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Help: I'm too chicken to roast a chicken!

Hi y'all-

So it looks like roast chicken is so easy to make, but when I see the nice, whole, locally grown, organic chickens in the grocery store I freak out and head for the boneless chicken breasts instead. I'm trying to expand my repertoire from stir fries and curries - they're good, but sometimes a girl just wants something plain and simple. Which side of the chicken faces up in the pan? Do you roast covered or uncovered? And how do you know it's done? Any tips, encouragement, or chicken roasting stories will be greatly appreciated...

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  1. Be brave! Roasting a chicken is pretty easy.

    Either side of the chicken can face up. Most people roast with the breast side up, which puts the legs up as well. This leads to the prettiest presentation. But if you roast breast side down, the breast will be basted more and shielded from the direct heat, so the longer-to-cook thighs finish more at the same time.

    Definitely roast uncovered -- this allows the skin to crisp and brown. Covering is really steaming more than roasting.

    Definitely roast the bird on a rack so that it clears the hot bottom of the roasting pan, fat can drip off, and most of the bird is elevated above the sides of the roasting pan. If you don't have a rack, create one by resting the bird on a nest of thick-cut carrots, potatoes, and other vegies you like.

    Make sure you take out the bag of innards from within the storebought chicken. Rinse well both inside and out and then dry thoroughly with paper towels. Season the inside and the skin liberally with kosher salt, fresh-ground pepper, and I like some garlic salt as well. Be sure to preheat your oven. Some people like a high-heat roasting or at least to start the chicken at 450 and then lower to 350 after a few minutes, but I like about 375 for a smaller bird (less than four pounds) or 350 for a larger one. A smaller bird properly raised in the roasting pan can be done in 45-50 minutes, a larger one an hour to hour and a quarter. The bird is done when a thermometer placed deep into the thigh reads about 160 -- it will coast up a bit as it rests before carving and serving. Or when a toothpick or knife pushed into the thigh produces clear, chicken-broth looking juices with no pink, and when you can jiggle the leg easily from where it meets the thigh.

    10 Replies
    1. re: nosh

      Nosh has given great instructions...I would add only two things. First, the chicken is flavoured nicely with the addition of a lemon pricked all over stuffed in the cavity before roasting. Or you can use an onion for this. Secondly, you need to let the roasted chicken "rest" on a carving board after it is cooked and before carving.

      Be not afraid...this is a great first step into the culinary delights beyond boneless breasts and curries.

      1. re: LJS

        Yes, good 10 minute rest is important, otherwie the juices run out!

      2. re: nosh

        What a great description of roasting! Very nicely said. And true on all accounts from my experience. I tend towards a the higher temps. And if you don't get the bird off the pan, it's not the end of the world. I try birds breast up and breast down, and have found little difference. But I do usually do bigger birds like turkeys breast down as the theory that the juices run down into the breast seem to be true. I think roasting a chicken is the best thing in the world to do!

        1. re: nosh

          Excellent instructions. I'd add a couple of steps.

          First, I like to remove the wishbone to make it easier to carve the breast. It's just below the surface of the breast at the neck cavity, and you can feel it with your fingers. Push the skin covering the breast aside, use a pairing knife to get to the bone, and remove. Takes about 10 seconds.

          Second, a brine is IMHO the best guarantee of a juicy, tasty roast chicken. The simplest brine is just salt water (2 to 4 tablespoons salt for each quart of water). You can use fruit juices and add herbs and spices if you want, but the main thing is to submerge the chicken for half an hour to an hour before cooking. Be sure to dry it thoroughly before it goes in the oven.

          So get one of those beautiful birds and roast it. You'll be glad you did.

          1. re: nosh

            If you're making a rack out of vegetables - I highly recommend including thickly-sliced onions. There is nothing quite like onions that've been roasting in chicken fat for an hour.

            1. re: jacinthe

              Absolutely agreed. Actually, potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips, beets, and a number of other vegetables benefit from this treatment too. But onions are key. That's why I wouldn't dream of using a rack. It gets in the way of the vegetables.

