Roasting Whole Chicken Tips
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At home, the most common method of cooking Whole Chicken is Roasting, with Grilling a distant second. Roasting is a good choice because a Whole, Skin-On Chicken has enough protective Fat (it can be up to 20% fatty skin) to shield it from the heat and remain juicy.  In this exercise we will describe how to Roast a Whole Chicken.

Varieties

When we speak of a Whole Chicken we typically mean an Eviscerated Chicken with all of its parts, including the bagged Giblets which will be in the body cavity. Remember to remove them from the body cavity before use or storage. Lesson 7 Proteins: Chicken, discusses all of the different types and classifications of Chickens. No matter which Whole Chicken you buy, preparing them for use in the kitchen follows a similar pattern.

If working with a Frozen Whole Chicken, defrost it in the Refrigerator until the bird is completely unfrozen and free of frost. De-frost it above a drip pan (to avoid Cross Contamination) for 1 or 2 days. Try to defrost the bird on a lower shelf so that there are fewer items (or better, none), below it to potentially become contaminated.

Once de-frosted, a Whole Chicken should be Tempered (allowed to come almost to room temperature) before use.  The properly tempered bird should still be cool to the touch.

Create a clean work area near your kitchen sink with no chances of Cross Contamination of other raw or cooked foods, then lay out your Sanitized Cutting BoardWash Your Hands before you begin and then place the de-frosted, Whole Chicken on the Cutting Board and remove and discard the packaging.

Next, look into the body cavity and find the Chicken Neck & Giblets. They will be the obvious bag of “stuff” inside the bird. The parts may also be loose inside the cavity.

Remove the neck and giblets from the cavity and reserve them for use in Brown Chicken StockStuffing or Gravy. The Parson’s Nose, the soft part of the tail, can also be removed and discarded. 

Rinse the Whole Chicken under cold water to remove any surface bacteria and to aid (somewhat) in the Tempering. If you are a super clean-person, give it a scrub (no soap), then pat it dry with paper towels before Seasoning it inside & out with Salt & Pepper. Don’t forget to Wash Your Hands and the sink after rinsing the Raw Chicken in it. Again, you don’t want any Cross Contamination.

The difficulty with Roasting a Whole Chicken is the presence of both White Meat and Dark Meat in one cooking item. The typical result is either lovely White Meat with undercooked Dark Meat, or overcooked, dry White Meat with lovely Dark Meat. Unfortunately, White Meat cooks more quickly than Dark Meat, especially when the Dark Meat is still on the bone. The White Meat also has less protective Fat than Dark Meat, which makes it taste even drier when overcooked. Cooking both white and dark meat together requires a bit of skill, some tricks and practice. 

The first and best trick is to make a slit between the breast and legs by cutting the skin that connects them. Two quick cuts will expose the Dark Meat to more cooking heat.

When we have them, we like to stick lemon halves, Herb Sprigs, Garlic Cloves, Olives, etc. into the body cavity of the bird. These items are not absorbent and don’t need to be cooked so there are no temperature issues.

Some old school chefs advocate placing Stuffing inside the Chicken cavity.  We don’t. The major drawback of using Stuffing inside the cavity of a Chicken is that when you cook the bird, the Stuffing will have to reach at least 137°F (58° C) to kill any Pathogens. The problem is that if the interior of the cavity is 137° F (58° C), then the surrounding exterior meat we are planning to serve is much hotter, and perhaps overcooked. Because of the interior and exterior heat and temperatures, cooking a stuffed bird is much more tricky.

If you want to have Stuffing, a better option might be to cook the stuffing in a separate Baking Dish alongside the Chicken. Once the stuffing is cooked and over 137° F (58° C), you could choose to spoon it into the chicken cavity, where it will pick up some flavor and Jus. Just remember that your Jus can only be in one place at a time. If your Jus is getting absorbed in the stuffing, it won’t also be in the meat and/or available for making Gravy. As with cake, you can’t have your Jus and eat it too.

Much of the flavor benefits of Stuffing, without the headaches of the temperature differential, can be accomplished by placing your stuffing flavorings under the skin. Any number of ingredients can be either Larded or stuffed under the skin of a Chicken (or Turkey). Various Fats, Sliced Mushrooms (Sautéed until tender and the moisture has evaporated), Spinach (Blanched and coarsely chopped), fresh CheesesMornay Sauce, Herb sprigs, etc. can be used under the skin.

All the Stuffing ingredients above remain at the same temperature as the Meat, so there is no need to worry about a temperature differential between the exterior and interior of the fowl. These ingredients, except for the Herbs, also help protect the meat from overcooking. Similarly, any number of things can be pinned to or draped over the Chicken (Barding) to help protect it as it cooks.  We don’t teach Larding and Barding here with Roasting a Whole Chicken because we feel it is overkill for a small fowl such as a chicken. Barding is more common with lean game birds and Larding is typically used for larger birds like Turkeys or Geese. We teach Larding in Larding a Turkey.

Finally, you may want to Truss your bird so that it keeps a uniform shape in the oven as it cooks. Trussing is covered in its own exercise.

Some chefs may also advocate de-boning the Chicken so that the White Meat and Dark Meat cook more evenly. We feel that deboning is a lot of work for a little bit of improvement in the cook time differential. Besides, removing the bones also reduces some of the flavor potential of the bird.

