The High-Heat Method Produces Succulent Chicken with a Crispy Skin
Few dishes are better than a perfectly roasted chicken. With its crisp, browned skin and juicy, succulent flesh, it’s so simple — yet irresistible.
But some cooks find the idea of roasting a chicken daunting. Should you truss it or not? Baste it? And if so, how often? How will you know when it’s done? Decisions, decisions, decisions!
Well, relax. There’s a way to eliminate most of those worries: Just use the high-heat method. It’s the easiest, fastest way to roast a chicken, and it’s practically foolproof.
The result? Superb flavor and nicely browned skin. And a chicken that tastes way better than those supermarket rotisserie birds.
Recipe: Easy and Quick Roast Chicken
I first read about the high-heat method of roasting poultry in John and Karen Hess’s 1977 book, The Taste of America — which wasn’t a cookbook, but did include a high-heat recipe for roasting turkey. I tried it and found that it produced a perfectly cooked 12-pound bird in 2 hours. I’ve roasted whole poultry that way ever since.
In 1995, Barbara Kafka put high-temperature roasting firmly on the map with her excellent cookbook, Roasting. Last year, Molly Stevens published All About Roasting; her book isn’t strictly about high-temperature roasting, but her recipes certainly lean in that direction. If you want to learn more about roasting, I recommend either or both of those books.
My recipe is a combination of Hess’s and Kafka’s, and it’s as streamlined as any you’ll find: There’s no trussing the chicken, no massaging with olive oil or butter, no stuffing, and no basting. Preparation time is 5 to 10 minutes, plus a half hour to let the chicken lose its refrigerator chill at room temperature. Roasting time is an hour or less, depending on how large a bird you’re roasting (I recommend nothing larger than 5 pounds or so; you’ll get a better result with a bird about 3½ to 4 pounds).
A larger chicken will yield 4 generous servings; a smaller one, 2 to 3. Well-wrapped leftovers keep a few days in the refrigerator.
- 1 whole chicken (about 3½ to 4 pounds is ideal; the monster “roasting” chickens that weight in at 5 to 6 pounds work, but their flavor isn’t as good and they’ll take longer to cook)
- 1 lemon cut in half (optional)
- 1 small onion peeled and roughly chopped (optional)
- 2 - 4 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole (optional)
- salt, preferably Kosher (not optional; to taste, but at least ½ teaspoon)
- freshly ground black pepper (ditto)
- ~1 cup wine, dry vermouth, chicken stock, or water for deglazing the pan (optional)
- Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.
- Remove chicken from packaging and reserve neck and giblets for another use. Wash or not (these days I don’t; see Notes) and pat dry.
- If you want to give the chicken a bit of extra flavor, place any or all of the optional lemon, onion, and/or garlic cloves in the cavity of the chicken. Add a couple of pinches of salt and pepper.
- Rub some salt and pepper over the skin of the chicken, paying particular attention to the breast and legs.
- Thoroughly wash your hands and any surface the chicken may have touched with soap and hot water (see Notes).
- Let the chicken rest for 30 minutes at room temperature before putting it in the oven. The chicken will cook quicker if you allow it to warm up somewhat.
- Place the chicken breast-side-up in a roasting dish that’s just large enough to hold it (the dish should have sides about 1-inch high).
- Place the chicken in the oven with the legs pointed towards the back (the back of the oven is hotter, so this helps the legs cook faster). Set timer for 20 minutes.
- At the 20-minute mark, slide a wooden or heatproof plastic spatula under the chicken to loosen its bond to the roasting pan. By this time, the chicken should be browning nicely, so turn the oven down to 450 degrees. (If the chicken isn’t brown, wait another ten minutes and then turn the oven down to 450 degrees.)
- Continue cooking until done — about 40 to 45 minutes total for a smaller chicken, about an hour for one that’s 5 or more pounds. The chicken is done when an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees F. (With the legs of the chicken pointed toward you, slide the thermometer’s probe into the chicken thigh, next to the breast, without touching bone). Or you can prick the thigh with a fork and observe the color of the juices — if they’re clear (the palest pink is OK), the chicken is done. Overdone chicken can be dry, so you want to start checking for doneness at the 35-minute mark for a smaller bird, 45 minutes for a larger one.
- Remove the chicken and place on a plate or carving platter, and tent with foil. Let rest at least 10 minutes; 15 is better.
- If you wish to make a quick pan gravy, remove the grease from the roasting dish and discard. Place the roasting dish on top of the stove. Add the wine or other liquid, and bring to a boil. With a spatula or wooden spoon, scrape any browned bits on the bottom of the roasting dish, and simmer the liquid until it reduces by half. Taste and adjust seasoning, and pour into a gravy boat or other dish.
- For serving, you can either carve the chicken or cut it up into pieces at the table or in the kitchen. If you don’t know how to carve a chicken (or your skills are rusty), there’s a good video on the Gourmet website.
- Chicken can carry salmonella, which is incredibly easy to spread through contact. So it’s crucial to clean up properly after preparing your chicken for roasting. Thoroughly wash your hands, as well as any work surface the chicken may have touched during preparation. In addition to soap and hot water, I always use a chlorine-based cleaner on both my hands and my work surfaces.
- It’s because of the salmonella risk that I’ve stopped washing my fowl before roasting. All that rinsing does is spread the germs around; it doesn’t improve the flavor of the cooked bird. So I simply wipe down the cavity of the chicken with paper towels to dry it, then prep the chicken for the oven (Steps 3 and 4).
