Never underestimate the power of a roast chicken. It's an infallible Sunday dinner, and the leftovers (if you're so lucky) can be used for sandwiches, salads, and quick meals all week long.
Roasting a chicken doesn't have to be a special weekend affair, either. A small bird really only takes about an hour to cook, so we can easily make it on a weeknight. Put it in the oven when you get home from work and let it cook while you wind down from the day. It's that simple — and here's how.
How To Roast the Perfect Chicken: Watch the Video
You can use a roasting pan for chicken if you have one, but don't feel like you need to go out and buy one. Most of the time, I just use my trusty cast iron skillet. You can also use a stainless steel skillet, a large casserole dish, or even a pie plate. Anything oven-safe that will comfortably hold the chicken will work!
You can also cook the chicken by itself right in the pan without a rack or anything else. Lifting the bird will improve the air circulation around it and help it cook a bit more evenly, but I find that this matters more for a giant Thanksgiving turkey than it does for a little weeknight roast chicken. This said, I do like to occasionally go for a 2-in-1 meal and roast the chicken on top of a bed of chopped potatoes, onions, and carrots; the veggies roast in the juices from the chicken and I get an easy side dish to serve with the chicken!
As far as actually roasting the chicken goes, it's all pretty hands off. Rub it with a little oil and sprinkle it with salt and pepper, then pop it in the oven for an hour. Go about your business — finish the rest of your dinner, fold some laundry, pour a drink. The chicken is done when it smells so good you can't wait a moment longer.
Pretty easy, right? This is why roast chicken is one of my standby meals for small dinner parties and casual weeknight meals alike — foolproof and irresistible.
How To Roast a Perfect Chicken
What You Need
1 (3- to 4-pound) chicken
Olive oil or softened butter
1 tablespoon salt
Fresh herbs, optional
Garlic cloves, optional
Roasting pan, 10- to 12-inch oven-proof skillet, casserole dish, pie dish or other oven-proof dish
- Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place the rack in the lower-middle of the oven. Prepare a work station with your chicken, the salt and pepper, and lemon wedges 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 or a kitchen rag. Make 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 oil will help the skin crisp and become golden.
- Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper: Sprinkle the chicken all over with salt and pepper. Again, be generous here!
- Place lemons and garlic inside the chicken (optional): If desired, stuff the inside of the chicken with halved lemons, whole cloves of garlic, or herbs. This adds subtle flavor to the chicken (and the roasted garlic can be spread on bread!)
- Place the chicken, breast-side up, in the pan: You can roast the chicken by itself in a pan, or lift it off the pan using a roasting rack or roughly chopped vegetables (see Recipe Note).
- Lower the oven to 400°F and roast the chicken for 50 minutes: Put the chicken in the oven and immediately lower the oven temperature to 400°F. Set a timer for 50 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. Continue roasting the chicken and checking it every 10 minutes until it is done. Total roasting time will be between 50 minutes and 1 1/2 hours — exact cooking time will depend on the size and type of your chicken.
- Rest the chicken: Once finished cooking, transfer the chicken to a 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. Leftovers will keep for about 5 days in the fridge or can be frozen for up to 3 months.
- 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.
- You can also make a 2-in-1 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.
This post has been updated. Originally published February 2010.
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