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Whole Roasted Chicken 101

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

A golden brown, whole roasted chicken in a black cast iron skillet sits on a white, antique table cloth..  Half of a lemon sits in the cavity of the chicken, and a bowl of smashed potatoes is just visible in the upper right hand corner.

When I first started cooking, I had a lot of trouble with whole (and even half) chicken. I couldn't get it to cook fully within the time provided in the recipe, and it never tasted as good as I wanted it to. It was so much work that I had given up on it for a long time. But being able to roast a whole chicken is a very convenient skill. It feeds a lot of people, and if you have a smaller family, you'll have plenty of leftovers, which means more meals, and saving the bones allows you to make fresh stock whenever you want.

I finally decided to do some reading to try to crack the code on why I was so terrible at making whole chickens, and it turns out it was for a lot of reasons- using the wrong cooking vessel, trussing, not letting it come to temperature before cooking...basically everything. When I finally finished my research, I had what looked like a very simple method for making a chicken, and I was honestly not even sure it would work. What resulted was a perfectly cooked chicken with very little effort and tons of flavor. A week later, I tried it again with different flavorings, but the same tasty result. I had done it! As excited as I was (and I was VERY excited), I was also a little mad that no one every told me how easy it was.

So friends, I would like to share this simple formula with you:

  • I highly suggest you buy organic. For the best flavor possible, go with pasture raised. If you're lucky enough to have a great butcher near you, check out their selection. Otherwise, buy organic; especially if you plan to make stock with the bones. Everything in the bones ends up in your broth, so keep that in mind.

  • Use a larger chicken. Look for a chicken that is between five and seven pounds (the ideal being about six pounds). Anything smaller will end up dry, or you'll have to baste it. If you use a larger chicken, you can set it and forget it. Plus you'll have lots of leftovers to work with!

  • Brine. If you've never brined anything before, that may sound intimidating or time consuming. I promise it isn't. We are going to use 3/4 teaspoons of Kosher salt per pound. It's a dry brine, so you don't even need a bucket! Brining is an important step because this is what brings moisture and great flavor to your bird.

  • Don't truss your chicken. It looks pretty, but it's unnecessary, complicated, and it keeps heat from getting to the parts of the chicken that need it most. Forget it! Tuck the wings back to keep them from burning (I show you how below), and you're finished.

  • Use a cast iron skillet. For this, you need a heavy bottomed pan that can go in the oven. We want something that has high enough sides to contain the juices, but low enough to allow the skin to be exposed to the heat and circulating air to make sure it gets crispy. I had luck with a cast iron skillet and it's what I own. If you want to try it with something else, you can, but you may get different results.

  • Let your chicken warm up a little before cooking it. Make sure you take your chicken out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you are going to cook it. I usually take it out of the fridge when I preheat the oven. This allows it to cook more evenly.

  • Time it correctly. We'll start at 450 F for 15 minutes to help create a crispy skin, and then turn it down to 350F for the rest of the cook time. You'll need to keep it in the oven for 20 minutes per pound at this temperature to ensure it's cooked fully.

And that's it! Those are all the rules you need to know. So let's take this step-by-step and I'll show you why this is something you absolutely need to add to your meal rotation.


The night before:

  • You already bought your chicken, and it's completely thawed (if it was previously frozen). Take the chicken out of whatever wrapping it came in and make sure to remove any additional packages from the cavity. We're going to get ready to brine it.

  • Make sure the skin is free of feathers or debris then pat the chicken down to remove any moisture from the outside and inside of the chicken. Put it on a plate and measure out your salt. You need 3/4 of a teaspoon of Kosher salt for every pound your chicken weighs. This doesn't need to be absolutely exact. I round up or down depending on how much my chicken weighs.

  • Next I use kitchen scissors to cut the small amount of skin that connects the skin to the breast and any other connecting tissue. You can use a knife for this as well; just be careful not to pierce the skin. Your goal is to create a pocket that you can get your hand into (see photos).

  • Use your hands to rub the salt all over the chicken, in the cavity, and under the skin. You want to get under the skin as far as you can without tearing the outside and cover as much area as you can.

  • Now just put it in a bag or covered dish and stash it in the fridge until it's time to cook!

The Day Of:

  • Figure out how much time you will need to cook your chicken. You will need 20 minutes per pound plus 15 minutes. So if your chicken is 6 pounds, for example, you will need 6x20=120 minutes plus an additional 15 minutes. So a 6 pound chicken should take about 2 hours and 15 minutes total to cook.

  • About half an hour before cooking: Take your chicken out of the fridge, place your cast iron pan in the oven, and preheat the oven to 450 F. This will heat up your pan to the temperature of the oven so you're not placing the prepared chicken in a cold pan.

Tip: You will be placing the prepared chicken in a very hot pan, so the chicken will begin to seer as soon as you put it down and will be difficult to move afterward. If this makes you nervous, and you don't want to fuss with positioning it, you can prep your chicken on some parchment paper and use the edges of the paper to transfer the chicken to the pan. I do it this way sometimes, and you can leave the parchment in the pan for the entire time it cooks without any difference in taste or problems. Just trim any parchment that sticks up so it doesn't scorch.

Prep your chicken (5-10 minutes):

  • Remove your chicken from it's bag or container and pat it completely dry. You'll want to make the outside as dry as possible so the skin gets crispy in the oven.

