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How to Cook a Whole Chicken

By Natalie Boike
Updated March 27, 2017
Slow-Cooker Garlic Chicken
Because dinner happens every. single. night. I’ve got the tips and tricks you need to banish boring chicken from your menu forever.


I get it. Life is crazy-busy with work, sports practice, music lessons, homework—and, you know, providing food for your family. Just because you don’t have a lot of time to put into menu planning or cooking doesn’t mean you can’t turn out a filling, flavorful dinner. Stock up on whole chicken when they’re on sale, bookmark this page, and you’re set to make dinner in a flash. From slow-cooked to expertly roasted, we’ve got everything you need for winning chicken dinners.

What Type of Chicken Should You Buy?

First look for a whole chicken. They are usually called “fryers” or “roasters” at your grocery store. One of my tips for cooking a whole chicken is actually baking it in parts. If that’s the method you prefer, you can save time and buy an entire chicken pre-cut, although it might cost a tad bit more. Time is money, my friends.

What I love about whole chickens is they go on sale relatively often, and they come essentially shrink-wrapped so they freeze well. If organic or free-range is what you prefer, by all means go with that; but in my house basic does the trick.

How to Prepare a Whole Chicken

Defrost If you’ve frozen your chicken, just be sure to let it defrost in the refrigerator. Chickens are usually around 5 pounds and take about 2 days to defrost. Toss your packaged chicken in a bowl in the fridge on Saturday and you’re set for a weeknight meal in a hurry.

No rinsing! While it used to be standard to rinse your chicken before cooking, it’s actually been found to spread raw chicken germs around the kitchen. Play it safe. Simply remove the giblets (use tongs if you like) and pat your chicken dry with paper towels before seasoning. If you’re a big fan of crispy skin, do this step a day ahead and let your chicken sit uncovered in the fridge overnight.

Option A: Spatchcocked or Carved
If you’re using our shortcut to cooking a whole chicken, this is when you’d cut it into parts.

Want to spatchcock the chicken? Here’s how in two easy steps:
  1. With kitchen scissors (or sharp knife), cut along one side of backbone from neck to tail, then cut along other side of backbone and remove bone.
  2. Turn chicken breast side up, and place flat with legs and wings to the sides. Press down on breast bone with palm of hand to flatten chicken.

Or you can cut it into wing, breast, thigh and drumsticks. Think of it as carving a raw chicken, which you can do in five easy steps.

Option B: Trussed
If you’re cooking your chicken whole, you can tie the legs together with kitchen twine. This trussing makes a more compact shape and helps ensure even cooking. No string, no problem. You can even cross the drumsticks and secure with a bamboo skewer. Tuck the wings under the breast meat.

Season Your Chicken
The most common kitchen mistake is under-seasoning! Don’t be afraid to be a little liberal with your salt, pepper or other seasonings. Together, we can banish boring chicken.

Skip the Stuffing
There are a few reasons I do. You usually can’t fit enough stuffing in there to serve the entire family. But more importantly, it takes forever to cook! In order to get a food-safe stuffing temperature you’re likely over-cooking your chicken. Stuffing made on the stovetop is easier and just as delicious.

How to Cook a Whole Chicken

Cook it low and slow on the grill or in the slow cooker—or try oven-roasted, which is fast enough for a weeknight. There are tons of different methods for cooking a whole chicken. These are the top five no-fail recipes I keep on standby for dinner emergencies.

1. Oven-Roasted Chicken In this recipe, the whole chicken sits on top of a bed of potatoes and lemons. The potatoes soak up delicious flavors as the chicken roasts at a high temperature for a short amount of time, locking in juices and crisping up the skin.

Step 1. Cut potatoes into halves, or into quarters if larger; place cut side down in 10-inch cast iron skillet. Sprinkle potatoes with dash salt. Layer about 5 lemon slices over top.

how to cook a whole chicken

Step 2. Stuff cavity of prepared chicken with any remaining lemon slices. Season chicken with a mixture of 2 tablespoons sage, sliced; 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped; 1 teaspoon salt; ½ teaspoon pepper and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place chicken on bed of potatoes and lemon.

how to cook a whole chicken

Step 3. Roast at 425°F for about 1 hour 30 minutes or until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh reads 165°F. Let chicken rest about 15 minutes before carving.

