Perfecting a Roast Chicken


There is a beautiful simplicity to the perfect roast chicken. The browned, crispy skin that everyone, even the most health-minded of guests, fights over. The flavorful, meltingly tender meat that hardly even requires a knife, shredding under the pull of a fork. In many kitchens, a chef’s worth is judged largely on their ability to roast a whole chicken. It is a task that seems so simple, but perfection is difficult to achieve.

Believe me, I’ve tried. I roast a chicken once or twice a month, and I think I’ve only 100% nailed it once. (Granted, I am a perfectionist, so I am probably more judgmental of my own cooking than I need to be.)

My chickens have been fine; they’re never dry, but they often don’t have a ton of flavor. I’ve tried seasoning the outside, but that just makes the skin more delicious, not the meat itself. I’ve tried stuffing the cavity with herbs or halved lemons or garlic, but I’ve never actually noticed a difference in the flavor (am I the only one?). I’ve slid little pats of butter or rubbed olive oil under the skin, and while it added a little flavor, the clouds didn’t part when I took my first bite of chicken or anything.

So I’m continuing my quest for a perfectly cooked, very flavorful roast chicken. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Let the chicken rest on the counter for 30-45 minutes before roasting, to “take the chill off.” Otherwise, your chicken won’t cook through evenly.
  2. Pat the raw chicken dry, both inside and out, with paper towels before seasoning and roasting. If it is still wet, the skin will steam rather than browning and crisping.
  3. In my experience, stuffing the cavity with citrus or herbs or garlic doesn’t make a big difference. Am I missing something?
  4. Lay the chicken on top of either a roasting rack or a bed of chopped root vegetables to allow air to circulate while it roasts. This way, the chicken will cook evenly.
  5. Leave the skin on while roasting. You can remove it afterwards if you’d like (though I don’t recommend it!), but the skin helps keep the meat from drying out.
  6. Roast until the temperature of the thickest part of the thigh reads 165F. Some people will tell you 175F, but the temperature will keep increasing as the chicken rests, and the too-high temperatures will make the meat dry.
  7. Let the roasted chicken rest for 10-15 minutes before carving. This allows all the juices to redistribute evenly through the meat.  If you carve too early, the juices will run onto the plate instead of staying in the chicken, making the meat too dry.
  8. Know where your chicken comes from. Talk to your farmer at the market and find out how the birds were raised and what they were fed. It may not make a huge difference flavor-wise, but it makes a difference ethically.

And here are some of my favorite roast chicken recipes:

Brickhouse chicken
Slashed chicken with herb butter from Williams-Sonoma
The Kitchn’s roast chicken recipe
Thomas Keller’s roast chicken recipe 
Zuni Café’s roast chicken with bread salad

(And don’t forget to save the bones for chicken stock!)

What are your roast chicken secrets?


  1. says

    I love roast chicken, and your chicken looks perfect! I always use my aunt Marcie’s technique–the chicken is roasted in white wine, and flipped over for part of the time (ie, roughly 45 minutes breast side up, 45 mins upside down, then flip it right side up again for the last 30 mins @ 350). For seasoning she just used Italian herbs, a little garlic powder & salt/pepper. It’s always very flavorful–I think the wine really permeates the meat. Anyway, that’s how we do it!

    • Julie says

      Interesting! How much wine do you use, and do you marinate it in the wine first?

      • says

        No marinating–but it’s a generous amount of white wine in the pan, maybe about 1 1/2 cups–I don’t actually measure, but I do keep pouring until it’s almost an inch deep–this way it won’t all evaporate during cooking. The leftover juice in the pan makes a nice gravy base, or what we do is just dip french bread in it and eat that. Also, personally I prefer using something like a chablis as opposed to chardonnay which can have too strong a flavor for my taste.

  2. says

    The tip about wine above from Anne is fascinating and worth a try!

    But I was going to say that the best, moistest, most flavorful bird I ever made was turkey for Thanksgiving 2011. I brined it, loosely following Alton Brown’s brine recipe and marinating directions. Everyone loved it. It was so juicy and yummy — tasted like white meat with a little something extra, if that makes sense.

    I wonder if you could do the same thing with a chicken, just brine it for far less time.

  3. says

    It’s been ages since I tried roasting a whole chicken. I LOVE it! It’s so tasty and almost always comes out juicy and flavorful. This looks great!