No-Frills Roast Chicken with Some Frills
It’s no secret that roast chicken is one of my favorite dishes to make. I find it very easy to make, perfectly comforting and something that can last as a meal over a few nights… or get attacked down to the bone over the course of an afternoon and evening. (I don’t judge.)
I have tweeted about this dish and I have streamed making it live on Twitch, but I thought I’d write up my routine and method, with all the elements I’ve put together to pull it off. Roast chicken is easy, I promise. But in some cases, it’s also easy to mess up, so I hope that what I’ve found can help you.
I’m not a professional anything when it comes to food. Like a lot of us, I just have a lot of experience when it comes to feeding myself, and I have hours of food TV under my belt. I’ve also had enough kitchen disasters to know that sometimes the best thing to make for dinner is reservations. But let’s hope this won’t be one of those times.
I’ve taken pictures throughout the process to give you a visual reference, but don’t worry, you got this! I’ll do my best to offer friendly alternatives where applicable, but the basic steps are: buy a chicken, prepare and brine it, let it air chill, stuff it, truss it, prepare vegetables, and roast them all together. I’ll even give you a “jump to recipe” link if you’re really only interested in how hot and how long I go. 😉
A huge thank you to WirelessRiot for helping proofread this post. I don’t make any money from the sites or products linked in this post, but if you appreciate this content and the effort that went into it, here are links to my PayPal and Ko-fi!
Finding a Bird
I find that a 4-6 pound bird is good for this, so shop for a chicken as you like. I’ve gotten birds from the grocery store, the farmers market, and Amazon Fresh. Brand name, store brand, doesn’t matter. My order of preference is: young chicken, roaster, then fryer because each has its pros and cons for roasting. I usually look for a bird close to 4-5 lbs. at the best available price. Keep in the fridge until ready. If you’re really planning ahead and freeze it, make sure to thaw completely before starting.
No need to wash it, just check it for feathers. Remove any giblets, packages, pop-up timer, etc. and set aside.
Safety note: From here on out, please be mindful of washing your hands after handling the chicken, and keep rinsing gentle and confined to the sink to avoid cross-contamination. 🚿🧼👐🏿
Preparing a Brine
I use a simple wet brine of kosher salt, sugar and water. I first found it at Big Daddy’s Kitchen when searching online way back in the day and it’s never failed me. I have failed myself once or twice because I left in the meat too long, so try not to do that. 😬
½ cup kosher salt, ½ cup sugar, 1 quart water – that’s it. I may also add black pepper, paprika, garlic powder or dried herbs, but to be honest you have to add a lot to impart a lot of flavor so sometimes I just dash things in because it looks good.
I boil water in a kettle, then stir it into the dry ingredients. Once they’ve blended, I add a quart (4 cups) of ice to a proofing bucket (which is now my brining bucket) and pour the hot brine in to mix and cool down. Other methods will suggest boiling it all together on the stove, and letting it sit out to cool down, but I don’t always have that kind of time or patience.
You’re Soaking in it
As I said, I use a proofing bucket, but you can use a brine bucket, pot, a big bowl, a cooler, for smaller chickens or hens, even a large ziploc bag if they fit. Place the chicken in the bucket, bag, bowl, etc. (See why you didn’t need to wash it?)
For a whole chicken, make sure it’s breast side down, and if your find you don’t have enough water to cover, add as needed. The brining page above also has times for parts and other meats, and I’ve found it to be a good guide. For a whole chicken, I put the bucket in the fridge for 8 hours, usually overnight. After brining time is over, drain and rinse the chicken. I do this by tipping the bucket into the sink and filling it with cold water, then draining it again.
Try to keep it to 8-12 hours. Much longer than that and the meat can get too salty. And I love salt, I am the Salt Vampire from M-113 (that’s a Star Trek deep cut for ya), but like the old cook’s adage: you can add salt, but you can’t take it away. The point of a brine is to add moisture first and foremost. It does impart flavor, however we aren’t trying to marinate or cure the chicken, we just don’t want it to dry out when cooking.
Pat it Dry, Let it Chill
Ok now you want it to dry out, but we aren’t cooking it yet. After rinsing the chicken, pat it dry with a paper towel. Congratulations, you have a brined and moist bird ready to roast! If you plan to make it right away, go ahead to the next section. 👍🏿
However, I also let the chicken air dry in the fridge for up to 24 hours to help the skin dry out and get crispy when roasting. This step is purely optional but it can make a difference in the finished dish. After rinsing and patting it down with a paper towel, I put the chicken on a rack atop a dinner plate, or on a grooved cutting board and cover loosely with plastic wrap.
Other methods call for covering it completely with a container with holes for air flow or even using a hair dryer, but I don’t have the equipment, space, patience or time for that. Check in on the bird and you’ll see the skin start to change texture as it dries out.
