There’s a lot of debate over how long to roast a chicken, and what’s the “right way” to do it. What’s the ideal temperature? How do you get the crispiest skin? Is basting a waste of time? What sort of knife do you need to carve it? I’ve roasted a lot of chickens lately, and after a good deal of trial and error, I’ve come up with some solid conclusions.
If you want to know how long to roast a chicken, I’ve got a list of advice below that will show you how to take your whole chicken and roast it to perfection. Of course the amount of time depends on a few factors, such as how big your chicken is and how long it’s been out of the fridge. But overall, it’s a super easy process and the advice below will guide you through without any drama. You can even print it out and stick it on your fridge.
Also! If you’re trying to learn how to cook chicken, you need to know that meat safety is a big issue. I’ve added a free meat safety guide this post, which you can download by clicking the image below.
How long to roast a chicken?
It’s super simple to figure out how long to roast a chicken, but people still get hung up on it. Seriously, roasting chickens is one of the top things I get asked about as a cooking teacher. The number one problem people have is having the breast dry out, and the second problem people have is that the thighs are too raw. What’s a well-meaning home cook to do with such a puzzle? Well, I’ve included all the advice you’ll ever need in the list below.
Because I love you guys, I’ve also got a great guide here on how to roast a turkey so that it comes out tender and evenly cooked every time.
I promise, perfect roast meat is not difficult. It just takes a little practice and help along the way.
- 1 whole chicken
- Larger birds meant for roasting have a heartier taste, while smaller fryers tend to be less flavorful. Organic chickens taste a little better to me, though most people won’t be able to tell the difference.
- The jury is in: 400°F (204°C) is the perfect temperature for cooking a whole chicken. You’ll get crispy skin and a fairly quick dinner without compromising tenderness.
- The proper cooking time depends on the size of your chicken. A 4-pound chicken should take about 1 to 1-1/2 hours to roast at 400°F (204°C). I highly recommend a meat thermometer, one that stays in the chicken while it cooks and lets you set an alarm for when it reaches the proper temperature. This keeps you from continually opening the oven door, which will greatly increase your cooking time.
- Basting the bird won’t give you crispier skin. In fact, you’ll get limp, soggy skin and it only marginally affects the flavor.
- Some argue that rubbing the entire bird with fat, inside and out, doesn’t affect the flavor, but I disagree. It depends on the fat, though – olive oil won’t give you a flavor boost, but butter mixed with a heaping dose of salt and herbs will yield a tasty dish indeed. I didn’t notice that it makes the skin much crispier, but Sunset thinks it does.
- When learning how to roast a chicken, you should know that it doesn’t matter what orientation you roast the bird in. Breast up, breast down, or flipped over halfway through – no position will make the breast more moist.
- Stuffing some flavored fat (such as butter with salt and herbs) under the skin will help flavor meat, but don’t go overboard. Too much fat will just just make the meat greasy. A dab under the skin of each drumstick, thigh, and side of the breast is all you need.
- They (whoever “they” are) say that you’re supposed to cook a whole chicken to 180°F (82°C), but I find that 170°F (77°C) yields a perfectly moist bird that’s still cooked completely through. Make sure to measure in the thickest part of the breast.
- Let your bird rest for a few minutes after you take it out of the oven. A good ten minute nap will let everything settle and keep the moisture where it belongs: in the meat.
- The easiest way to guarantee that pieces of breast will be moist is to let them soak in the chicken’s juices for a few minutes after they’ve been cut. This includes the fatty runoff from what you’ve rubbed over the surface or stuffed under the skin.
- You want the entire bird to roast evenly and have crispy skin all over, so consider elevating it off the surface of the roasting pan. A small roasting rack will do the trick, which allows air to circulate under the bird – crisping it all the way around. Or get one of those pokey racks that holds the chicken upright, crisping all possible skin. (YES!!!)
- GET A DECENT OVEN THERMOMETER. ‘Nuff said.
- Don’t waste the juices in the bottom of the pan! Reduce in a saucepan with a little white wine, and you’ve got an amazing sauce.
- Truss your chicken! Preventing air circulation in the bird’s cavity will keep it from drying out. Here’s an awesome video on trussing a chicken. Otherwise, stuff it with a quartered onion or lemon to keep internal airflow to a minimum. Here's a second rebellious trussing method to check out.
And I’ve even got two posts on how to make perfect pork chops: