Chicken

The Best Way to Roast a Whole Chicken, According to 5 Chefs

We asked the experts, once and for all.

September  8, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

It’s the ultimate comfort food, the epitome of home cooking. The dish you turn to when you need an impressive crowd-pleaser or a week’s worth of meals; a humble exercise in homey resourcefulness, the ideal example of simplicity at its very best. I’m talking, of course, about roast chicken.

“I’ve always thought the great mark of a chef is if they can roast a chicken,” said Mark Sarrazin, president of meat and poultry purveyors Debragga & Spitler Inc, in a 2016 interview with Thrillist. “It’s always hard to get the thigh and dark meat cooked enough without drying out the breast. It’s an interesting test for a chef.”

Okay, so roasting a chicken isn’t rocket science. But because it's such a simple dish, the smallest details can have the biggest impact. And the perfect bird—you know, crispiest golden skin, juiciest meat, mouthwatering seasoning—is a worthy goal and a realistic challenge for anyone, whether you're a seasoned pro planning Sunday dinner or a fledgling cook looking to build kitchen confidence. I've always felt that, at the end of the day, whomever you are: If you can roast a chicken, then you can do anything. Which is why we’ve decided to ask a handful of chefs to learn their absolute best ways to get a flawlessly roasted, golden bird.

Check out their top tips below, then stretch your wings and soar:


How to Roast a Chicken

1. Prep the bird and dry its skin

The first question: to brine or not to brine? (What? You thought that was just a question for the Thanksgiving turkey?) Chicken benefits from a nice soak in saltwater, too, according to Mike Reilly, the executive chef of NoMad New York and the guy who makes this amazing bird every day. “If you have the time, brining chicken is always awesome," he tells me. "It helps keep it juicer. We use salt and lemon juice at a 10-percent brine for at least an hour, up to a full day.”

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Top Comment:
“Remove chicken, vegetables my need to go a bit longer so this is your resting time. Hack up the chicken however you wish, and serve with the veg and all the pan juices. A little chicken fat is good for the soul. Julia would approve. So would chef Jacques.”
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After brining, you’ll need to completely dry your bird. Air drying in the refrigerator overnight is a one-way ticket to the crispiest, crunchiest skin, but if you’re short on time, use a hair dryer or blot with a paper towel. You don’t want any moisture on the skin.

Once your chicken is bone dry, let it reach room temp, says Erik Ramirez, executive chef and co-owner of Llama Inn in Brooklyn. “It not only helps the chicken cook more evenly, but actually means the meat cooks more quickly.”

And should you spatchcock? Chefs were divided on this one. By removing the backbone and flattening the breastbone of your chicken, the bird cooks more quickly and evenly.

“We remove the backbone for two reasons,” says Danny DiStefano, executive chef at New York City’s Made Nice. “Roasting the chicken whole causes steam to accumulate, making the skin soggy. Secondly, when you flatten the chicken, the bones protect the meat but allow the skin to get perfectly crisp.”

But you can have a perfectly fine bird without breaking any bones. If you don’t spatchcock, then truss, says Reilly. Just don’t be afraid of tying too tight. Here’s our guide on how to do it.


2. Season very, very well (don't be shy)

At the NoMad, Reilly stuffs his chicken with foie gras and black truffles, but all you need for a fantastic roast is salt and basic aromatics (think herbs like rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves, or garlic, and lemon), he says.

“The key is to put a lot of salt,” he says. “More salt than you’d ever think you’d need. It should look like a frosted car. As the butter you put on the chicken will melt off, it pulls off your seasoning.”

But before you season, both Reilly and DiStefano recommend oiling your bird with olive oil or tempered butter.

“Lightly brushing the skin side before seasoning with a little olive oil or butter helps displace the moisture,” DiStefano says. “If you season before the fat, the salt will draw moisture from skin while the chicken cooks.”


3. Roast at high heat, not low

How long you roast your chicken depends on the size of your bird, your oven’s idiosyncrasies, and if you spatchcock or not. But no matter what, you want to avoid slow-roasting, says Carmen Quagliata, who oversees 35 chickens daily as executive chef at New York’s Union Square Cafe and Daily Provisions.

“Do not go low and long. That will dry it out,” he says. Instead, Quagliata favors a hot and heavy start and a low, low finish. “I’ll get my oven nice and hot—450°F to 475°F—to get that skin crispy. After 30 minutes, I lower to 300°F for another 15 to 20 minutes before taking it out.”

(Psst—still unsure how long to leave it in? Barbara Kafka's Simplest Roast Chicken roasts at 500°F, untrussed, for about 10 minutes per pound and has never let us down.)


4. Cook to 165°F and let it rest

The best way to know whether or not your chicken is cooked thoroughly is to use a meat thermometer (the safe internal temperature for a whole roast chicken is 165°F in the thigh, according to FoodSafety.gov.), but Claudette Zepeda, former executive chef of El Jardin in San Diego, California has a great visual cue.

“Your chicken is done when the juices run clear," she says. “People don’t need to be so afraid.”

