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Roast Chicken: A Better Way?

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There are a million roast chicken recipes and techniques out there. Everything from slow and low recipes I've seen on the web (250f) to Keller and Barbara Kafka (450-500f), dry brines, wet brines. The Keller recipe while it works fine for smallish chickens in the 2 pound range at the more common 4 pound range for me it simply produces a cooked chicken. Nothing to write home about. The Zuni recipe, while the dry brining technique is good for retaining moisture, as someone who has had the chicken at Zuni the home recipe misses the soul of the real Zuni roast chicken which comes from the flavor of it being roasted in a wood fired oven. Regardless while the actual Zuni chicken is good I think it can be improved. To me the best tasting chickens I have had have been done in rotisserie's. Chickens with flavorful browned skin, not necessarily extra crispy, with moist meat that pulls easily away from the bone. How can you reproduce this at home with a conventional oven? Perhaps covered in a cast iron enameled pan in a med oven (300f range) then later uncovered for additional browning? Constant basting? Rotating during cooking? A high temp then low temp technique? There has to be a better way and I'm looking for ideas.

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  1. As some on this board know, I am a roast chicken fanatic and have tried just about every recipe out there. I developed my own, which I will link to... but at the same time, I have to say that Marcella Hazen's Chicken With Two Lemons is the best roast chicken I've ever eaten in a home. And it is ridiculously easy:


    My own 'perfect roast chicken':


    2 Replies
    1. re: Tom P

      Yes I see you follow the Kafka/Keller high temp school and this is the kind of chicken I make the most as well but the more I think about it the more I think it can be improved upon. Usually what I end up with when I do this is a chicken with very crispy skin and lovely color, thighs that are bursting with juices and just cooked to doneness, and breast meat that is well, just a firmly cooked breast. Stuffing butter under its skin seems to do little to help. Do the preserved lemons change this? In my minds eye of roast chicken perfection I'm looking for a chicken that you can easily pull apart with your hands and is shreddable like a rotisserie chicken, that has the giving quality of long cooked meat where the connective tissues have broken down, yet still retaining the deep rich brown character of a roast chicken. Covering a chicken in a thick pot for a couple hours in a med oven will certainly produce a shreddible chicken, but l'm assuming one with pale flaccid skin. I am looking really for the best of both worlds. The 350 temp of the hazan chicken interest me since its lower than the standard 400f-425f you see in 99% of roast chicken recipies and begins to approach the 325-300 temp which leads to more succulent falling apart meats in a wet covered environment. There are so many roast chicken experts on here I know we are going to figure out a new interesting method one way or another :)

      1. re: rezpeni

        Loving this! There are indeed so many methods. As noted, I've turned them all kinds of ways, seared them... etc. Try the Hazen one. It is so delicious and everything... skin, dark meat, white meat... are perfect.

        As for mine, the preserved lemons do seem to add something to the white meat and keep it moist. I love to prep it the day before and let it rest, it adds a lot of flavor. I also now universally roast my chickens in a very large Lodge cast iron skillet I have, which works beautifully.

    2. Hi, rezpeni:

      Quite the coincidence, I made a chance variance in Keller's recipe tonight on a larger chicken and was very pleased. The variances had to do with what I *didn't* have in my panty and my mis-timing of accompanying dishes. But I'm glad it worked out that way.

      Variance #1: Instead of honey/molases/sugar in the brine, I used kecup manis.

      Variance #2: Instead of a high oven all the way, I did 475F for 40 minutes (as Keller insists), and then 250 for another 20 minutes.

      I don't know what variance to attribute it to, but the flesh was more tender and succulent than the straight-up Bouchon recipe gives me. I'm tempted to guess that it is the higher glutamate content in the kecup, but who knows? All I know is it was an improvement over kaleo-does-Keller, so I'm pleased.


      10 Replies
      1. re: kaleokahu

        The variances had to do with what I *didn't* have in my panty
        whoa there! when did roast chicken become an x-rated discussion? ;)

        i'm personally a fan of dry brining and keeping it at 425-450 the whole way through (i just can't stand the smoke factor that accompanies anything hotter than that - the ventilation in my place is awful).

