a few other ways to check.
First, follow the general rule of 15 minutes for every pound of chicken, a four-pound chicken is going to take at least an hour. Second, give the drumsticks a shake; they should wiggle quite easily. Lastly, you can insert a knife into the area between the breast and the thigh, cutting into the meat to check that the juices are clear (it's best to do this test right out of the oven in case the chicken needs to go back in for more cook time).
Carving a Roast Chicken
When you're ready to carve, you'll need a nice large cutting board and a chef's knife. I like to start by removing the breast: Make a shallow cut first right down the center of the two breasts to see the breast bone. Then, slice between the breast meat and that bone to remove each breast. Set these aside.
Once the breast is removed, you can easily remove the thighs by flipping the chicken over and pulling up on each. The thigh should pull right up, but occasionally you'll need to run the knife between the thigh and the backbone. Then, lay the chicken thigh flat and cut between the thigh and the drumstick at the joint.
You can remove the wings if you like, but I generally leave them on and use the chicken bones for making stock.
How To Roast a Perfect Chicken
What You Need
1 (4- to 5-pound) whole chicken
Olive oil or softened butter
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh herbs (optional)
Garlic cloves (optional)
Roasting pan or 10- to 12-inch oven-proof skillet, casserole dish, pie dish, or other ovenproof dish
- Preheat the oven to 450°F. Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven, remove racks above it, and heat to 450°F. Prepare a work station with your chicken, seasonings, roasting pan, and a piece of kitchen twine nearby.
- Remove the giblets. Reach inside the cavity of the chicken and remove the bag of giblets (if you can't find them, check in the neck cavity). The giblets can be discarded, saved for stock, or used to make gravy later on.
- Pat the chicken dry. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, making sure to absorb any liquid behind the wings or legs. Blot inside the body cavity too, getting the chicken as dry as you can inside and out.
- Rub the chicken with olive oil or butter. Rub oil or softened butter all over the chicken, paying special attention to the breast and the drumsticks. Be generous here! The fat will help the skin crisp and become golden.
- Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the chicken all over with the salt and pepper. Again, be generous here!
- Place flavorings inside the chicken and truss (optional). If desired, stuff the cavity of the chicken with halved lemons, whole cloves of garlic, or herbs. This adds subtle flavor to the chicken. Tie the legs together with a piece of kitchen twine.
- Place the chicken, breast-side up, in the pan. Place the chicken breast-side up in a roasting pan, cast iron skillet, frying pan, baking dish, pie plate, or any other shallow ovenproof dish. You can roast the chicken by itself in a pan, or lift it off the pan using a roasting rack or coarsely chopped vegetables (see Recipe Note).
- Lower the heat to 400°F and roast for 60 minutes. Place the chicken in the oven. Immediately lower the oven temperature to 400°F. Set a timer for 60 minutes and let the chicken roast undisturbed.
- Check the chicken. The chicken is done when it registers 165°F in the thickest part of the thigh, when the wings and legs wiggle loosely, and when the juices run clear. If the chicken is not ready, continue roasting and checking every 10 minutes until it is done. Total roasting time will be between 1 and 1 1/2 hours — exact cooking time will depend on the size of the chicken.
- Rest the chicken. Transfer the chicken to a clean cutting board and let it rest for about 15 minutes. During this time, you can prepare a salad or side dish, or whisk some flour into the pan juices to make gravy.
- Carve the chicken. Carve the chicken into the breasts, thighs, and drumsticks, and serve. Pick any remaining meat off the bones and save it for other meals.
- Storage: Leftovers will keep for about 5 days in the refrigerator or can be frozen for up to 3 months.
- Seasoning: You can change the flavor of the chicken by adding a spice rub along with the salt and pepper. We like Chinese 5-spice blend, za'atar spices, and ras el hanout.
- Roasting with vegetables: You can also make a two-in-one meal by roasting the chicken on top of a bed of potatoes, onions, carrots, or other veggies. Take a look at this recipe for instructions and inspiration: Viking Chicken.