Weeknight Cooking

How to Roast a Chicken Without a Recipe

January 19, 2015

Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: How to make everyone's favorite humble dinner, with no recipe at all. 

how to roast a chicken

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Roasting a chicken always makes me feel all Little House on the Prairie, even if tucking a naked bird’s wings behind its shoulders and sending it off into a hot oven wasn’t a routine part of life on the banks of Plum Creek. Still, the exercise is homey like baking a loaf of bread and resourceful like learning to tap your own maple trees. It is simple and rewarding and the only things you really need to do it well are a chicken, heat, and salt. 

But don’t roast one tonight because it will feed you for almost a week, or because your homemade stock supply is running dangerously low. Roast a chicken tonight because you need humble food to go with the bottle of red wine you bought. Or because the part of Little House you’re trying to channel is the happy golden years. We’ll just call those first reasons fringe benefits. 

how to roast a chicken

Here’s how to roast a chicken, without a recipe: 

1. This part is optional, but I like to trim the extra fat that usually hovers around the tail end of the chicken. After you pat the bird dry with a paper towel, trim away the natural excess of fat with a sharp knife or kitchen shears. Then wash your hands and crank the oven to 500° F, like Barbara Kafka taught you

how to roast a chicken

2. Season the bird. Generously salt and pepper the whole chicken, making sure to get the inside, too. (Is this all feeling a little too simple for you? Add another element by dry-brining ahead of time.) Now stuff the cavity with the aromatics your pantry happens to have. I like to use half a peeled onion, some lemon, and a mess of sturdy herbs like sage and thyme, but follow your heart: Have a bunch of garlic to use up? Peel a few cloves and throw them in. An orange instead of a lemon? Go with it.

3. Here’s the most acrobatic part of the whole gig: Tuck the wings squarely behind the bird’s shoulders before you roast so the wing tips don’t burn under the high heat. Just lift the chicken, fold the wings, and tuck them one at a time -- let the joints of the wing guide the whole process. 



4. Roast for about 10 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature of the chicken is hovering around 165° F. Remember, this number will continue to climb by a few degrees as the bird rests; let it laze for about 10 minutes before you carve. (Unsure of where to take its temperature? Brush up here.) Now’s the time to make a pan sauce, if that’s your speed -- or just throw it on the table, open that wine, and have at it. 

how to roast a chicken

Photos by Mark Weinberg

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Kenzi Wilbur

Written by: Kenzi Wilbur

I have a thing for most foods topped with a fried egg, a strange disdain for overly soupy tomato sauce, and I can never make it home without ripping off the end of a newly-bought baguette. I like spoons very much.