  • Prepare your ingredients. For this recipe you'll need about 3 tablespoons of room temperature, unsalted butter, fresh ground pepper, one lemon, and one head of garlic.

  • Take the butter (I just use my hands) and rub the outside of the chicken with the butter to coat in a thin even layer. Then, do the same under the skin.

  • Cut a (washed) lemon in half, squeeze a bit of juice into the cavity of the chicken and place the half lemon all the way inside the cavity.

  • Cut the garlic in half horizontally, removing any of the papers that have loosened significantly, and place the two halves in the cavity of the chicken. If your cavity is large enough, you can put the other half of the lemon at the opening. I like to squeeze it again to release a little more of the juice before I do this.

  • Sprinkle the outside of the chicken with just a little salt and a couple grinds of fresh pepper.

  • The last thing you'll need to do is position the chicken. As I mentioned earlier, we don't need to truss the chicken because it will prevent it from cooking evenly, but you do want to tuck the chicken wings behind the chicken to prevent the tips from burning. If you have never done this, see photos below.

This photo is four partial images stitched together to show the progression of the movement.  All images have the chicken positioned on a plate, cavity facing the cook, breast side up.  In the first image, a hand grabs the right chicken wing.  The second image demonstrates twisting this wing to point the tip slightly to the left. The third image shows the wing twisting even further to the left until the tip is tucked under the chicken.  The fourth shows the hand releasing the wing to demonstrate that the wing should stay there on its own once it is properly tucked.
How to tuck back chicken wing

A whole, raw chicken sits in a cast iron pan on the stove top.  It is lightly sprinkled with salt and some freshly ground pepper.  A lemon can be seen slightly peeking out from the cavity.
Ready to go in the oven

The chicken is now ready to go in the oven. Once your oven has preheated carefully take your hot cast iron out of the stove, and transfer your chicken to the pan. If you are not using parchment, be sure to get it in the center of the pan because it may be difficult to move once it is placed.

After 15 minutes, turn your oven temperature down to 350 and cook for 20 minutes per pound. If you are using a 6 pound chicken like I did, that will be an additional 2 hours. There's no need for basting or anything else.

At the end of the cooking time, check to make sure the chicken is done. I usually just wiggle the chicken leg. If it moves around easily (or falls off) it's ready, but make sure the juices run clear in the pan. If you have a meat thermometer, the chicken should register 165 F. Let it rest for at least 15 minutes before cutting in to it.

Now pat yourself on the back because you just made a perfect whole roasted chicken! This basic recipe will get your started, but feel free to add some flavor variations. Mix herbs and minced garlic with your butter to rub under the skin (just not outside or it will burn), and add whole fresh herbs to the cavity. Try using a spice rub, don't forget to save your bones in the freezer for stock! The possibilities are endless! I hope this simple tutorial has opened up a whole new world of chicken-y possibilities for you. Let me know how it turns out by tagging me on Instagram @rftko_nicole, and tell me about your favorite flavor variation!


Basic Whole Roasted Chicken


  • 6 lb. chicken

  • 4½ tsp kosher salt*

  • 1 Lemon

  • 1 Head of garlic

  • 3 Tbsp room temperature unsalted butter

  • Fresh ground pepper


The day before (10-15 minutes):

  • Remove any giblets from the chicken cavity, and make sure the skin is free of feathers, bone, or other debris. Pat dry.

  • Brine the chicken at least one day in advance by rubbing the skin, meat (as much of the area under the skin as you can reach), and cavity with 4½ teaspoons kosher salt (if you do not have Kosher salt, please see note).

  • Place salted chicken in a zip top bag or other airtight container and leave in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours.

Note: This step can be done same day, but MUST be done at least 4 hours before cooking or your chicken will be dry.

The next day (25 minutes active time; inactive time dependent on weight):

  • Remove your chicken from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before you intend to cook, place your cast iron pan in the oven and preheat the oven to 450 F.

  • Remove your chicken from it's container, and pat completely dry.

  • Using your hands, rub the skin with a thin, even layer of the butter. Make sure to also rub butter under the skin as far as you can reach.

  • Slice a lemon in half, squeeze a bit of juice in the cavity and insert the lemon into the cavity of the chicken.

  • Remove the outermost paper layers of the garlic (preserving the ones that are not loose), and cut the bulb in half horizontally; place both halves of garlic in the chicken cavity.

  • Tuck the wings behind the the chicken to prevent the tips from burning then sprinkle the outside of the chicken with a sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper.

  • Remove your preheated pan from the oven and transfer your chicken to the center of the pan.

  • Cook the chicken at 450 F for 15 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 350 F and continue cooking for 2 hours.

  • Remove from oven and check that juices run clear. Cooked chicken should register at least 165 F on a food thermometer. Allow to rest at least 15 minutes before serving.


  1. If you only have fine ground table salt, use 2¼ teaspoons for your brine.

  2. To add herbs to this recipe, cover the outside of the chicken in a thin layer of butter as indicated in the recipe above. To the remaining butter (about 2 tbsp) add 2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs and/or 2 cloves minced garlic; rub mixture under the skin and in chicken cavity. Place additional fresh herbs inside the cavity with garlic and lemon. Do not apply herb butter to the outside of the chicken or the herbs will burn. Continue with the rest of the recipe as written.

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