How to Roast a Whole Chicken

By Sally Cameron on February 27, 2012

basics and how-to, chicken & turkey, gluten-free, the daniel plan,


how to roast a whole chicken|

Whole roast chicken is a Sunday dinner tradition in our house. Golden-crusted and crisp-skinned, the classic simplicity of a whole roast chicken is always welcome. And roasting a whole chicken saves you time and energy in the week ahead. Cook once and eat twice; leftovers make great meals during the week. Don’t toss that carcass. Save it and freeze to make stock.

Never roasted a whole bird? It’s really very easy to do and they taste better fresh from your oven rather than from the store. So here’s how to roast a whole chicken. Learn this easy technique, and whole roast chicken may become a tradition in your house too.

How to Roast a Whole Chicken

Julia Child said “you don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces, just good food from fresh ingredients.” A roast whole chicken is an enduring classic. It is good food from fresh ingredients, one that every home chef can make.

I’ve roasted many whole chickens with varying techniques. With a v-rack and a vertical roaster. Starting the bird breast side down turning half way through. I’ve tried tying, or trussing the bird, or not. Many of the techniques produced a good roast chicken. At times the results were inconsistent or the appearance not as eye-appealing as I wanted.

It was chef Tom Colicchio’s method of searing the chicken first on the stovetop that inspired me. It’s always how I start my bone-in chicken breasts and many meat dishes, so it made sense. Sear then roast is a restaurant standard technique.

Sear first in a heavy pan, then place the pan in the oven to finish roasting. Works like a charm. You get crisp, golden skin and moist meat on the inside. This is where a traditional cast iron skillet is the best pan choice. Now I get consistent results every time.

Prepare the Chicken

Unwrap the chicken and allow it to stand at room temperature for one hour to get the chill off. Next, rinse the chicken under cold water, discarding any packet of innards. Remove any fat globs near the cavity opening and discard. Dry the bird well.

Next, tie the chicken legs together with kitchen twine and trim off wing tips with kitchen scissors or shears. If you don’t have a pair, it’s a good tool to invest in. I like the Shun scissors for their heft and quality, but there are less expensive ones on the market. I’ve listed several links at the end of the post.

how to roast a whole chicken|


Time to season the chicken. Penzey’s Florida Seasoned Pepper blend is my favorite. It makes a fantastic, flavorful crust on chicken. I also use it to season fish dishes (like the halibut recipe here) and in chicken salad. It’s a salt-free blend of Tellicherry black pepper, lemon peel, orange peel, garlic and onion. It has punch from the pepper and tang from the citrus. Add salt if prefer.

Another great option from Savory Spice Shop is their Colorado Plateau Citrus Pepper.  It’s a combination of black pepper, garlic, orange peel, lemon peel, citric acid, onion and smoked sweet paprika. Alternatively use black pepper, kosher or sea salt and granulated garlic.

how to roast a whole chicken|

Sear Then Roast

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees (190 C). Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. While the pan is heating, season the chicken liberally and drizzle all over with olive oil.

Place chicken in the hot pan bottom side down and sear for a few minutes until you achieve a golden crust.  Watch your heat level and turn the heat down if needed so as not to burn the chicken. Cast iron really conducts heat.

When you get a golden crust on the bottom, turn the chicken breast side down and do the same. When the breast side is golden, stand the chicken on it’s sides and sear the sides. This is where tying the legs helps; the chicken is more stable when on it’s sides.

This may seem a little awkward, but work with it. I use silicone tipped tongs to make handling the chicken easier. The silicone edges are soft and don’t tear the skin.

how to roast a whole chicken|

When the chicken is golden all over, turn the chicken breast side up and put the pan in the oven. Roast until a digital thermometer reads 165 degrees in the deep part of the thigh.

Timing will depend on the size of your chicken. A 4 to 4 ½ pound (2 kilo) chicken will take approximately 60 minutes in my convection oven. Remove the chicken from the oven and allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes.

how to roast a whole chicken|

While the chicken is roasting, make a side dish and salad to complete the meal.

Carve and Serve

To carve, begin by cutting off the leg-thigh pieces using a heavy chef’s or French knife. Pull the leg piece back until the joint is exposed. I pull mine back until it pops. Then it’s easy to see where to cut above the joint.

