There's nothing quite like the smell of a roasting chicken. It fills the house and lets you know that a delicious, warm, and comforting meal is on its way.
Roast chicken is definitely one of my top ten favorite meals. Even when I was little, and a very picky eater, I loved it. It was always like a special treat to me, and still is — no matter how often I make it!
One of the great things about roasting chicken is that you end up with an impressive meal, but one that doesn't take too much effort. Roasting chicken is actually surprisingly easy, when you consider how good it is!
So how do you roast chicken? Well, there are lots of ways of doing it. I'll go over the different ways of roasting chicken, and talk about the advantages and disadvantages of each method.
I've split this article up into the different steps of roasting chicken:
The first step to making a fantastic roast chicken is brining. Brining is a cooking technique where you soak your chicken in salty water (the brine!) for a few hours. It's very easy to do but it does mean you have to plan ahead a little.
You can find out all about how to do it in our brining chicken article, but I'll at least give you the reasons why you'd want to brine your chicken:
Brining helps keep your chicken moist. Soaking it in water increases the moisture in the meat, and the salt helps prevent it from drying out when it cooks.
Brining also really enhances the chicken's flavor. The salt from the brine penetrates deep into the chicken flesh. It's much more effective that just seasoning the surface!
I feel that brining makes a huge difference when roasting chicken. But it's not necessary. You can make a great roasted chicken without brining. It all comes down to whether you have the time.
Whether you decided to brine your chicken or not, the next step is to season it.
There are a few different ways to season a chicken for roasting, and you can mix and match them all.
But no matter which ones you choose, you want to start by patting the chicken dry first. It'll help the skin get crispy when you cook it. You can even leave it to air dry in the fridge for an hour or so if you like extra crispy skin.
When roasting chicken, the easiest thing to do is to season its outside: just sprinkle your favorite herbs and spices on the surface of the chicken. Some seasonings that go well with chicken are:
Salt and pepper. Try sprinkling a small handful of salt from a foot or two above the chicken. This will let the salt rain down on the chicken and coat it evenly.
Fresh herbs like thyme and tarragon. Tarragon is especially good if you stuff the chicken with lemon.
Garlic, fresh or granulated. Onion powder is good, too.
Spices like paprika or chili powder.
Seasoning the skin is really easy. You barely have to handle the bird and you'll be done in just a few minutes. But there are a few disadvantages:
The skin helps protect the chicken from drying out, so you really need to be leave it on whether you plan on eating it or not. But it also protects the chicken from the seasonings! Your herbs and spices will taste great on the skin, but they won't season the meat as much as seasoning under the skin.
If you're not planning on eating the skin, you'll be throwing out a lot of those delicious seasonings.
If you'll be roasting chicken at a higher temperature, the seasonings can burn — especially if you're cooking in something small like a toaster oven.
A little bit of butter can go a long way when you're roasting chicken. It really does make a huge difference!
Rubbing a bit of softened butter over the skin will help your chicken brown nicely.
Rubbing some softened butter under the skin helps prevent the chicken from drying out as you cook it — even without basting! The butter helps baste the meat, adding its own delicious flavour.
You don't have to use a lot of butter. I hardly ever use more than a tablespoon on a 4-5 lb chicken and my family is always thrilled by the results.
If you prefer, you can also use margarine or oil. The major difference will be the flavor. Personally I'm not a fan of using oil because I love a tiny buttery flavor, but it's definitely an option.
Another option is to use a butter-flavored cooking spray. A friend of mine's mom always makes her chicken just spraying it inside and out, and I don't think she's ever made anything that wasn't delicious.
That method is definitely easy and tasty. My only problem is that sometimes those cooking sprays have some chemicals in them, so I try to use them very sparingly.
Now that we've talked about seasoning the outside of the bird, let's talk about the inside of the bird. There are lots of ways of doing it.
The very simplest way of seasoning the cavity is to take a generous amount of salt and pepper and rub it in there.
Salting the inside helps the salt penetrate the meat and season it the whole way through. Much tastier than just seasoning the surface!
In addition to salt and pepper, you can add any herbs and spices you like.
You can also stuff the cavity with lemon or orange wedges, or pieces of onion. As they heat up, they'll create a bit of steam in the roasting chicken, but they'll also infuse it with flavor.
You can also make a bread, rice or grain, or cornbread stuffing to place inside the chicken. The chicken will flavor the stuffing and the stuffing will flavor the chicken.
