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Roast Chicken-why do I have such problems?

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For such a 'simple' dish, why do I have such difficulties making a roast chicken? For one, the cooking time is never what the cookbooks call for. And second, not to mention most importantly, I can never achieve a browned, crispy skin.
The only constants are as follows: a 4 1/2 - 5 lb bird and I always use a roasting pan with the bird on a V-shaped rack. Outside of that, I've tried various methods/recipes: Joy of Cooking, Mark Bittman's, Martha Stewart-you name it, I've done it.
What am I doing wrong??? Please help!

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  1. Have you brined the bird to get a crispier skin?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

      why would brining give you crispier skin? It adds flavor and moisture, but crispy?

    2. Second vote re brining; be sure to rinse and then blot off as much water as possible. If it's not dry enough, it will steam. Have you tried roasting at high temp for the first 10 or 15 minutes?

      1. I usually use a 3.5-4.5 bird. Others like to brine the bird (Sam knows his stuff) but I am not in that camp.

        I use a 425 degree oven, that is fully pre-heated. I do not use any fancy racks, pans, Zuni's, nothing. I take a simple sided baking sheet. Layer a sheet of aluminum foil on it. Place the pieces skin side up. Sprinkle with whateve spices feel right that night. Place into the fully pre-heated oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes I turn it from bake to convection bake for another ten minutes. Perfect every time. Crispy outside and moist inside. If you do not have convection, it may take a few more minutes to get the crsipy look.

        1. Brush it with melted butter before cooking. You can also baste it with some more melted butter during cooking if it dries up.

          2 Replies
          1. re: ngardet

            I agree. I get the best crispy skin when I brush the chicken with melted butter.

            1. re: ngardet

              I get great results by drizzling the chicken with olive oil - chicken cooking on a rack with all the oil/chicken juice gathering in the pan - the better to put on Devil Chow's kibble for his dinner (and His Missus too, just loves it). I like high heat as well - 400 deg for a while then down to 350 but Mme Zoe and I like our bird well done.

            2. To get crispy chicken skin, I never use a rack, BUT I use a cookie sheet with a very small lip, just enough to catch drippings. You need to make sure your pan isn't too deep otherwise the skin won't get crisp. I also start my chicken on it's back for half the cooking time, and turn breast side up to finish. I don't baste with butter, I rub a small amount of olive oil. Agree with posters who said, chicken needs to be bone dry in order to crisp up properly. I do admit to having a convection oven, which makes a HUGE difference in helping crisp chicken.

              1. google "beer can chicken" or "drunken chicken" or "beer butt chicken".

                most recipes call for the grill, but i've done both gas grill and home oven and both worked equally well.

                you'll get a crispy skin and a moist, juicy flesh every time.

                3 Replies
                1. re: hitachino

                  And you can season beer can chicken with whatever.

                  1. re: yayadave

                    Yes--beer can chicken is the easiest, most foolproof roasted chicken you can do. Get one of those simple beer can chicken stands available at outdoors stores or in the grilling section of big box stores. Low & slow ('round 325 for 1 hr, 30 min for a 4 lb chicken), super easy. Requires no basting or fiddling once it's in the oven, just a 1/2 turn rotation if your oven heats more on one side than the other (most do). Stephen Raichlen's Beer Can Chicken cookbook has foolproof directions and a myraid of recipes and rubs.

                  2. re: hitachino

                    Beer can chicken is one of the most requested things when friends are coming over in the summer.

                    Heres a tip....heineken "Keg" cans are nice and sturdy if you dont have a stand.

                  3. I put the bird (usually 3-1/2 to 4 pounds) in a large metal-handled (WearEver) skillet, salt and pepper it, slice about 1/4 stick butter and lay the pieces on top and roast it at 400 until done. Usually I put a few small unpeeled onions (including the loose stuff) around it, and half an unpeeled head of garlic. I stuff the cavity with several sprigs of fresh rosemary if I have it.

                    Just let it cook until the legs move easily and the skin is well browned.

                    The onions and garlic pop out of their outer layers and have no burned areas. Let them cool first, though, or your fingers will be sorry.

                    I pour off the fat and deglaze the pot, usually with dry vermouth, and cook it down as gravy.

                    1. Rinse and dry your chicken the day before. Then place the bird on the rack in the roasting pan and leave overnight in the refrigerator. The skin will dry out (the bird won't) and you should get a nice crispy skin. Roasting at a high temp (375-425 or even higher) helps too.

