Roast chicken is one of the most useful dishes to have in your cooking repertoire. It’s delicious, classic and easy. Except that it can be hard to know how to tell if your roast chicken is done.  Never fear, here’s how to roast a chicken and how to tell when your roast chicken is done. Without overcooking it.

If you’re interested in taking it further learn how to make a pan sauce to serve with your roasted chicken AND how to make chicken stock from the leftover roast chicken.

Lovely Roast Chicken on a silver paltter

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The Easy Way to Roast a Whole Chicken

This is a straight-forward, easy way to roast a whole chicken.

What you’ll need:

  • One whole chicken, raw and defrosted
  • A tablespoon of butter, at room temperature
  • Salt and pepper – I like kosher salt for this
  • A roasting pan* large enough to hold the bird

Here’s how to roast a chicken using the basic method.

For the more elaborate (but still really easy!) version, keep scrolling.

FIRST– Pre-heat the oven to 450. Unpack the chicken, rinse it inside and out under tap and then pat dry. You want the bird dry so the skin will get crispy and so it will hold onto the salt.

SECOND – Rub the outside with the softened butter. This lets the skin get crispy and helps hold the salt on, which means better flavor.

THIRD – Sprinkle salt and pepper inside the chicken, put the chicken in your roasting vessel, and salt the outside of your bird. You can season your bird further by using an herb salt, like this rosemary salt

FOURTH– Roast for 30 minutes at 450. Then, reduce the oven temperature to 360. Roast until the internal temperature of the chicken is 165 or until juices run clear and legs move easily in sockets. This will likely be 75-90 minutes, but every chicken is different.

FINAL — Allow to rest (covered loosely) for 10 minutes. Carve and enjoy.

*I roast my chicken in a cast iron Dutch oven and it’s a game changer. The cast iron retains heat and keeps the temperature consistent around the chicken. We use our Dutch oven almost every day, for stews, meats and baking bread. Ours isn’t available any longer but this Lodge Cast Iron Dutch oven is similar and very high quality. If you only invest in one piece of cast iron, this is my recommendation. You won’t regret it!

How to Roast and Baste a Chicken

This version takes just a few minutes longer but does involve more tending in the early stages. My roast chicken method is inspired by the great Julia Child, in her iconic book Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

What you’ll need:

  • One whole chicken, raw and defrosted
  • A tablespoon of butter, at room temperature
  • Half a stick of butter, melted in a saucepan
  • Salt and pepper – I like kosher salt for this
  • A roasting pan large enough to hold the bird

OPTIONAL:

  • Fresh or dried herbs – I like rosemary, thyme, and sage, the classic poultry companions. Tarragon is excellent, too.
  • Butcher’s twine

While the oven preheats

Make sure the butter in your saucepan is melted but not separated. This is the butter you’ll use to baste the chicken during the first 30 minutes of cooking. It needs to stay liquid but not fall apart completely.

If you’ve got those optional herbs, put some of them into the melted butter. This will infuse their flavor into the chicken when you baste. You can melt and infuse your butter in advance for extra flavor.

The roasting process

FIRST – Preheat oven to 450. Unwrap the chicken and rinse it inside and out under the tap. Pat dry

SECOND – Rub the softened butter over the exterior of the chicken. This will help the skin crisp, add flavor, and keep the salt on the skin.

THIRD – Sprinkle salt and pepper inside the bird. If you’re using herbs, stuff some inside the cavity after you salt.

FOURTH – Put the chicken in your roasting vessel, breast side up. Salt and pepper exterior. For a tidier appearance, use butcher’s twine to tie the legs together, as pictured.

FIFTH– Put the chicken in the oven. Set a timer for 10 minutes. After ten minutes, baste the top of the chicken using the melted butter. Rotate pan in the oven. Repeat the basting and rotating two more times. Your chicken should spend 30 minutes roasting at 450 and be basted three times during this time. I like to use a silicone basting brush with a long handle for this. It’s easiest for me to slide the whole rack out, quickly baste the chicken, then slide the rack back in. The goal is to baste as quickly as possible to minimize heat loss.

SIXTH– After roasting for 30 minutes at the higher temp, turn the oven down to 350 and let the chicken roast undisturbed until internal temperature reaches 165. An instant-read thermometer is the best way to gauge this, but you can also look for the juices to run clear and the legs to move easily in the sockets.