Once you take your chicken out of the oven, give it a rest. “You should rest all meat, but it’s even more important with chicken,” Zepeda-Wilkins says. “To avoid dried out chicken, let the juices redistribute through the meat for 10 minutes or more.”


Now, Our 7 Best Roast Chicken Recipes

1. Misoyaki Roast Chicken with Shoyu Onion Sauce

This Japanese-inspired miso and mirin marinade, which is typically used on fish like salmon or mahi mahi, works unsurprisingly well on a succulent roast chicken.

2. The Best Roast Chicken with Pan Sauce, Revisited

You might think the addictively crispy skin is the showstopper on this perfect roast chicken, but you'd be wrong. It's hands-down the silky garlic and herb sauce that gets drizzled over top.

3. Barbara Kafka's Simplest Roast Chicken

Don't let Barbara Kafka's high-heat method (or the bit of smoke it might produce in your oven) scare you—this'll be one of the most gloriously golden, tender birds you'll ever make.

4. 30-Minute Roast Chicken

Meet the roast chicken—cooked simply, with nothing but salt, pepper, and olive oil—you can actually make on a weeknight without feeling like you're twiddling your thumbs for an hour.

5. Lemon & Onion Roast or Roasted Chicken

Once the weather gets cool enough (aka, right about now) to crank up your oven without turning the kitchen into a sauna, you'll be roasting up this lemony-herby chicken every other weekend.

6. Honey-Roasted Chicken with Garlic, Lavender & Roasted Vegetables

This butterflied (otherwise known as spatchcocked) chicken is aromatic as can be, with a side of pan-dripped vegetables to go with it, making it ideal for special fall and winter occasions.

7. Engagement Roast Chicken With Carrot Panzanella

Whoever said roast chicken can only be served for a crowd hasn't met this finger-lickin'-good engagement roast chicken from Senior Editor Eric Kim's Table for One column.

How do YOU like to roast chicken? Let us know in the comments below.

This article has been updated by Food52 editors in September 2019 to include juicy new details on our favorite roast chicken recipes.

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The Dynamite Chicken cookbook is here! Get ready for 60 brand-new ways to love your favorite bird. Inside this clever collection by Food52 and chef Tyler Kord, you'll find everything from lightning-quick weeknight dinners to the coziest of comfort foods.

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Katie is a food writer and editor who loves cheesy puns and cheesy cheese.

29 Comments

patricia G. September 2, 2019
I like Thomas Keller's recipe for its sheer minimalist simplicity. A really well-dried bird, trussed, showered with salt, shoved in a 450 oven, no basting (to minimize steaming.) To keep the skin crunchy-crisp, don't douse with butter after roasting, as some versions of this recipe suggest. I whisk unsalted butter into the pan juices instead. A vinegary green salad is the perfect foil.
 
James May 14, 2019
Totally disagree. Season generously, but slow and long always turns out tender chicken. Put bird in 250 degree oven for 5 hrs, turn up to 350 last hour for crisp skin. Add sherry to juices in pan, stir in some whipping cream, and the best roast chicken you’ll ever taste is ready.
 
Austin B. January 26, 2019
Dry-brine, using the Zuni Cafe recipe, with some clarification through the Judy-bird recipe (based off of the former). 1tbsp diamond kosher salt for 5 pounds of bird. Chill for 3 nights, breast up, flip on its breast for 1 more night, then flip back, uncovered for the final night. 375° oven, preheat skillet, set dry chix in hot skillet, breast side up, and immediately into oven for 30 minutes. Flip bird and roast for 10-20 minutes, and flip again for 5-10 mins.
 
Gail A. January 26, 2019
good info. when i clicked on the video " how to truss a chicken" , it is Mario Batalli giving the demonstration. Couldn't watch him. With all the talented female chefs in this world and males who are not pigs, why not update that video?
 
fudgefactor January 24, 2019
I'm in - sounds great. But, could someone please just turn all that into a recipe I can print and use?
 
2tattered January 25, 2019
Google is your friend.....
 
2tattered January 25, 2019
Feeling more helpful today. This is Deb Perelman's simplified rendition of the original Zuni Recipe. Do yourselves a delightful favor, and make the bread salad too. To. Die. For. I. Promise.
 
2tattered January 25, 2019
Here's the link: https://smittenkitchen.com/2008/12/zuni-cafe-roast-chicken-bread-salad/
 
fudgefactor January 26, 2019
Thank you!
 
2tattered January 24, 2019
The ‘best’ roast chicken recipe has already been invented by Judy Rodgers in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook. No need to delve further. Simple, easy dry brine. Make her recipe for Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad and you will think you’ve reached chicken nirvana. Recipe is intimidating, but with a bit of thought can be simplified. At the very least, just follow her instructions for the roast bird alone and you will have perfection.
 
2tattered January 24, 2019
Zuni recipe is best with a 3 to 3.5 lb chicken - perfect for two with leftovers (maybe); also good for four diners with sides and/or dessert.
 