        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

          I'm a fan of the dry brining too in fact the one thing I know for certain in all my roast chicken experiences is that it does greatly improve the flavor and moistness of the meat and pulling moisture from the skin def leads to crispier skin. When I wet brined in the past I have not always been happy with the results and sometimes find myself with meat that almost resembles sandwich meat in character. Not a good thing obviously. But beyond the dry brine pretty much everything else is up for question at the moment, I'm at a point of roast chicken soul searching!

          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            Hi, goodhealthgourmet:

            Oooops. I guess I should now also say that I had no kecup manis in my panty, either.

            I'm very familiar with dry rubs for smoking/kippering salmon and for BBQ, but how do you dry-brine a whole chicken? I.e., how do you get and keep the "brine" in full contact with the bird, inside and out?


            1. re: kaleokahu

              Dry brine is basically just another way to say salt early. I usually dry my chickens well then coat them inside and out with salt and pepper, then leave in the fridge a day or two. Sometimes i leave them covered sometimes uncovered. Uncovered usually dries the skin out more and makes it crispier.

              1. re: rezpeni

                Hi, rezpeni:

                Thanks, I understood that dry brining was salting early. My question is more limited to how you keep the dry ingredients stuck to the bird for whatever period you're "brining" it. When I do salmon or ribs with a dry rub, there's pretty much a flat surface. I like to use whole black peppercorns, whole garlic cloves, citrus rinds, mushroom raspings, bay leaves, and whole fresh herbs, etc. in my liquid brines and these I can't keep stuck to a chicken very well.

                Also, are you using any acids in your dry brine? I suppose you could use powdered citric or lactic acids. And sugars?

                I'm interested in what people use for dry-brining or curing. And does dry curing result in a pellicle forming on chicken, like it does on fish?


                1. re: kaleokahu

                  Even with as dry as you can get it usually there is some moisture which allows dry ingredients to stick to the skin. Short of a wet marinade another way to do it is to combine all the ingredients into paste bound with a very small amount of olive oil which you can spread on the chicken. The way I usually do it is to combine all the ingredients in a food processer, I like how it breaks down things like bay leaves and turns them into something spreadable. You do have to be careful because sometimes the dry ingredients will burn in which case its probably advisable to remove as much of them as you can before the actual cooking.

                  1. re: rezpeni

                    Hi, rezpeni:

                    So you remove the dry brine prior to cooking, right? Is it usually brushed or rinsed off? The reason I ask is that with salmon, you rinse it off and allow to dry until a pellicle forms. I like dry cures for salmon, but the wet-briners have a point: if you're going to wash it all off anyway, why not just do it wet?

                    How do you control the salinity when you use the dry, or do you care about that?


                    1. re: kaleokahu

                      I only remove what I think I might burn, generally anything green is going to turn black if its exposed in the oven as long as a chicken is going to need to cook. I don't wash it since I don't want to introduce more moisture just brush it off with a paper towel. The difference between wet brine and dry brine for me is the end product, I prefer a dry brine for meat, wet brine for me when it's on poultry begins to taste like the roast chicken slices from the deli counter.

                      As for controlling the salt, honestly I have never oversalted a chicken if you just liberally salt it you will be fine.

                      1. re: rezpeni

                        Hi, rezpeni:



          2. re: kaleokahu

            The temp reduction is an interesting idea. I wonder if longer and more stops along the way from 450-250 would produce anything different? Or starting at 450, then covering and gradually reducing?

          3. one of the signature dishes of Jonathan Waxman (Barbuto restaurant) is roast chicken, and he absolutely advocates basting. have not tried to replicate his technique, yet. I do think rotating the bird makes a difference, and to that end I stand it up vertically, with a variation of the 'beer can' grill technique. [porcelain bird stands and similar accessories are available specifically designed for the task] basting goes pretty easily with the bird standing up, as you might imagine. of course, that isn't possible in some ovens -- we have an outdoor charcoal/wood burning kamado ceramic-domed oven/grill, but have done it in the indoor gas unit too. have fun

            1 Reply
            1. re: moto

              I found a video of Waxman making roast chicken on the internet the other day. Honestly, to me it didn't look all that great! Have you had the roast chicken at Burbuto? Maybe the recipe for home is dumbed down? Here is the one I found online: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uy8Q7C... check out 5:12 for the finished chicken.

