Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Sep 5, 2011 12:08 PM

What Ever Happened to Basting?

I've read a few hundred recipes for roast chicken and turkey here on CH. While I have nothing against high, hot, quick methods like the zuni chicken, I wonder what happened to older style recipes I grew up on. Specifically, why do I almost never see recommendations to baste a bird?

Is it because:
- methods like the Zuni or Keller chicken recipes are just so darn popular? If so, doesn't anyone roast a larger chicken anymore? I see a lot of 4+ pound birds in the grocery store - someone must be buying and cooking em.

- basting is a little more work and usually used along with a longer cooking time? That's true, but I've seen no shortage of work- or time-intensive recipes on CH.

- because Alton Brown told people not to? It's hard to say exactly how influential AB's advice has been. But early in the run of Good Eats, he told people that basting was bad; at the time, he seemed not to understand what basting was actually supposed to accomplish. He seemed to think it was to flavor the bird whereas it's actually to help crisp the skin of a bird that's not cooked on high heat - actually like frying the bird a little bit at a time. He also blamed a too-dry bird on lower cooking temp and longer cooking time, when really it has a lot more to do with higher final internal temperature (if you want to test this, cook a bird at 200 until the breast registers 150-155 - it will take a long time and wind up veerrrry tender and moist). I like AB, but he was dead wrong on this one.

Think I'm overstating his influence? Here is a link to another website - both the blogger and most of the many comments parrot his advice with no one questioning it, no one pointing out that old style recipes with basting seemed to achieve a crispy skin just fine.

- people confuse and conflate basting with stock and basting with melted fat and meat juices? Sort of a different effect

- some other factor that I don't understand?

That's probably enough to discuss for now. I'm just wondering what ever happened to all the poultry recipes that grandma used to make and why they seem to have fallen out of favor. IMO, the current mainstream advice is off.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. cooking techniques come and go, especially with home cooks. not so long ago, nobody bothered brining birds, and now that seems de rigeur for most.

    i can't speak to alton brown, since i don't have a tv, but in over 20 years of working in restaurants, i have never seen a bird get basted. sauce spooned over a few times before plating, but basting? nope. for me it's too much of a hassle and i don't like opening the door every 15 /30 minutes.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hotoynoodle

      A whole, large, roasted chicken with crispy skin is less than ideal for most restaurants. They require long-ish cook times, but you can't really parcook em and get good results finishing last minute. Hard to get it crispy on the outside without overcooking parts of it (which is why I'm advocating basting, btw). And since very few restaurants can convince customers to order a whole roast bird and split it 4 ways, smaller birds which are better cooked on high heat without basting and easier to serve to one or two people make more sense.

      How many times have you roasted a 7 lb bird in a restaurant?

      IMO a basted, large roasted chicken is one of those homecooking classics that you just won't find in restaurants, and it would be a shame to lose those.

    2. I baste because that's what my mother did and I do it twice, give or take.

      2 Replies
        1. re: cowboyardee

          Great crisping and browning. I also give the bird a nice rub with butter and evoo before baking.

      1. My mom bastes her birds (and roasts on lower heat) to this day. Her roast chicken/turkey/cornish hens are awesome. I don't, mostly because I'm lazy, klutzy, and afraid of burning myself (well, that and I usually use my grill rather than my oven). That being said, my chicken skin always comes out crispier than hers.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Jen76

          if i have time, i let the bird "dry" in the fridge a day or two and the skin comes out super crisp.

        2. How about a change in chickens? We have fewer stewing or roasting birds, and more young birds with plenty of fat under the skin.

          2 Replies
          1. re: paulj

            Interesting suggestion. And plausible to an extent. Might be part of the reason that small birds are increasingly popular among foodies.

            But I still see basting as the best option when roasting a larger bird, and I've gotten fine results doing so in recent years.

            1. re: cowboyardee

              In general there might be less roasting of whole chickens with the changing role of chicken in the typical American diet. Once the roast was the center piece of a Sunday dinner. Now chicken is so cheap that parts appear in difference guises through out the week - hot wings, grilled breast, stewed thighs, etc. Plus Sunday dinner has lost it's place as the high point of the week's meals.

              Whole roasted turkey has remained the king of Thanksgiving. So we might ask whether basting is still common in that preparation.

          2. I have long been a baster when it comes to roast chickens.
            If they're in the hot oven, then I'm in the kitchen
            keeping up with them.

            A lab science friend came for cooking some years ago,
            and caught scent of the beauty of basting.
            In less than a week there arrived on my desk
            the gift of a Pyrex glass tube baster.

            When one's been anointed by friendship with such a fine tool
            How can we refuse to squirt all further chickens?