Baking A Whole Chicken

roasted chicken
Long long ago (which in this digital age means a few decades prior to now) people used to eat chicken for fancy Sunday suppers. After a day at church, the family would gather around the dinner table. Bobby, with his favorite baseball cap set next to his dish, and Sue, with hair in pigtails, claimed the drumsticks. Meanwhile Mother in her apron and Father in a button-down shirt had their fill of the breasts or thighs. After dinner, Ma would collect the remainder of the chicken — carcass, drippings and all — so she could make a nice soup or meat pie later in the week. Doesn’t that sound homey, and well… quaint?

Well, in the modern-day equivalent of this scenario, this is my house on a Sunday (although insert a morning reading the New York Times instead of church, bickering kids who roll their eyes at their parents for the mild-tempered Bobby and Sue, and jeans with t-shirts and sweaters for the clothes. Oh, and toss in a crazy dog and a messy house). I’ve also been known to make a whole chicken on a Tuesday or Thursday (or, as you’ve probably picked up by now, any day of the week). So although my version of this American tale is a little different, the premise remains the same: I bake a whole chicken for one dinner, and then wrap up everything (and I mean everything) that is left for another meal (or two) later in the week.

Although my method for cooking chicken was once de rigueur in America, it now seems old fashioned. Chicken, however, is more popular than ever. According to the USDA, “Chicken consumption more than doubled between 1970 and 2004, from 27.4 pounds per person to 59.2 pounds.” Yet during this time of increased chicken eating, the tradition of baking a whole bird for a family dinner has almost disappeared.

Most poultry eaters these days simply pick up a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts at the grocery store (and that’s only if they’re actually cooking dinner instead of picking up take-out). They think that not having to deal with those bones makes cooking easier (a notion I will argue in a second). Plus most people are also more interested in the breasts because they have less fat than those delicious thighs and legs. But if you’re cooking from scratch (that is, not purchasing something pre-cooked with a ton of fat, salt and starches added to it) one leg or thigh will not clog your arteries or make you fat, especially if you eat it with a large serving of vegetables. According to the Daily Plate (a food calorie site), a thigh has 237 calories, while a grilled skinless breast has 120 calories; sure the calorie count is almost double, but 237 calories for a main part of your dinner is quite good when you consider that a chicken burrito has 334 calories in it. Also, if you eat that chicken breast lightly breaded and fried (as many people will), you jump up to 247 calories with 133 fat calories (the baked thigh has only 12 fat calories). That thigh is no longer looking so fattening, is it?

Now I realize that many people don’t like to make a whole chicken because they think it’s difficult and time intensive. But, just like pudding and pancakes, nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike boneless and skinless breasts, which often need to be dolled up in a pan with other ingredients because they become dry and a bit tasteless when baked on their own, a whole chicken is a simple endeavor that has juicy results. In the name of full disclosure, I need to admit that baking a chicken takes about an hour and a half, but other than the first 5-7 minutes of prep work, this is all baking time.

storing leftovers

Making a whole chicken is also a great way to stretch your food dollar as it will bear two to three meals for your family. After our roasted chicken dinner, I often make a soup out of the carcass, chicken pot pie with gravy (which I’ll cover next week), or creamy chicken and rice casserole. If I get an especially large chicken or if I make baked potatoes with the first meal (which fills everyone up) I then usually have enough chicken left over for a third meal where only a minimal amount of meat is required, such as tacos, quesadillas, or stir fry.

Here are some general directions for baking a chicken. I am not providing a recipe because this meal is so easy that strict instructions aren’t necessary. Give it a try and you’ll see how good this traditional family meal can taste, while also saving you a few bucks later in the week when you’re eating some delicious pot pies.

How to Bake a Chicken

chicken ready to go in the oven

Preparing Your Chicken

Remove the offal from the chicken (I like to cook these up for my dog, but you can do whatever you like with them, which includes sticking them in the compost bin) and rinse out the bird, including the inner cavity. Set your chicken in a baking pan and pat dry with paper towels. You want to keep the skin fairly dry so it’s crispier later.