            2. A good low & slow (300°, foil-covered) recipe here:

              Some good 425° recipes follow this taste-test article- BTW, their conclusion is that basting doesn't add to the flavor and only interferes with getting a crispy skin:

              Marcella's 2-Lemon chicken is indeed simple and great.

              Tom P's recipe looks good too, though I have yet to try it. Have achieved good results with just a liberal application of kosher salt and a 500° oven, but I also have sensitive smoke detectors and a natural aversion to cleaning the oven after each roast...

              1 Reply
              1. re: eclecticsynergy

                BTW, their conclusion is that basting doesn't add to the flavor and only interferes with getting a crispy skin:
                it does, which is why i'm not really a fan of the basting method. sure you can blast it with a dose of extra-high heat at the end to dry it out, but it's just not the same.

              2. I place seasoned butter under the skin (add whichever herbs or zests you wish, sage & lemon work well.) 1 lemon & 1 onion quartered & placed in the cavity & a little oil & seasoning on the skin. Baste occasionally, when you remember, & most importantly, dont overcook or it will be as dry as a bone! Remember it will contintue cooking a little when you take it out of the oven to rest. Use the juices to make a lovely flavourful gravy & serve with roast potatoes & blanched, crunchy french beans.

                1. I am a huge advocate of high then low temp. For me, that's definitely the secret to a great chicken. I think it's indispensable for cooking a big turkey, and turns out a superior chicken as well. If you cook it just long enough, the connective tissue sort of half melts, so that have recognizable pieces of chicken, but the meat pulls away from the bone easily. I usually do something like a 450 oven until the chicken is 100 or 120 degrees inside, then turn the oven down to 250 and cook for a couple of hours (there is a lot of room for error here, say 1-4 hours). You can also get a nice chicken using low heat the whole time, but the skin is nicer when you start at high heat, and it takes you out of the danger zone quicker (which is especially good with a big turkey).

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: jvanderh

                    This sounds really close to what I am looking for, I like this high/low idea, do you put anything on the skin, butter, oil? Also do you cook it just exposed in the oven? I was thinking of trying it covered/uncovered in a thick pot. Where do you take your temp reading in the thigh, correct? not touching the bone of course.

                    1. re: rezpeni

                      Short answer: nothing but salt, either way, in the thigh.

                      Longer answer:
                      I usually don't put anything on the skin besides heaps of salt. If you wanted to do a glaze or something, you'd probably want to put it on towards the end of the cooking time. I think the covered/uncovered depends on whether the bird has solution in it and whether you take it out of the plastic and dry it out before cooking it. In any case, I'd recommend uncovering it for the high heat part, so it gets some color. After that, just peek at it now and then and keep it uncovered for as long as there's a pool of moisture in the bottom of the pan. If there's a lot of liquid so that the bottom of the chicken is swimming, drain some off and leave it uncovered to avoid the bottom skin getting mushy and falling apart. Don't worry that the chicken will be dry-- it won't. I have one of those temp probes that you leave in the bird while it cooks, so I usually stick it in the thigh. When it beeps, I pull the bird out and stab it in a couple of places to make sure I didn't accidentally hit bone or poke all the way through into the cavity. There's a lot of room for error here, but I pretty much just look for over a hundred everywhere. The idea is just to get out of the danger zone faster, but turning the oven down before you approach a temperature where the protein could get tough or dry. After that, I pull the probe out, because there will be no question about the bird getting cooked all the way through with several hours in a slow oven. If your thermometer can't be left in the oven, you might check the temperature after like 20 minutes at 450. Generally, if your hottest spots are well under 100 degrees, stick the chicken back in the hot oven for a little longer. If your hottest spots are 100-130, stick the chicken back in and turn the oven down to 250. If you're over 130 already, turn the oven down, open the door, and let it cool down a little before you stick the chicken back in. (If you fully cook the chicken before turning the oven down, it'll probably end up dry).

