Ah, the classic roast chicken. Plenty of people make one every Sunday for supper, and why not? They’re simple to make, affordable, and leftovers can become amazing sandwiches, tacos, soups, stews and salads. (Find 99 great ideas for chicken, here.)
Our test cooks make dozens of chickens every year. Their method yields a bird with crisp golden skin, fragrant with herbs and spices and with enough drippings to make a succulent gravy on the side. Before we share the full recipe, here are a few keys to roast-chicken success:
Start with Dry Skin
Before you do anything, take the bird from its packaging and pat it dry with paper towels. To achieve maximum browning, the chicken skin should be as dry as possible (with the exception of butter or oil) when you put it into the oven.
Take Time to Truss
Trussing is a fancy-sounding word for tying the bird before it bakes. This keeps the bird in a compact and uniform shape, allowing it to cook evenly.
Lots of beginners shy away from touching raw chicken, whether due to squeamishness or simple inexperience. Keep calm and be confident! You can do it. We teach you how to truss a chicken, one step at a time, here.
Season, Season, Season
Chicken goes well with lots of flavors; from Southwestern to Southeast Asian to French…really, the options are limitless. To get maximum flavor, it’s best to season both outside and inside the bird.
Rub the skin with fat (oil or butter), and season with salt at a minimum. (Adding fat first allows the seasoning to adhere to the skin, as well as making the meat more succulent; salting the bird before it cooks allows the flavor to penetrate the meat, meaning you get more flavor with less salt.) Other go-to spices for the skin include pepper, cayenne, paprika, garlic, onion powder, cumin or chili powder, and almost any dried herb you can think of. Just press the seasoning on with your fingers, or pierce the skin and rub the seasonings underneath it.
Get even more flavor by stuffing the bird with aromatics. Herbs and spices, garlic cloves and even quartered lemons or citrus peels can be slipped into the chicken cavity to season the bird from the inside out. As a bonus, you don’t need to prettily mince these herbs; they can go into the bird whole. (Note that stuffed birds will take a little longer to cook.)
The Pan is Important
Most roast chicken recipes call for a shallow roasting pan fitted with a rack to elevate the bird. This ensures that hot air will circulate around the chicken, giving every inch a crispy, golden brown bake.
If you don’t have a roasting rack on hand, it’s easy to improvise. Grab a deep, oven-safe skillet (I use a cast-iron pan) and layer the bottom with coarsely chopped vegetables such as carrots, potatoes and onions. The veggies will lift the chicken from the bottom of the pan just like a roasting rack would. (As an added bonus, they help flavor the pan drippings for an extra-tasty sauce or gravy!)
Test Kitchen Tip: Don’t want to fuss with extra ingredients? Prop your chicken up on a base of rolled balls of aluminum foil.
Now that you know the basics, feast your eyes on the recipe that’ll ensure a great-tasting bird.
How to Roast Chicken
2 to 3 medium lemons
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
1 roasting chicken (6 to 7 pounds)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
Step 1: Fill the chicken with aromatics
After patting the chicken skin dry, stuff the bird with herbs and citrus. Begin by finely grating 2 tablespoons of lemon zest and set aside. Then, coarsely chop the remainder of the lemons. Place the chopped lemons and rosemary sprigs inside the cavity of the chicken. (Hold onto that zest; we’ll be using it in the next step.)
Step 2: Rub with seasoning
Truss the chicken, then place it on a rack in a shallow roasting pan (or in an improvised skillet) and brush lightly with oil. Combine the minced rosemary, pepper, salt and lemon zest in a small bowl. Liberally pat this mixture all over the chicken, making sure to get it up and down the sides.
Step 3: Bake
Let’s get roasting! Bake the bird, uncovered, in a 350° oven for 2-1/4 to 2-3/4 hours or until a thermometer reads 170° to 175°.
As it cooks, baste the chicken occasionally with the drippings that collect at the bottom of the pan. (If you don’t have a baster, you can use a spoon to scoop the drippings and pour them over the top of the chicken.)
If the chicken starts browning too quickly, cover it with aluminum foil.
Test Kitchen Tip: To get an accurate temperature reading, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken thigh, being careful not to touch bone.
Step 4: Let the meat rest
Once the chicken has finished cooking, let it stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before carving. This cooling period allows the proteins to relax and let moisture in, giving you a juicy, tender bird. Tent with foil to make sure the chicken stays warm.
Last, snip off the string and remove and discard the lemons and rosemary from the chicken cavity before carving.
This juicy, tender, golden brown roast makes for a showstopping main course. But it’s important to think about what’ll go on the side, too. I like to stick to simple sides like this quick-fix Cranberry Almond Spinach Salad. If you’re cooking for a crowd, I’d recommend any of these veggie-packed slow cooker sides. They’re awesome for making ahead of time, alleviating the stress of cooking big family dinners.