Decide what type of fat you want to use to flavor your chicken. Now is the time to get creative. I’ve used olive oil mixed with lemon zest, fresh rosemary and garlic; butter; and even a bit of bacon fat (only about a tablespoon for the entire bird, which ends up tasting pretty amazing, by the way). Whatever you use, be sure to also season with salt and pepper (less salt if using bacon grease), as well as any herbs you like (I usually go with thyme). Spread everything all over the chicken and also under the breast skin.

Place a chopped half onion inside the cavity. This will help flavor the chicken as well as the drippings. You could also add a half lemon, herbs, or an apple.

uncovering your chicken

Baking the Chicken

I bake my chicken in a 375 degree convection oven. If you don’t have convection, just bake at 400 degrees. Be sure to get the oven nice and hot before you place the chicken in it.

covered chicken

The key to baking a great chicken is to cover it for about 60 minutes and then finish it off, uncovered so the skin gets crispy, for another 20-30 minutes or until clear juices run from the meat (the USDA recommends cooking until the chicken is 165 degrees). The larger your chicken, the more time you’ll need to bake it. Don’t be afraid to use a meat thermometer. Better to be safe than sorry.

You can use a pan with a top (such as a Le Creuset Dutch oven) or you can simply tightly cover a standard baking dish or large cast-iron pan with aluminum foil. I’ve tried both methods with equally succulent results. Either way, covering the bird will keep the juices from evaporating in the hot oven. You’ll also get some nice pan drippings that you can use later in the week for a soup or chicken pot pie gravy base.

pan juices

If your chicken drippings start to dry out once you uncover your pan, simply add between ¼ and a ½ cup of water or chicken stock to the pan. This will keep your drippings from burning. Don’t worry about the extra moisture in the oven. I’ve done this numerous times and the skin on my chicken was still crispy.

Serving the Chicken
Carving a chicken can seem a bit daunting, but once you see how easy it is (below) you’ll hopefully feel ready to conquer the job. I found this great video on You Tube (what would we do without You Tube?), which stars Norman Weinstein of the Institute of Culinary Education giving instructions on how to carve a chicken. Well done, Norman!

Saving the Leftovers

Be sure to save EVERYTHING that is left over from your scrumptious chicken dinner. This means stick the carcass, leftover meat, wings, drippings and even the fat into a big container to be used later. Next week I’ll show you what to do with all this; in the meantime, happy chicken eating.

Related Posts

Creamy Chicken and Rice Casserole

76 Responses so far »

  1. 2

    Karen said,

    This helps! The photos make it easy to see the color and position to cook the chicken in. And thanks for the frozen yogurt recipes on Bay Area Bites. I can’t find organic froyo in the South Bay, so this is perfect & timely with the hot weather. I’m so excited to try this out. I’ll have to experiment with chocolate chips too. Maybe some liquor or champagne variations too. 🙂

    If you’re interested, there’s a dessert & wine pairing hosted by Battledish and Sally’s After Dark on Jul. 13. I love sweets and wine, so this should be a blast. Hope you can make it!

  2. 3

    mma clothing said,

    Very cool recipe. I’m going to try this out…I’ll let you know how it goes!

  3. 4

    angela said,

    excited to try this especially trying the bacon fat to coat and season chicken and put the onion inside. thanks!!

  4. 5

    Andy Hobbs said,

    raising the chicken off the bottom of the pan would take this over the top.
    If you don’t have a little rack that fits the pan, you can roll up aluminum foil into a tight wand and make a squiggly snake to set the chicken on

    … it would keep the bottom from being soggy, enhance the drippings, as well as crisp the bottom. thanks for the recipe !

  5. 8

    cj said,

    Love the suggestions to bake chicken in a cast iron skillet – going to try that tonight – thanks!