If you decide to stuff the cavity, be sure not to put too much in there. You don't want it spilling out! If you're afraid of the stuffing falling out while you're cooking, here's a little trick:
Take a skewer and poke it through the bottom of the cavity so that it's horizontal across the cavity; the middle of the skewer should be inside the cavity and both ends should poke outside through the meat.
Take a few more skewers and do the same thing, a bit higher each time.
Take a piece of kitchen twine and lace it through the skewers to pull the cavity close.
And there you go! Nothing will fall out. Or, you can truss the bird; that helps the cavity stay closed, too.
One more thing: if you stuff the chicken, you'll have to add 15 to 30 minutes to the cooking time.
Once you've seasoned and stuffed your chicken, the next step is to truss it.
Trussing a chicken just means tying it up so that the legs and wings are tight against the body of the chicken. It's absolutely an optional step, unless you're using a rotisserie, in which case if you don't truss it you'll have very burnt wings and legs.
There are a few good reasons to truss a chicken. It can help it cook more evenly and keep the meat moist, and also makes the bird easier to handle and a lot prettier looking!
If you want to know more, check out our article on trussing chicken. It has everything from why to truss, why not to truss, and how to do it in an illustrated, step-by-step guide.
A neat technique that you can use with any of the cooking methods is to roast the chicken breast side down for the first two thirds of the cooking time, then flip it over.
This way, all the fat from the dark meat seeps into the meat instead of dripping out, and you end up with really juicy breast meat.
When you flip it breast side up for the last third, you give the skin a chance to get crisp.
If you're planning on flipping the chicken, it's a good idea to truss it, or you'll end up with very hot wings and legs flopping all over the place.
Tip 4: Air flow
When you're roasting chicken, you want to make sure you have a lot of air flow around the bird. It'll help it cook more evenly.
Instead of placing it directly on the bottom of a roasting pan, it's better to raise it up a little so air can pass underneath it.
If your roasting pan comes with a wire rack, place the chicken on top of the rack.
If you don't have a wire rack, you can place some veggies like potatoes, celery or carrots at the bottom of the pan, and place the chicken on top. Just be sure that the you leave some room between the veggies — they should support the roasting chicken, but also leave room for air to flow.
You can also place the chicken directly on the oven rack, and place a roasting pan underneath to catch the drippings. It's a bit messy and tough to clean, though.
As an extra bonus, any drippings that hit the pan will have a chance to caramelize, and you can deglaze the pan later to make an outstanding gravy.
There was a time when roasting chickens came from older, tougher birds, and the only way to get it to be tender and juicy was to cook it at a low temperature for a long time. That's not so much the case nowadays, so if you don't have a whole lot of time, a quick way to cook a chicken is to quick roast it.
Roasting a chicken at 350F takes a bit more time that the quick-roast method I described in the section above. The chicken generally ends up a lot more tender, though. Any tough fibers like collagen have more time to melt.
This method cooks chicken at a fairly high heat for a longer period of time. The goal is to get it nice and tender, but you also have to be sure it doesn't dry out or burn. There are a few ways to keep this from happening.
Because the cooking temperature is so low, there won't be as much evaporation as the other methods. Unfortunately, when water evaporates, what's left behind becomes more concentrated — in this case, the flavor! Slow-roasting chicken gives you an incredibly juicy and tender chicken, but the taste is a bit less intensely amazing.
And that's how you roast a chicken! Lots of different ways, but all of them are delicious. You just have to find the right one for you.
Personally, my favorite method for roasting chicken is to season it with butter and herbs under the skin, then roast it at 350, starting the cooking breast side down.
It's juicy, tender, and super flavorful... and hard not to eat the whole thing before it gets to the table!
Now that your chicken is cooked and smelling delicious, it's time to get it ready to serve.
The first thing to do is... wait! It's important to wait 10 to 20 minutes before carving a roasted chicken. The rest time gives the juices time to redistribute and settle, so that your chicken is more evenly juicy, and easier to carve.
Once you've waited, you can carve the chicken. But be careful, it'll still be very hot!
Here's what you do:
Remove the legs. Just cut off the whole thigh and drumstick in one big piece — you can cut it into smaller pieces once it's off the bird. Just tug on it, and use a very sharp knife when needed.
Remove the wings. Just do the same as for the legs, tug and slice when needed.
Carve out the breast meat. I like to cut it off in slices instead of one big piece, but you can do it either way.
Any pieces still left on the carcass you can remove by hand — later, if the chicken is too hot to handle now!