easy no-fail roast chicken

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easy, no-fail whole roasted chicken | pamela salzman

If you eat chicken, you absolutely must learn how to roast one whole.  It is beyond easy to do, never fails me, everyone loves it and is arguably the most delicious way to eat chicken.  WHAT MORE CAN YOU ASK FOR?!  The busier I get, the more often I make roast chicken and no one seems to tire of it.  But the first time I attempted to cook a whole bird, I had so much anxiety, so I completely understand if you think doing this is intimidating.  Now get over it!

First, let’s talk chicken.  There is some terminology you need to interpret when you are shopping for a chicken.

NATURAL:  This means absolutely nothing except that you are buying a chicken and not playdough.  It does not mean it was a healthy bird or that it ate a “natural diet” or lived in conditions that are “natural” for a chicken.  It just means it’s a chicken.

FREE-RANGE:   Free range means the chickens have access to the outdoors. Read between the lines here.  “Access” means the chickens are permitted to leave the barn if they want to or if they are able to, but it doesn’t mean they will.  “Outdoors” can also be interpreted in more than one way.  It can mean a window and that is a-ok with the USDA.  The term free-range has nothing to do with being organic. I know most people think that all free-range chickens run around in wide open areas eating bugs and worms the way they’re supposed to, but I hate to burst your bubble and say that is likely not the case.  Usually only small local farmers will have truly free-range birds.

ORGANIC:  This means the chicken has eaten organic feed (not treated with pesticides and herbicides) and has not been treated with antibiotics.  You might never take antibiotics yourself, but if you eat conventionally raised poultry, you’re ingesting antibiotics through the meat.  You may see the claim that a chicken has not been given hormones, but that is a practice that has been banned in this country, so all chickens should be hormone-free.  Organic chickens should also have been raised under humane conditions.

JIDORI:  I’ve seen this on quite a few restaurant menus recently.  Jidori is a type of free-range bird common in Japan but until recently almost unheard of in American restaurants.  The chickens are fed all-vegetarian diets, without antibiotics, but what they are really known for is their freshness.  Jidori chickens are killed within 24 hours of being sold.

Here’s what you do:

  • pick a night of the week that you only have 15 minutes to prepare dinner.
  • buy your chicken up to two days before and salt it on the inside as soon as you get it home from the market.  This will season the meat really well and keep it juicy.  Refrigerate it until the day you make it.
  • work backwards from what time you want to eat.  6:00 dinner?  Go back 10 minutes for carving, 20 minutes for resting, 90 minutes for roasting, 30-60 minutes for bringing to quasi-room temperature.  Take the chicken out the fridge at 3:00/3:30 to get prepped.  Into the oven at 4:00.  Not home?  Have a babysitter or older child put it in the oven since there’s nothing else to do.
  • Add whatever random vegetables or potatoes you have to the baking dish and you have the perfect dinner for minimal effort.
  • While you’re at it, make two at once and use the second for tomorrow’s lunch or dinner.
  • Click here to watch a video of me prepping and roasting a whole chicken.
Addendum:  here’s a series of photos for how to carve the chicken.
1.  Untie the legs.
2.  Cut the skin around the leg and cut between the joints connecting leg and thigh.  Remove both legs and put on platter, covered to keep warm.
3.  Cut thighs off, again cutting between the joints and keep warm on a platter.
4.  Remove wings and transfer to platter.
5.  Cut alongside the breastbone all the way down and cut around the breast, completely taking it off.  I like to slice the breasts on a cutting board as shown.  Take the drippings and pour over the chicken.
6.  Pull everything out of the cavity and save the carcass to make the best stock ever.  Make stock within the next two days or wrap the carcass well and freeze it until you can make stock.

Easy No-Fail Roast Chicken
Serves: 4-6, assuming not everyone wants the breast meat
  • 1 4-5 pound roasting chicken, preferably free-range, organic from a small local farm
  • Kosher Salt (such as Diamond Crystal)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • ½ bunch fresh thyme or 4 6-inch sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 4-5 large cloves of garlic smashed
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted or olive oil + more for drizzling vegetables
  • 1 large onion, peeled and thickly sliced
  • kitchen twine for trussing
  • assorted chopped vegetables such as potatoes, winter squash, carrots, fennel
  1. When you return home from the market, unwrap the chicken and remove the giblets from the cavity. Rinse the chicken inside and out and dry very well with paper towels. Remove piece of fat from the outside of the cavity. Take a heaping tablespoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper and rub it inside the cavity. If there’s any more salt left on your hands, rub it in between the skin and the breast meat. Rewrap the chicken and refrigerate until ready to cook.
  2. Remove chicken from the refrigerator 30-60 minutes before cooking. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  3. Stuff the cavity with the lemon, thyme or rosemary and garlic.
  4. Spread the onion slices on the bottom of a shallow roasting pan. Place the chicken on top of the onions and tie the drumsticks with kitchen twine. Brush all over with the melted butter or oil.
  5. Scatter chopped vegetables around chicken and drizzle vegetables with oil. Sprinkle chicken and vegetables with a little salt and pepper.
  6. Roast the chicken for 1 hour 10 minutes - 1 ½ hours or until a instant read thermometer inserted in the breast reads 160-165 degrees. Transfer to a platter or a cutting board and allow to rest about 10-20 minutes, tented with foil.
  7. Carve and serve immediately.

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  1. Monica Lovell says

    It was yummy! I am quite a fan of roasted chicken. So simple. This was the first time I had used fennel and I really loved it. The kids took just plain chicken the next day for school. And of course, I did make the stock. I love how easy it is. I use my crock pot and do it over night. Thank you for expanding my horizons. :-)

  2. Irene Lodmer says

    If using a kosher bird, I know that no salt is additional for the outside, but what about for the inside? Same? No extra salt necessary? I hate over salty foods, but I equally hate bland ones too. Thanks!