                      1. I followed a Wolfgang Puck recipe the other day that called for butterflying the bird (cutting out the breastbone and flattening the bird)......searing it in some olive oil in a big sautee pan until crisp on one side, flipping it over searing it a bit on that side, and then putting in the oven at 400 to finish up. Obviously, not as pretty as a whole roast chicken as a table centerpiece, but it was, honestly, the juiciest chicken with the crispest skin. So good!

                        (Stuffed fresh rosemary, basil, and garlic under the skin, and generously salt and peppered the bird, too.)

                        Obviously, you need to do this with a smaller bird, but the results were fabulous.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: stacylyn

                          Isn't there a recipe around for roasting a bird prepared this way over a bed of potatoes so that the juices bake into the potatoes?

                          1. re: yayadave

                            You have no idea how fast the potatoes go when you put the bird on top of the potatoes. No rocket science here.

                            Cut the potatoes into wedges, place in a bowl and toss with a little EVOO. Spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Butterfly the chicken along the back bone (not the breast) and flatten on your board then place on top of the potatoes.

                            Place in a 425 oven for 40 minutes.

                            Remove the chicken, sprinkle the potoatoe with S&P and place them back in the oven for 5-10 minutes more until they absorb all the chicken juices and turn crispy brown.

                            You will feel like a king eating this and everyone fights for the "best potatoes I ever ate".

                            1. re: jfood

                              That's a nice description of a method, which is better than a recipe because it allows some room to play.

                          2. re: stacylyn

                            I often butterfly my chicken too. The skin gets crisp and the chicken cooks faster, which is good especially on weeknight when you don't have 3 hours to roast a chicken. In my convection oven, it takes less than an hour.

                          3. Here it is, as simple as it gets:

                            2.5 -3.5 pound Chicken
                            Coarse Salt
                            Fresh Ground Pepper
                            Fresh minced Thyme
                            2-3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter

                            Preheat to 450 degrees

                            Rinse the bird and then dry it completely with paper towels. Season liberally inside and out. If you know how, truss the bird. If not, don't.

                            Use a roasting pan (no rack), place the chicken in the oven for abut 60 minutes. Remove it when done (juices run clear). Baste with pan juices and let sit for 10 minutes.

                            Add Thyme to butter and mix well with fork or spoon. Slather thyme butter over bird just befor slicing.

                            I have cooked dozens of chickens like this and all have been perfect when served with a green salad and crusty bread (and a few glasses of vino).

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: TonyO

                              This is my method, too, though minus the thyme butter. Salt, pepper, high heat, skillet, period.

                              BK

                              1. re: TonyO

                                I agree that you do not need any fancy rack or pay anything for a beer can holder.

                                I use 425 for 40 minutes though. At 60 it was a little drier than my liking.

                                To get both sides crispy i cut down the backbone instead of the breatbone anf flatten with the palm of my hand in the pan

                              2. That Beer Can Chicken contraption sells at Walmart for maybe $4.95 - I bought one and love it. It's called "Chick Can". I've only used it in the oven, not the grill. You can use a soda or a beer, any can of whatever. Root Beer is awesome (sounds strange I know).

                                I have luck with lite mayo on the outside for a nice skin.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: lexpatti

                                  Hah! I said above that you could season beer can chicken with whatever. But I never thought of mayo!

                                  1. re: yayadave

                                    learned that from a southern chef, (maybe Paula Deen) makes for an awesome skin.

                                    1. re: lexpatti

                                      Use Hellmans myself and lexpatti's right. I remember my mom did the same thing with dijon mustard on pork.

                                2. My standard roast chicken method involves a 3.5-4 pound bird. Fill the cavity with a couple of rosemary sprigs, garlic cloves, a quartered lemon, and a carrot. Rub softened butter on the skin, and season with salt and pepper. Roast at 375 for 1.5 hours, 45 minutes per side. I begin breast side up.

                                  Brining is an intertesting idea, though I can't imagine that's really necessary for a bird as small as a chicken, which cooks for such a short time. Mine comes out juicy, with a crispy skin, every time.

                                  Also, I use a flat rack, and not a v-shaped. Interestingly, when I was reading up on Alton Brown's method for roasting turkey, he specifically states to AVOID the v-shaped racks, because it prevents the skin from browning as nicely as it should.

                                  1. Are you using a Purdue or other cheap-ish brand of chicken? If so, that could be part of the problem. I use the same old Joy of Cooking method every time, and I always get a great crispy skin with a good chicken (organic pre-packaged, or fresh from the butchers), and nothing but limp yellow skin with a cheaper chicken. Frankly, it kind of freaks me out about the Purdues.

