Roast whole 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. 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. And don’t toss that carcass. Save it and freeze to make stock.
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. Learn this technique, and whole roast chicken may become a tradition in your house too.
How to Roast a Whole Chicken
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 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.
Season, Sear and Roast
Time to season the chicken. Penzey’s Florida Seasoned Pepper blend is a 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 you prefer, kosher or sea salt.
Alternatively use freshly ground coarse black pepper, kosher or sea salt and granulated garlic. If you love citrus flavors, order some of the Penzey’s. It just might become one of your staple seasonings too. (Note – Savory Spice Shop makes a good one too).
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.
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.
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.
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 Body 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.
How to Roast a Whole Chicken
Servings: about 3-4
- 1 4 1/2 pound (2 kilo) whole chicken, preferably organic
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil (approximate)
- 2 teaspoons mixed black pepper, salt and granulated garlic (optional)
- Kitchen twine to tie the legs
- 10″ – 12″ cast iron skillet
- Remove the chicken from the refrigerator, unwrap and allow to stand for one hour. Wash the chicken with cold water, discarding any packet of innards. Remove any extra fat globs around the cavity opening. Dry well.
- Tie the chicken legs together with kitchen twine and trim off wing tips with kitchen scissors or shears.
- Season the chicken liberally with Florida Seasoned Pepper. Add salt if you prefer. Alternatively use coarse ground black pepper, granulated garlic and a coarse salt such as kosher or seal salt. Drizzle with olive oil.
- Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees (190 C). Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Place the 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.
- 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 the sides and sear both sides.
- 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 thigh. Timing will depend on the size of your chicken. A 4 to 4 ½ pound (2 kilo) chicken will take approximately 50-60 minutes in my convection oven.
- Remove the chicken from the oven and allow it to rest for about 20 minutes. Carve and serve. See photos to help with cutting up the roast chicken.
Refrigerate leftover chicken as soon as possible and freeze the carcass 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″
Shun kitchen scissors, on Amazon
When you have enough carcasses in the freezer, make stock. Here is my recipe.
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