              1. re: Kagey

                This post made me go out and buy a chicken for dinner. About the vegetable "rack": Do I need to arrange the veggies in some specific manner under the chicken? Also, how thick should the veggies be? I'm using carrots, onnions and potatoes. Thanks!

                1. re: diablo

                  Sorry for the late reply. No, there's no specific way to arrange them! Just cut them up into pieces--you want them not to go too mushy. I usually cut potatoes to about 1.5 to 2-inch pieces, onions into pretty big wedges (my chickens usually cook for 1 hour 45 minutes, and I don't want the onions burnt to a crisp), carrots in half lengthwise and into maybe 2 or 3 sections across...

                  I don't even put them under the chicken, per se. I put the chicken in the pan and then toss in the vegetables all around it. Make sure to season them with a little salt and pepper, and tuck in some rosemary if you have it--lovely aroma!

                  After the chicken's been cooking for about an hour, I turn the vegetables in the pan, to get them nice and covered with the pan juices. If you end up with a lot of leftover juice (sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't), it makes great gravy.

                  1. re: Kagey

                    Thanks Kagey. I ended up with some veggies under, some around, but pretty much followed your directions. Only thing I will need to change next time is to use less butter (my fault). I was overzealous and things got a bit too greasy.....I'll know better next time!

                    1. re: diablo

                      I don't know, I'm kind of thinking a veggie rack is a fabulous idea. It would help keep the bottom of the chicken's skin a little crispy.

                      I'm actually excited about going home tonight (officially it's sushi night) and trying it out! :D

          2. I'll just add to search for Marcella Hazan's recipe for Roast Chicken with 2 Lemons. It's pretty basic with excellent results.

            1. It's so easy! Don't stress! Just do it!

              Look - there are endless variations. Turning it, stuffing it, inserting herbs and butter in the skin, etc...all have their benefits. And later on you can try them.

              But Roast Chicken, besides being so tasty, is easy as can be. Do this:

              Get a chicken. Take what comes in the cavity out. Run water all over it and pat it dry.

              Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

              Salt and pepper the inside (a lot, don't worry, you can't mess it up) and put an onion cut into four pieces and a lemon cut into four pieces and 4-8 cloves of garlic inside.

              Salt and pepper the outside (a lot, don't worry, you can't mess it up) . Rub melted butter or olive oil all over the outside. Add some herbs if you like (but you don’t have to). Just throw them on … thyme leaves, rosemary leaves, etc.

              Stick it in a roasting pan or large skillet that can go in the oven. Surround it with garlic cloves, onions pieces and cut up carrots and potatoes (if you want, you can ignore the veggies)

              Stick it in the oven and cook it ten minutes per pound. Don’t even look at it or worry about it.

              When the timer goes off, take it out, set it down and cover it with foil. Wait ten minutes.

              Perfect Roast Chicken.

              Sure, there are fancier ways to try, and you can work your way there. But I often go back to this, particularly at the end of a crazy day. It works and it is SO EASY.

              I have a slightly more intricate version here.


              But your first time, just do it this way. You’ll be amazed and never scared again.

              You can do it!

              1 Reply
              1. re: Tom P

                I usually cook my chicken with a beer can, but when I read you "stuffing" ingredients I got hungry!

              2. Your responses are so helpful and reassuring! I am looking forward to roasting my first chicken this weekend when I will be hanging around the house and have time to really enjoy the results. I'll keep you posted :)

                1. I usually do cornish hens, but the concept is the same: wash, rinse, dry, salt and pepper, add garlic slivers and spices between breast and skin, place thick-cut vegetables on the roasting pan, place chicken breast-down on roasting rack, blast the chicken at 475-500F for a few minutes, turn heat down to 300-325F, then go for about an hour (or until it's done; I can just "tell," if that makes any sense).

                  I don't ever do poultry without brining, but that's just me and my inability to make moist chicken without doing so. I always include peppercorns and vinegar (I think any acidic liquid will do) with my brine.

                  I've never had an issue with presentation when roasting breast-down.

