The Best, Easiest Roast Chicken

Stick with me on this one people:  Trust me.

If you do, you will be rewarded with the juiciest, tenderest most succulent chicken with the crispiest, most delicious crackling skin you’ve ever had.

A good roast chicken should be both simple and delicious rather than fussy and difficult.  The method described in this post is, in my opinion, hands down the best way to roast a chicken.  In fact, it’s so easy, so good and so delicious that it is now the only way I roast a chicken.  Here’s the how and the why:

The traditional method of roasting a chicken involves stuffing the cavity, trussing the bird, and placing it breast side up in a deep roasting pan and roasting it at 325°F for about two hours.  This method is time consuming, and poses an additional problem:  Uneven cooking.  You see, you want the chicken breasts to be moist and delicious, and you don’t really want pink thighs and drums.  But when you place a whole chicken in a roasting pan, the breasts are exposed to the full force of the oven’s heat, while the drums and thighs are deep in the roasting pan.  This means that the breasts are getting incinerated into dry stringy bits of grossness while the thighs and drums take their sweet time coming up to temp.  I’ve seen all kinds of attempts to solutions to the problem, all the way from icing down the breasts first to constantly rotating the bird in the oven (which, by the way, every time you open the oven door your oven loses 25° worth of heat and you extend the process to like 3 hours or more).

You may observe that the chicken in the cover picture looks a bit… flat.  That’s because it is.  In fact, it’s had its backbone removed and it’s been flipped over, breast-side up.  A lot of people refer to this process as butterflying or spatchcocking.  It’s very simple to do.  To spatchcock your chicken, use the following procedure:

  1. Remove your chicken from its bag and retrieve giblets and whatever else might be hiding in the cavity of the chicken.  Pat the chicken dry and transfer it to a large cutting board.
  2. If there are any giant pieces of skin or blobs of fat protruding from the tail end or neck end, trim them off.
  3. Place the chicken breast-side down on the cutting board, with the neck closest to you.
  4. Locate the chicken’s neck and tail, and feel along the back of the chicken to get an idea of where the backbone is (measure twice, cut once).
  5. Using a sharp boning knife or a sturdy set of kitchen or poultry sheers, remove the backbone from the chicken by starting on one side of the neck and snipping all the way down the spine to the tail.  Repeat on the other side.
  6. Snip the backbone into three pieces and reserve for making stock or a pan sauce
  7. Flip the chicken over breast-side up, and make sure the legs and thighs are flipped in such a way as to be fully exposed (like in the picture), not under the chicken.
  8. Using firm pressure, press down with your palm on the center of the chicken’s breast until it’s pretty flat, like you’re giving it CPR.  You may or may not hear the breastbone pop, but the idea here is to get it as flat as possible.
  9. Place your chicken breast-side up on a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet that has been lined with aluminum foil.  You can put some lemon wedges under your chicken if you like.

Now, you ask, why have you gone to all the trouble of doing this?  Well, aside from making carving a cinch, having this nice flat chicken sitting on top of a wire rack rather than deep in a roasting pan means that the whole bird will come up to temperature at roughly the same rate.  In fact, pop the chicken into a 400°F – 450°F oven for about 45 minutes and, lo and behold, the breasts will be getting finished right around the time the thighs are up to temperature.  You’ve just saved yourself at least 90 minutes and your chicken will be juicy through and through.

A Word on Chicken and Temperature

If you’ve read enough of the posts on this blog you should have figured out by now that we always cook using temperature not time.  Speaking of temperature, the poor chicken is probably the most overcooked item on anyone’s regular rotation.  The reason for this is that chickens can house some really nasty bugs, not the least of which are salmonella and e. coli, both of which will leave you wretching up your guts for a few days – best case scenario.  Because we’re aware of this, we generally follow the USDA guidelines and roast our chicken until the internal temperature of the breast is 165°F and the thighs are 180°F – meaning that they are dry and sad and horrible, like this guy:

It does also, however, mean that even a total idiot can cook a chicken or a turkey and not poison anyone.  And that’s the audience that the USDA is shooting for: the general public, the total idiots, the lowest common denominator.  And that’s fine, because as a government organization, that’s their job – to protect the general public from themselves.

However, that is not my job.  My job is to help you get the juiciest, most delicious, succulent bird on the table that you can.  If you’re reading this blog, I’m assuming that you’re not a total idiot (if you are, and you’re still reading this blog, God help you).