                      1. re: jvanderh

                        I have one of the electronic probes you leave in too so I will try it. Mostly these days I just do my roast chickens in a regular fry/saute pan which leaves most of the bird exposed. If you are doing something similar with good results I will keep doing this. I am curious about doing it in a thick cast iron enamel as I have found some kind of French bourgeois recipes which call for doing it this way. I have done a kind of wet roast chicken like this before with some liquid in the bottom, the skin puffs away from the meat which is incredibly tender, but it's not exactly a roast chicken. I'm not really committed to any kind of glaze or anything I'm just thinking of ways to get as much color on the bird as possible, I find some oil or butter usually does help things along.

                        1. re: rezpeni

                          I've done it in all kinds of vessels-- a roasting pan, a cookie sheet, a dutch oven (which is enameled cast iron). . . if you used cast iron and preheated it with the oven, you might get some nice color on the bottom of the chicken, which would be otherwise difficult to do.

                          1. re: jvanderh

                            I think I just might try it in an uncovered dutch oven. The other thought that occurs to me is that doing it this way having the heated vessel so close to the bird might encourage more browning then letting the sides be simply exposed to the oven air of a conventional oven? Convection oven might be a different story.

                            1. re: rezpeni

                              Cool. Let me know how it goes!

                              1. re: rezpeni

                                Hi, rezpeni:

                                FWIW, I've never had much luck roasting a chicken in a pan with walls higher than a skillet or poelle. They just haven't crisped up right, and the flesh stays rubbery. But your results may vary.


                                1. re: kaleokahu

                                  A very good method! For the normal four pound chicken I do think this technique is superior to both Keller and Zuni. The meat is incredibly tender, def no knife required the breast does stay far moister than cooking entirely at 450. The entire carcass can easily be pulled apart. The skin wasn't as crispy I think you are right Kaleo. I think maybe airflow is more important than proximity to a heat source in getting crispy skin. I think I have definitely improved my roast chicken though which was the point of posting the thread :) I am anxious to try this again with a low sided pan, or perhaps cooking at the low temp first, removing the chicken to a rack and browning after. If I can improve this I will post an update in here. Also want to try the Hazan lemon method and butterfly roasting methods mentioned here soon. Thanks for all the advice guys.

                                  1. re: rezpeni

                                    Thanks for reporting back. I often don't eat the skin, but I like to brown it if other people are going to see the bird. If it doesn't look quite right after cooking, you might try crisping it up 4 or 5 inches under the broiler after draining off the liquid. Cooking at low temp first seems to work fine, as long as you don't mind the slightly increased risk of foodbourne illness.

                                2. re: rezpeni

                                  I've overwhelmingly found that the more the sides shield the bird, the less browning I get.

                                  My best results are on a v-rack set into a baking dish.

                      2. I use Nigel Slater's roast chicken. Very simple, using lemons and herbs. Nothing fancy. I do like to stuff herbs and a knob or two of butter uder the skin.
                        I look forward to trying a roast chicken from "The Occidental Tourist" that involves a black-tea brine. I intend to roast it outside on a charcoal grill. Looks amazing.

                        1. I started butterflying my chickens before roasting and I'm never going back. It's so easy to crisp the skin, and the chicken cooks very evenly due to the breast being insulated by the leg/thighs and wings. Another plus: way easier to carve. High temp, low temp, it doesn't matter. You can start and finish high, or start low and crisp under the broiler.

                          In addition, I like to line the bottom with a bunch of veggies (carrot/celery/onion/garlic/potato) for an easy, complete meal. Plus, you can take the backbone, neck, and wing tips and make a quick gravy while the chicken is roasting. Nothing is wasted as the veggies will soak up the delicious chicken fat and juices as well. It's really the best of all worlds.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: joonjoon

                            What temps and times do you use and what size chickens do you like?

                            1. re: rezpeni

                              Curious to hear joonjoon's response. Here is the Cooks Illustrated method which many people swear by and which I intend to try when it's no longer as hot as it is right now. http://www.food.com/recipe/High-Roast...

                              1. re: GretchenS

                                That sounds almost identical to what I do! I never thought of using the broiler rack but just about any large skillet or roasting pan works fine also.