  6. 9

    Rebecca Laney-Meers said,

    I bought a NapaStyle chicken roaster — it looks just like a witch’s hat! The chicken sits vertically on a cone, and I throw whatever vegetables I have on the “brim”. The juices drip down from the chicken and moisturize and flavor the vegetables. It is so easy. Play with your spices and vegetables. I even added beets in my vegetables once, and ever-so-lightly sprinkled everything with sugar (only about 1 teaspoon). It was unbelievable fabulous! I make cold chicken salad with my leftovers. And the dogs get the rest…………

  7. 10

    Wow thanks so much for this info, i now have my chicken in the oven ….. your fantastic!!!

  8. 11

    dslincoln said,

    Hi Amber. I hope you like it! And if you have leftovers, here’s a great recipe to try tomorrow 🙂

  9. 12

    le creuset said,

    Great web site. A lot of helpful information here. I?m sending it to several pals ans additionally sharing in delicious. And obviously, thanks in your sweat!

  10. 13

    Bev said,

    So glad to find a BASIC recipe for a baked chicken. Thanks so much. Will be trying tonight with small chicken. I do want to try it with the apple inside…sounds yummy!

  11. 14

    dslincoln said,

    Hi Bev — I hope you liked the recipe!

  12. 15

    Angela said,

    Thanks for the recipe! Sounds good and easy.

  13. 16

    Jennifer said,

    Your recipe sounds great, and I’m preheating the oven right now! Thanks 🙂

  14. 17

    Barb Shabert said,

    Thanks so much for the clear instructions. My husband tried to cook a whole chicken today and after 2 hrs it wasn’t done. He cooked it at 350 degrees. I knew it needed to be cooked at a higher temp…but now I have the proof. Thanks again for the clear instructions.

  15. 18

    amber said,

    The blog was great and the bird was absolute P.E.R.F.E.C.T.I.O.N.!!! The meat fell off the bone, this was easy and totally delicious! Way to go! 🙂

  16. 19

    Thanks so much for the tips.
    I wanted to make an addition. This last Thanksgiving(2011) I found a turkey recipe that said to bake the turkey breast-side down. It turned out amazing!

    Trying the upside-down baked chicken tonight! so far so good.
    The recipe that I used stated that by baking the turkey upside down, the juices drip through the breast making it nice and juicey.

  17. 21

    Stephania said,

    Good explaination. Just what I was looking for. Thanks

  18. 22

    Jj said,

    I’ve been roasting my chicken at 350. Just went and turned the oven up. Now I know why the skin never gets crispy. Thank you. I have 2 in the oven right now. One with ginger and garlic and one with rosemary, thyme and garlic. I also placed an apple on top, sliced. Sometimes I put the apple inside. It is a good way to use up apples that are getting a little too dry to eat.

  19. 24

    sonsothunder said,

    I just pulled a whole chicken from the fridge, and brine it was soaking all night in…Placed her in the oven…and going to finish watching the race…
    Enjoyed the read.

  20. 25

    Jenn said,

    Thanks for the descriptive details. I’m going to give this a try for tonight’s dinner! 🙂 Looks yummy!

  21. 26

    MyCadence said,

    Hi there! I found “Baking a Whole Chicken” through a Google search. Yesterday I published a blog post, confessing my triumphs and hiccups in my sustainable living transition. One of my triumphs was buying a whole chicken. Today, I follow through with baking my first whole chicken, using your post as guidance!!!!

    I just featured your post on my Biocadence Facebook page moments ago ( I hope that drives more traffic to this post, as it was very well done!

    Keep up the great work!

  22. 27

    dslincoln said,

    Hi MyCadence – I’m so glad you like the post and thanks for driving traffic to it! Be sure to check out the Creamy Chicken and Rice Casserole post as well as this one tells you how to use the leftovers from the baked chicken 🙂

    I hope you enjoy the chicken!

    Thanks again!