So here’s the thing:  It’s not like salmonella (or anything bacteria, virus, amoeba, what have you) are alive at one temperature and then suddenly dead at the next.  The process of pasteurization, that is, the process of ensuring that food born pathogens are eliminated from food, is a matter of both time and temperature.  So the FDA (also a government organization whose job is to keep us safe from ourselves, but in this case it applies to restaurants and food vendors and producers, not individuals) has this to say about pasteurization and poultry:

 

FDA Pasteurization Time for Poultry

Temperature (°F)

Chicken

Turkey

136 63.3 Minutes 64.0 Minutes
140 25.2 Minutes 28.1 Minutes
145 8.4 Minutes 10.5 Minutes
150 2.7 Minutes 3.8 Minutes
155 44.2 Seconds 1.2 Minutes
160 13.7 Seconds 25.6 Seconds
165 Instant <10 Seconds

What you will notice here is that the USDA recommends going all the way to 165°F because at that temperature, it’s a pretty much guaranteed fail-safe.  It’s also guaranteed nasty, dried out bird.  Bottom line here?  According to the FDA, a chicken that’s been held at 145°F for 8.4 minutes is every bit as safe to eat as a bird roasted to within an inch of incineration to 165°F.

Of course, 145°F for a chicken is a little on the rare side; it’ll still be a bit pink and gelatinous and people will know it isn’t cooked – at least to what they’re used to.  My recommendation is to insert a probe thermometer into the thickest, coldest part of your chicken when you put it into the oven, wait for it to hit 150°F, set a timer for 5 minutes, then pull it out of the oven.  That way, you’re well within FDA recommendations and just in case your probe thermometer is off by a degree or two or you didn’t get it all the way into the thickest, coldest part of your bird, you’ll still be fine.  I’ve been doing it this way for years and I’ve never poisoned anyone.  Do verify, using an Instant Read Thermometer, that BOTH the breast AND the joint between the leg and thigh BOTH read at least 150°F.

Okay.  With all that out of the way, here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

  1. 1 Whole Chicken approximately 5 lbs (you can do two if you like, just make sure they’re about the same weight)
  2. Olive oil
  3. 2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
  4. 2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
  5. 2 teaspoons MSG (yeah, yeah, it’s not gonna kill you, it’s perfectly safe, omit if you like, just double the salt… but trust me on this, use the MSG, sold as Accent and available in the spices section of most grocery stores)
  6. 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
  7. 2 teaspoons dried mustard
  8. 2 teaspoons dried powdered oregano
  9. 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  10. 1 teaspoon dried basil
  11. 1 teaspoon paprika
  12. 2 teaspoons baking powder (optional, for extra-crispy skin)

Special Equipment

  1. Wire rack set above baking sheet.  (Line baking sheet with foil for easy clean up.  No wire rack?  Use a grill grate).
  2. Probe thermometer
  3. Poultry sheers, sharp boning knife, or really sturdy scissors

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.  Arrange rack to be in the upper two-thirds of the oven.
  2. Combine ingredients 3-11 (and 12 if using) and whisk or shake to combine thoroughly.
  3. Spatchcock chicken according to instructions at beginning of post.
  4. Gently separate skin from breasts, thighs and legs by working your fingers underneath.  Leave in place though, do not remove.
  5. Drizzle chicken with olive oil; just enough for there to be something for the rub to stick to.  Season chicken with poultry rub from Step 2, above.  Be sure to get some of the rub underneath the skin also.
  6. Transfer chicken to wire rack on rimmed baking sheet.  Use an instant read thermometer to find the coldest part of the chicken breast.  Insert probe thermometer here.
  7. Place chicken into the oven, legs toward the back, and roast for 10 to 15 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 400°F and roast chicken until probe thermometer reads 150°F.  Turn off oven, set timer for 5 minutes.  Remove chicken and verify that the other breast and the joint between the thighs and legs on both sides are also at least 150°F.
  8. Let rest 10 minutes, then carve and serve.  Carry over cooking will bring your bird up to at least 155°F while resting, and that’s good enough for me.

Just look at the finished product:

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

If you’d like to make a pan sauce, do the following while your chicken is in the oven:

Ingredients (This is more of a method than anything else, use what you like or what you have on hand):

  1. 1 tablespoon butter
  2. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  3. Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  4. 3 chicken backbone pieces
  5. A few shallots, or 1/2 of a minced onion
  6. 2-3 cloves garlic
  7. 1 cup dry white wine or chicken stock
  8. Handful of fresh herbs
  9. Juice of 1 lemon

Instructions:

  1. Melt 1 tablespoon butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 10-12 inch stainless steel skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Season the chicken backbone pieces aggressively with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Once the pan is hot, add the chicken backbone pieces (remember those?) skin side down and sear until golden brown.  Allow to cook in the pan, undisturbed for 4-5 minutes – brown means brown.
  4. Once well browned, flip the backbone pieces over and continue to cook another 2-3 minutes and allow fat to render.
  5. Remove backbone pieces – you should now how some lovely fond built up in the bottom of your pan
  6. Add a few shallots or 1/2 a minced onion to the pan and sweat, scraping up the fond as the onion releases its moisture
  7. Add 2-3 minced garlic cloves and sauté with onion until fragrant
  8. Deglaze the pan with a cup or so of dry white wine or chicken stock and allow to reduce by 2/3
  9. Add a handful of fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, thyme, whatever) along with the juice of a lemon (for acid) and continue to cook for another 2 minutes over low heat, or until sauce coats the back of a spoon and streaks the bottom of the pan when a spoon is dragged through it.
  10. Serve sauce over chicken.

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