How to: Roasting a Whole Chicken

Don't mess with your new convection oven when cooking food for pictures.

One of the most useful home economics lessons I’ve learned is the value in both monetary savings and increased flavor that I get when I get the most out of the things I cook. One of the easiest and biggest bangs for your cooking time and effort is roasting a whole chicken, enjoying the meat of your labor and then making a stock with the carcass. I also enjoy an opportunity to use the word carcass. Who doesn’t, right? Word play aside, let’s get to the meat of the topic (there I go again).

So, why roast a whole chicken? Well, typically a whole chicken is significantly cheaper per pound than pre-processed chicken breasts or other parts, and you get lots of other goodies you can use to make good tasting and cost-saving stuff in the bargain. When I roast a whole chicken I always use the leftover bits of meat, the skin and the bones as a base for chicken stock. That chicken stock is WAAAY cheaper than the average starter bottle I can buy for $2.89 at the grocery or the larger quart of chicken broth I can buy for $3.98. I use the chicken stock for lots of things, and if nothing on my menu plan for the week calls for it, I can freeze it to use later.  For thoroughness let’s break down the costs.

  • A whole roaster chicken, which is usually meatier and more tender, costs about $10-12 (depending on size)
  • A whole fryer chicken,  which is usually smaller (to fit in frying pans) and a little less tender, costs about $6-7

Out of that one chicken I can make two full meals for two adults and two kids.  Those meals range from plain and simple roast chicken slices on the plate to stretching our meat a bit more by making chicken tacos/burritos or some other chicken conglomeration.  The same chicken yields a giant 6 quart stock pot of chicken stock. I use that stock to make multiple meals ranging from chicken and dumplings to a variety of stock based soups and sides.

  • One chicken = approximately 4-5 meals for 4 people, or put another way…
  • One $12 chicken / (5 meals x 4 people= 20 servings) = $0.60 per serving

I’ll buffer that statement saying that the use of other ingredients to make those meals puts my per serving total nearer to $1.00. To back up my claims we’ll do a per serving cost breakdown on each recipe we share.

Now, let’s cover some common fears of the nubile home economics student.

  • You do not need to be an expert butcher of meats.  If everything goes right the meat pretty much falls off the bone.
  • You do not need to be a gourmet chef to roast a chicken.  There’s some learning, but this is easy peasy stuff.
  • You do not need to be a gourmet chef to make a chicken stock.  If you can boil water, you can make stock.

Alright, now that your fears are allayed let’s talk process.  First, you need to make a choice.  Do you want to oven roast this bird and and enjoy accomplished smugness when you pull it, roasted and perfect, out of the oven? Would you rather rid the world of smug and go the fast and dirty route and put it in the slow cooker?  I do both depending on my work schedule.  Personally, I think the oven roast birds come out a little bit more flavor, but the slow cooker birds come out a little more tender and juicy, since it is REALLY hard to overcook them.  Ok, decision made (oven or slow cooker) the rest of the prep process remains the same.

Pull your bird out of the shrink wrap-like packaging.  I do this all in the sink and keep the scissors I use to cut the packaging in the sink to decontaminate once I have the bird prepped. Let the blood that’s probably sloshing around inside the chicken drain out and be sure to pull out the giblets (usually, liver and the neck bone) package that is most often stuffed inside the chicken. When I’m being super nice I cook up those bits and reward the dogs with a special treat. Typically, my dogs are hooligans and do not rate such niceties.  Seriously, they are walking disasters.

Now, bird drained, pat it roughly dry with some paper towels.  If I was being a true eco and cost saving warrior I’d be using a kitchen rag for this, but I can’t do it man. I burn some pennies and kill some trees. Now, chicken mostly dry you set your birdy in the roasting pan or the slow cooker crock. Wash your hands, clean out your sink and wash your kitchen shears with the cleaner of your choice. Next, line up and open the tops of the following spices and seasonings:

  • Olive oil
  • Salt (table salt is fine, but sometimes I get fancy and use sea salt)
  • Ground black pepper (or get fancy and crank grind it fresh)

The rest of the seasonings and spices are purely optional.  They add a little more flavor, and smell nice when cooking, but your chicken will be plenty delicious without them.

  • Garlic powder or fresh garlic (it depends on how much time you have or effort you feel up to)
  • Dried and crushed oregano (or fresh if it is in season in your herb garden)
  • Dried and crushed rosemary leaves (or fresh if it is in season in your herb garden)

Drizzle about half a tablespoon of olive oil over your bird and rub it around to be sure all the skin has a coating of it.  Don’t get carried away though.  It doesn’t need much.  The olive oil will help the skin brown and crisp a bit (less so in the slow cooker) and also helps your seasonings to stick. Now, sprinkle on all of your stuff. You can get crazy here and add whatever you like.  I’ve done spicy chickens with red pepper and such too.  It’s all up to you. If you are oven roasting you can take the additional step of cutting a lemon in half, squeezing one half over the bird and stuffing both halves inside the cavity.  The lemon juice adds a nice flavor and helps keep the chicken from drying out. I would avoid the lemon other than a quick drizzle if you are using the slow cooker. All of the juices stay trapped there and the added liquid could leave your chicken swimming.  Both oven roasters and slow cookers can add in some onions wedges and carrots for a ready-made side dish and extra cooking flavor.  Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t

Ok, slow cooker user, if you are prepping your bird in the morning before work, set the slow cooker on low, put the lid on it and walk away.  If you are prepping your bird in the afternoon (say at lunch time, in between answering emails and work projects like I often am) set your slow cooker on high, put the lid on and walk away.

Oh ye oven roasters, preheat your oven to 450 degrees and pop that sucker in there, uncovered for 1 hour. In an hour stick in an instant read thermometer (like this one) into the meatiest part of the breast. If the internal temperature of your chicken is 165 degrees, you’re bird is cooked! Pull it out of the oven and commence smugness.  In about five minutes, when the smugness is wearing off start carving that bird!

Slow cookers, when you’re home from all the after school activities and you’ve answered all of the “What’s for dinner?!” whining with, “Roast chicken, you ungrateful heathens!” you swat the prying fingers off the slow cooker, turn it off, open the lid and basically start spooning/carving out meat.

That is literally it.  We’ll talk more about the dynamic seasoning duo of salt and pepper soon.



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