Barbara Kafka's Simplest Roast Chicken

May 18, 2012

Every week -- often with your help -- FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: No trussing, no basting. It turns out the juiciest and speediest roast chicken is the simplest of all.

roast chicken

Choosing one genius roast chicken is a tall, if not impossible, order. You might as well ask a parent to pick a favorite child. They are all special and clever and equally deserving of love, which is why it's taken me this long to commit.

In the 10 months since this column launched, every time I felt the urge to roast a chicken, I knew I couldn't just freestyle, throwing in whatever wayward herb sprigs and scraps of onion I had laying around. Each time, I had to test out a new contender from the Roast Chicken Hall of Fame. You'll probably recognize most of them.

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With Judy Rodgers, I pre-salted my bird 2 days ahead. Its flesh was seasoned through to its middle; its juices poured over crusty bread salad. Jamie Oliver had me truss, then slash a chicken's thighs, and they crisped up impressively. With Julia Child, I dutifully flipped and basted, flipped and basted. Simon Hopkinson and I smoothed a whole stick of butter over the top.

With Thomas Keller, I added almost nothing at all, on the premise that any ingredient, even butter, would introduce steam and wilt the skin. Indeed its skin was crackly as wrapping paper. But I had to grumble: this recipe (the #1 Google hit for roast chicken) simply told me and all the internet: "Roast it until it's done -- 50-60 minutes." No internal temperature, no advice to check the juices or wiggle the legs, nothing. Next.

salting roast chicken  chicken

Gradually, just as dating around gives way to comfortable commitment, this experimental time for the chickens and me started to feature a lot of repeat visits from one bird in particular.

The juiciest, speediest, most bewitchingly golden roast chicken also happened to be the one with the recipe I could remember without googling. Just 10 minutes a pound at 500°F. That's right, 500°F. The whole time.

Be sure to let it come down to room temperature and put it in the oven bum-first, so the slower-cooking legs are nearer the heat at the back of the oven. That's about it. You can stick a lemon, some garlic, or other odds and ends in there, but you don't have to.

There's no basting, and no trussing. You needn't remember to turn the heat up or down after so many minutes; nor flip the creature awkwardly halfway through. No snipping of spines or slashing of limbs; no stuffing butter deep into loose corners of skin.

barbara kafka  roasting

The method is as no-nonsense and fearless as Barbara Kafka herself (her second most famous recipe is microwave risotto). Kafka famously developed her ultra-high heat technique in Roasting: A Simple Art -- not just for chicken and turkey, but everything from strip steak to mackerel to cucumbers. Cucumbers!

Today, it seems we want most everything singed and caramelized at 450-500°F, but in 1995 when Kafka wrote the book, people were suspicious. Fewer foods were roasted then, and when they were, the standard oven temperatures ran 100 degrees cooler.

high heat roast chicken

Kafka changed that. For a while, her high-heat roast chicken was all the rage, but inevitably other techniques caught our attention -- spatchcocking! vertical roasting! wet brining! dry brining! -- and we moved on. I recommend we briefly return to 1995. Let's smile fondly at the budget deficit, look away from the all the flannel and ill-fitting jeans, and take back our roast chicken.

Some naysayers have complained about the wild heat, that there's too much spattering or smoke. To them, Kafka just calmly advises (temporarily) unplugging their smoke detectors and setting their ovens to self-clean before they go to bed. I've never had these issues, though I do enjoy the sounds and smells of a sputtering chicken roasting its little heart out. Don't let the timid out there keep you from tasting this bird -- of all the chickens I've loved, I've never found one better. But shh, don't tell the others.

roasted chicken

Barbara Kafka's Simplest Roast Chicken

Adapted from Roasting: A Simple Art(William Morrow, 1995)

5- to 6-pound chicken at room temperature, wing tips removed
1 lemon, halved
4 whole garlic cloves
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup chicken stock, water, fruit juice, or wine for optional deglazing

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.



Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by Nicole Franzen


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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Andrew Barbaccia
    Andrew Barbaccia
  • bobrestore
  • sadenis
  • philip
  • Chantal Latulippe Francisco
    Chantal Latulippe Francisco
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Andrew B. December 2, 2015
Made this recipe in a cast iron skillet with thinly sliced potatoes an some onion under the bird. Had no smoke in cooking! I seasoned the potatoes and put them back in the oven on broil while the chicken was standing to finish them up nice and crispy. Great, simple dinner.
bobrestore December 24, 2013
What about a 8 lb chicken? Will it work ?
Kristen M. December 24, 2013
Kafka doesn't advise it, but you could try if you keep a close eye on the internal temperature. If the skin is getting too crisp and dark before the temperature in the thigh hits 165 degrees F, you can turn the temperature down and/or tent the darker parts with foil.
bobrestore December 24, 2013
Thanks, That is what a kept finding, too large a bird for this. I am going to try 15 minutes at 500 and then about 15-20 per pound at 350. I'm sure it will be fine but I mam going to try it this way next time with a smaller bird.

