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Nov 15, 2007 10:11 PM

cooking time/temp for roast chicken?


I am attempting to roast my first chicken tomorrow, and I am wondering what the correct cooking time is for different sizes. I need to feed a family of five, so what size chicken should i buy, what temperature should I roast it at, and for how long?


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  1. Family of five with one chicken might be difficult, only because bigger birds start to get a touch tougher, IMHO. You might be better off with 2 3.5lb birds, if you have a pan that can fit them. When I do 1 3.5 pound bird, I do a high roast (opinions will differ on this, but i've always had great results) at 425 for roughly 45 minutes or so. To check, prick the bird in the thickest part of the thigh; if the juices run clear, it's done. A couple of things to remember, since this is your first:
    -Make sure you let the chicken rest for about 15 minutes after you take it out of the oven. Like any meat, it needs to relax after cooking for a bit, and the resting time will allow the muscle fibers to do that, thus reabsorbing juices it might have lost.
    -throw some butter under the breast skin, and salt and pepper the whole bird, inside and out. you'll end up with nice crispy skin that may not be healthy, but it damn sure tastes good, and the butter under the skin will also moisten the breast meat, which is the first to dry out. i also like to stuff the cavity with a pricked lemon, 5 or six peeled and slightly crushed garlic cloves, and some fresh herbs--rosemary and thyme for sure, sometimes sage.
    -in the pan, try putting some leeks and onion down as a bed for your bird(s) to roast on. they'll be a nice accompaniment, almost confited when all is done. i do mine in a cast iron skillet, so you get a fair amount of caramelization-- while you're resting the chicken, splash 1/2 a cup or so of dry white wine into the pan and deglaze-- allow that to reduce a bit, and you'll have some nice pan juices to pour over your bird.
    -enjoy yourself-- roasting the perfect chicken is a lifelong pursuit for lots of cooks... but it is the embodiment of beauty in simplicity.

    2 Replies
    1. re: tacostacoseverywhere

      You are right on about roasting 2 small 3lb birds. Less cooking time, and double the liver - plus more options for dark or white meat.

      1. re: tacostacoseverywhere

        Wow... nice post tacos!! I would like to add this for icecreamgal: Save the carcass and scraps to make stock!! Just boil it with some celery and onion scraps and a 3 or 4 peppercorns. Soups uh comin!!

      2. According to the Good Housekeeping cookbook (the one I always use as a reference for things like this) a 2 1/2 -3 1/2 pound fryer will serve 4-5. I would buy a 4 lb chicken and make chicken salad with any leftovers and soup from the carcass.

        Cook it at 350 for 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours. Use an instant thermometer to verify that the meat is 175-180 degrees in the thickest meat. (I poke the thermometer into the thigh just above the leg.)

        The trick to crispy skin is pat the bird dry with paper towels and rub with oil before cooking.

        2 Replies
        1. re: rouxmaker

          I wonder how old your book is--because I think portion sizes have changed so much over the years!! I wish it were true that a 2 1/2 bird would feed 2 of us in my house!

          1. re: rouxmaker

            I happen to be intimately, professionally, familiar with that book. You'll notice that nearly all meat/poultry serving sizes are 4 ounces before cooking. This is consistent with the USDA recommendation that a serving of beef or poultry be 3 ounces. I know we in the states have a reputation for embarrassingly large and unhealthy serving sizes, but 3 ounces of cooked meat is pretty skimpy.

          2. Maybe this isn't what you're looking for, but I always thought making each person a small one-pound hen was a fun thing to do, especially for dinners with 5-8 people.

            1. I've tried a variety of temps and times. The easiest and most effective is:

              500 degrees

              Cook the chicken ten minutes per pound

              Remove from oven and let sit at least 10 minutes

              Perfect roast chicken

              If you want ideas on prep, here is a link to a post of mine (I am obsessed with Roast Chicken):


              8 Replies
              1. re: Tom P

                Tom, my mother was The Queen of Perfect Roast Chicken, and I've tried my whole adult life to achieve her accomplishments in that regard, but with inconsistent results, alas. To date I've done best with pre-heating to 425, then turning it down once I put the chicken in, but I could do better. So I read your post and the other thread with interest, and I'm going to give your constant high temp a whirl.