Dawn January 24, 2019
Oh my gosh, couldn’t agree more! The Zuni Cafe roasted chicken with bread salad is to die for and a ‘go to’ for me when cooking for friends and family and kids. Everyone loves it!
 
Eileen January 24, 2019
Brine overnight with salt, sugar, lemon juice, and a splash of soy (for great color). Roast on a rack or perched on carrots, potatoes, onions, at 425. Check with meat thermometer. I go to 170 at least. The birds in my market are 5-6 lbs. or more. Remove chicken, vegetables my need to go a bit longer so this is your resting time. Hack up the chicken however you wish, and serve with the veg and all the pan juices. A little chicken fat is good for the soul. Julia would approve. So would chef Jacques.
 
Jonny January 24, 2019
Usually well salted with black pepper and garlic powder @ 425 til done.

Sometimes stuff with fresh thyme, garlic and lemon and ground sage or ground thyme in seasoning mix.

Been meaning to try roasting on a rack so that underside gets crispy too. Also thinking of trying a different spices in my rub.

But for basic that leaves me options with leftovers salt, pepper & garlic powder.

Love roast chicken whole or as parts. Never spatchcocked would like to try someday but I'm a little afraid of having the breasts dry out on me.
 
Colleen January 24, 2019
When I am resting the chicken for 10 min on the counter am I covering it at all with anything - I would think not because it will make the skin soggy but wanted to hear your thoughts
 
Mimi B. January 24, 2019
No, don't cover it with anything...it won't get cold and yes, you want the skin to stay crispy
 
Bill B. January 24, 2019
I like to roast a whole chicken hot and fast. My skin is always crispy because I stuff fresh herbs under the breast skin and I rub the entire chicken with soy sauce until the skin takes on a light brown stained look. A few more herbs and garlic in the cavity and roast till done to touch, in a 450 degree convection oven. Let rest for 20 minutes before carving.
 
Tom January 24, 2019
With thanks to Chef John.

4 to 5 pound chicken. Patted dry. Salted heavily. Cook in a preheated 450° oven for approximately one hour.

Best chicken ever

 
Eric K. January 21, 2019
Katie, thanks for this guide; interesting to see why chefs do these things we're always told to do at home. I think I'll roast a chicken tomorrow for lunch...

I love this scene in Amelie: https://youtu.be/tUI48tmMEp4
 
Anthony D. January 19, 2019
I’m so sick of hearing about crispy skin on chicken.! There’s more to a great chicken then crispy skin! It’s almost getting as bad as people’s fascination with the cheese pull on a grilled cheese give me a break!!!
 
Tope A. January 20, 2019
Let's be real here Anthony. Crispy skin on chicken is the best part. You're telling me you prefer a soggy-skinned, whole-roasted bird over a crispy-skinned, golden one? Get outta here. Next, you're gonna say that chicken thighs and legs are overrated and we should all stick to poached breast!
 
James January 20, 2019
That's funny and true. It reminds me of a cooking platitude I'm sick of hearing/reading in every discussion of pasta - al dente. It is so ubiquitously mentioned, it now does not need to be said. Yet everyone mindlessly repeats the mantra as if they are sharing breaking news. Every GD recipe says the phrase. Yes, yes we all know - firm to the tooth. You know what would be novel instruction - cook pasta to your desired doneness. Because the truth of the matter is there is no right way to cook pasta. Sometimes going past al dente is wonderful. When the pasta gets a little fuzzy on it's surface the sauce grabs more easily. A slippery al dente noodle can sometimes be the worst.
 
Eric K. January 21, 2019
James, that's so well said and I couldn't agree more. "Cook pasta to your desire doneness." Maybe I'll start writing my pasta recipes as such. Sometimes I am in the mood for softer noodles.

As for crispy skin, personally, that is my favorite part of homemade roast chicken. Sometimes I'll even stand there and snack on the skin first before the meat ever gets to the table! But I'll admit that rotisserie chickens have a special place in my heart, too, for their texture and flavor (sans crispy skin).
 
Anthony D. January 23, 2019
First of all I never said that I didn’t like the crispy skin on the chicken you read that into my post. I’m just sick and tired of hearing about crispy skin.Like I said there are other things that make a great chicken other than that.
 
2tattered January 24, 2019
Shoot me now....
 
Jaye B. January 25, 2019
James - I agree!
 
D Y. January 25, 2019
I don't eat, and never will eat chicken skin. Crispy skin doesn't matter to me. I just want juicy, well-done meat. Am I alone in this preference?
 
Sal D. July 14, 2019
Couldn't agree more! I peel off the skin anyway. I'm much more interested in juicy meat with soggy skin than a crispy, dried-out bird. If I want crispy chicken, I'll deep fry it.
 
Jaye B. July 15, 2019
I agree with James & Eric on cooking pasta. I agree with Sal on roast chicken. To get the rotisserie-type skin I like which is neither crisp nor soggy, after the bird has nicely turned golden brown, I add 1" or so of chik broth to the pan drippings and finish cooking. Keeps the chik juicey and is a good au jus for sides.