    • Pamela says

      I’m with you! That said, it’s hard to know with kosher chickens because I feel like they are not all salted consistently (i.e. some are saltier than others.) Try cooking it without any additional salt, but still add the aromatics to the cavity. If it’s not seasoned enough for you, add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt inside next time.

  3. Erica says

    I have never been afraid to roast a chicken, BUT I have never found quite the right recipe, THIS WAS EEEEAAASY AND TASTY!! I had a 4.5 lb organic chicken and followed the exact directions for an hour and 10 minutes tented it for 20 and it was juicy and amazing. And did I say easy!! Thank you.

  4. Cristina says

    This is the best roasted chicken I ever made and I am usually pretty good at roasting chickens. The only thing I added was celery. Thank you Pamela !!!!!

  5. Nicole says

    Ok I failed the no fail chicken
    My chicken was dry ?? What did I do wrong ?
    I did cook 2 at once ? And I think I put too much oil on the veggies since they where too oily.. But can’t figure out why chicken was too dry
    I’m trying again next week

    • Pamela says

      Oh no! I won’t stand for it! It was overcooked. See Jenny’s comment below. You may have started with a smaller bird than the recipe indicates or your oven runs hotter than mine. After cooking 15 identical turkeys this month that were out of the refrigerator the exact same amount of time, with the exact same preparation, in the exact same pan, but cooked in 6 different ovens, the cook time varied by 1 hour! I cannot believe how much oven temperatures vary. I will adjust the recipe to accommodate for hotter ovens. Thanks very much for your feedback!

    • sandra says

      Good morning. After all these years of cooking. I still am searching to perfect a roast chicken. Granted, I don’t cook it more than a few times a year. My mother had guests and I went bold and offered to make 4 chickens!.. The birds were smaller and kosher. They came out moist but I had 2 cups of liquid in each pan. They were not incredibly flavorful. Where did I go wrong ?

      • Pamela says

        Good morning, Sandra! 2 cups of liquid sounds like a lot and I am very surprised the chicken weren’t flavorful since they were kosher. Kosher chickens have already been salted and, to me, are already much more flavorful than non-Kosher. I don’t know if they were organic, but I think organic tastes better. Did you follow my recipe and add lemon and herbs and garlic to the cavity? Perhaps you were crowding too many chickens in one pan — that could result in excess liquid. Let me know your thoughts here.

  6. Kelly says

    I am making my first roast chicken – EVER! I figured 3 weeks before I turn 43 it’s about time. I’ve been whole chicken phobic for years. It is roasting as I type and it smells DELICIOUS! Thanks for posting this recipe and finally motivating me. :)

    • Pamela says

      Listen, it’s NEVER too late to learn how to do anything, especially cook! You should see my list of things I haven’t cooked, but want to try. I can’t wait to hear how your first chicken turns out!

  7. Andrea says

    This is the best chicken ever!!! I am the poster child for being afraid to cook a whole chicken. I tried this and…success! The only mistake was not making a second chicken as the whole family was clamoring for more.

    • Pamela says

      Well, that’s just awesome. Yes, definitely make two chickens at once– you can always find a use for the leftover meat. Now go make some stock!

  8. Jess says

    When my hubby went to Whole Foods to pick up a whole chicken, he brought back a cooked rotisserie chicken…which made sense, since I had never prepared a whole chicken before! After we shared a good laugh, we picked up a raw chicken and started rubbing the inside and adding the herbs…it was a proud moment! The chicken was FULL of flavor and so moist! There was no contest between the store bought cooked chicken and this one. And we cannot ignore the veggies…loved the flavor of the fennel and carrots! Thanks Pamela, it was a hit and we cannot wait to prepare it again…and again!

  9. Jenny says

    Hi Pam, I am reporting back. My second attempt was great. At one hour and 10 minutes, it was perfect at 165 degrees when I took it out. It looked great too. You were right about my oven temp (I had forgotten about the adjustment I made for the granola). Many, many thanks for your guidance.

    • Pamela says

      Thank you so much for reporting back and SO glad you had success this time. Keep the oven temp in mind for future recipes. All the best, Pamela

  10. Jenny says

    Hi Pam! I just did this tonight. The thought of roasting a WHOLE bird made me nervous but it was easy! My chicken was overdone at 90 minutes. The breasts were a little dry but the dark meat was fine. It was still really good. I am going to try it again tomorrow at the reduced time. Was wondering why we had to use the twine to bind the legs. Also, could I also stuff the chicken with the herbs and lemon the day before or should I wait until just before roasting to do this? Many thanks!

    • Pamela says

      I’m glad you tried it! Check the weight of the bird before you roast it — a 3 1/2-pounder, for example will require less time. Also, your oven may run hotter than mine. I seem to recall your comment on the granola that you needed less time. Just a thought. Lastly, like turkey the only way to know if the bird is done is by thermometer. Trussing the legs with twine helps the bird cook more evenly. Yes, you can stuff the cavity the day before, if it’s convenient for you. Good luck on round 2!

  11. Anna says

    I read your chicken recipe with interest as that’s what we do all the time in England – i agree roasting a chicken is so easy. I was interested to know about the salting inside – why do you do that?

    • Pamela says

      Good question! Salting the cavity really seasons the meat well and help the meat retain moisture so it stays juicy. Stuffing the cavity with aromatics also helps to perfume the meat with great flavor.


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