The Best Roast Chicken

You can make the perfect roast chicken! We’ll tell you the kitchen tools, spices, and cooking tips you’ll need.

Roast Chicken with Rosemary

Photo by Dianne

Roasting Tools
All you need is a roasting pan (or a baking sheet in a pinch) and an instant-read thermometer.

Using a roasting rack set over the pan will help the chicken cook more evenly, since air can circulate freely. With a roasting rack, the chicken won’t be resting in its own drippings, which will give you crispier skin. For easier cleanup, you can line the pan with aluminum foil.

Simple Whole Roasted Chicken

Photo by TX Tigress

Divine Brine

One secret to really flavorful, juicy roast chicken is brining: soaking in salt water. If your chicken is kosher, you’re in luck: it’s already brined. To brine a non-kosher chicken:

  • Dissolve ½ cup kosher salt (or ¼ cup table salt) in two quarts of water. Immerse the chicken completely in the solution and place in the refrigerator.
  • You should let it soak for at least one hour, but no longer than five or six hours.
  • Pour off the brine, rinse the chicken under cold running water, and pat it dry with paper towels. For extra-crispy skin, return the bird to the refrigerator and let it air-dry for another hour, or overnight, before roasting.

If you’re not brining, still rinse the chicken under cool water and pat it dry with paper towels. Rinsing removes residue and some surface bacteria, and drying off the chicken helps the skin brown.

Citrus Turkey Brine

Photo by mis7up

Dress It Up
A chicken roasted with nothing but salt, pepper, and butter is very tasty indeed. But it’s also easy to build on these basic flavors. Chop up fresh herbs and tuck them under the chicken’s skin along with a few pats of butter, or stuff sprigs into the chicken cavity along with quartered onions and cloves of garlic. Wedges of aromatic fruit such as lemons or oranges will perfume the bird as it roasts, infusing the meat with extra flavor.

Herb Cheese Butter

Photo by LINDA MCLEAN

Rub It Down
Many cooks use a dry rub: a blend of dried and ground spices, rubbing them under the chicken’s skin and inside the cavity. Since they’re under the skin, the flavorings won’t burn; plus they’ll infuse the meat. This is a great way to add some spice if you’ll be discarding the skin.

  • For a Southwestern flavor, try chile powder or pureed fresh chiles, cumin, and sage.
  • For an Indian-inspired bird, mix together equal parts ground coriander and cumin, plus turmeric and a pinch or two of cardamom or garam masala.
  • To give the chicken a Thai flair, try a paste of ginger, lemon grass, green chilies, cilantro, and lime juice.

Skin is In
Crispy, fragrant roast chicken skin is delicious. It is a bit fatty, though. But whether you eat it or remove it, always roast with the skin on, as it holds in moisture and keeps the meat from drying out.

A Bird You Can Truss
If you like, truss the bird before roasting it–that is, tie it with butcher’s twine to keep the legs close to the body. This is not an essential step, but it does make the chicken slightly easier to handle, and it helps hold the stuffing in if you’ve stuffed the chicken.

  • To truss a chicken, cut about a 3-foot length of heatproof butcher’s twine.
  • Lay the chicken on a clean surface with the breast facing up.
  • Hold one end of the string in each hand, and loop the center of the string underneath the chicken’s tail.
  • Catch the ends of the legs inside the string, then cross the string over the chicken’s breast, making an X.
  • Loop the string under and around the wings, then tie the string snugly in a knot across the middle of the breast. Make sure that the ends of the wings are tucked in.
Cornbread Stuffed Chicken

Photo by Buckwheat Queen

Roasting Methods
There are two methods for roasting a whole chicken:

Regular method:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  • Roast whole (thawed) chickens for 20 minutes per pound, plus an additional 15 minutes.

High heat method (this creates a crispy, darker skin):

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C) and cook whole (thawed) chicken for 10-15 minutes.
  • Then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) and roast for 20 minutes per pound. (Do not add the extra 15 minutes to the cooking time as with the regular method.)

Is it Ready Yet?
Regardless of the method used, a whole chicken is ready when a meat thermometer inserted into the inner thigh (close to but not touching the thigh bone) reads at least 165 degrees F (74 degrees C).

  • The temperature of the meat will continue to rise slightly when you pull it out of the oven (this is called “carryover cooking”), so if the thermometer shows a few degrees below the target, give it a few minutes–the internal temperature might still rise to at least 165 degrees F (74 degrees C).
  • When you remove the chicken from the oven, cover it loosely with a doubled sheet of aluminum foil, and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing. This redistributes the juices and results in moister chicken.

Use this chart to determine how long to roast your chicken:

Roasting Times Chart

Weight (in lbs.) Regular Method High Heat Method
2.5 to 3 1 hour 15 minutes 1 hour
3 to 3.5 1 hour 25 minutes 1 hour 10 minutes
3.5 to 4 1 hour 35 minutes 1 hour 20 minutes
4 to 4.5 1 hour 45 minutes 1 hour 30 minutes
4.5 to 5 1 hour 55 minutes 1 hour 40 minutes
5 to 5.5 2 hours 5 minutes 1 hour 50 minutes
5.5 to 6 2 hours 15 minutes 2 hours
6 to 6.5 2 hours 25 minutes 2 hours 10 minutes
6.5 to 7 2 hours 35 minutes 2 hours 20 minutes
7 to 7.5 2 hours 45 minutes 2 hours 30 minutes

NOTE: These times are for unstuffed birds. Add 15 minutes to the total cooking time if you’re roasting a stuffed chicken. And as with the chicken itself, make sure the stuffing reaches a temperature of at least 165 degrees F (74 degrees C).