One of my absolute favorite things to eat is a golden roasted chicken. I am often frustrated when I read cookbooks or watch cooking shows that ask home cooks to go well above and beyond what is necessary – the most basic method yields a delicious bird that is crispy-skinned and tender-fleshed without any extra work. Here’s my guide to get you there:
Before You Start
You’ll need a pan to roast the chicken in. A roasting pan with a rack is nice, particularly one with upright handles, which is easy to move around in the oven. But a rimmed sheet pan or oven-proof skillet (like cast-iron) works just as well. If you don’t have a rack, rest your bird on top of any old, crusty veggies you have or on top of a homemade aluminum foil snake. The idea is that you want airflow around the entire chicken. Airflow = brown food. Brown food = good food.
Buy a good bird. Yes, you can afford it. Yes, it really does make a difference. Heritage, organic, antibiotic-free. Just do it.
Buy one kind of salt you like for cooking, and stick with it. I recommend Diamond Krystal Kosher Salt. I wrote an article about this. Find a salt you like to cook with, and don’t deviate!
An instant-read thermometer isn’t the only way to determine whether your chicken is done, but it is the most accurate way. It’s worth buying one.
Preparing the Chicken
You can truss it, spatchcock, or split it. Whatever, you won’t do any of this on a Wednesday night, so I find that tucking in the wings close to the breast and “tying” the legs together with a piece of aluminum foil works perfectly well.
Do not, I repeat, do not rinse your chicken. Pat it down with paper towels and then season the inside and outside of the chicken generously with salt. You should be able to see the salt. The general rule is two teaspoons kosher salt for a three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half pound bird – I usually go closer to two full tablespoons – yes, really.
If you can, leave at least one hour for the seasoned chicken to rest on the counter, uncovered, before it’s time to cook. The result is noticeably crispier skin. Pat it down with another paper towel as it will bring more moisture to the surface.
I like to roast my chickens hours before I need it. You should always let it rest one-third of the cooking time before you slice into it, but even longer is better. When you are ready to dine, you can put it back in the oven for a few minutes to make it hot again.
You can successfully roast a chicken at pretty much any oven temperature, though the timing and results will vary. Go low and slow for a very tender, falling-off-the-bone flesh and softer skin (say, 300 to 350 degrees for one and a half to two hours or so). I am not a fan of soft skin. I roast it fast and furiously for less time for crisp, dark brown skin and firmer, chewier flesh (between 375 and 500 degrees for 45 minutes to 50 minutes).
Checking for Doneness
Change the way you think about “doneness” – from “is this safe?” to “I don’t want to overcook this thing into dry oblivion.” The safest and easiest way to check for doneness is to use an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. (Take care not to touch the bone with the thermometer.) It should read 165 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer, use a paring knife to make a small cut into the thigh going all the way to the bone. If you see any red flesh, put the bird back into the oven. You can also pierce the thigh with a knife to see if the juices are running clear, which indicates that it’s cooked through. This tends to be less reliable than cutting to the bone.
Again, let your chicken rest for at least one-third of the cooking time before breaking the seal!
Did you miss our live last Friday while we roasted our chickens? Watch here as I show Dr. Megan of Mind the Mat and Elizabeth of The Shoe Hive how it’s done!
Check out how they did. Good luck and get roasting!
Nicole’s cooking style is rooted in, but not limited to, her love of southern biscuits and her diverse culinary upbringing. A military brat, she spent her childhood in the Chicago suburbs enjoying her great-grandmother Mae’s Lithuanian cooking. As a tween, she moved to Paulding County, Ga. where she begrudgingly fell in love with the charmingly perplex small towns of the Deep South. She fondly remembers grubbing on Martin’s biscuits, late-night Waffle House debauchery and cooking with her family.
After graduating from the University of Georgia, Nicole started a marketing career at an art nonprofit in Atlanta. At 25 years old, she became the youngest executive at the local Atlanta NPR affiliate.
Chasing her dreams, she moved to Alexandria, Va. where she took a short post in the Whole Foods marketing department. Realizing that cooking had been her true love all along, she began night courses at L’Academie de Cuisine. She completed her apprenticeship at Blue Duck Tavern where she was promoted to a line cook after graduation. From there, Nicole worked as a private chef for busy Washington D.C. executives and their families.
As grown-ups tend to do, Nicole realized something about her childhood — the best parts were enjoying small town communities, cooking with her great-grandmother and sharing meals with family and friends. She opened Stomping Ground to build a safe and welcoming community around yummy, handmade food from local sources. As her first foray running her own kitchen, she has shamelessly hired better, smarter cooks to fill her kitchen and your bellies. Her great-grandmother’s recipes often appear on the Stomping Ground menu without advertisement and, no, she won’t tell you the secret ingredients.
Nicole lives in Del Ray and won’t shut up about how much she loves living there.
If you wander down Del Ray’s, “The Avenue,” you won’t miss the farm-red building with a rustic fence bordering the patio. Stomping Ground opened two years ago and quickly became popular for its made-from-scratch biscuits and its neighborhood vibe. On weekends, excited guests line up before Stomping Ground opens hoping to be the first to get a just-out-of-the-oven biscuit or a fresh salad. Stomping Ground is mostly known for its fast casual breakfast and lunch but on Thursdays and Fridays they provide a full dinner service after 5:00pm. All meals are built from local, seasonal food that is organic whenever possible.