                  1. yeah, I always felt the same as you. Somehow, such a simple thing seemed way too daunting. Until I tried it. I finally tried my first roast chicken after hearing about the divine goodness of the Barefoot Contessa's lemon chicken. So I made it. And it was good. It was very good, and very easy. I also learned that not only was it easy, roast chicken is super versatile. Once you have had your fill of chicken(and yummy skin) the first night, you can chop up the leftover chicken and use it for any number of things for the rest of the week,(I'm single. One chicken goes a long way in my house). You can also use the carcass for a lighter, yet richer stock. Roast the chicken! It is so simple, and so easy.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: hilltowner

                      Barefoot Contessa's roast chicken is what made me finally do it, too! It is SOOO good. Not being single (and having a 3 year old who can easily eat 1/4 chicken, if not more), I always do 2 at a time, if not 3, just to have leftovers!

                      This is my go to meal to cook for friends who have had babies, hospitalizations, etc. And it makes the house smell so good!

                    2. Thomas Keller's recipe in the Bouchon book is hands down the best roast chicken recipe I've ever used. For one thing, it is absurdly easy: preheat oven to 450, truss (actually, just tie the legs together and tuck the wings back) and salt the bird and bring it to room temp, then bung in oven for 50-60 minutes, then let it rest for 15 minutes. The skin comes out all crispy, and it's cooked through but the breast isn't dry. The guy really is a genius.

                      Here's the link:


                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Behemoth

                        Alice Waters uses about the same technique as Thomas Keller, but cooks 20 minutes breast up, 20 minutes breast down, 20 minutes breast up at 400. The recipe, plus several variations can be found in her new book The Art of Simple Food, which I am finding is a treasure.

                      2. A girl from Greenwich, CT who had dined with me asked me to teach her how to cook the chicken I had made. She didn't even know how to open the bag the chicken was in. Everytime I made her touch the bag to open it, she would start screaming. You would think the chicken was running around the kitchen based on her reaction. So I opened the bag and told her to dry the chicken. She used nearly an entire roll of paper towel so that she wouldn't have to touch any of the chicken juices. When I asked her to rub the seasoning in, she tried to use the paper towels again. Annoyed, I stuck her hands into the cavity to get her to remove the giblets. She proceeded to shriek and beat me with a spatula.

                        But in the end, she made a gorgeous chicken. Once you get over your initial fear and get down and dirty, you'll realize that cooking a whole chicken is like any other cut of meat. And simple is best. I season generously with salt and pepper, cayenne, paprika and garlic. Cook at 375 for 30 minutes and 425 for another 30. Always come out with a crisp skin and moist flesh. Hard to mess up and hard to resist.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: JungMann

                          The first time I roasted a chicken, I roasted it breast side down, and couldn't figure out where the breast meat was! We cook ours at 550 for 20 minutes, then at 425 for another 30 or so.

                        2. I've only ever made my mother's roast chicken recipe. I cook almost no meat but still find this really easy and doable, nothing to be afraid of. Plus, it's insanely delicious:

                          ~Esther’s Roast Chicken~ (very slightly adapted)

                          - one small chicken (about 2.5 -3 lbs)
                          - one small bunch carrots, preferably from farmers’ market or garden, chopped into thin, short sticks
                          - a few stalks of celery (3-6ish, depending how much you like it), chopped into thin, short sticks
                          - one large or 2-3 small onions, sliced in thin strips
                          - button mushrooms, about 15.
                          - optional: other mushrooms. Chanterelles are delicious in this.
                          - optional: other vegetables. Tiny, whole golden beets are nice, as are small-cut colorful potatoes.
                          - tarragon (lots) (you can add sage too; definitely if you do this with turkey)
                          - 1 lemon
                          - olive oil
                          - a little salt
                          - wine (red or white will work; I prefer white)

                          - cooked rice to serve it with (I prefer brown, wild, or a mixture. Don't skip the rice - ladling the sauce with vegetables over the rice is one of the best parts of this.)