sadenis September 28, 2013
Will this work with smaller chickens too, like a 3 lb bird?
Kristen M. September 28, 2013
Yes, it works very well with smaller chickens! In her book, Kafka recommends it for any bird up to 7 pounds.
philip September 25, 2013
the chicken recipie is simply marvelous, I think I'll try it tomorrow
Chantal L. September 25, 2013
My go-to recipe has been Michael Chiarello's from the NapaStyle cookbook, long since pilfered from my cookbook collection. When I roasted my chicken yesterday, I started at 450 as I always do, then forgot to reduce the temp after the first ten minutes. I remembered with about 15 minutes to go, and after almost an hour of snap-crackle-pop from the oven, I pulled out a wonderfully golden brown perfectly cooked chicken. With a house full of crispy skin lovers, I think I'll be considering a permanent move to high heat roasting.
dulcinea922 April 12, 2013
This is THE best roast chicken recipe. I've used it since buying Barbara Kafka's cookbook on the recommendation of a friend years ago. IMO it is the ultimate roast chicken recipe. Quick, easy, uncomplicated, and delicious. The only way to improve it is to cut up a few potatoes and an onion and tuck them in around the chicken ten minutes into roasting time. Be sure to use a slightly bigger pan, and stir/flip the veggies every fifteen minutes or so. The potatoes and onions soak up all the delicious chicken drippings, getting brown and crispy in the process. They are awesomely delicious, but as Kafka herself says, not exactly diet food.
Transplant F. February 4, 2013
Interesting - I just tried this and did not have any smoke?? Instead of using a pan, I used an oval Cornware dish. My chicken was 5.2 lbs and fit snugly into it. The skin on the breast and other exposed parts was super crispy, not so much at the back of the chicken which got soaked in juices, but who likes the back of the chicken anyway? The meat was supermoist and delicious. I am going to try it with halved Naval oranges instead of lemons next time. (I used 2 halved lemons because my chicken was big).
Susan K. May 28, 2012
My little chicken was staring me in the face in the refrigerator and I did not know what to do with him. Then I went to Genius Recipes that day and there was Roasted Chicken! It was delicious and I will use this recipe often. I enjoy all of these recipes. Thanks, Kristen for a great job!
amybanana May 28, 2012
Made this a few days ago, the chicken was very good, but the inside of my oven got completely coated with splattered chicken fat that is released during this roasting process which also creates a lot of smoke that was too much for my super duper kitchen exhaust vent to handle. The result? Pretty good roasted chicken, a very greasy oven, smoke smell in the kitchen and a 4 hour oven cleaning cycle overnight. Was it worth it? Not really.
A C. May 26, 2012
We LOVE roasted vegetables. This recipe prompted me to buy Barbara's book on Amazon. It just came today and I can't wait to dive into it.
Jacqueline M. May 24, 2012
I followed this method last night. The chicken was delectable! A bit scorched on the ends of the legs and wings, but not bad. I would recommend having a commercial vent for this method! It was as bad as roasting a goose or duck for the smoke it produced! One tip I learned for goose may work for this method for chicken: adding an inch or so of water in the bottom of the roasting pan.
frootjoos May 21, 2012
It was so easy to make, my husband managed to roast it with only minor injuries to himself. He says it was worth it.
Stephanie L. May 21, 2012
I made this tonight with all smoke detectors offline. Holy MAN! The skin is so crispy, it's tissue paper and the meat is so rife with juices, it's like it was poached.
Lori L. May 20, 2012
I've always been a huge fan of Barbara's. She's amazing! To see her recipes paired with Nicole's photos is such an uber treat!
SophieL May 20, 2012
I bought Barbara Kafka's Roasting cookbook when it first came out, and it has not failed me. I especially love the rib roast recipe, as well as the roast chicken. Yes, the smoke alarm goes off, and the house gets smokey, but the results are outstanding. I will try the Cook's Illustrated method of thinly sliced potatoes under the chicken. Thanks for bringing Kafka's book to your readers' attention.
Trillinchick May 20, 2012
Chicken Butterfly, or other: What timing would you suggest, please, for this technique with quarters (thighs and drumsticks connected)? It's not as much weight at once like a 6 lb. bird, can still appear and appeal as an elegant dish, and avoids the dreaded potential of (choke!) dried out breast meat.
lowcountrycook May 20, 2012
There's a postscript to this method that is, I believe, genius as well. Some years back Cook's Illustrated concurred high heat roasting was the ne plus ultra of chicken cookery, then addressed the smoke issue. The solution CI proposed is layer thinly sliced potatoes in the bottom of the pan and place the chicken on top, then let it wail. The potatoes keep the chicken fat from scorching in the pan, and the chicken fat returns the favor by frying the most divine potatoes you've ever tasted (the chicken juice that has joined the meld doesn't hurt, either). This is one of those things I can only make about once a year as i can't trust myself around it.
Stephanie L. May 20, 2012
Oh, my lord, that sounds too awesome for reality. Trying it next time.
boggler May 21, 2012
Yum! Guess what I'm making for dinner tonight?
LeBec F. May 20, 2012
kristen, congrats on the excellent writing job on this piece. Articulate, economical AND entertaining. Thank you!
Paul,Rybarczyk May 20, 2012
Don't know about this one. Did it a few times a number of years ago. Smokes up the whole house and spatters the oven. Maybe I'll try it again. Maybe. Have been making Michael Symon's version...salt rubbed all over (not actually a brine) and allowed to sit in the refrigerator for a while, butter and sage rubbed over and under the skin, roasted at 425° for an hour.
Lauren's P. May 20, 2012
Yes! This is the mother of them all.