Whoever first thought to roast a whole chicken was obviously a genius, because it’s one of life’s simple pleasures. We’re talking crispy golden skin, juicy and flavorful meat, and a house filled with the intoxicating aroma of the ultimate comfort food.
If you’ve never made roast chicken, get ready for one of the greatest dinners of your life. Not only is it delicious, but it’s also practically foolproof: Even the worst roast chicken is still pretty good, and the best roast chicken is downright outstanding. Speaking of outstanding: Our never-fail Skillet-Roasted Whole Chicken with Lemon and Potatoes might just be the only roast chicken recipe you ever need, so it’s what we’ll use in this tutorial.
Ready? Let’s get to it.
Selecting a Chicken
Type: First (and obviously most important), look for a whole chicken. They are usually called “fryers” or “roasters” at your grocery store.
Weight: For this recipe, you’ll need a chicken close to 4 pounds, and no smaller than 3. Adjust your cook time accordingly if you choose a smaller bird.
Quality: When it comes to roasted chicken, you truly can’t go wrong. Just get the best-quality one within your budget. If organic or free-range is what you prefer, go with that; however, a more budget-friendly conventional option will also produce delicious results.
Preparing Your Chicken
Remove the giblets. This isn’t anyone’s favorite part, but just reach in there and grab ‘em—or use kitchen tongs if you like. The giblets are usually in a packet or bag inside the cavity. Tip: If you buy your chicken at the butcher counter, ask if they’ll do this step for you.
Don’t rinse. According to the USDA, you don’t need to rinse or wash your chicken before cooking: “Rinsing, washing, or soaking raw poultry does not destroy bacteria, but does increase the risk of contaminating other foods, utensils, and surfaces. Proper cooking will destroy any bacteria present on raw poultry.”
Pat dry. Very dry. This is crucial! Pat the chicken with paper towels inside and outside until the bird is completely dry. Extra moisture creates steam, which results in dryer chicken. This is the key to perfectly browned, crispy, fatty, crispy roasted chicken skin, so it’s completely worth it.
Roast Chicken Step-by-Step
- 1 lb small potatoes
- Dash kosher (coarse) salt
- 1 lemon, sliced into thin rounds
- 1 whole chicken (4 lb)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon kosher (coarse) salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Step 1: Preheat oven to 425.
Step 2: Cut potatoes. Slide potatoes in halves (or quarters if larger) and place cut-side down in a 10-inch skillet. Sprinkle potatoes with a dash of salt and layer about 5 lemon slices over potatoes.
Step 3: Stuff cavity of prepped chicken with remaining lemon slices. In small bowl, combine sage, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil and rub mixture beneath the breast skin of the chicken, and all over the outside of the skin.
Step 4: Place chicken breast side up on the bed of potatoes and secure legs together. (Easy trick: Instead of tying, just cross legs and secure with a bamboo skewer!) Tuck wings under the bird if needed.
Step 5: Roast about 1 hour 30 minutes or until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh reads 165. Allow chicken to rest about 15 minutes before carving.
Frequently Asked Questions
To stuff or not to stuff? We recommend making your stuffing or dressing separately because of cooking time/temperature. By the time the stuffing is thoroughly cooked, the chicken meat itself will likely be overdone.
Which side goes up? Either will work—and this recipe calls for breast side up for the entire cooking time—but I personally like to ROAST the chicken breast side down for at least the first half of the cooking time, and to SERVE the chicken breast side up. I read once that cooking breast side down means the juices will run downward and help keep the white meat moist as it roasts.
How do you tell which side is the breast side? The easiest way is to look at the legs of the chicken. The legs will naturally point in the same direction as the breast side when you gather the ends of each leg together for trussing (more on that next). You might also recognize this as “rotisserie chicken position”—those are always sold breast side up at the supermarket—or “Thanksgiving turkey stance.”
How do you truss a chicken? Traditionally, you tuck the wings under the bird and tie the ends of the drumsticks together. Sometimes they even come this way! But here’s our favorite easy trick: Instead of tying, just cross legs and secure with a bamboo skewer.
What kind of pan do I need? Any oven-safe dish with a surface area that’s larger than the chicken will do. Roasting pan, skillet, pie plate, Dutch oven—it all works!
Do I need a roasting rack? No. In fact, for this recipe we essentially created an edible “roasting rack” by layering the chicken over cut potatoes. No need to spend money on a separate pan, and you get a complete one-dish dinner with a side built right in! Besides, roasted potatoes cooked in chicken fat are pretty much perfection.
If I use a skillet, what kind should I use? For this demo I used stainless steel, but you can use any material you prefer, as long as it's oven-safe (this is essential).