                                    1. I'd guess that your oven isn't hot enough.

                                      All of these methods people have mentioned sound interesting, but I couldn't be bothered, frankly, to brine, or to truss, or even to wash it, in most cases (yes, I admit I cook my chicken dirty). All I do is stuff half a lemon into the cavity, then rub some oil or butter onto the skin, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and paprika. I usually cook it for the whole time at 400 degrees. If I can be bothered, I'll baste it once or twice with the melted fat during cooking. I'm not certain that that makes much of a difference. My chickens always come out with bronzed, crispy skin and moist meat. I think it may have more to do with the chicken itself being good than anything I've done.

                                      I always surround my chicken with cubed potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, or a combo...eggplant, mushrooms... Plus sliced onions and sometimes garlic cloves still in their wrappers. Sprigs of rosemary if I have some. I season all this too. The vegs come out lovely and caramelized from the chicken juices and fat (you have to turn them about halfway or 3/4 of the way through cooking).

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Kagey

                                        LOL I'm with you. (And I read recently that washing chickens actually spreads more bacteria around the kitchen than if you didn't wash it.) Let's hear it for dirty birds.

                                        1. re: gridder

                                          I'm with Kagey. First buy smarter birds and they know how to act in the oven. I do not even baste them. Into a 435 for 40 minutes, period. If available I will through similar veg/pots as Kagey around or in a separate baking pan.

                                          I read the same article that the oven will kill the bacteria so why wash them in your sink and spread the "risk", if any.

                                          I do clean out the gunk from the lower spine though when i use a whole chicken or use thigh parts. Just a preference.

                                        2. re: Kagey

                                          I agree with Kagey: it is likely that your oven is just not warm enough. Also doesn't help if your chicken is very cold. Some fat on the skin (butter, oil, goose fat) can help, but only if there is enough heat.

                                        3. For crispy skin:
                                          Pat the chicken dry, inside and out, before roasting. You can also pat it dry then leave it in the refrigerator overnight, and the skin will dry even more. I also separate the skin from the flesh with my fingers (you just sort of poke your fingers under the skin). You can use butter/oil or not-I like the flavor, but some people (like Thomas Keller) put nothing on the skin because they think butter or oil steams the skin and it comes out less crispy. In my experience as long as you do the things above, you will get crispy skin.

                                          I also use an over temp. at least 400, and I just check the temperature with a thermometer to judge doneness.

                                          You will get LOTS of crispy skin if you butterfly the bird, since all the skin will be exposed on the top of the bird. This also makes it cook faster and more evenly. Just a good technique overall.

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: christy319

                                            I regularly use the Keller recipe myself. If anyone wants it here is the link at epicurious. It couldn't be any simpler.
                                            http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...

                                            1. re: ozzygee

                                              Exactly. Though I've found you can simply even further by (a) not trussing, (though it's so easy, we usually do) (b) skipping the thyme, and (c) skipping the butter and/or mustard. We probably have this utmost of simple roast chickens 2 - 3 times a month (including last night), and it couldn't be easier or better.

                                              BK

                                              1. re: BJK

                                                I'm with ya on the trussing. I usually use a dutch oven, so everything usually stays in place.

                                                I find, though, that the herbs at the end is pretty much what takes this recipes from simple to deliciously complex. I agree there is no need for the butter/mustard dressing, since the chicken's own juices are sauce enough.

                                                1. re: ozzygee

                                                  Okay, you convinced me, next time I'm using 4 ingredients: 1 whole chicken, salt, pepper, thyme.

                                                  :)
                                                  BK

                                            2. re: christy319

                                              I agree with christy319.

                                              Leave your chicken loosely covered in the refrigerator overnight to let the skin dry out. The Zuni method for roasting chicken reccommends salting the chicken and leaving it in the refrigerator for 2-3 days before roasting.

                                              Roast at a high temperature and you will get a roast chicken with brown crispy skin.

                                              1. re: Norm Man

                                                There's basic problems with the famous Zuni method and those like it.
                                                1) you have to plan way ahead. Even leaving the chicken overnight is more than I can handle sometime. Two to three days can be a lifetime in a busy week. I need something for dinner tonight!!!!
                                                2) high heat works great and cooks quickly but have you read the posts on this board about the smoke detectors? It also makes a mess of the oven. Lower heat works perfectly well and browns a picture perfect, crispy bird.

                                                There are other ways to get brown crispy skin and juicy meat on a chicken you grab at the store on the way home. Fine, do the Zuni method when you have time, but learn an alternate.
                                                Roast chicken should be a wonderful, regular, easy meal not a big deal.