                          To prepare chicken:
                          Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

                          Chop your vegetables as described above. In thick pot or pan on stove, sauté carrots, celery, onion, with a little salt, on a very low flame. Include any potatoes or beets or other vegetables, but not the mushrooms. Cook about ten minutes (while you’re preparing the chicken), and add a bunch of fresh tarragon leaves to the vegetables at the end.

                          Wash the chicken and set it down in a deep roasting pan or oven-safe big pot. Rub it all over with olive oil and a little salt, lemon, and sprigs of tarragon. Tuck sprigs of tarragon under the skin, into the body cavity, under the wings, anywhere else you can. Cut some lemon slices or small wedges, and tuck them under the wings or under the chicken.

                          Take your vegetables off the stove. Lift the chicken out of the roasting pan for a moment and pour all the vegetables in, spreading them out (or, if you're cooking the veg in a big oven safe pot, just put the chicken on top of them). Place the chicken back on top of the bed of vegetables. Put chicken in oven, breast up. After 15 minutes, take it out, baste it with some of the liquid from the vegetables (I’ve occasionally found I had to add about 1/4 cup of water to the vegetables to make this realistic, if I'm using a shallow pan). Turn the chicken on one side, wing up, and prop it up with vegetables. Put it back in the oven for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, take it out again. This time, stir all those fresh-cut mushrooms you have into the other vegetables, making sure they’re coated and well mixed in. Turn the chicken on its other side so the other wing is up, prop it with vegetables, and put it back into the oven. After another 15 minutes, you guessed it, take the chicken out again. Baste it, make sure none of the mushrooms are getting dried out (stir them under the other veggies if they are), and turn the chicken breast up for the last 15 minutes.

                          To make sure your chicken is done, stab it somewhere thick and see if the juices run clear.

                          Take chicken out of pot and immediately start pouring in wine and stirring vegetables. I just pour wine until it tastes right, but I'm guessing it's 1-1.5 cups of wine. You can throw in a few more leaves of tarragon too. This mixture of wine, vegetables, and juices becomes your sauce. It's delicious.

                          Serve as cut up pieces of chicken with rice, and sauce with vegetables ladled over both.



                          1. The thing that intimidates me from roasting whole chicken more often is cleaning the oven afterwards. (No, I don't have a self cleaning oven, nor the budget to buy one at present.) The bird I've liked best is a modified version of the roast chicken from the Zuni cookbook. Cooking it straight from the grocery without the salted rest is good, too, but that salted bird is really succulent and the skin's fantastic.

                            1. I like to put onion, whole cloves of garlic and a few slices of lemon in the cavity. I also cut garlic into very thin slices and slide them under the skin over the breast and near the legs along w/rosemary and softened butter. I also slather butter all over the chicken and season before I put in oven. It NEVER disappoints.

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: Gingerleen

                                I very much second the recommendation of Thomas Keller's Bouchon recipe in Epicurious. I use that all the time and it's almost too easy. Pay attention to his emphasis on getting the bird as dry as possible. My butcher sells these lovely 3 1/2- 4 lb. chickens that are perfect. I have a self-cleaning oven and have never had to use the clean cycle after cooking a chicken.

                                1. re: kwe730

                                  What temp does he use? I'm roasting birds hot and fast, which results in a filthy oven.

                                  1. re: amyzan

                                    He has it at 450. One thing that keeps the splattering down is to use as small a pan as possible to hold the chicken. (I use a 9 inch cast-iron gratin pan.) Also, making sure the bird is very dry as kwe730 suggests helps a lot.You could also try putting some sliced potatoes underneath, some posters on the epicurious site suggest this though I've never tried it. Personally I've not had trouble with splatter.

                                    I used to do marcellas recipe (very similar to alice water's), and it's great, but not having to constantly fiddle with the bird is so nice, plus this is the crispest skin I've gotten from any recipe.

                                    1. re: Behemoth

                                      I've taken to making Marcella's and not even fiddling with the bird...it turns out pretty good....hard to mess up a chicken with a lemon stuffed inside it.