  23. 28

    Cecily Kelln said,

    I’ve got three whole skinless chickens my husband brought up from the chicken coop. I was thinking of putting 2 or 3 of them in a huge covered roasting pan that I just bought at a thrift shop (yes, it does fit in my oven). Would you recommend doing this? Should I keep the temperature at 350? Since the pan is so deep, should I also cover the chickens with foil?

    • 29

      dslincoln said,

      Hi Cecily — sorry for the very late response. I would keep the oven at 350 for multiple chickens. I hope it turned out well!

  24. 30

    Thank you for this post!

    Last night I stuffed a 2kg (just under 4 1/2 pounds) chicken with baby potatoes, baby carrots, fresh basil, and fresh rosemary (my parter snuck in a little less than half way through and added some red wine as well). At the altitude of Mexico City I had my tiny oven hovering around 350 degrees farenheit (I brought an oven thermometer from California, after many months of frustration with my unmarked Mexican oven), and it took three and a half hours to cook! However, it was delicious, and during the last half hour I put a small dish of old fashioned Mac & Cheese on the top rack. However, considering how long my chicken took, at this rate I’m terrified of how long Thanksgiving cooking will take: days?!

    Any suggestions?

    • 31

      dslincoln said,

      Hi Selena — Here’s my late response, although still in time for Thanksgiving 🙂 I’ve never cooked a turkey at a high altitude before but would try using a barbecue at a low steady heat instead if your oven is small. Good luck and let me know what you end up doing. thanks!

  25. 32

    I just wanted to say that you have a great site. Your recipes all look tasty and i will be trying many of them. it is 2012 and the economy is still harsh (at least for me) and these recipes are classics. The fact that you use ingredients that most people already have in their kitchen is a huge plus. I hate fancy recipes that make you go buy an item that you won’t use again for another year…making that recipe costly.

    Your food article with the recipes are well written (good photos too) and make a skittish cook feel at ease with trying your recipes.

    Thanks for such a great Blog!

  26. 34

    Jason said,

    Amazing…I had the oven on 400 degrees already, and the lemon was in the chicken…God bless you and thanks for the timing, it should be ready in about an hour!!!

  27. 36

    Jaleisha said,

    Awesome instructions i just bought a convectional oven and I was wanting to test it out :D, thank you for such clear, basic info. It’s hard to syph through pages of directions when you have hungry babies at home lol…

  28. 37

    max said,

    I myself like using a whole orange in the inside for flavor.

  29. 38

    E.Z. said,

    Thanks so much. This was so useful.

  30. 39

    Alex said,

    We enjoied your whole chicken recipe. Can you send me a link to a posting you mentioned about using the leftover. The carcas was saved with all the meat on it in the refrigerator. Thanks, Alex

  31. 40

    dslincoln said,

    Hi Alex – I’m so glad you enjoyed the whole roasted chicken. Thanks so much for writing. The leftover recipe I referred to is for creamy chicken with rice. I hope you enjoy this one too!

  32. 41

    sawblog said,

    I wish you would post the link to the carving video on YouTube… 🙂

  33. 43

    I am trying this today! Some commenter suggested placing coils of tin foil below the chicken in the absence of a grill of some kind. I love you blog!

    • 44

      dslincoln said,

      Hi Daniel – thank you! (and so sorry for the late replay; for some reason this comment didn’t come through on my email). Have you tried placing the foil coils on the grill? I’d love to know how that worked. Thanks again.

  34. 45

    Perfect! Thank you 🙂 I didn’t cover mine, but an hour did it and the skin is beautifully golden and crunchy.

  35. 47

    bonniebrea said,

    I likeed the idea of covering with foil..I picked fresh herbs from garden rosemay parsley sage oregano and thyme sauteed them inolive oil and spread it over the chicken inside and out. My herbs winter winter well here in Washington State..Tyhanks for the tips.

  36. 52

    Monika S. said,

    My kitchen smells awesome right now! Now what to do with leftovers!!!