Next cut off the wings, then cutting down the center breast bone and free the chicken breasts by running the knife down along the rib cage. See the photos for help.

Another easy way to carve is to turn the chicken back slide up and cut the backbone out with poultry shears. Turn the chicken over, breast side up, and press on the breastbone to flatten the chicken. It becomes real clear where to cut. Cut off the legs and thighs in one piece, then cut the breast in half through the breastbone.

how to roast a whole chicken|

how to roast a whole chicken|

After dinner, pick off any chicken meat still clinging to the body and save along with any uneaten chicken for chicken salad, chicken tacos, quesadillas or soup.

Save the Carcass for Making Stock

One last tip – save the roast carcass and freeze. When I get 3-4 stored in the freezer, I use them to make chicken stock.

Other Helpful Links:

Thermapen Digital Thermometer is my thermometer of choice. They’re the best.

The classic cast iron skillet is still made by Lodge, available on Amazon. I have a 10 1/4″. Find them too at Target and cooking stores.

Shun kitchen scissors, on Amazon

Messermeister 8-1/2-Inch Take-Apart Utility Shear, on Amazon

Norpro Stainless-Steel Holder with Cotton Cooking Twine, on Amazon

When you have enough carcasses in the freezer, make stock. Here is my recipe.

How to care for cast iron

Related Recipes


Leave a Comment
Madonna | February 27, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Sally, I have implemented your technique from your previous post regarding searing the chicken breasts. Just the few extra minutes of prep to sear the chicken prior to roasting makes all the difference in both the visual and the flavor. I usually cook in small servings, but will keep this in mind for company.

Your food is so beautiful. And to anyone reading Sally’s post listen up and do what she says. You will raise your level of cooking just by following Sally’s prep instructions. For those that are wondering she is not my relative.

Ron Goldman | February 28, 2012 at 11:16 am

Looks delicious as always Sally!

Michelle K | February 29, 2012 at 11:17 am

Yum! Looks amazing. We don’t own any cast iron, but the link shows one for a great price, thank you! Do you have any thoughts on pulling some of the skin up and putting the seasonings between the chicken and the skin? I have done this before and just wonder if there is any reason not to? I am trying to be more careful with the fat, so it’s less tempting when more seasoning is in the chicken, vs. skin. One more question – do you ever throw potatoes, carrots, parsnips or sides like this in the dish to cook with the chicken? Seems like it would work well, though thinking depending on what depends when to add them. Thanks for sharing!

    Sally | February 29, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    Michelle, I’ve added a link on how to care for cast iron, if you are wondering. Cast iron is the original non-stick surface. On seasoning, that should work just fine. I do that with my whole turkeys but not with my whole chickens. On adding other vegetables, not with this technique. I would do them in a separate pan. First, in the 10″ cast iron pan, little extra room. And the vegetables would be cooking in the chicken fat in the bottom of the pan, which you may not want. I would line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, peel and cut up your vegetables, toss with olive oil and season, then roast along side. Watch your vegetables so they don’t burn. Timing will depend on what size you cut your vegetables and your oven. I usually do parsnips and carrots together, and red potatoes on their own. Let me know if that helps.

      Michelle K | February 29, 2012 at 9:54 pm

      Yes! Thank you!!

wakanetwork | April 9, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Looks delicious! Another great recipe from you my dear. Thanks

Mark | October 26, 2013 at 7:24 pm

So after searing the chicken in the cast iron skillet, you would not recommend immediately transferring the seared chicken to a roasting pan that already has the veggies cut, seasoned and drizzled with olive oil, and roast the chicken and veggies together (with the chicken resting on a bed of thickly sliced onions?

    Sally | October 27, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    Hi Mark. Thanks for your comment. That is yet another way to roast a chicken, another technique. What I like about doing it this way is that you are guaranteed a golden crisp crust, and it’s pretty quick. Tie the legs, season and oil, sear and pop into the oven. In this case I do my vegetables on the side. Maybe I will even roast them, but do them on a rimmed baking sheet. The vegetables are not sitting in any of the fat drippings that you may not want to eat. Last comment, vegetables may take varying times to roast. I’ve roasted a chicken different ways and found that, at least for me, this is my go-to method.

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