                                                1. re: MakingSense

                                                  The way to avoid the smoke with high heat is to cook the bird with potatoes or other vegetables to absorb the splattering fat. That way you avoid smoke, have delicious veggies to serve with the chicken, and don't have to wait as long as it would take to cook using lower heat.

                                                  And to be fair to Zuni-no, you can't just decide to make this after work for that night's dinner, but it actually makes for a great weeknight dinner because you've prepped the chicken the day(s) before. Even if I just do a regular brine I try to air dry it in the fridge overnight so that I can just toss it in the oven when I get home from work the next day.

                                            3. For crispy skin, a little peanut oil will do the trick. Lately, I'm using the whole Zuni Cafe salt/dry in the fridge method. It's worky as hell. but it's the best chicken ever.

                                              1. For me, what works best is just rinsing out the chicken (taking out the inside bits) and putting it in a large, deep-enough pan--be it a formal roasting pan or a 9x13 pan usually used for brownies or lasagna. I usually put some kind of citrus inside the chicken, or a combination, depending on what I have, and some garlic. Then I make a mixture of soy sauce, white wine, dijon mustard, and more citrus juice (but you could also use red wine/teriyaki/ponzu/whole grain mustard/balsamic vinegar/thai chili sauce etc) and pour it over the chicken. There should be enough liquid to at least cover the bottom of the pan. Add salt and pepper, if desired. Sprinkle with rosemary/sage/italian seasonings/tarragon (paprika/ginger/etc), adding some to the cavity if desired. Cover tightly with foil or the lid, and bake at 350 for approx. 2 hours, checking it occasionally. Uncover during the last 30 min. so it can brown up. Yes, my times and temps are fairly relaxed, but I just make sure to start the chicken early enough, so if it takes a bit longer, you don't find yourself eating at midnight. :)

                                                Adding sliced root veggies to the bottom of the pan is an easy way to cook them--and they taste great with all the juices baked in.

                                                1. My Lord! I could do a spreadsheet for the 30 replies that have gone before me on how to roast a simple chicken but the one thing they all have in common is that every poster has figured out a method that works for him or her. And that dear, rosielucchesini, is what you'll have to do too. Just keep trying!
                                                  I can tell you how I arrived at what worked for me by trial and error over 40 years and now it's a no-brainer.

                                                  I've bought expensive, organic free-range fancy chickens and bargain supermarket chickens. Fresh and frozen, and that thing they call "super chilled." I can cook a great roast chicken and my family and some picky friends swear that they cannot tell the difference. Sorry, folks. Don't get hung up on that. Buy whatever you want as long as it looks and smells fresh.
                                                  Brining doesn't make a difference with small fowl. There are other things which affect the crispness of the skin and the meat will not dry out in the short cooking time. Save the salt and the extra work.
                                                  Seasoning the bird well is important including using more salt than you think.
                                                  I use a standard "house blend" of olive oil, kosher salt, pepper, dried thyme, and puréed garlic, which I massage all over the inside and outside of the bird. I use olive oil because it stays liquid on a cold chicken and butter starts to get solid again. Make up your own favorite. Add veggies or citrus or beer cans to the cavity or not. Personal choices as you can see from the many postings. I have some alternates I use on occasion.
                                                  I loosen the skin and rub the blend under the skin as well and get it as far inside as I can even down around the thighs and legs. Having the seasoning bubbling inside gets the flavors into the meat as it cooks and the olive oil keeps it juicy. The oil on both sides of the skin makes it crispy.
                                                  Remember "crispy" is a relative term.
                                                  The goal of a few ounces of golden crispy skin should not overshadow the overall end of a perfectly roasted, juicy chicken.
                                                  A chicken roasts best in a heavy pan with low sides. I most often use a 12" cast iron skillet. A 9 x 13 brownie pan will do just fine. Nothing really sacred here.
                                                  I don't use a rack. One fewer thing to wash. The only down side is that the skin on the backside isn't crispy. Oh, well. Nothing's perfect. A few cut-up vegetables will also work as a "rack" and they are delicious after they have browned in the drippings. You can make gravy right in the pan.
                                                  My chicken goes into the oven on its back and stays there, never getting basted since I massaged the olive oil under the skin. Others swear by the breast-down, flip-it-over method. Some people baste but how often can you do that in an hour or so that it takes to cook a chicken? Try all the methods and see what you prefer.
                                                  I roast my chicken at 350. At 450, it roasts quicker, but there's a lot of smoke and the oven gets dirty. More work. Not for me. Usually, I've just taken it out of the fridge, so I figure about 12 to 15 minutes a pound. That can be a 15 minute variation for a 5 pound chicken, so keep an eye out!
                                                  After you have roasted enough chickens, you will know when it's ready by looking at it. The color will be right. If the pan is light, the drippings will be a certain color. The skin will have begun to pull back just so from the bone on the leg and it will have tightened over the breast. It will smell "done." (Smell tells you a lot. Did you know that they use smell and sound to teach the blind to cook?) I haven't used a thermometer on a chicken in years.
                                                  I have a convection oven. It roasts a great chicken. I also have an old farmhouse where I have a plain, very old electric oven with a faulty thermostat. It roasts a great chicken. Waht does that tell you?