                              2. re: rezpeni

                                I agree with butterflying--scroll down the attached thread to "jfood"s method--about 50 minutes at 425 for a 3-4 pound chicken always produces a great bird for me

                                1. re: Marge

                                  Add me as another fan of butterflying/spatchcock the bird. It cooks way more evenly and quicker. Also easier to cut up into pieces when spatchcocked.

                                  I also like to presalt/season for a day or two.

                                  1. re: scubadoo97

                                    I've also been recently spatchcocking the bird - I find the breasts don't dry out as much and the cooking time is reduced, so therefore great for during the week when I don't have as much time. I will also throw in some onions, sprigs of thyme, garlic and halved lemons to make the gravy. I roast for about 40 minutes at 180 degrees C and then rest for another 10 minutes.

                                2. re: rezpeni

                                  I'm always messing around with temps, and I don't keep track of time as I go by internal temp. The beauty of this method is that the cooking temperature really doesn't matter because you can always crisp the skin under the broiler when the chicken is done. It sort of depends on the texture of chicken you want - you can even slow roast at 200 until the chicken is fall apart tender and then still crisp the skin. If you're short on time you can blast it at 500. Usually I'm looking to keep it quick and easy and for that 425 seems to do the trick. I usually buy the cheapest chicken available which are 5lb roasters (88c/lb @Wegmans), but I think it's best with smaller birds under 4lbs.

                                3. re: joonjoon

                                  I too prefer to place the bird on a bed of veggies, usually potatoes, carrots & onions, rather than using a rack. The vegetables turn out great, there's more flavor in the pan for gravy, and it leaves one less thing to be cleaned up (several if one counts separate pans that would've been used for the vegetables). I deviate from this only seldom, when I'm planning a sauce in which the vegetable flavors might be unwelcome.

                                4. I use Joy of Cooking's recipe for Turned Roasted Chicken, and it gives me a perfectly browned, perfectly done, perfectly moist chicken every single time.

                                  I'm paraphrasing horribly, but you season the chicken to taste, then put it on *on its side* on a v-rack at 350 for 25 minutes for the first three pounds, plus 3 minutes for each additional pound (i.e., a 5-pound bird would roast for 31 minutes -- 25 minutes for the first 3, then 6 additional minutes).

                                  then with the use of a long-handled wooden spoon or a metal skewer, turn the bird onto its other side -- again -- 25 minutes for the first three pounds, plus 3 minutes for each additional pound.

                                  Then with the spoon or skewer, turn the bird breast-side up, and roast 15-20 minutes or until it hits 160F and the juices run clear.

                                  Let it rest for 10 minutes, and carve -- perfect chicken, every time.

                                  I live in France, and not only does it stand up to a poulet roti, but I frequently roast chicken this way instead of on the actual rotisserie built into my oven.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    Joy of Cooking yes, I think maybe in our rush to reinvent the wheel with the new popular Keller and Zuni methods we have overlooked the tried, true, and sensible. I definitely think of French poulet roti as the gold standard for a roast chicken. As someone living in France I am curious about how these birds are typically seasoned or what if any herbs are used? Can you describe them a little more?

                                    1. re: rezpeni

                                      they're usually just seasoned with salt, pepper, and rubbed with olive oil or butter, depending on where you are in the country (generally, although not a rule -- butter in the north and olive oil in the south -- in the central departments it can go either way). No teriyaki or garic or barbecue or anything else -- it's rather the epitome of the KISS principle -- Keep It Simple, Silly.

                                      It's a favorite Sunday lunch for us -- Sunday morning shopping at the market, and walking back home with a steaming hot, fragrant chicken and some potatoes roasted in the drippings in the butcher's giant rotisseries.

                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        God that sounds absolutely incredible! Thank you for the details.

                                    2. re: sunshine842

                                      by the way -- the only drawback to this is that it tends to smoke as the drippings hit the hot pan.

                                      Easy workaround -- either keep a very shallow puddle of water in the pan (no, it doesn't interfere with cooking or browning) -- OR throw some chopped root veggies (carrots, potatoes, and oh my hell how good are turnips this way -- shallots or onion wedges, etc., etc.) under the rack -- they take 35-45 minutes to roast, so after the first turn is a good time to add them.