Once the internal temperature is reached, remove the chicken and allow it to rest, lightly covered, for at least 10 minutes. Carve and enjoy.

Dive Deeper into Roasting a Chicken

Here’s a few important things  about roasting a chicken perfectly

  • Quality of the chicken matters because  the meat is the star of the show. Starting with a fresh, high quality bird yields a better flavor.
  • If thawing a chicken, allow three days in the refrigerator. I buy and freeze chickens when they’re on sale and I can tell you that trying to roast a chicken that’s still frozen is a big pain.
  • Roast in a deep roasting pan, ideally cast iron. If you don’t have a Dutch oven, a cast iron skillet is good, too. No cast iron? No fear, a glass or metal roasting pan is fine. I highly recommend this Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven if you’re looking for a top notch option.
  • A Bluetooth thermometer is an amazing tool for roasting chickens. I love mine. I insert it after I’ve finished basting the bird and I always know exactly when my chicken is done.
  • Roasted chicken often yields leftovers, so you can get more bang for your buck. You can also turn the chicken carcass into chicken stock. I’m all about less waste and getting more food for my money, so every single chicken in our house gets processed into stock.
  • Want to take things to the next level? Check out How to Make Pan Sauce for Roast Chicken

If you only learn to cook one thing, roast chicken is a good choice. It’s economical, it’s simple, it’s popular and it can feed you for multiple meals. It’s great for a casual meal but it’s also perfect as the centerpiece for a formal dinner party. And you can pair it with almost any combination of starchy side and vegetables. At our house, it’s often served with my Roast Potatoes, which cook at the same time as the bird.

How to tell if roast chicken is done

No one wants to eat overcooked chicken. And of course, no one wants to cut into their beautifully roasted chicken only to find it’s undercooked. Roasting a chicken without overcooking (or undercooking) it is a big concern and it can be intimidating. But never fear, here are two great methods for telling if your chicken is fully cooked.

Method #1 For Figuring Out if Roast Chicken is Done

First, estimate the cooking time based on the weight of the chicken. 22 minutes per pound is a reasonable estimate but it’s ONLY an estimate. Every chicken is different and variables like your oven, your cooking vessel and the chicken’s shape and body composition will affect cooking time.  For example, a chicken with a large breast will take longer to cook.  Start checking for doneness at the 70 minute mark.

Look for:

  • the legs and wings move easily in the socket – if your chicken has a very heavy breast, this might not be as reliable
  • the juices are very clear – no pinkish tinge. Check by gently tilting the bird so juices flow from the cavity
  •  slide a long, thin probe or chopstick into the breast. If it slides in easily, the bird is probably done. If there’s any resistance, let it cook a little longer. This is not an ideal option for testing doneness but it’s better than cutting into the chicken and finding it raw.

Practice makes perfect. Roast a few chickens and you’ll get a feel for doneness.

Method #2 For Figuring Out if Roast Chicken is Done

Use a meat thermometer, either an instant-read thermometer and or a probe. The probe is more reliable and you won’t need to open the oven door as much. It goes in early and connects to a monitor which displays the internal temperature. Unlike an instant-read, you can see the temperature at all times.

The chicken’s internal temperature should reach 165 before you eat it. Insert the thermometer in the thickest area of the breast and do not let it touch bone.

I cannot recommend a Bluetooth thermometer enough. Seriously, it changed my entire roasting game. I haven’t  over or under cooked a chicken (or a turkey or a pork roast!) since I started using it. Because I roast my chicken at a higher temperature initially, I put the probe in when I turn the oven down. It’s easy to check the temperature from my phone or the monitor. Both my phone and the countertop unit sound an alarm when the chickens hits the preset temperature. No matter where I am in the house, I can keep an eye on the chicken.

This is my  Bluetooth Thermometer. Buy one for yourself or put it on your Wishlist. You won’t be sorry.

How to avoid overcooking roast chicken

If you’re using a probe style meat thermometer, turn the oven off when it reaches 161. Another option is to remove the chicken from the oven at 161 and tent with foil. The chicken will finish cooking and reach the desired temperature. In both cases, let it rest so the juices can reabsorb.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that using a probe thermometer and removing the chicken from active heat at 161 is foolproof. It really is. The chicken is cooked completely but not overcooked and the meat is juicy and tender with crispy skin.

As good as this system is, though, I do think it’s important to learn the first method, too. It’s very helpful to understand your chicken without devices.

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