  37. 54

    Samantha S. said,

    Thanks for the info. I’ve got a 5 lb chicken and a roasting pan with cover. All the recipes I found said to do it uncovered but this is how I remember doing it the last time. Covered then uncovered. Had part of onion so I chopped it up and put in cavity with a couple cloves of garlic and some butter. Also rubbed some butter on the skin and sprinkled a tad of poultry seasoning. Should be good.

  38. 55

    Thomas Wayman said,

    When I clicked to play the video I got a Windows Phone commercial!!!!
    Never saw the carving instruction. That sucks!!

    • 56

      dslincoln said,

      Hi Thomas — When I played the video just now it had a movie ad first but then after 5 seconds you could skip the ad and play the carving video. Sorry they now run an ad first, but alas, this is just the way of youtube now. Thanks for reading the post and I hope your chicken turned out well!

  39. 57

    Kyra said,

    This was a great way to cook the whole chicken! I used a cast iron pan, butter & herbs & covered with foil for the first hour. Thank you!

  40. 58

    m.u.d said,

    can i store cooked rice inside the chicken before baking.?

  41. 59

    Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve visited this web site before but after browsing through some of the articles I realized it’s
    new to me. Anyhow, I’m certainly pleased I stumbled upon it and I’ll be
    bookmarking it and checking back often!

  42. 60

    Sherry said,

    I will be baking my chicken tomorrow. I am glad to see your recipe. It gave me ideas and helped too.

  43. 61

    Khanyie said,

    Mhmmmhmm ! yum yum yum this sunday am going to try this, cooking is my other love thanks for sharing these delicious ideas.

  44. 62

    Literally the best chicken I have ever cooked in my life. So easy…how did I not know this until now?! Thanks for the help! 🙂

  45. 64

    Patty said,

    Studies have shown that rinsing your chicken actually spreads bacteria around your kitchen, increasing the risk of contamination of surfaces and other foods. Not necessary!

  46. 65

    I’ve used the recipe multiple times, and, every time, the chicken has come out absolutely perfect! Thanks for the great instructions. 🙂

  47. 67

    […] Baking A Whole Chicken | Denise’s Kitchen – Feb 23, 2010 · Now I realize that many people don’t like to make a whole chicken because they think it’s difficult and time intensive. But, just like pudding and pancakes …… […]

  48. 68

    […] Baking A Whole Chicken | Denise’s Kitchen – Feb 23, 2010 · Now I realize that many people don’t like to make a whole chicken because they think it’s difficult and time intensive. But, just like pudding and …… […]

  49. 69

    […] Baking A Whole Chicken – Denise’s Kitchen | Eat! Think! Cook! – Feb 23, 2010 · Long long ago (which in this digital age means a few decades prior to now) people used to eat chicken for fancy Sunday suppers. After a day at church, the …… […]

  50. 71

    Trey said,

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  51. 72

    Tricia Galey said,

    Thank you for this easy peasy method for baking a whole chicken! I put chopped onion and garlic inside and seasoned the chicken skin with olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Came out great and I made your creamy chicken and rice casserole with the leftovers.

  52. 73

    Ballsmoke said,

    I just cooked my first whole chicken for thanksgiving dinner using your method. After the 30 minute uncovered cooking I just turned on the broil for about 2 minutes (my husband requested it be nice and brown) I must say our chicken was cooked to perfection. It was about 4 lbs and beautiful. I used injectable marinade to season the meat and it was moist and delishious. Also I just sprinkled onion powder, garlic powder, and red pepper on the skin to season. No salt needed with the creole butter marinade. Perfect perfect perfect!! Thank you so much for helping me through this holiday with a wonderful bird. 🙂

  53. 74

    Jessi Smith said,

    Shame you never got around to posting that chicken pot pie recipe. =( Looking forward to trying a chicken in my oven for the first time though.

  54. 76

    Donna said,

    I’m roasting a stuffed turkey. Would the directions be the same?

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