kelly February 27, 2015
500 degrees for 10 min/lb seems a bit much for me. the one tried-and-true rule of poultry i learned was 350 @ 20 min/lb. i've made countless roast chicken dinners that way and have never had one underdone, dried-out, or charred. i think adding seasoning inside the cavity and a little e.v.o.o. on the outside keeps the meat moist. for 'stuffing' i use 1 onion (cut into wedges), 1 small lemon (cut into wedges), a few celery sticks, s & p, and sprigs of rosemary, sage and thyme. good enough for company!
MARINNA February 11, 2015
made my first whole chicken thanks to this recipe...THANKS SO MUCH for sharing it came out great!!
LauriL February 8, 2015
Tried this with a spatchcocked bird....fantastic! And did I mention simple.
garlic A. February 8, 2015
True! I made one with olives, onions and citrus - check it out! http://wp.me/p3U4BY-1Gk
garlic A. February 6, 2015
Who doesn't like a good roast chicken! I have my butcher take out the back bone and flatten the bird so it cooks faster.
lora789 February 5, 2015
Ideas that can make your barbecue a success http://nicepatio.com/ideas-that-can-make-your-barbecue-a-success/
lora789 February 5, 2015
Oh, it looks amazing!
shelly B. February 2, 2015
Just a quick note on the Rotisserie chickens that someone mentioned -particularly about their paltry size. Quite right about that; they are usually tiny and therefore relatively expensive for a small bird. The one exception to this is the Rotisserie chicken sold at Costco. They are large, plump chickens and always delicious...and at $4.99, you can't beat the price. Heck you can't even buy the fresh bird for that price! I often buy more than one, and have even frozen them for later use...perfect for my kids to pull out of the freezer for a quick meal, rather than stopping somewhere for fast food. I also use the extra rotisserie chicken as part of other recipes that call for cooked chicken (particularly if I am short on time); their flavor is terrific and they are always juicy. In fact, for the Superbowl, my family had several "menu" requests, and I purchased 3 rotisserie chickens at Costco on Saturday afternoon. One was happily consumed for dinner that night, and the other 2 became part of Nachos, Buffalo chicken dip (that I put inside a dough ring) and a delicious chicken pot pies that we munched on throughout the Superbowl. If you haven't tried the Costco version of rotisserie chicken, it's certainly well worth giving it a try!
lisbeth January 27, 2015
kristie...where get and brand enamalized skillet....vs iron? sounds similar to jonathan waxman style bird cooking:)
kristie January 27, 2015
I have never roasted at 500 for the entire period, but instead heat my oven up to 500 (good and pre-heated for a bit) and then toss in my enamalized skillet for about 20 minutes and then place my room-temperature bird (4lbs) in and cook for 25 min. After this initial shock of heat, I turn the oven off-yes, off, and allow the residual heat to cook until 165 degrees (about 35 min more). Comes out perfect every time. Every time. And, so easy!
lisbeth January 26, 2015
kind of shocked as I have never seen recipe kept it that high for whole time and I actually got a chicken last nite due to storm ..make tonite or tomorrow...but its only 4lbs..........won't it dry out especially breast..no tenting or anything? and no fat on it, justkind of amazing to me:)
lisbeth January 26, 2015
you keep chicken roasting at 500 for entire time? and no oil or butter on the skin?
Kenzi W. January 26, 2015
lisbeth January 26, 2015
i notice you dont put any butter or olive oil on skin of chicken..thats rare..does it get crispy?
Kenzi W. January 26, 2015
It does indeed.
Carol H. January 26, 2015
I am confused about this recipe. Roasting at 500 degrees is going to burn the top of the chicken; I know because I have burned them at 425. Secondly, I would never consider roasting a chicken without stuffing; that is the best part of a chicken dinner. Thirdly, if you brine the chicken it comes out salty and it is impossible to make gravy from the juices because of the salt.
Alfonso D. January 26, 2015
I agree with you, 500 degrees is too high.

I preheat the oven to 450 degrees and lower the temperature to 350 degrees as soon as I put the chicken in the oven. Roast at a rate of 20 minutes per pound.

I don't throw the extra fat away, I flatten it and place it on top of the breast.
Carol H. January 26, 2015
I do that too; start it at 450 for half an hour or so to brown the top and then cover with foil and reduce to 350. Toward the end I turn the chicken over so the bottom can get brown too.
Kenzi W. January 26, 2015
500 has worked for me every time! That said, all of our ovens probably have slight variances in temperature.
Carol H. January 26, 2015
That is true. I almost always have to tweak the cooking on cookie recipes or they burn on the bottom; I move them up a level and cook for less time than it calls for.
Alfonso D. January 26, 2015
And if you place the chicken on a 'bed' of bay leaves the resulting gravy is delicious ...
Carol H. January 26, 2015
Does that mean you don't put it on a rack inside the roasting pan? I always put mine on a rack so it doesn't get gummy on the bottom and soaked with grease.
Alfonso D. January 26, 2015
I do both:

1. Put the bay leaves under the chicken in the rack; or,
2. Place the chicken on top of bay leaves in the roasting pan.

Option 1. is best.
Julia L. January 25, 2015
Title: How To Roast A Chicken Without A Recipe

Tag: Get the recipe
Maureen L. January 25, 2015
Tell me more about spatchcocking. Never done it.
ojailyn January 25, 2015
chickenfog...I thought that was my secret.....ALWAYS cook breasts down for moist white meat!
Meredith D. January 25, 2015
Can you purchase that roasting pan through Provisions? Really like it!
Lsia January 26, 2015
Yes! Would also like to know this.
Wanda January 28, 2015
Donald S. January 25, 2015
Let get this right, "How to roast a chicken without a recipe." Under the photo, "Get the recipe." So, do I need a recipe or not? Pretty funny.
Wally January 25, 2015
500 degrees! That's about 150 higher than my usual.
radovanovic.rade January 25, 2015
Thomas Keller, who is already mentioned in these comments, made a great contribution to the world popular food culture with bringing the chicken roast recipe to the perfection and ultimate simplicity. His recipe is good enough for a great meal but also a perfect base for any variation. It is on YouTube and all over the web. This recipe is pretty much alike it. After trying Keller's for many times I would always recommend trussing. The wings and legs stay close to the body; the ends of the drumsticks cover the top of the breast and keep it from drying out and helps the chicken to be cook evenly.