This longtime reader and family favorite effortlessly produces tender, juicy chicken every single time. It’s wholesome comfort food that never grows old!
Modern cuisine so often focuses on the latest trends and off-the-grid ingredients. New ideas keep things interesting, but in the process, it’s easy to overlook more unassuming fare.
A new year seemed like a very good time to dig out an old standby – a whole roasted chicken.
Basic as it seems, brief prep and an unconventional cooking technique is all that’s needed to skillfully deliver classic comfort food that’s elegant in its own right. And beyond the juicy, tender meat, you’ll be rewarded with mouthwatering aromas and endless leftover possibilities.
For years, I used high heat and relied on luck or a meat thermometer to prevent an overcooked chicken with dry meat. Eventually, our annual trip to the Greek Food Bazaar made me rethink this frequently used method of roasting a whole chicken.
There, we eat succulent chicken that is literally falling off the bone and utterly delicious. When I learned that the Bazaar method is low and slow, I started experimenting with various oven temperatures and times with the hopes of attaining similarly tender and juicy chicken.
After seeing the idea in a cookbook, I once tried cooking a chicken for 10 hours at 200℉. It tasted good and wasn’t dry, but the chicken was perhaps a little too tender if that’s possible. Even the bones were soft!
After much experimentation, my favorite time and temperature is 275℉ for three to four hours. I usually end up setting the oven timer for 3½ hours but, really, you can’t mess up this one.
As a bonus, you can make economical and extremely flavorful stock with the leftover chicken carcass. The bones – along with the pack of giblets that were removed from the chicken – can be refrigerated for several days and even frozen until you have time to make it.
As an extra tip, toss the trimmings from vegetables like carrots, celery, and onions into a zip-top bag and freeze them for later use in stock. Before they wilt in your crisper drawer, add some sprigs of fresh herbs like parsley and thyme to the bag too. As you accumulate more of these items, just add them to the freezer bag.
I’ve made some of the richest stock using odds and ends such as mushroom pieces, kale stems, and onion skins. (Yellow onion skins lend a lovely golden flavor to the stock.) Stock veggies get discarded anyway, so there’s wisdom in collecting the trimmings – why buy new if you don’t have to?
(For my easy stock method and helpful tips, click here.)
Should you truss a chicken?
The short answer is that, with this slow roasted method, trussing isn’t necessary, and I usually skip it. The low oven temperature sidesteps the potential pitfalls of not doing so.
Trussing is often done because, at higher heats, the wings and legs can burn more easily. Additionally, an open breast cavity will allow more hot air to circulate inside of it, potentially drying out the breast meat.
Trussing can also be done for visual appeal and is why I decided to truss the chicken pictured above. The wings and legs seemed especially sprawling…and I had five minutes to spare!
If you’d like to recreate the neat, tidy package pictured below, simply use the following steps as a guide.
How to truss a chicken:
- Before you start: Kitchen twine, which is simply plain, unbleached cotton string, which is available at most grocery stores, is recommended for trussing. If you don’t have any, you could use unflavored dental floss. A length of three feet will be plenty.
- Start by placing the twine under the chicken, about two inches up from the drumstick end, and pull up on each side.
- Cross the string over the top of the chicken legs and pull together to begin to close up the cavity and bring the two legs together. (See photo below for placement.)
- Cross the twine back under the legs and pull to bring them together – you’ll essentially make a figure eight.
- Bring the twine towards the front of the chicken (neck end), running it under the leg joints and along the bottom of the wings. You’re basically making a straight run along the bottom third of the chicken.
- Flip the chicken over, keeping the string taut, and pull it up past the neck bone. Tie a tight knot right above the neck bone. Trim off any excess twine.
- When the chicken is done roasting, cut the twine with a knife or scissors and remove it before carving and serving.
- Prep ahead: A chicken may be trussed a day or two before roasting. Helpful hint: Season and add the aromatics to the cavity before trussing, as it is difficult to do so afterwards.
- 1 whole chicken (about 5–7 pounds)*
- Half a lemon
- Half an onion
- Dried thyme
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- BEFORE YOU START: An optional step for crisper skin is to pat the chicken dry, sprinkle with the seasonings, as directed below, and then place the chicken on a baking rack that has been set over a baking dish or rimmed baking sheet. Then refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 4 hours or, ideally, overnight. This “dry brine” technique will give the seasoning time to permeate the chicken and help dry out the skin. Dry skin equals crispier skin, plus the process enables the chicken to retain more of its natural moisture when cooked.
Prepare the chicken: Remove the pack of giblets from the chicken. Save for use in homemade stock, if desired. Pat the chicken dry, and place it in a roasting pan. (I often use a 9×13 Pyrex baking dish; you may set the chicken on a rack, but this is not mandatory. The increased airflow will create crisper skin on the bottom, especially if you followed the dry brine step above.) Place the onion and lemon halves in the cavity of the chicken and sprinkle salt, pepper, and thyme all over the inside and outside. (Helpful seasoning hint: I use ½ teaspoon salt, and about ¼ teaspoon each black pepper and dried thyme per pound of chicken. So for a 6-pound chicken, I use 1 tablespoon salt and 1½ teaspoons each pepper and thyme.)
Preheat the oven to 275℉ and roast: Let the chicken sit at room temperature while the oven is preheating or for up to an hour before cooking. Roast, uncovered, for 3-4 hours. If the chicken is smaller, cook on the low end of the time frame and vice-versa. But really, if you keep the chicken in a half hour longer than intended, it will still taste great. I’ve done this!
Let the chicken rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.
*Larger or smaller chicken? I’ve cooked an 8-pound “oven stuffer roaster” and it was done within the stated timespan as well. A smaller chicken will likely come to temperature before 3 hours but will not dry out when kept in the oven longer. If you wish to remove from the oven early, simply check with a meat thermometer. The thickest part of the thigh should read 180℉.
Optional extras: You may also add half a head of garlic and a few sprigs of fresh thyme to the chicken cavity prior to cooking. Feel free to mix up the herbs, as well, using dried Italian seasoning, dried or fresh rosemary, oregano, marjoram, chives, etc.
More on crispy skin: Without the optional dry brine step, slow roasting prioritizes tender, juicy meat over fully crisped skin. You can broil briefly at the end to add an extra hint of golden crispiness to the top, if desired. And read on…
Convection option: If your oven has a convection option, using it will cook the chicken about 25% faster and increase the overall crispness of the skin.
Meal prep and storage: Leftovers are perfect served cold, reheated, or in any recipe that calls for the addition of cooked chicken. Additionally, two chickens can easily be baked at the same time. The cooked meat will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator and freezes well. Lastly, a whole chicken makes a convenient and welcome meal when you wish to prepare dinner for a friend.