                What I want to know is this: minus for the time a vertical roaster, where do you think I should set the rack? I've found if I don't turn it down below 400, with the rack set mid- or low-mid-oven, the skin around the keel bone and the fleshy part of the legs browns too quickly (read: burns). And it's not the oven, because I've had this dilemma in five homes now :-). But I don't like to cover any parts with foil (if I wanted steamed chicken, I'd steam it). *Does* a vertical roaster help with this?

                P.S. And, btw, I'm not even opposed to a little char here and there. But parts of the chicken finishing 25 minutes before the rest of it--no, that's no good. TY if you can help.

                1. re: MaggieRSN

                  I roast mine in a somewhat similar fashion to Tom P - 20 minutes at 550, then turn oven down to 425 and roast about 30 minutes more - adjusting for size of bird, though I've had a 4 pounder done in that time. I use the lower middle level for the rack and no burn problems. These days I'm roasting in an oval cazuela.

                  1. re: MMRuth

                    I'm glad to hear from you re the cazuela, Ruth. I've been thinking about one for some time. I *love* cooking in ceramic and have been interested in trying terra cotta. I take it you must be happy with the results.

                    Maybe I'm still just setting the rack too high and shouldn't worry so much that the bottom of the bird will burn...

                    1. re: MaggieRSN

                      Yes - v. happy w/ it - seems the perfect size for the bird. I've never had the bottom of a bird burn, FWIW.


                      I also have some smaller round ones that I've discovered are perfect for making gratins for two.

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        Ah, thank you for the link. I just got the most recent catalog yesterday. La Tienda's food prices seem high to me, compared to other sources (except for the Serrano, which seems typical). But their cookware, etc. has always seemed reasonable, and I've been tempted. And, after all, Christmas is coming up. ;-) Could I also use the cazuela to bake things like corn and quick breads?

                        1. re: MaggieRSN

                          Hmm - I don't know about the baking - but haven't tried it.

                  2. re: MaggieRSN

                    I have never tried a vertical roaster. I have been tempted to do so, but now that I am roasting it in the large cast iron skillet (15 inch, link below), I don’t think I will try anything else, both the chicken and the vegetables have been turning out so well.

                    I put my chicken on the lower third rack. I put it in horizontally, not nose in. I sometimes turn it once, but only if I think about it.

                    I agree you don’t want to steam your chicken…I have never had much of a problem with the skin getting too dark (though I admit I like it really crispy) but you could always top it with foil for the first 3rd or half of the cooking time, then remove the foil. It will still brown for sure. And if I did foil, I would just gently lay it over the top, barely resting there, with a couple of slits, to make sure it does not steam, rather than tightly fit it.

                    This method, by the way, comes from Barbara Kafka’s book ‘Roasting’, which I use all the time. She talks at length about roasting a chicken, how she came up with her method and there are a variety of roast chicken recipes, as well as how to roast any other type of food you can imagine, it is a terrific book. There is a recipe in there called ‘Not On Your Diet Potatoes’ that is worth the price of the book alone.

                    Can you tell us about you Mom’s perfect chicken? How did she do it? Or was it was of those innate cooking things people can do that are hard to replicate?

                    Lodge Cast Iron


                  3. re: Tom P


                  4. gal, I just wanted to give you a little encouragement, since it's your first roast chicken. As you see, different cooks have different methods that they swear by. And you'll see by reading the cookbooks of, or listening to, some of the great master chefs of our time, that their methods vary as well. But chicken is very forgiving. The main thing is you don't want to overcook it and dry it out, so use a thermometer. If you don't have one, get one as soon as you can, and, until then, check that the juices are clear and the legs and wing joints manipulate easily, as recommended by other posters. And DO let it rest out of the oven, as Tom and others say.

                    Other than that, it may take a few tries till you figure out what temp/time is best in *your* oven, with your pans, etc., but until then, if you don't overcook, probably the worst thing that will happen is that the skin may be less crispy or more crispy than you prefer... Have fun and once you get the hang of it, I find it's one of the easiest meals to make, and there are so many ways to dress it up or dress it down.