                                                  The best advice I can give you is to do what I did: Roast a chicken every week until you find a method that works for you.
                                                  That's one wonderful inexpensive meal, plus some leftovers or sandwiches and then some stock from the drippings and carcass to make soup. Not a terrible assignment.
                                                  Now roasting a chicken at my house is on auto-pilot. And turns out consistently good enough that I have no problem planning it as a company meal.
                                                  Practice makes perfect.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                                    Beautifully said. It is true, after making chickens for so many years, burning some having some too raw, and then serendipity, you got it. For me I look at the bird as I'm pre-heating the oven and it almost tells me whether it's 35 minutes or 47 minutes.

                                                    My seasoning are decided when I open my seasoning drawer and take a deep sigh. My only difference from yours is i split the backbone and butterfly before sticking it on the aluminum foil covering the pan (like you, less mess to clean). Also I use a 425. 450 gave me smoke, 350 did not give me the moist inside crispy outside i was looking for. last ten on convection rotisserie for the final touch.

                                                    My prep time for the bird. Five minutes to get it butterflied and seasoned. Five minutes when its out of the oven to sit and slice. The time in between is for conversation with Mrs Jfood, or prepping the sides.

                                                    Ah yes, it is the perfect food for mid-week.

                                                    1. re: MakingSense

                                                      Sense, why didn't MY mama teach me to roast chicken directly in the big cast iron skillet? I'll have to call her and ask. Oh, that's right...she doesn't like roasted chicken.

                                                    2. When I want a really crispy skin, colored golden brown, on a roast bird, I mix a light-colored jelly with equal parts of butter, and brush that mixture on the bird, while it roast for the last 1/2 to 3/4 of an hour uncovered. The sugar and fat make the skin awesome looking and tasting.

                                                      1. Have you checked that your oven is actually generating approximately the temperature you're expecting it to generate?

                                                        1. I'm not sure why you're having problems, but I can relate. I too have problems with roasting whole poultry. The dark meat never seems to cook all the way through. One technique I've used in the past is to slash the dark meat before roasting. I think I read this in Jamie Oliver's book. It's OK, but I'd like to have nice moist white meat and dark meat that's succulent instead of half raw. I've enjoyed reading everyone's responses, though, and it's inspired me to try again. I love roast chicken. The overseasoned rotisserie chickens from the supermarket just don't cut it for me.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: mimilulu

                                                            This is why some people like to brine-it keeps the white meat from drying out while the dark meat finishes cooking.

                                                            1. re: mimilulu

                                                              Would you like to try the classique roasting technique, which, strangely, I haven't seen mentioned one in Chowhound (save by me)? Here it is:

                                                              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/283873

                                                            2. Is your bird very cold when go to roast it? I have found that if I don't bring the chicken to room temp. before roasting it cooks unevenly and the cook time is longer than a lot of recipes suggest. I like using a shallow pan too, it helps because more the heat covers more surface of the bird.

                                                              1. Start out your bird at 450 for 20-30 minutes, that should give you crispy skin. Then you can slow it down to 350. I use a cone shaped stand that fits inside the bird, so the grease drips off and the skin never touches a rack or pan.

                                                                1. Karma...

                                                                  1. If you're looking to try another recipe I've had nothing but success from Ina Garten's "perfect roast chicken". I make sure to wash and completely dry it and I let it come to room temp. She has you season the inside and outside, brush it with butter and stuff it with aromatics. I've roasted it trussed and untrussed, on a bed of root vegetables and on its own and all have come out beautifully (the root vegetable bed is great though because i let them cool, freeze them and then use them to make roasted vegetable soup later). The best thing about this recipe is that it uses one cooking temp for the entire time and there's no flipping the bird or any other complicated processes.

                                                                    1. I stand by my version, and it is very easy. Give it a try:

                                                                      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/409738