Before Roasting your Whole Chicken, you can also season it with any desired fresh or dried HerbsRosemarySageSavoryCuminTarragon and Thyme are all good choices. Rubbing the exterior of the Chicken skin with softened/Tempered Butter can help produce a crispy skin. With your bird, cleaned, rinsed, larded, seasoned and trussed it is prepped and ready to be Roasted.

There are almost as many approaches to Roasting a Chicken as there are chefs. Almost all agree that the fowl should spend some time Roasting at a high temperature to Sear it so that it Browns, Crusts and Caramelizes, but that is where the agreement ends.

Some chefs prefer Roasting quickly with High Heat. Others prefer lowering the temperature to Finish Cook the bird. Some Sear the bird on a stovetop, others have elaborate turning schemes and complicated rack systems.

At Smart Kitchen we like to keep it simple. To hold the bird, we use a Roasting Pan about ¼ inch larger (6.35 mm) than the bird it will contain. A large Skillet will also work. We put a Rough Chopped Mirepoix on the bottom of the pan as a bed for the Chicken to rest on. Sometimes we put the Chicken Neck (taken out with the Giblets) below the Mirepoix for extra flavor; it will also give off some Fat and help keep the Chicken from sticking to the pan. If we are going to Roast any other vegetables, they go into the bottom of the Roasting Pan as well. We avoid using a Roasting Rack because dripping juices can burn when they drip and hit the hot pan. Similarly, without the heat-shielding provided by the Chicken to the Vegetables, the Vegetables are likely to burn before the Whole Chicken is cooked through.

On top of the Mirepoix bed goes a Trussed Whole Chicken. Trussing is covered in this Chicken Topic.

The size of the bird and the available cooking time before service help us decide how much heat to apply.

In general, and aware that your particular Fryer or Broiler may need more or less time at each stage, we like to start the Chicken off, breast-side-up, at 400˚ F (200˚ C) for 15 minutes, or until it has a nice, crispy, golden brown crust from the searing, dry heat of the oven.

We then reduce the heat to about 350˚ F (180˚ C) and turn the bird with Tongs and Oven Mitts so it can Finish Cook, breast-side-down, for about one and a half hours.  We like to Roast the seared Chicken breast-side-down so that gravity naturally sends any fats and juices towards the Chicken Breast instead of away from it. As the Chicken Roasts, we like to Baste the bird every 15 minutes using only Fat (without water or stock), which will offer some protection to the meat without washing away any desirable naturally occurring fats.

If you want to follow the FDA guidelines for absolute safety, Roast the Chicken until a Meat Thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the Chicken Thigh reaches an Internal Temperature of 165˚ F (75˚ C). We check the thigh because the thigh is the slowest cooking portion on the Chicken. If the Thigh is Finish Cooked, everything else is done as well.

If you and your diners are robust and desire more tenderness, we suggest experimenting with a Pull Temperature of 155˚ F (68˚ C). Carry Over Cooking will take the meat up another 5˚-10˚ with less risk of over-cooking the bird.

As the bird is cooking, carefully using the Palm Test on the Chicken Breast can also help determine if the Bird has reached Well Done (Thumb to Pinky), the proper Level of Doneness for Chicken.  There are some additional clues that it is nearly done.  The joints will become loose and move freely in their sockets. The juices will stop running cloudy and red and become clear yellow. Muscle will begin to tighten and pull away from the bone; however, if the meat is excessively shrunken, it means the bird is overcooked.  Eventually, with a lot of practice, skilled chefs can tell the level of doneness of the roasting bird just by looking at it.

Once the Whole Chicken is properly cooked, remove it from the Roasting Pan and let it Rest for 10-15 minutes before you begin Carving so that juices have time to redistribute.  To yield more tender slices of Chicken when Carving, cut with-the-grain, not across-the-grain as you would for a tougher cut of Beef.

While the Chicken is Resting, remove the Vegetables (if any) and your Mirepoix to a holding plate or serving plate. If everything has gone according to plan and all the liquid has cooked down and evaporated, your Roasting Pan should be a culinary treasure trove of Caramelized Chicken and Vegetable Fond.  If there is still some liquid, setting the Roasting Pan back in the oven at 350˚ F (177˚ C) or on the Stovetop on Medium Heat to Medium/High Heat for a few minutes will encourage the last of the liquid to boil down. If any Fat is obviously visible, it should be skimmed off of the surface of the liquid when possible.

With a good, dry, golden crust in the pan, you can make a lovely Chicken Jus to serve alongside your Roasted Chicken. To make the Chicken Jus, Deglaze the Roasting Pan with ¾ of a Cup of Chicken Broth or Chicken Stock. Scrape the bottom and sides of the pan with a Wooden Spoon while Deglazing to loosen the Fond.

To make a textbook Chicken Jus, Strain the warm liquid in the pan through a China Cap or Sieve into a clean Sauce Pan. In the Sauce Pan you can Reduce the Chicken Jus further and/or Thicken it. You can also Season it or simply reheat it, as is, for service. The whole process can be accomplished while the Chicken is Resting. The Chicken Jus can also be a good starting point for Gravy.

Nutritional Value USDA
CHICKEN,BROILERS OR FRYERS,BACK,MEAT & SKN,CKD,ROTISSERIE,OR
Amount Per 100g
Calories 260
%Daily Value*
 
27%
Total Fat 18g
3%
Saturated Fat 4g
Polyunsaturated Fat 2g
Monounsaturated Fat 8g
42%
Cholesterol 128mg
25%
Sodium 584mg
6%
Potassium 291mg
0%
Total Carbohydrate 0g
0%
Dietary Fiber 0g
Sugars 0g
Protein 23g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.