Everyone should know how to cook a whole chicken, for two reasons. First, and quite simply, it’s a great meal. You get the benefits of both light and dark meat. Done right, the chicken is more moist and tender than cooking pieces separately. And it’s super impressive to your guests, so you look like an all-star.

The second reason. Cooking a whole chicken in so crazy easy to do.  There’s about 15 minutes of prep. Some time in the oven, during which you can go off and do whatever you want. And about 15 minutes to carve up the bird and serve it up.

Below, and in this video, I’ll show you the basics of cooking a whole chicken. My preferred method is to roast it in the oven, which is what I’m describing here. There’s a lot of variations you can do, adding different herbs and spices; but cooking the whole chicken this way will get you great results every time.

How to Cook a Whole Chicken

  • First & foremost, buy a good chicken.  I like chickens that are about 7 – 9 lbs; from a quality store.  Organic is nice, but not needed.
  • Take the chicken out of the package about an hour before you want to start cooking it.  Or you can brine it overnight.
  • And make sure to remove any of the parts (liver, gizzard, heart) that are often stuffed into the cavity of the chicken
  • Use paper towels to dry off the chicken as best you can, and allow the chicken to sit out, so the air dries it further, and it comes up to room temperature
  • The drier the skin gets, the more crisp the skin will get when cooked – and the skin is one of the best parts of cooking a whole chicken
  • Pre-heat your oven to about 425 degrees; not baking brownies hear, so no 350 degree ovens.
  • Just before putting the chicken in the oven, sprinkle salt and pepper into the cavity, and if you’d like, you can add herbs (like rosemary & thyme) and a few slices of cut up citrus fruit (lemons, oranges)
  • Drizzle olive oil on the skin of the chicken, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. I like to rub is down massage like with my hands to make sure all the chicken is well coated
  • Place in the chicken in an oven proof roasting plan or frying pan. I like plans with relatively low sides (only 1 – 2 inches high) that will allow the heat to hit the sides of the chicken
  • Move the whole pan into the oven to roast.
  • The only tricky part of cooking a whole chicken is knowing when it’s done – as different size birds will cook in different times.
  • Most chickens will take about 1 ¼ to 1 ¾ hours. However the best way to tell, is to use an instant read meat thermometer, and take the chicken out once the thickest part of the breast reaches 160 degrees.
  • You should NOT open the oven door to check on the chicken for at least the first hour. When you do, the cold air rushes in and slows down the cooking process
  • If the oven was set at 425, and the door stayed shut, the skin should be nice and brown. If it ever gets too brown, before the chicken is cooked, you can cover the breasts with tin foil
  • Once the chicken reaches 160, pull it out of the oven, and after a few minutes gently move the whole chicken to a cutting board.
  • All the juices in the chicken are flowing around fast at this point, so it’s important to just let the chicken rest, and allow the meat to re-absorb those juices.
  • This is a great time to finish your side dishes, or make a quick plan sauce
  • Let the chicken rest for 20 minutes or so, and then carve it up; although I gotta admit that I usually (as the chef) take the wings off right away and sneakily eat them in the kitchen.
  • The legs and the wings should come off very easily, and then you can slice the breast meat off the ribs.  
  • Enjoy!

If you don't have time for the whole bird, learn how to cook the best chicken breast ever!

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