Perfect roast chicken is one of those dishes that every cook longs to master. Achieving that sought-after crisp, golden skin and perfectly tender meat is seemingly simple, but learning how to roast chicken is something that takes a little practice. However, with the right steps, it’s an easy skill to master, and one that you will always be happy you did.
I tend to be a purist when it comes to roasting chicken—no fancy rubs, no flipping, no intricate trussing. But there are a few rules I never deviate from (hint: I’ve included them below). Others love to dress up their bird with aromatics and spices, some even stick a can of beer inside. Whether you are a purist or a little more adventurous, these tips and expert recipes will help you master how to roast chicken perfectly, every time.
Top: How to Roast a Chicken Without a Recipe, photo by Mark Weinberg for Food52 | CME is an Amazon and rStyle affiliate.
5 tips for how to roast chicken like a pro
How to Roast Chicken | Jim Wilson for The New York Times
1. Buy a quality chicken, air-chilled if possible. Air chilled means that the bird hasn’t been chilled in water (like a lot of chickens), and therefore doesn’t retain extra moisture. Extra moisture can prevent the skin from getting crispy and dilute the chicken-y flavor. SFGate provides some additional reading here but, personally, I just like the taste quality of air chilled chicken better. No extra reading neccessary.
2. Season, and season early. Use more salt than you think. Honestly. Salt is a key to achieving the best roast chicken flavor and texture. If you can salt your chicken that morning and let the bird rest, uncovered, in the fridge, even better.
3. Let your chicken come to room temperature. Don’t put a chicken straight from the refrigerator into the oven. Let the bird rest at room temp for at least 30-60 minutes before cooking.
4. Don’t be scared of high heat. High heat helps create the coveted crispy skin, but also means a shorter roasting time, which helps prevent the less fatty parts of the chicken from drying out.
5. Don’t be scared to take it out a little early. I typically take my chicken out a little under the recommended 165 degrees. If you let the bird rest—and you should—the carryover heat should help the bird rise to temp slowly and you’ll lower the risk of drying out the meat. A good digital thermometer is key.
5 pro roast chicken recipes
When looking for roast chicken recipes, I think the best place to start is Melissa Clark’s How to Roast Chicken tutorial at The New York Times (photo by Jim Wilson, above) . This comprehensive guide is grouped to cover all the essentials: prepping the bird, seasoning, roasting temperature and time. Scroll down for her Salt and Pepper Chicken recipe (above), which is about as straightforward as it gets. Master this classic and then have fun experimenting with seasonings, sauces, and sides.
The directions for How to Roast a Chicken Without a Recipe from our friends at Food52 (photo by Mark Weinberg, above & very top) are probably the most relaxed and easiest to remember. They simply give you an equation for minutes to roast/pound of chicken, no basting or fiddling required. However, their cook temp is very high for most ovens. I’d recommend lowering the rack on which you set your chicken, and if you’re worried about smoking, throw some halved baby potatoes into the pan. The other gem in this post: a link to an utterly delicious Roast Chicken with Garlic and Herb Pan Sauce. Score.
If you love the idea of roasted chicken, but don’t love the time that it takes to cook, spatchcocking is for you. Spatchcocking just means that you take the backbone out of the bird so that you can roast the chicken flat, which goes a whole lot quicker. It’s genius. I especially love the recipe for Spatchcocked Chicken with Chickpeas at Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food. The lovely Sarah Carey gives a great video tutorial for this super fast, flavorful one-pan meal. And the addition of crispy and tender chickpeas is such a nice, unexpected twist.
It’s nearly impossible to discuss roast chicken and not include Zuni Café’s Roasted Chicken and Bread Salad from the late Judy Rodgers of the Zuni Café in San Francisco. We love Deb’s minimal fuss rendition of the cult favorite at Smitten Kitchen (above). Even so, cooking this chicken requires a little devotion, but the results are worth it. I strongly recommend serving it with the divine bread salad, which makes a perfect special family or small dinner party meal.
I like this Spring Roast Chicken at Foodie Crush for two reasons. First, Heidi’s number one rule is “play with your veggies” and it just so happens to be my favorite part of roasting a chicken. Throw in some seasonal vegetables and marvel at how the roasted chicken juices lend the veggies deep flavor. Second, she suggests slathering butter between the meat and the skin. Both of these techniques make my husband claim this type of chicken to be his favorite meal (although I think he has a slight preference for anything slathered with butter).
Oh, Nigella, how do you always make everything look, sound, and taste so damn luscious? Slow-Roasted Garlic and Lemon Chicken at Nigella is the dish for anyone who is intimidated by putting an entire bird into the oven or cooking one at high heat. This dead-simple treasure is made with chicken pieces, lemon, thyme, and garlic slow roasted to perfection. Make this for the family on a lazy Sunday when you’re not in a rush. This recipe gets at the heart of why we love a good roast chicken recipe: It takes something simple and transforms it into something magnificent.