- Most supermarket chickens are sold as “fryers” and usually weight 3 to 4 pounds. (They’re called fryers because they’re perfect for cutting up and sautéing, but they’re also perfect for roasting.)
- You can also usually find “roasting” chickens, which start at about 5 pounds (some even tip the scales at 7 pounds). As noted above, I prefer the smaller birds.
- Bigger birds have more dark meat, which takes longer to cook. That means there’s more risk of overcooking the white meat when the chicken is larger.
- If I’m serving a crowd, I just roast 2 (or more) smaller chickens.
- If you’re roasting multiple birds, don’t cram them together in the roasting pan — make sure they don’t touch so there’s air circulation around them.
- You should use a roasting pan just big enough to hold the chicken so that whatever fat it may render while roasting doesn’t spreading out in a thin layer and burn.
- However, if you want Roast Potatoes with your chicken, consider using a pan big enough to just hold the chicken and the potatoes. If you’re cooking a big bird (5 pounds+), add the potatoes to the pan at the 20-minute mark when you turn the oven down to 450 degrees (Step 9). If you’re roasting a smaller bird, just add them to the pan when you put the chicken into the oven. In both cases, I would use only about half the amount of olive oil that I specify in my recipe for Roast Potatoes — the rendering chicken fat will add enough additional fat to cook them nicely.
- If I let a chicken sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before putting it in the oven, I usually figure that it takes 10 to 11 minutes per pound to roast (unstuffed) if I start at 500 degrees and then turn the oven down to 450 in 20 or so minutes. But that’s just a rule of thumb; check the bird a bit early to make sure it’s not cooking too quickly.
- An instant read thermometer is invaluable for checking the internal temperature of roasts or anything else that you cook. Most of the ones you buy are accurate, although they may take 10 or 15 seconds to accurately record the temperature. My favorite instant read thermometer is the Thermapen. These are accurate to less than 1 degree F, and take a reading in 3 seconds or less. The downside? They’re pricey - $89! But they’re worth it.
- I never stuff birds because it increases cooking time. Also, because the chicken flesh insulates the stuffing, the chicken will tend to overcook before the stuffing is done. If you want stuffing, cook it separately.
- Because I never stuff my chicken, I have no need to truss the bird. Trussing has two purposes. One, it helps hold the stuffing in. Two, because it holds the chicken legs closer to the body in a more compact package, some people find it aesthetically a bit more pleasing. But when the legs aren’t pressed against the body of the chicken by trussing twine, they’ll actually cook in a bit less time. And you always want to cook the dark meat — the legs and thighs — as quickly as possible so you don’t overcook the white meat. Thus, I never truss.
- Some people like to fold the wing tips underneath the rest of the wing to form a tight triangular package, but that’s something I usually don’t bother with.
- I also don’t bother with basting. Chickens don’t produce much juice when roasted at high heat, so there’s little or nothing to baste with. Besides, basting makes the skin a bit less crisp, and I really like crispy skin on my chicken. Also, the more often you open the oven door, the more the temperature drops — increasing cooking time.
- If you insist on basting, however, use chicken stock, table wine, or a fortified wine like sherry.
- Some people maintain that, in order to achieve the “perfect” roast chicken, you need to use a more complicated procedure than I specify here. They insist that you should roast at a lower temperature for a longer time, and that you should cook the chicken on its side, turning every 20 minutes or so. They may (repeat, may) have a point, but a chicken cooked by my high-temperature method is almost as good (it’s a 97 or 98 rather than a perfect 100) and it’s a lot quicker and easier.
- With some of the lower temperature methods of roasting chicken, you need to turn the heat up at the end to make sure the skin browns properly. With the high-heat method, the skin browns automatically; no need to worry about it.
Roast a Chicken to Practice for Your Thanksgiving Turkey
Once you’ve roasted your first chicken using high heat, you’ll probably never use another method — ever. You’ll get nice crisp skin with great color, not to mention juicy breast meat and perfectly cooked dark meat.
And if you’re intimidated about roasting a turkey, you’re in luck: The method for roasting turkey at high heat is the same as for chicken, with just a few adjustments needed because turkeys tend to be larger. Here are the turkey specifics: Prepare the turkey just as you would a chicken. Then leave it out at room temperature for at least an hour before placing it in the oven so it warms properly. Put the turkey in the oven legs first. Run a spatula under the turkey after 20 minutes so that its skin doesn’t stick to the pan (Step 9), but don’t turn the oven temperature down to 450 until you’ve been roasting the turkey for 30 or 40 minutes (I wait until the turkey is nicely browned).
Using this method, my current oven roasts a 12-pound turkey in about an hour and 45 minutes. But I’ve had ovens that roasted them in as little as an hour and a half, or as long as 2 hours. So I always start testing for doneness (by taking the bird’s temperature — Step 10) at the hour-and-a-half mark. A 15-pound turkey takes 2 hours or so (or maybe another 15 minutes, max). I don’t like roasting really big turkeys for the same reason I don’t like roasting really big chickens. If I need more turkey than a 15 pounder provides, I’ll roast two 10 pounders.
So this post on Roast Chicken is basically a twofer. With the chicken, you’ve got your Sunday dinner covered. And by following essentially the same recipe and extending the roasting time, you’re good to go with your Thanksgiving turkey, too. Bon appétit!
You may also be interested in reading about:
Roast Sweet Potatoes
Roast Belgian Endive
Spicy Potatoes with Ginger and Garlic
Easy Tandoori Chicken