                                      1. re: Behemoth

                                        Thanks for the hints, but I think the problem is that my oven is small. It's only about 17" wide. I look for the smallest chicken I can find, usually about 3 pounds. Using the Zuni method of salting and air drying/refrigerating it overnight, the skin is very dry before I roast. I really think it's just the size of the oven that's the problem. I do a fair amount of baking, so it's important to keep my oven pretty clean for best results. I end up buying rotisserie chickens even though I know I could make better at home. I just don't want to deal with the clean up more than once a month.

                                        1. re: amyzan

                                          My oven is also 17" across, one of those IKEA deals. (This is in Germany.) Hmm, maybe that's why my fruit pies have been so much more flavorful since we've moved. :-)

                                          1. re: amyzan

                                            You might want to try a clay pot cooker for your chickens, in your small oven. I picked up a brand new Schlemmer Topf German Claybaker at a resale shop for $5 and have been in love with it ever since. You soak it in water before using, as its unglazed, and cook at a higher temperature, creating a moist, happy chicken in its own little clay oven. No mess in your oven and delicious chicken, or whatever else you roast in it...plus they are suppose to be good to bake bread in too, though I haven't tried it yet.

                                            1. re: anniemax

                                              I would not recommend this for a novice because they are tricky to use well - they don't produce the results people expect from a roast-baked chicken. (I've had and used one, so I say that from experience.)

                                              1. re: anniemax

                                                My father and stepmom have one, and I'm sorry to say this, but the chicken it produces is not to my taste. There's no crispy skin, and while the meat is moist, it lacks the flavor of a salted, roasted bird. Just my opinion of course. I appreciate the thought, but I'd really clean the oven rather than buy a clay baker.

                                    2. You've gotten great advice here. I second most of it.

                                      One thing I would add: pay attention to the size of the bird you are buying. You will likely have more success with a 3-4 lb bird than a large roaster. Not because a roaster is hard to cook but because it involves a tad more compromis due keep it cooked evenly. In the future, when you read professionally written recipes, always observe the size of the bird specified and stick within that range if you want to be sure the recipe will come out right; different methods work better with different-size birds, and recipes are usually designed with that in mind. Unfortunately, home-cook written recipes often neglect to be that specific, and it can matter....

                                      1. The idominable, most delicious, easilest way to roast a chicken is with the Ron Popeil "Showtime" compact rotisserie. It can be found online and at many major department stores for under $100.

                                        Just tie your bird up tight with cotton string, oil the little metal points of attachment for the skewers, multiply the weight by 16, set it, and turn it on. Then, if you get bored before the little bell alerts you that you have the juiciest, most crispy-skinned chix you've ever eaten - you can watch your bird spin around in all its golden glory!

                                        (OR your smallish leg o' lamb, or petite turkey, or beef roast - always perfect, so very easy!)

                                        1. http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/show_...

                                          wolfgang puck on brining and roasting a turkey (same deal for chick)

                                          1. The only thing I would add to all of this is a liberal spreading of bacon fat before any seasoning. Not sure if anyone else has tried this, but I find that it adds a lot of flavor not only to the bird but to the drippings also (gravy anyone?)

                                            1. Thanks, potterybliss, for starting this thread! And thanks to everyone for posting tips and encouragement. This thread emboldened me - someone who has cooked for decades - to roast my first chicken yesterday, and it was great!

                                              I brined a chicken for 2 hours, let it dry for a half hour, then used a combo of methods to cook it - mostly Marcella Hazan's two-lemon chicken recipe and The Best Recipe/America's Test Kitchen "start on the side and flip every 20 minutes" approach. And I used a bed of onions, carrots, and celery to prop up the chicken (I don't own a rack).

                                              The chicken was great! It was moist and delicious, even though I didn't use any added oil or butter or bacon. It took longer to cook than I thought (I bought a huge chicken by mistake), and the skin didn't get really brown, but we don't eat the skin, anyway, so no biggie. And now I know what to tweak for next time - like, double the vegetables because they're fabulous after cooking in chicken fat for an hour and a half. (And they're probably worse for me than eating chicken skin, but...)

                                              Thanks, all! I'll be roasting lots of chickens from now on.