2. Spatchcocked Chicken This fancy term essentially means you’ve split your chicken in half for quicker cooking, traditionally grilling. Our recipe has a five-ingredient marinade that lends extra flavor.

Step 1. Mix your marinade in a resalable plastic bag: ¼ cup lemon juice, ¼ cup olive oil, 2 teaspoons pepper, 6 cloves crushed garlic and 1 teaspoon salt. Marinate chicken in refrigerator 8 hours or overnight.

Step 2. Grill over medium heat, starting breast side up. Cook about 20 minutes before flipping, finishing for an additional 10 to 15 minutes longer or until brown and juice of chicken is clear when thickest piece is cut to bone.

3. Rotisserie Chicken Ain’t nobody got time for that, especially when the grocery store does it so well. Just pick one up on your way home from work.

4. Grilled Whole Chicken This low and slow grilling trick is great for a tender and juicy chicken without a lot of fuss. Best of all, you don’t have to babysit it, so you can get other stuff done while it cooks.

Step 1. Set up grill for indirect heat. With a charcoal grill, set up a drip pan with coals surrounding it. With a gas grill, simply preheat all burners but turn off one side during cooking.

Step 2. Mix desired seasoning; this recipe calls ½ cup chopped green onions, 2 tablespoons rosemary, 2 tablespoons parsley, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper and 1 clove chopped garlic. Season chicken with mixture, including a few teaspoons in the cavity.

Step 3. Cover and grill chicken, breast side up, over indirect, medium-high heat for an hour, or until an instant-read thermometer reaches 165°F.

5. Slow-Cooker Whole Chicken Assemble this chicken before you head out the door in the morning and let it cook in the slow cooker all day. Finish with a four-minute burst under the broiler for perfectly crispy skin.

Step 1. Place 1 sliced onion and 1 tablespoon chopped garlic in an even layer in your slow cooker (5- or 6-quart is best).

how to cook a whole chicken

Step 2. Season your cut-up chicken with a quick herb mixture: 1 ½ teaspoons thyme, 1 teaspoon basil, 1 teaspoon oregano, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Nestle chicken in your slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 6 to 7 hours.

how to cook a whole chicken

Step 3. Place cooked chicken on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil chicken pieces skin side up for 4 to 6 minutes or until golden brown.

How to Tell When Your Chicken is Done

The easiest way to know your chicken’s been cooked all the way through is to look at the juices when you cut it—if they’re clear, you’re good to go! The safest way, though, is to insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part and make sure that it reads 165°F.

How to Carve a Whole Chicken

You’ve done it! If you’ve spatchcocked or slow-cooked your chicken you’re ready to go. But rotisserie, oven-roasted and grilled chickens need a little finesse. Here’s how to carve a whole chicken in five easy steps.

STEP 1: Remove the dark meat. While pulling leg away from body, cut to separate the drumstick from the breast. Repeat on the opposite side.

how to cook a whole chicken

STEP 2: Carve the leg and thigh meat. Use your hands to loosen joint where the drumstick and thigh meet. Now you can pull the thigh away from the drumstick and cut through the joint to separate.

how to cook a whole chicken

STEP 3: Remove the white meat. Cut alongside the ribcage to remove the breast and tenderloin in one large piece. Use a sweeping motion to ensure you get the tenderloin underneath. You can serve the breast meat whole, or perhaps cut it in half—depending on how many people prefer white and dark meat.

how to cook a whole chicken

STEP 4: Remove the wings. Rotate the wings to find the joint. While firmly holding the wing, cut where it meets the body.

how to cook a whole chicken

What to Serve with Chicken

Chicken is our favorite dinner main because it’s easy and versatile. Make it a super-healthy meal by pairing it with veggies, or serve something comforting by adding a side of potatoes or pasta.

How to Store Leftover Chicken

Leftover cooked chicken can be stored covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days, or in the freezer for a few months. Thaw, if necessary, then reheat to a temperature of 165°F.

What to Make with Leftover Chicken

Leftover cooked chicken is the quickest way to add protein to a meal! Bake it into an all-in-one casserole, make it into sandwiches or simmer it in a soup—the sky’s the limit!

Wondering what to do with that pound of ground beef? We have the answers.