When Life Gives You Lemons
Whether I plan to make a sauce from the pan drippings or not, I always put salt, pepper, lemon and garlic into the chicken cavity. If you have herbs on hand, I find the classics: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme to be good options, dried or fresh. 🍋🧄🌿
For me, this is about flavor as much as aroma. A finished dish delights the eyes, but while it’s cooking, we rely on our sense of smell to get hungry and excited for the finished product. I promise you, the smell of this bird roasting with waves of lemon and garlic wafting from the oven will definitely make your tummy pay attention, and possibly rumble too.
Tie it Up! Tie it Down!
If I were a cookbook from the 1950s, I’d say, “dress the bird in the usual manner” and leave it at that. You can look up a bunch of methods on how to truss a bird. I used to look for the most intricate chicken tying methods, and if you’re going for presentation, be as extra as you want. For me, I just need to make sure that the legs are crossed over and secured to cover the cavity, and that the wings are tucked under the bird. 🧵🐔
I use a bit of kitchen twine, or sometimes a silicon tie to tie the drumsticks together at their end and that’s all. When I roast the bird, I tuck the wings underneath so the tips don’t burn and I’m all set.
I usually throw some potatoes in the pan with the chicken as it cooks. I’m generally roasting between 425-450 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour, so I may as well cook a side along with it, and take advantage of the chicken drippings.
With my roasting pan, I can comfortably fit about 1 to ½ pounds of potatoes, carrots, onions or any other vegetable that can take the heat. If you’re thinking of cooking a side dish that’s more prone to overcooking, put it on a separate sheet pan and throw it in during whichever stage of cooking makes the most sense. I’m attempting broccoli with mine, so I’ll put it in for the last 10-15 minutes of cooking time. 🥔🥕🧅🥦
The moment of truth! You’ve got a stuffed and tied chicken, you’ve decided on your optional side veggies, it’s time to preheat the oven and get down to it. I generally go with one of the following three chefs’ methods for roasting, depending on my pan, and my mood: Ina Garten, Thomas Keller or Michael Ruhlman. All three call for roughly the same time and temperature range: 425-450 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour.
If you have done any prep in advance, let the chicken set out for at least 30 minutes before cooking, if possible. Going in cold isn’t a huge deal, but it may throw off cooking time by a little bit. At this point, you’ll want to brush or rub down the chicken with olive oil, butter or a mix of the two. Make sure you tie the chicken before greasing it up. Truss-t me. 😉
Season with a bit of salt and pepper on the outside, but not too much salt because the brine imparts a lovely salty and seasoned flavor and you don’t want to overdo it. If you have any finishing salts or herbs, those are a great final step after roasting and before serving.
While the oven heats, arrange the chicken atop the vegetables in the pan. If you aren’t making vegetables with it, you can use a rack. If you don’t have a rack, it’s fine. You may have some sticking on the underside, but between the heat, oil, and drippings, the chicken will release from most pans.
The Roast with the Most
Now for the best part, pop it in the oven and walk away, put on some music, watch a video, prepare your other dishes, have some wine, etc. It’s going to take about an hour before it’s done, and there’s nothing you need to do while it cooks. No basting, no flipping, no babysitting, nada. Leave it be.
After roasting, you’re looking for a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Many recipes will say, “until the juices run clear” which is a good rule of thumb, but I prefer to check it myself. At this point, the chicken should be done, and because we brined it, that offers a little bit of protection from overcooking, but no guarantees!
Let the chicken rest for at least 15 minutes. If you’re planning to make sauce or gravy, put it on a cutting board or plate, but otherwise you can let it rest in the same pan.
Congratulations! You’ve roasted a chicken that will easily outperform any supermarket rotisserie bird and hopefully was more cost effective and longer lasting than ordering in. 💖
When it comes to carving, I defer to the experts. Personally, I can usually slice off one “perfect” breast and drumstick, and after that I’m probably using my bare hands.
This was a long entry, and you may be wondering why so much fuss for a dish many call “simple”? You’re not wrong, I walked through the additional steps that I take so that the dish turns out to my liking and ends up more or less foolproof.
You can order or pick up a whole chicken and roast it the same day–no brining, no air chilling, and it may still turn out great every time. That’s the beauty of cooking, a basic method always works. And then you develop your own take on the basic method to truly make a dish your own.
If you want to produce the roast chicken you’ve seen on my social media, follow the above steps and you should be good to go–perhaps after a little trial and error. I’ve made this dish many times, and I still look up methods and recipes every time because I might try something new or different.
With my blog entries, my Twitter posts, and my Twitch stream, it’s my hope that you are educated, entertained and inspired to try making something yourself. And if you did, let me know, I’d love to see the results! 😊💖🖖🏿